Friday, February 24, 2012

Cue the ESPN Baseball Tonight Theme Music: Spring Training is Here!

There’s something magical about baseball. With the whole world swirling around us, there’s peace in sitting around a diamond, watching a game that has no time limit, enjoying good company, and (possibly) drinking a beer.
I grant that I am a product of the “Kevin Costner, love of the game, a woman will leave you but baseball is forever, its ok because he still gets the woman” genre of baseball movies. While sappy and generally long on the Costner soliloquys, Field of Dreams and Bull Durham helped me fall in love with baseball. On the other side of the movie spectrum, Major League consummated the relationship.

Having never played in Little League, I grew up only as a fan. My parents took Shula and me to Single-A Peninsula Pilot’s Baseball games when they still existed (Shula got a ball once; I’m still jealous). When they left town, we started driving to Norfolk to go to Triple-A Norfolk Tides games. So when Shula came to Okinawa last week, it only seemed fitting for us to see a game at Chatan Stadium – the spring training home of the Chunichi Dragons (Tom Selleck’s team in Mr. Baseball).

When I moved up to Maryland, I got to see my beloved Orioles play more often. If you’ve never been, I recommend a trip to Camden Yards. Nestled in factory Baltimore, the Oriole’s stadium is an oasis. Chatan Stadium…not so much.

Okinawa is the spring training island of the Nippon League (Japan’s Professional Baseball League); the Chunichi Dragons, reigning champions of the Central League (as opposed to Pacific League – think NL v. AL), use the stadium near “American Village”. For two or three weeks in February, baseball fever spreads over the island. People come down from all over Japan to scout the players, get their team paraphernalia signed, and just go crazy for their favorite teams. Or so I thought.

But, this is Japan – and the stadium was silent. It was pretty crowded, but you could hear a pin drop. There was certainly no going crazy.

When they read the starting lineup for the Away Team (how I ascertained that they were reading the lineups is another blog post altogether), it was dead quiet. I thought, “Ok, that’s the silent treatment. At Maryland, we pretend to read the newspaper during this time to show that we don’t care.” Alright. I can snub the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, too.

But then they switched to the home team, and there was nothing. Another Japanese gentleman a few rows in front of me gave a polite golf clap for some of his favorite players – but that was it.

Then the game started up. In the top of the second inning, the batter hit a line-drive foul ball directly at the first-base coach. The coach ducked in the knick of time. The stadium went crazy! A communal gasp, a burst of laughter, murmuring continue for another full minute before it was dead quiet again.

When either team scored, there was some polite clapping. When I go to games, I cheer when players on my team get hits, when there’s an awesome play in the field, or when I think something good happened for my team but it was actually something bad. That is not the Japanese way. I scream out “O” near the end of the National Anthem in support for my Orioles; they didn’t play any of the possible national anthems. I stretch in the middle of the seventh inning; the Japanese do not.

At some point, everybody started rooting for one player on the Away Team; every time he caught a ball, stepped up to bat, or stole a base, they cheered wildly for him. Neither Shula, Leora, nor I have the slightest clue why (I looked him up on Wikipedia, and he didn’t even have a page).

Reflecting on the game afterwards, Leora, Shula and I tried to figure out what the heck was going on in the stadium. Two theories emerged:

1. As a general rule, Japanese society demands winning. Second-best is unacceptable; outright losing is worse. To cause a player to err, to slip, to fail is not civilized.
2. In Japanese society, one must hold themselves with dignity at all times: screaming obscenities and making statements about the other team’s 1st baseman’s mother are not tolerated.

I think it’s probably a little bit of both.

That said: SS Tetsuya Tani is going to be making a name for himself this year, 2B Hirosayu Tanaka showed that he has the speed to lead the league in Triples again, and OF Lastings Milledge rode the bench. The game was free, the sky was clear, and the beer was Orion (“for your happy times!”). Happy Spring everyone!

Friday, February 17, 2012

there are signs everywhere...

I am a big fan of the movie Fools Rush In, starring Matthew Perry and Salma Hayek. If you haven’t seen it, and you’re in the mood for a romantic comedy, you should. I saw it for the first time with my dad, and have seen it since many times with Yoni, and we all quote lines back and forth to each other not infrequently. Why am I talking about Fools Rush In? Well, one of the lines that gets repeated in the movie is “there are signs everywhere.” Inspired by Fools Rush In, and by the people of Japan, today I bring you a collection of some of the funniest Japanese/Okinawan signs Yoni and I have come across so far.

Some of you might have seen this picture posted on Facebook; it’s the outside of Yoni’s and my favorite restaurant. Unfortunately, we don’t have any idea what it’s called! After 5 weeks of Japanese classes, I can decipher several words on the sign – you should definitely be impressed - but unfortunately they are all descriptive, and not name-worthy.

Yoni and I came across this sign on a hike. It speaks for itself…but also was a sign (ha) (to me, at least) that Japanese people do have a sense of humor hiding somewhere.

I think this photo was taken on the same day.

This needs no explanation.

A while back, Yoni and I visited Shuri Castle, the former seat of the Okinawan monarchy. The castle tour itself was kind of blah, but I did like these signs which kept us on the correct (and very regimented) path.

Who knew?! There was also a sign to Malibu Beach across the street from this display…

This past week, as part of Yoni’s birthday celebration, we went to our local zoo. It was a very interesting place (and a pretty sad zoo) – and they had some particularly funny signage. The above sign was next to the bear cage…

 …and this one was outside each of the 3 lion cages. 

This was taken at the airport in Okinawa. It’s a classic example of Japanese manners and etiquette.

I’m sure there will be further additions to this series; there are way too many funny things floating around Japan for there not to be. However, in my never-ending quest to bring Japan to you, I hope this gave you all a small sense of how funny (and confusing) life can be here on a daily basis.

For now, Shabbat Shalom from とうきょう (Tokyo), where I am spending the weekend with Shula!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Marriage in the Marine Corps

A few days ago, our apartment became inundated with piles and piles of stuff (our long-awaited Household Goods Shipment). A lot of the boxes were my beloved books (I missed them, and I think they missed me). Some of the boxes we haven’t seen since they were packed in August; some of the boxes haven’t been seen since they came off the Wedding Registry at Bed Bath and Beyond.

As a couple of the items that I chose for the registry are just making their first appearance in my life now (I’m looking at you Emeril Lagasse Cast-Iron Griddle and Grill), I’m pretty wedding nostalgic. Also, I love my wife, Valentine’s Day is coming up, and the flowers are in bloom.

As a chaplain, I am charged to care for all, to provide guidance and counseling. I think most rabbis do counseling around life cycle events (births, bar/bat mitzvah, wedding, funerals, etc), but I don’t get so many requests for Bar-Mitzvah help. Mostly, my counseling revolves around visits to the hospital and the brig. But I also get wedding counseling some times, and I love it…probably more than the Marines do.

When Leora and I got married, we did pre-marriage counseling with a few rabbis. Some because we wanted them to be part of our wedding, and some because I wanted to see what they do in their marriage counseling and I thought it would be a good way to learn.

Marines are mandated to go to marriage counseling with the chaplain. Should they refuse or neglect this responsibility, they are not allowed to get married. Period. They have a worksheet and it must be signed by a member of the Navy Chaplain Corps (this applies to both officers and enlisted).

There are reasons for this rule. There is a thinking that Marines fall in love a little too fast: “Chaps, I knew that we were meant to be…when she came down that pole last week, it was love at first sight.” And yes, that happens. Particularly to Marines who live in barracks – the idea that they just need to get married to get housing is mighty tempting. As chaplains, we are supposed to weed out the fraudulent marriages and the ones that wont’ last. In reality, if the Lance Corporal and the Stripper want to get hitched, I can tell them of the dangers, I can warn them that its not easy, and I can say that I won’t officiate (which is particularly easy to do here since military chaplains aren’t allowed to do weddings in Japan).

Many chaplains despise this job. It’s very bureaucratic, and can make you feel like the angry city worker on Centre Street. It’s a little degrading to the role of chaplain if you look at it that way. But I love it. In my first week with my Combat Logistics Regiment, I did a surprising amount of marriage counseling. I kept those kids in my office for an hour each (most chaplains are done in under a half hour). We did exercises, watched videos, talked about babies and floorplans and finances. I had a great time.

Last week, I went into the enlisted barracks for the first time. I just needed to run in for a short errand. Saturday night near 11pm is a time when most chaplains steer clear of the barracks: there is a lot of drinking and a lot of fraternizing; I had some mild flashbacks to college.

As I was leaving, the first soon-to-be bride that I had counseled came up to me. She stopped me in my tracks, stared me in the eye, and said “Thank You!” She and her fiancée had a great time at counseling, got a lot out of it, and now feel more ready to get married!

I don’t always feel successful in my chaplaincy, and I sometimes feel that the water is up to my neck. But moments like that make me feel like I’m at least doing something right.