Tel: 804.864.1100

Tel: 804.864.1100

Japan Blog

Posts from the Tuckahoe Little League Japan tour with Brian and Ari Greene.

Final Thoughts

Sunday, 2:55 AM EST — We made it home last night around 7:30-ish. The parents greeted their weary kids (and chaperones) with hugs and smiles, and everyone scattered. 

Ruth was a sight for sore eyes. I really missed her! Once home, I got showered and bourbonized, both of which felt fantastic. Avi had a hard time unwinding but he finally passed out. 

Right now it’s 2:55 AM EST — 3:55 PM in Saitama — and I’m wide awake after about 4 hours of sleep. This same thing happened to me in Saitama the first 4 or 5 nights, which gave me a chance to blog in the mornings. I had a lot more time to blog than I had anticipated! It figures that once my body adjusted to Tokyo Time, it was time to come home. The blog took on a life of its own but I’m hoping I accomplished my goals of keeping those Stateside in the loop and also making a record that Avi and I can share for many years. 

I already miss my new Japanese friends. I will miss running around being silly with 23 awesome and wide-eyed kids who love baseball and adventure. I will miss spending time with my fellow chaperones who threw themselves into Japanese culture wholeheartedly and unabashedly. I loved being part of this team that took these kids to Japan.

Going back to work will be rude, I’m sure. Brian Shepard and I were talking on the bus from Dulles and we both feel like everything at our work is under control. It will take time to dig out, which is expected. It’s the stuff we don’t know about (yet) that happened while we were gone that makes us nervous! 

Before I sign off, I want to give huge props to Brian Shepard, our fearless leader, for organizing this trip and for committing the time and energy to make it work. 

Thanks also to Deborah Knighton for taking care of travel atrangements and for all the other stuff she did behind the scenes that none of us knows about. There are others to thank, as many contributed to the success of this trip, but Brian and Deborah were instrumental.

And thank you to Akiko, Shimizu, and all of the wonderful people in Japan that showed us great time. Staying in Akiko’s home, I saw firsthand the organization, time, communication skills, and energy needed on a daily basis to run one of these visits. It’s a LOT of work. I hope they slept in this morning.

So that’s a wrap. Thus endeth the trip and this blog. If anyone has any questions about this trip, future trips, or the exchange program in general, please send them my way. It will give me a chance to talk about this amazing experience. 

Sayonara and Kampai! 

Brian

On Our Way Home… (with updates)

6:07 PM: We’re on the bus. Bad news — there’s traffic to get on to 95. But, we stopped and got the kids cheese sticks, granola bars and water. We got some Adult Soda…


3:05: PM EST: The Eagle has landed. Lots of tired-looking kids in red shirts on this flight. Let’s get ’em home!

2:50 PM EST: We are beginning our descent into Dulles. And if anyone was wondering, my fave part of The Godfather was when they kill the guy in a car and the heavy guy says, “Get the cannoli!”  Feeling a bit punchy right now…

5:55 PM: We’re in the air, on our way to The United States of America. We should arrive at Dulles around 3:20 PM EST. I’m watching The Godfather and Avi is watching Pirates of the Caribbean. 

Charlie and JD are enjoying the flight so far….


3:30 PM: We have boarded!


2:20 PM: We have made it through security and are at gate 31 at the Tokyo airport. Other than security finding five water bottles (one at a time ) in Harper Perry’s carry-on, things are running smoothly. Everyone is roaming the duty-free shops, grabbing something to eat and drink, and gearing up for the marathon flight home.

12:05: PM — I’ll post a few as we travel home today. Right now we’re at an outlet mall eating lunch at a California Pizza Kitchen. We think this is part of the U. S. re-entry program. I’m told the airport is 15 minutes away. 

Days 7 & 8 — Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

I was unable to do a full Day 7 blog yesterday but the game blogs should give you an idea of how we spent our Friday morning. Won 1, tied 1. That puts our 2017 Japan record at 1-3-2, but it doesn’t matter. If you saw the kids at the big fireworks event last night, you would have seen that friendships, not baseball, is really what this trip is about. Baseball is really the facilitator to forge all these relationships. 

Ok enough philosophy. After the game yesterday Shimizu (basically the head of Saitama baseball) took Brian Shepard, Stephen Spraker and me to a Japanese spa. Quick shout out to Boyd Bullock and Scott Coleman, whom Shimizu took to the spa 2 years ago. We asked if Boyd and Scott enjoyed the spa, and Shimizu said they did very much and that they “swam around like puppies.” That sealed it for us. We had to go to the spa.

It starts with a hot whrlpool and then we went to an outside pool of very hot water. After that, a shower and then a dip into cold water, about 70 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Ok hold on. I’m writing this at breakfast and Akiko just put this on the table:


That’s French toast, pineapple, yogurt, salad and chocolate chip muffins and coffee. I don’t think I’ll need lunch today. 

Back to the spa– it took about an hour. There’s a small cafe there so we grabbed a Sapporo afterwards.  It was very relaxing and a great way to spend the last full day in Japan. The Japanese men were very impressed with Spraker. I’ll leave that at that!

Last night was a huge fireworks show. This is a Japanese national holiday. Akiko says it’s Mountain Day which is a fairly new holiday because there were no national holidays in the month of August. Imagine the July 4 fireworks at the Carrillon on steroids and with better food and you can walk around with beer.  Sounds fun, right?

I’m now on the bus headed for Tokyo. We’ll see a temple this morning and then stop at an outlet mall for pizza before the plane. 

We said goodbye to our host families just now at the Urawa stadium. These families are the sweetest nicest people and I can’t thank them enough for what they have done for us and our kids. It’s a huge commitment of time and resources and they never complain and treat us like kings (and in Ruthie’s and Annabelle’s case, queens). Domo Arigato!

Here’s a picture of Akiko, Tomohiro, their daughter Shiori and me. Shiori came to Richmond a few years ago and stayed with the Lifsons.  They and their son Shunta showed me a phenomenal week and I’m very thankful. And I found out last night that Tomohiro is a big Huey Lewis & the News fan so I was happy to be stuck with him and his family! 


See you soon Richmond, and sayonara Saitama!

Live from Arakawa Field

1:15 PM — We tied Game 2, 6-6. We jumped out to a nice lead thanks in large part to Tal Spraker’s 3 RBI’s. And, we turned a triple play!  I’ll write more later.  Great games from Demm, Connor, Quigley, Garbett and others, But if your last name is Spraker you should be smiling right now. πŸ™‚ 

10:32 AM — Ball game. Charlie Knighton with the 6-out save. Ready for Game 2 but no blogging b/c I am incapable of double-tasking. So I’ll check in later. 


10:22 AM — Richmond is winning 13 to 11 in the top of the fifth inning. I had to step away to warm up with the  team for the next game. I’m not sure anyone reads this blog anyway. We are now headed to the bottom of the fifth. Time to play some more defense!

9:55 AM — Henry Knighton on to pitch in the 3rd. This is what Henry looks like:


9:50 AM — We’re up 13-7 heading to the bottom 3rd. We just put up an 11-spot!

9:45 AM — Richmond storms back to take the lead in the top of the third. Big hits from the Brothers Knighton and a mammoth ground rule double from Cam Paoloni and we’re still batting. 

9:25 AM — The first inning is over and it was not cool. We’re down 7-2. We’ve got some work to do. On the plus side, I just learned how to insert a picture into the blog in real time. Julie Conn leads off the second inning with a single.


9:12 AM –Annabel was throwing strikes but they seem to have either caught up with her fastball or perhaps she is tipping her pitches, we’ll never know. Brendan Engel in now down 3-2.

9:01 AM — We are on the board! Julian Raffenot with a two-run single to left field and Richmond leads 2-0.. We head to the bottom of the first. Annabelle Whitehead on the mound.

8:55 AM — We are underway on Friday morning here in Japan. We are playing a team comprised of very athletic girls this morning. Annabel Whitehead leading it off for Richmond.

Day 6 — Earthquakes and Baseball

We had “host time” on Thursday and then reported to the fields by 5 PM for the games.

My initial plan had been to go to Avi’s home and spend the morning with him and his host family. Then we would meet others for an early lunch at a sushi restaurant. That fell through when Avi slept until 11 AM! And the only reason I say 11 AM is because his host mom woke him up. So, I met them at the restaurant. I was happy to let him sleep. He needs it. 

Not to bury the lead, but while waiting for Avi to wake up, I experienced my first Japanese earthquake. I was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee, reading about”fire & fury,” and generally minding my own business. Then I heard what sounded like a very strong gust of wind outside. I looked out the window but there was no wind or rain. The earth was quaking, my mind was aching, and we were making it and you shook me all night long and … um …. sorry … I got distracted. My bad.

The house swayed back-and-forth a bit and then the earthquake was over. Akiko tells us that Japan experiences two or three earthquakes of that size every month. As Marty Conn said, “I prefer rainbows.”

We met at a cool sushi restaurant for lunch. The food was on conveyor belts. Here are some pictures.

We met at the fields for a late dinner and warm-ups. We played the same two teams we played last Saturday. I kept a running blog so I won’t repeat everything here. Overall, we played very good defense, made more contact than last week, and threw strikes. We ran into trouble At times in each of those areas but I’m looking forward to our games Friday morning.

Here are a few Julie Conn pictures because I know Heather is a loyal blog reader. Gotta take care of my customers.

And, here are some Avi pictures because I like being married to Ruth:


JD Stemhagen had a sweet throw to second to nail a would-be base stealer. Let’s go to the video tape:

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Here’s a few pictures of the after game. Check out how many photographers were taking the team photo after game 2. Props to Kurt Stemhagen for giving me the idea for this picture.

 We are off to the field this morning for two more games. I will try to blog during Game 1 but I am coaching game 2 and I am not capable of blogging and coaching simultaneously

Let’s Play Ball! Live Updates….

8:35 PM: … and that’s a wrap from Japan, where Japan wins Game 2, 5-0. We’ll be back at it again tomorrow morning, barring rain. Right now, everyone is taking pictures, exchanging gifts, laughing, and forging friendships that will last a lifetime. 

[Editor’s Note: that was the most campy and corny way I knew to end the bloggging for tonight. If it caused you to sigh and roll your eyes, then my work is done here.]

Goodnight from Siatama. I’ll try to live blog tomorrow’s games. We start at 9 AM Friday Siatama Time, which I think is like 2:30 AM last Tuesday in Richmond. 

8:31 PM: We head to the seventh, still down 5-0. Richmond has settled into a nice groove defensively with scoreless innings from JD Stemhagen, Henry Knighton and Avi Greene. Actually, I can’t remember who was pitching when Japan hit its home run to right field. Doesn’t matter. JD, Henry, Avi, and Brendan have each pitched well the last 4 innings. We need to get the Batz rolling. Funny — I dictated that sentence and “bats” came out as “Batz.” Good sign???

8:06 PM: Richmond got its first clean inning in the bottom fourth. John Garbett will lead off the top fifth.

7:58 PM: Richmond’s 4th inning rally fell short. After Sandy Kuhn got hit by a pitch (he’s fine after some magic spray from the Japanese team) and JD Stemhagen singled, Richmond failed to score and is down 4-0 going to the bottom of the fourth. Brendan Engle takes over on the mound.

7:50 PM: 1 homerun puts Japan up 4-0 (Dude hit one to RF that I think Annabelle is still running after it) but Richmond has settled down and is playing very good defense. 

7:45 PM: Richmond failed to score in the top 3rd despite what I will call an infield single by Avi Greene (I am being generous here but my parents are avid readers of this blog and as far as I know I’m still in the will so we’ll call it an infield single. The shortstop’s throw was wide and Avi made a nice ballet move to avoid the tag at first. He promptly got gunned down trying to steal 2nd.) Henry Knighton takes the mound for Richmond, down 3-0.

7:30 PM: Japan scored 2 and now leads 2-0 after 1. JD Stemhagen nailed a guy at second trying to steal for the second out and August Lange made a nice play to field a grounder for out number three. Now we go to the second.

7:15 PM: Game two is underway. Richmond fails to score in the top of the first despite a single by Mason Quigley. John Garbett takes the mound for the away team.

7:00 PM: Richmond drops game 1 7-4. They only had a chance to play 2.5 innings because of time. We scored two runs in the top of the third after a double by Harper Perry scored George Dewey White, who had reached on an error. Cam Paoloni singled to score Harper. 

The second game will start soon. 

6:30 PM: Richmond got a little something going there in the top of the second. Three consecutive singles followed by a dart from Julian Raffenot scired 2. We’re in business. We go to the bottom of the second and Cam Paoloni takes over on the mound.

6:15 PM:  After one inning Japan leads Richmond 3-0. A couple of errors caused some problems for us. We go to the top of the second.

Thursday 6:00 PM — It’s a beautiful night for baseball here in Saitama! Game 1 just started and game two will begin immediately after the conclusion of game one. Each kid will play in one game tonight.
Richmond just went 1-2-3 in the top of the first. Harper Perry takes the mound in the bottom of the first.

I’ll do a few blog entries as the evening proceeds. Text me if you just can’t stand the wait and want more frequent updates. 

Day 5 — Go Swallows!

Day 5 saw us return to Tokyo by bus in the morning for sightseeing and a Japanese professional baseball game. 

This was the first day we really experienced the summer heat in Japan. It had to be in the high 90s and very humid. Akiko says it was the hottest day of the year to date. I kept thinking about this scene from Biloxi Blues.  We all had that “thin layer of slime” feeling all day that at times elevated to “mostly slime.” They have a never-ending supply of bottled water on the bus and we made sure all the kids kept drinking. 

We met at 9 AM and were introduced to Tokyo traffic on our way to Asakusa to see the Sensoji temple. My first Buddhist temple visit went very well, thanks.


There are shrines next to the temple. Before entering a shrine, it is customary to wash your hands for purity. I’ve videoed the kids washing their hands and inadvertently took a video in slow-mo. Nice touch, don’t you think?

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From there we went to lunch at a nice restaurant in a hotel. Big buffet! Most of the kids went straight for the pizza and french fries, but some of the kids took in some fish and the other, more Japanese food items. The salad bar, if I may call it that without sounding like it was a salad bar at Denny’s, was incredible:


After lunch, we headed to the Yakult Swallows stadium to watch the players practice. As we sat in the seats behind home plate in our new green Swallows jerseys that they gave us, Marty and I asked our stadium guide if our kids could go into the dugout, or go shag flies in the outfield during batting practice, or sit in the left field stands during batting practice, or see the locker rooms, and a host of other requests. Every time, the guy said no. We did ask him whether they could send one of the American players over to talk to us about being in Japan. That was met with a “maybe” so we felt like we were making a little bit of progress.

We then headed across the street to the Swallows workout facility. There were fields where the players were working out and an indoor facility. Two American pitchers came over to talk with us and could not have been nicer. They gave us baseballs and signed them and also posed for pictures. We ask them a lot of questions about how they ended up in Japan, where they stay, the differences between Japanese and American baseball, and so forth.

Avi with Josh Lueke

Avi with David Buchanan


After the afternoon baseball experience, we took in a technology museum next to the stadium. We saw the types of things the Japanese are looking to invent and refine, and it was impressive. We saw a short movie on human assistive technology. We learned that the Japanese workforce is shrinking so they need more technology to do the work that humans are doing currently. 

There was also facial recognition technology that was supposed to show each person how old they are. It’s not quite there yet, as it told me once I was 39 years old and a second time that I was 72 years old. I’ll go with the first answer.

If you look closely at that picture, it shows that Kurt is 62, Marty is 44, and Brian Quigley is 21. Oh, and Will Shepard is 36. So I am going to hold off on investing in this technology for right now.

The game was really fun.  The BayStars beat the swallows. A Swallows player hit a homerun and the crowd raised umbrellas and cheered. My guess is that the place would really be rocking if the Swallows had a better record. Even still, it was loud and the experience proved that Japanese fans are more energetic for a lengthy period of time then what we typically see in America. 

We tried to get a wave going from our seats in right field. We made it a few sections but could not get it to stick. It was not, however, for lack of effort.

Akiko has the worst seat in the stadium. Tiny seats & big sweaty neighbors.

Avi’s host family had given him a Swallows jersey earlier in the day.

This might be my favorite picture of the trip so far

 

This is what happens when you hit a dinger at a Swallows game:

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Today’s schedule calls for time with the host families and then a baseball game at 5 PM. Unfortunately, it is supposed to rain this afternoon and tonight. We’ll see how the schedule holds out; the kids have each plate in one game since we arrived and they are all aching to play some ball!

More pics:

Ned Lumpkin wore socks with his Keans. Unacceptable!

The tour guide on our bus is really happy to take this picture with me. Elated.

Day 4 — When Life Gives You Lemons…

This was supposed to be a baseball doubleheader day. Thanks to Typhoon Noru, we rescheduled the games to Friday. It rained hard overnight but by morning it was sunny. The fields, though, remained closed and the game times had already been changed. So while it was disappointing that we couldn’t play, especially because the sun was out, the decision had been made and we needed something else to do for the day.

The local Saitama contingent hatched a quick plan. We met in the morning at the Urawa Parco in a conference room. The Parco is a huge building with shops on five floors, a movie theater, library, and what looked liked state and local offices (like a DMV or something). Many of the host families were there, too.

We led the kids in a discussion group about Japan, Saitama, travel, baseball, and other topics. For example, now that we’ve been in Japan for a few days, we asked the kids to share one of their adventures with others. We passed a microphone around and the kids talked about what they had done, strange things they’ve seen, how they’ve communicated with people who don’t speak English, things they’ve learned, and so forth. The host families asked the kids questions too.

I was very impressed with how articulate and respectful these kids are. Special shout out to Sandy Kuhn who described his trip to the Japanese history museum as if he were a docent at the museum. 

From there, we explored the Parco, ate lunch, and mobilized the troops for the 45-minute commute to Tokyo for the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame.

Everyone enjoyed the HOF. In addition to memorabilia from different Japanese players, including Sadaharu Oh and Ichiro Suzuki, they had memorabilia from Americans who participated in Goodwill tours of Japan. There were bats use by Jackie Robinson and Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron while in Japan, Mike Piazza’s catching gear, and others. They had the game ball from the longest ever game, a high school game that lasted 50 innings. One team won 3-0, which means they played 49 innings of zero-run ball. Just like RLL!

Sadaharu Oh played for the Yomiuri Giants, which is like the Yankees of Japanese baseball. He hit 868 homeruns which makes Oh the all-time homerun leader in the history of the world. His training regimen included using a sword. I don’t know why he never played in America. Perhaps it was before Japanese baseball players did such a thing. Or maybe they wouldn’t let the sword through customs.


The kids liked this building with “Richmond” on it …. look above their hands…


We messed around in the general vicinity of the HOF for an hour. There were rides you could go on and some went on the roller coaster or the pirate ship. Then we headed back to Saitama for the Kids Karaoke Party.

For the past few days, there have been several kids, including my own, who have sworn up-and-down they absolutely positively definitely would not participate in karaoke. (Actually, they did not swear, but they were extremely adamant in their proclamations). Didn’t matter. We queued up Sweet Caroline and every kid’s face lit up and everyone joined in. Here are pics to prove it.


Let me sum up the evening this way:  there was a lot a screaming to Taylor Swift songs. As one of the dads pointed out, when you have 11 & 12 yr old boys screaming your lyrics at a karaoke bar, you’ll be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. 

This is what it sounded like (this one lacks the SCREAM that accompanied others, but I thought I’d spare you all)….

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Today we return to Tokyo to tour a Temple and the baseball stadium where we will see a professional Japanese game tonight. Looking forward to a great day.

Brian

Day 3 — Busy Day, Now an Uninvited Guest

An Open Letter to Typhoon Noru:

Welcome to Saitama! Nice of you to pop in. But here’s the thing: for this trip, I’m not a fan of the pop-in, and it’s totally not cool that you’re here. Our Sister City invited us here; you didn’t even make the B-list. You’re not even one of the friends or family members that people feel obligated to invite to a function and then hope they don’t show up. Because of you, we had to postpone today’s baseball games to Friday and you’re wreaking havoc with our schedule. So, please stop dancing with our dates and go back out to sea.

Sincerely,  The Management

 And now back to your regularly scheduled blog…..

On Monday (Day 3), everyone was back together after Sunday’s day off.  We bused to the mint museum which was cool. We learned about security features on the 500 Yen coin, and saw replicas of the Olympic gold medals from the 3 Japan Olympics that were made at the mint factory. I was hoping we’d see more actual coin production, with thousands of little coins filtering out of the machines, but that was not happening today and unfortunately they were not taking requests from the audience like a karaoke bar. We saw some of the employees checking the coins — one person will check about 1,000 per day — and others doing things with coins that will become medals or “orders” like a Japanese medal of freedom. We watched through a glass window as people worked away. I’m thinking I’ll sell tickets to anyone who wants to stand outside my window at work (hey, it’s ground level!) and watch me write a brief. I’ll waive to you and smile every once in a while.

One thing I thought was interesting is that the Saitama mint makes some coins for other countries. It had never occurred to me that there are countries out there that will basically contract out their mint production. Imagine how classified that contract would have to be!

From there, we bused to the railway museum. I’m struggling with how to describe this museum because I don’t know who reads this blog. Let me try it this way: if you’re one of the organizers who put this on our schedule, thanks very much for your time and efforts to ensure we have a great trip!  And, if you’re a parent of one of the kids on this trip: the visit lasted 90 minutes and the kids ate burgers.

They had numerous train cars from old to new, along with samples of train tracks, signage, and old ticket-taker machines. The kids could sit on the old train cars and see what the seats were like. There was no formal tour; the kids hung with their chaperones and walked through the museum.

Those are trains in the background

All lined up, waiting for lunch at the railway museum

After lunch, we headed to the Mayor’s office. This was a big event, complete with speeches, press coverage, and cool swag. So big that we made the kids tuck in their shirts and leave their phones, water bottles, and hats on the bus. So big that Brian Shepard and Marty wore blazers. the event lasted about 30 minutes and the speeches were very moving about how wonderful this exchange program is. Here’s a snippet from Brian’s speech. JD said he really liked the part about how the Japanese and American kids are alike…

More pics from the Mayor’s visit:

 

In homage to all 11 and 12 year old kids’ inalienable right to party, we headed to the official reception! (I’ve been waiting for the right time to drop a Beastie Boys link). The food was really good and the kids had unlimited Coke (the drink, not the drug, just to clarify) so everyone was happy.

Everyone loved the drummers/dancers. Some of them looked so young, and when you focused on just one and not the group, you could see how choreographed each song is. Very impressive. Just for fun, they called up the Richmond players and let them play along to music. Here’s a quick non-scientific poll. Which group sounds better?

This ….

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Or this….
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No party for 11 and 12 yr old kids is complete without a magician. Enter Brian Quigley Copperfield, who has secretly been studying magic under learned magicians for either 2 years or 2 days, I can’t remember. With slight of hand and visual misdirection, Brian gave us a living room recliner seat to his magical fantasy world to witness the true art of the arts:

And finally, I need to apologize. I buried the lead. Here’s Kurt Stemhagen, with collared shirt AND it’s tucked in. Every day on this trip we learn that the impossible is indeed possible:

More pics: