David Notkin's and Cathy Tuttle's "Japan Stories" (1990-91)

19 July 1990, Japan Stories #5: Morning Glories, Big Boy, and Baseball

Early one morning I was walking along a relatively major street in a relatively busy part of Tokyo. I saw two guys in uniform lay out some stuff next to a pole at the roadside, bow to it, and leave. On a closer look, they had left some flowers, a beer can, some cigarettes, and a magazine. My suspicion is that a colleague of theirs died there, probably in an accident, and this was his memorial. I've been by there a couple of times since then, and it's still there, with replenished flowers, a can of tea now and then, etc.

A couple of weeks ago Cathy and I were taken to the Morning Glory Fair by some Japanese friends. Cathy couldn't believe they were SELLING morning glories, the scourge of Seattle gardens. The festival was on the east side of Tokyo, on about five blocks of a closed-off (major) street. When we got off the train, about a 10 minute walk away, we could already see people selling morning glories and lots of people carrying ones they had bought. But when we got down to the main part of the festival, it was packed with people and morning glory plants. Thousands of each. On the west side of the street were the morning glory stands, each of which had dozens and dozens of plants, often of different types, to sell. Cathy and I were flabbergasted when we saw a gaijin working at one of the stands, since this is *highly* unusual. The east side of the street had the foodstands. Some of the dishes, like hotdogs, snow cones, and corn-on-the-cob, were familiar. But others weren't: lots of things made from mochi (rice cakes), fish-on-a-stick (eyes, fins, and all), some little balls made from some kind of mixture of bread and octopus, fried noodles, etc. They also had some simple games, such as trying to scoop up a little goldfish using a paper paddle that falls apart soon after it gets wet. And they sold ballons, windmills, and (to Cathy's delight) a wide variety of fireworks.

One Friday we went to Ikebukuro to a movie. ("Black Rainbow", a British film, which is a bit strange but very good. But don't trust our judgment, since we might have liked it simply because it was in English.) While I was waiting for Cathy, a bum (we haven't seen many in Tokyo) came up and looked at my beard in amazement. Of course, I had no idea what he was really saying, but then the shoeshine guy next to us did some translation. Of course, it still wasn't much of a conversation, but it amazed me that this shoeshine, who was sort of bum-like himself, knew so much English. In any case, a few minutes later the bum came back and brought me a can of tea. I tried to refuse (in part because I figured he needed a lot more than I did), but he insisted. When Cathy came, we tried to find something to give them, but we really didn't have anything with us. So I just introduced her to my new pals, gave them our meishi (name cards), and took our picture together. Imagine all that happening with a bum on 42nd Street! After the movie was over, we almost thought we were home. That is, until we came out and the entire theater staff bowed to us as we left and thanked us for coming.

The bank we use is a mixture of high technology and no technology. The money machines are quite advanced, so I hear, although I can only figure out how to withdraw money. The machines aren't open nearly 24 hours a day, though, and they're still closed on Sundays. Inside the bank there is a machine that handles deposits automatically. You push some buttoms, insert your bankbook (again, it feels like 2nd grade, but in the 21st century), drop a wad of bills on a pallet, wait until it counts the money, and then you hit "go" and the money gets eaten and your bankbook is updated. If, however, for some reason you can't use a fancy machine, and you have to deal with a real person, count on 30 minutes or more in the bank. It seems like the bankers are simply slow in handling people face-to-face, although there certainly seems to be a lot of hustling around. Maybe it's because (and this is true) banks still give all their employees lessons in how to use the abacus.

Last Saturday a Japanese friend took me to breakfast. I had no idea where we were going, but he pulled up to a "Big Boy: 24 Hour Restuarant." From the outside, from the decor, and from the menu, it might as well have said "Denny's." Although there were Japanese breakfasts on the menu, he ordered us some bacon & eggs, coffee, and OJ. I guess he wanted me to feel at home.

At dinner last week with some faculty from Keio University, one of the guys ordered some kind of seafood combination. When it came to the table, there was a fish that had a skewer through its head and tail, keeping it in the shape of a U. My hosts pointed out that the fish was in fact still alive. I thought they were joking, but it was indeed still flapping a bit. As they said, this way you know it's fresh. I really don't mind raw fish, in fact I like it a lot. But I'm surely glad my dinner was DOA.

A week or so ago, a Japanese fellow who got his M.S. under me stopped by. At the end, he gave me a shopping bag from Takeshimaya (a high-quality department store) and said it was a present from Cathy from his mother. Now, neither he or his mother has ever met Cathy (in fact, I haven't met his mother either), but it was nice anyway. Well, inside was a "gift" musk melon, inside two or three boxes and wrappings, laid out nicely on a piece of white satin. The stem was carefully shaped into a "T". Now, just for curiousity we priced these things. They run between 7000 and 10000 yen, which is roughly $50-$75. Kevin and Kelleen helped us eat it, since Cathy didn't like the idea of eating $50+ of fruit on our own. It was very good, but not the best melon in the world or anything.

Well, I finally went to the Yomiuri Giants and Taiyo Whales baseball game, held at Yokohama Stadium. Matusmoto-san and I went there together from work, and the two stops on the train from Yokohama to Kannai Station, where the stadium is, were the most crowded I've ever seen. I'm pretty sure that I didn't have my feet on the floor for a while. I wasn't too bad off, though, at 6' tall, but I really felt sorry for the shorter folks with their noses (or worse) stuck into armpits (or worse).

We met Matsumoto-san's parents at the seats. About 2.3 seconds after sitting down (on a clean towel that Mrs. Matsumoto laid down), we were wiping our brows with icy towels and drinking a cold beer. Then she pulled out the five or six course dinner, all in matching pieces of tupperware, and started to feed us. Chicken drumsticks (with little pieces of aluminum foil at the end so we wouldn't get our fingers messy), fish, rice balls, tempura shrimp, and so on. It took us three innings to finish dinner. The game was pretty much like in the US, although there were some differences in the stands. Each side had a huge cheering squad, that screamed, sang, and pounded plastic clubs together essentially continuously while their team was a bat. The Giants color is orange, and the Whales is blue, and everybody in the fan clubs wore the right color. The songs were pretty amazing, including many, many, many, many rounds of "It's a Small World After All" (which is in fact heard everywhere throughout Tokyo), the theme song from "The Beverly Hillbillies", and fragments from various Beatles songs. The food being hawked was standard baseball fare, like hotdogs and beer, plus the usual Japanese food. You could even by whiskey and water at your seat, for under $4.

At 7:15 (the game started at 6:20) a fireworks display over Yokohama Bay started, and we could see virtually everything from our seats. The fireworks were mostly like you've seen in the US, but two things were different. First, they went on for an hour and fifteen minutes. This was distracting to me, but even more so to the players. Imagine winding up to pitch and hearing "Boom! Boom! Boom!" just as you throw to the plate. Second, they publish a schedule for the fireworks, which lists what will be seen about every five minutes. No wonder the Japanese trains run exactly on time!

The Whales won 4-1, which upset Mr. Matsumoto, who is a serious Giants fan. Three of the four Whales runs were driven in by American players. The "hero" interview at the end, however, which appeared on the huge scoreboard and was broadcast over the loudspeaker system, was for the Whales' pitcher, Nomura-san. A reasonable choice, for sure, but I think the offensive star would have gotten the benefit of the doubt in the US.

See you next week...