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775: The M-List
774: Compatriotic Spirit
773: The Naked Truth
770-71: It Ainít Easy Being Green
769: íTwas the Night Before Christmas in Japan
768: Japanese Lessons
766: Bad Credit
765: Chew on this
764: Red faced
763: Down and Out in Tokyo
761: Kicking the bucket
760: Thumbing It
759: Fixing the System
757: Smoke rings
756: Stalking the Predators
755: Banding Together
753: No Competition
752: Sex and This City
751: Letís Shogi
750: The Yasukuni Follies
748: Loud and Clear
747: Iíll be back
746: Raiders of the lost SMAP
744: Magical Mystery Tour
743: Murder in Lotus Land
742: Stereotypes íRí Us
740: The Mother of all Mothers
739: Crimes of Fashion
738: The Hafu Dad Brigade
737: The Green Team
736: Fight Club
735: The Paper Chase
734: The Wind-Up Writer Chronicle
733: Food For Thought?
732: Home and Away
731: The 2008 Nazi Olympics
730: The Two-Wheel Revolution
729: Gimme a Break
728: Power Play
727: Dying for a doctor
726: Footloose Revisited
725: Little Fish, Bigger Pond
724: Japanís Peace Monster
723: Language Abuse
722: Scumbusters ďRĒ Us
721: First Action Hiro
720: The Return of Asashoryu
718-719: A Time to Give
717: My Homelessness Dilemma
716: The 30 Percent Solution
715: Past Imperfect
714: Killing the Kimono
713: The trouble with Tibbets
712: Surfing the Shinto-net
711: Falling Stars
710: Macho Man
709: Bad Impressions
708: Bloodsport
707: Our Last Word
706: Anonymocracy
705: The Air Up There
704: Read the Signs
703: The sky should not be the limit
702: My Year Zero Proposal
701: The Joys of Freeganism
700: Prada for the People
699: The Parasite Country
698: Washed up in Tokyo
697: Birthingís Not for Babies
696: On the Handlebars of a Dilemma
695: My So-Called Poverty
694: Get Out the Vote
693: The Ishihara Mystery
691: Let it Flow
690: Cafť Culture
689: Oyaji Fashionistas
688: The Democracy of the Dysfunctional
687: Polite Disregard
686: Venting on Climate Change
685: Silent No Longer
684: To protect and serve?
683: Save the Sanshin building!
682: In the Realm of the Pond God
681: The Open Society and Its Enemies
680: Five-Ring Circus
679: Topic of Cancer
678: Pet Peeves
677: Why I am Banned in Japan
676: A long way to the top
675: Euro-vision
674: Childís play
673: Why I did it
672: I Love Japan
671: Running Crazy
670: Planet Apology
669: A peek behind the curtain
668: Opening Up
666: Pitching a fit
665: All wrapped up
664: Yule Rules
663: Field of Dreams
662: Save Lives, not Face
661: Why Do I Buy a Ticket?
660: Dying for a Nap
659: We, the jury
658: Grain of truth
657: Remembering The Maverick
656: A Rose by any Other Name
655: Heir today, gone tomorrow
654: Manhandled on the Metro
653: The bodyguards of the road
652: Separate but equal
651: Going for the gold
650: Being Audrey Hepburn
649: Not Sitting Pretty
648: Get Smart
647: Through foreign eyes
646: A failing grade in cute
644: Club Lands
643: Sayonara, Hide
642: The JET SET
641: What, me worry?
640: The Da Vinci Load
639: Making Waves
638: Final Cut
637: Resave the whales
636: Soccer Silliness
635: I, Smoker
634: The Ultimate Loss
633: Shoot the Messengers
632: The second sex
631: A Maverick Moves On
630: The curse of Baron Mitsui
629: Waiting for Heidi
628: Memoirs of a fake celebrant
627: Take it Outside
626: Wa? What wa?
625: A well-drawn life
624: St. Patrick the abducted
623: Bend over
622: The (Un)Late show
621: Oil spill
620: Ice Follies
619: Pride Goeth
618: Lost roles
617: Saying it with Cookies
616: Wrestling with foreigners
614-615: Blank Pages
613: Fretting Over Freeters
612: Farewell, Sensei
611: Sympathy for the wild ones
610: Back in Black
609: Out of many, one
608: Youth culture
607: The Russians are coming!
606: Meddle Detector
605: Tokyo, Mon amour
604: The Wailing Wall
603: Getting Abreast of Cancer
602: Willing Ally
601: New war,same story
600: The Big Chill
599: The Gray Zone
598: Jail break
597: Extremely Lost in Translation
596: Wounded Despot
595: History Lessons
594: Valhalla of the Imperial Army
592: Culture crash
591: Complaints Department
590: What lies beneath
589: Strange Games
588: Junk Science
587: The day the invaders came
586: The Test that Drove Me Crazy
585: Smile and say “lesbian”
584: Keep Article 9
583: The Great Divide
582: An ad for all seasons
581: Killing the Golden Goose
580: The other half
579: Give me back my bye-bye
578: Araki in Focus
577: Head out on the Highway
576: The hate that won't go away
575: Here's the beef
574: Yukking it up
573: Squatter’s rights and wrongs
572: The Trouble with Yokoso
571: Fire from the sky
570: Invasion of the gairaigo
569: Good company
568: Find Out What it Means To Me
567: Field of schemes
566: In the Name of Justice
565: Winner or Loser?
564: Staying Foreign
563: The Scare after Tomorrow
561-562: The Spirit of Things
560: War for remembrance
559: Storm damage
558: The Meaning of Godzilla
557: Who’s left to listen?
556: Paying respects
555: Gender Trouble
554: Coming clean at last
553: Go our own way
552: Hits of yesteryear
551: Heir apparel
550: Personal Reflections
549: Nuclear Reactions
548: Article of faith
547: Martyrs for the firm
546: A different anniversary
545: We, the jury
544: Wrongs & rights
543: Moore or less
542: Fair games
541: Developmentally challenged
By Matt Barry

Strange Games

Or, how I learned to get my head around the sport of baseball

Matt Barry is an English teacher and part-time funk dancer in Tokyo

Before I came to this mysterious land, my appreciation of baseball was governed by the accuracy of the Hollywood sporting film. Therefore I assumed, correctly in part, that baseball, or “the American pastime,” was played by ghosts in Iowa corn fields and usually featured Kevin Costner tossing out the first pitch. Games were either lopsided shutouts (whatever that means), or white-knuckle-edge-of-the-seat thrillcoasters, depending on what part of the movie it was. The last 20 minutes featured the hero either hitting a home run out of the ground or helping his best friend slide dramatically into home plate, just beating the throw from the deep. And all in glorious slow motion. “I can’t believe it, the GIANTS win the pennant!” I don’t know what this means either.

I also have an image of Wesley Snipes running in his pajamas, but I’m not sure where this comes from.

I am happy to say that these foolish misapprehensions have been rectified during my one-year tenure as a bitter and twisted English teacher escaping my dubious past in a country that asks few questions.

Now that I have learned the complexities and vagaries of the game, it has become clear that there is something ultimately satisfying about drinking beer and watching sports on a long summer evening. Who’d of thought? I have become fluent in the art of discussing RBIs and…um…etc. I also know when to nod and smile when people talk about preseason trades and the Japanese domination of the MLB. I’ve also been practicing, in Japanese, how to say, “Hasn’t interleague play been a shot in the arm for the game!”

I have to confirm your suspicions. Yes, I am Australian. Now you may say, “Stone the crows, this guy’s got a few jumbucks loose in his top paddock. What would an Aussie know about a sport that ranks below chicken sexing as a national pastime?” A while ago I may have agreed with you, but in researching this article I found some staggering statistics.

For example: Australia has been one of the most consistently successful baseball nations in the past ten years! We’ve medaled in the past three Olympics, beating Japan twice in Athens, not to mention waltzing away with the 1999 World Cup. Therefore, it’s safe to say that Australia is the best baseball nation in the world.

Japan has embraced baseball with open arms in the last 60 years, following the trends of the US product and creating many of their own. Who can forget the glorious “Bring your own Melon” days of the early ’80s? Anyone foreigner who has been to a baseball game in Japan will tell you it’s an interesting and intriguing experience, one of those things you simply must do, like climbing Mt Fuji, eating wasabi or urinating in an onsen.

However, there is something missing from the game. Just like fast food without the jumbo sizes, or 24-hour convenience without the ethnic minorities, Japan has taken a foreign product and sanitized it. There is something unsettling about the perfectly ordered behavior witnessed around the grounds on game day. Let me explain what is expected of you as a supporter.

The fans cheers in packs, but unlike English football, these packs won’t set fire to the stands if they lose. The cheers themselves are like nothing you’ve ever heard, unless you have been to another game of baseball. All teams seem to have the same chants, which makes it easy to change allegiances, even mid-game. These chants usually go like this:

Let’s go let’s go [player’s name]. Let’s go let’s go [player’s name]. Clap clap. Let’s go let’s go, clap clap, let’s go let’s go...

Not so difficult is it?
After your batters strike out, you and all your fellow supporters sit down quietly and patiently listen to the chants of the opposition, which are identical to your own. This is the major difference between Japanese supporters and the rest of the world: There is a total lack of abuse hurled at the opposing fans, players and management. It just sickens me. Just once it would be nice to go to a game and hear the cries of “SHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINJOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO” echo around the stadium. Is that too much to ask?

But the most appalling act of all is the staggering absence of drunkenness. With such easy access to a bunch of 12-year-olds carrying Ghostbuster beer dispensers, the average fan back home would be involved, statistically, in 1.2 scuffles, 7.6 counts of offensive language and 13.5 occasions of accidentally spilling beer on the 6-year-old kid sitting in front of him. “It’s all part of the game!”

After the Seibu Lions won the Japan series last year, I was personally shocked and stunned by the reaction. In Tokorozawa, not one car was overturned, nor were any stores looted. My American friends looked on in dismay at the sight of thousands of supporters applauding politely and singing the team song quietly (it was 10pm, after all). I received a text message from my friend trapped in the center of the calm. “This place has gone crazy in a very organized way!!!!”

I guess that is the Japanese manner: from order comes more order.

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