We’re not in Tokyo anymore

We’ve switched venues, but not for long. Got to Osaka last night — but we’re taking off after tonight’s game and going to Fukuoka for the final leg of the trip. Before getting here, however, we had a memorable sightseeing tour of historic Kyoto, which gives you just a wonderful feel for ancient Japan.Kyototour

The Golden Pavilion is a chillingly amazing sight to see. If that doesn’t hit you, you might not have a pulse. It is right near the Rokouon-Ji Temple.Goldentemple

Before getting there, we had a real nice lunch — Italian-style buffet, but good. Like something you’d eat at a real fancy hotel buffet in America. The neighborhood near the restaurant was also neat, with another temple Morezenand some cool statues. These are sights that you don’t forget. Coolstatue

Our tour guide was very helpful and kept everyone laughing on the bus, including Ryan Howard, who was decked out in his throwback Johnny Unitas jersey.

The last stop on the tour, I must say, was a little goofy. It was called Movieland and was basically a poor man’s version of Universal Studios. I felt as if we had too much time there, but we’re kind of rushed through the other parts of the tour, which would have been nice to see more of. But that’s the only complaint you’ll hear from me.

When I say goofy, how else do you describe Ryan Howard trying his hand at archery? RyanscoresOr Brian Fuentes posing as a samurai. FuentesagainThere was also a haunted house where an imaginary dead person scared us all by jumping within an inch of you at the end. Poor Mike Myers’ kids, they were a little scared by that experience, and so was I.

Anyway, once we got to Osaka, we learned that while Tokyo is the political capital of Japan, Osaka is the commercial capital. It’s a financial district, and to me, it felt a little like the financial district of Boston. Tall buildings, water, Osakariverexpensive restaurants, good walking city, the whole deal. Osaka

Osaka is far less American-ized than Tokyo. It’s tough to order food.
The waiters and waitresses really try hard to understand you, but
there’s just such a language barrier.

The Kyocera Dome (formerly known as the Osaka Dome) is a nice, state-of-the-art venue. KyoceradomeIt’s much nicer than Tokyo Dome, which is sort of dingy and depressing. It’s eerie how much this place reminds me of the Rogers Centre in Toronto.  The roof is very cool here. RoofofosakaSkydomeimpHoward just went deep again. Unbelievable. Bumped into Bobby Valentine before the game. Managing in Japan has made him about 10 years younger. Unbelievable how refreshed he looks. Anyway, we’re off to Fukuoka after the game. Until then,

Sayonara,

Ian.

Ian.

The tourist thing

Yep, I did the tourist thing yesterday. The tour was provided to us by Major League Baseball, and many of the players were on it also. It was a local tour of Tokyo.

We started out at the historic Kannon Temple, which is the oldest temple in Tokyo.Temple It was pretty spectacular and i wish we had more time there. In front of the temple was Nakamise Street, which was a cool little shopping area with little token gifts and food that I didn’t recognize, but in once case, still decided to eat. Tasted like chicken or pork, or something in between. Iatethose

After that, we did a river cruise, which I must say, was not as nice as a river cruise would be in Boston, Chicago, New York or some other nice American city. The water was brown, not very attractive to look at. And we all sat on the bottom floor of the boat.

I have a theory about Tokyo. Nobody has gotten the memo that smoking is bad for the health. I’m not kidding when I say that just about everyone lights it up in Tokyo, and they are more than happy to do it in public. Every bar or restaurant you go to is filled with smoke. And this boat ride was pretty unbearable because of all the smokers. Smoking is one vice I’ve never quite understood. It smells bad and it’s bad for you. What’s the point of it? Just have a beer instead, I say. Make it a Sapporo.

Once we got off the smoky boat, we explored a garden and park type area. Very woodsy, nice to walk around, and a little bit of history to go with it.Dontknow If you’re wondering who is pictured in this statue, i was wondering the exact same thing. But I do have an answer for you. Check it out. Click for clearer image.Thatswho

Then, it was back on the bus and off to a very nice Sushi restaurant. We sat at big tables, which made it nice and social. As regular readers of this blog know by now, I love sushi. But the same can not be said for everyone on this trip. Chris Capuano’s dad, who, by the way, is a great guy, is not a sushi eater. But he gave it a try.

Chris Young and his lovely wife didn’t seem to be too into the sushi, as most of the food was left on their plates. I was too polite to ask them if I could eat it for them. Ha ha.

Not quite sure what the dessert was, but it tasted good. It was some sort of wrap with doughey sweet stuff in the middle. I seriously have no clue what it was.

Then it was back to work — back to the ballpark. Ryan Howard was on the tour all day with his mom and sister. But the day obviously didn’t tucker him out as he belted a couple of titanic home runs.

Howard also had the line of the day. After his first homer, some little kids ran out and handed him a flower. I guess it is customary in Japan during special events such like this to give gifts to the home run hitter of the hour. Anyway, Howard, talking about his second homer said, "I was hoping I’d get a bouquet for the second one."

I’m lucky enough to cover David Ortiz in Boston and i’m sure the Philly guys feel the same way about Howard. This man is something special. He’s great for the game.

MLB leads the series, 2-0. Perhaps they’ll run the table and re-establish their dominance on a national level.

We’re off for more tourism tomorrow, with a trip to Kyoto, which gives you a real feel of ancient Japan, without many of the modern Western-style fixtures that you see in Tokyo. Then we’ll get to Osaka after the tour, where Game 4 of this series will be played on Tuesday evening (Dawn for you guys and gals back in the states). The trip wraps up in Fukuoka on Wednesday, the native land of Mariners catcher Kenji Johjima.

I miss my wife and kids, Jailboysand, of course, the good old USA. But this trip has been a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to the rest of it.

Sayonara. Or as they say back in the States — Hasta La Vista Baby.

Ian.

Japanese baseball

I continue to learn new things every day out here, even from a baseball standpoint. For instance, at the Tokyo Dome, there is a protective mesh fence that extends all the way from the screen behind the plate and all the way down both foul lines. They take every measure here to make sure the paying spectators do not get harmed by a foul ball. I must say, that is very cool, especially for the youngsters in the audience.

Here’s another cool thing. When they take BP here before the game, it is serious BP.Realbp They use real pitchers who are humming the ball in at 80-85 MPH, unlike the soft-serve slop that MLB hitters rake against in BP. They mean business out here. Every movement is with a purpose of getting ready for the game. There is no wasted energy. They even have bunting centers during the game, where hitters bunt against a pitching machine that is bringing the pitches in at game speed. No wonder why they are so great at fundamentals out here.

Today, they did have the two cages side-by-side as they did yesterday. Instead, there was another cage behind the regular cage where a batter took flips from a coach and hit the ball against a screen that had a bulls-eye sign on it. You can’t see the bulls-eye in the picture because the batter just hit the baseball into it, forcing the white drapery to rise.Ballbullseye

As for the game itself, there was a bit of pomp and circumstance, as this was the first real game in the Japan All-Star Series. The prime minister of Japan — Shinzo Abe — threw out the first pitch. The poor guy gave it a good try, but I’m not exaggerating when i say that he missed catcher Kenji Johjima by a good 20 feet.

Once the game started, each MLB player was introduced individually when they went out to play defense. And they all threw a squishy ball into the crowd. i guess that’s some sort of custom here.

Before the game, I took a walk out to the Japanese Garden that is at the hotel we’re all staying at it, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that it was spectacular.Japanesegarden I especially loved the fishies in the pond. Great stuff, really.Thosearefish

Tomorrow, there is a big sightseeing tour of Tokyo, so I’ll be sure to take some pictures of that.

Until then, sayonara!

Ian.

Baseball, politics and food for thought

Quite an interesting day, Day 3 here in Tokyo. I had the honor of going with five players to the office of the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe. He is a big baseball fan, they say. The entrance to his office was pretty cool, it had a huge Japanese garden outside.

ScoreboardoftokyThen I got here to the Tokyo Dome and realized that Japanese teams taking batting practice with two batting cages side-by-side. That was weird.

Another quirk here. The bullpens are underneath the stadium so the players out there have to watch the game on TV. The atmosphere is pretty lively. They are doing a lot of very animated chants, not that I could translate them for you. Also, the dugouts are very orderly, amazingly clean, and have two rows of seats.

DugoutI’ve just been trying to soak all of this in as much as I can. The hotel we’re staying at — the Hotel New Otani — has a very nice surrounding area. It’s next to a shopping mall which has some wonderful architecture on the bottom floor.

ThatssushiI had some more awesome Sushi today, I just can’t get enough of it.
Another interesting thing about life here is that people wear oxygen masks when they are sick as a measure to not spread germs. Also, at the hotel, they are not big on people talking on their cellphones.

Hotelgazebo_1Discovered a very cool nightlife district of Tokyo last night called Roppongi. It felt a lot like Times Square and the bar we went to loved American disco songs. Those of us Grease and Saturday Night Fever buffs surely enjoyed it. Good time had by all.

NocellI’m looking forward to reporting on more places in the coming days, including the Imperial Palace. There really aren’t enough hours in the day to see everything that is here. I might come back here for vacation some day so I can really live it up.

If this exhibition against Yomiuri is any indication — a 7-7 tie — there is going to be some stiff competition out here.

Sayonara,

Ian.

A walk through Tokyo

Tokyonight I took a walk through the main streets of Tokyo last night, when it was all lit up, and again today. Very, very cool.

And very American-feeling. For every sushi or noodle place, you can find a McDonald’s or Subway. A ton of the natives speak English, which is very helpful for a tourist such as myself.

McdonaldsI ate some Sushi last night, which was incredible. I kid you not when I say it melted in my mouth. And that was even before I had the beer to go with it.

I slept off the jetlag with one heck of a good sleep. My fear that I was going to turn into Bill Murray in Lost in Translation and not be able to sleep my entire time here was quickly put to bed, literally.

SushiWoke up feeling like a new man. Got outside and discovered that it was a gorgeous day in Tokyo. Temperature in the mid 60s, no humidity, beautiful. I’ll tell you this, the buildings are tall here.

Ate lunch with my pal Vinny  — those of you MLB.TV watchers know who Vinny is — and we changed our cash for Yen at a Citibank and then had a really good lunch at a noodle place.

SkyscraperI must say it was a little challenging trying to explain to the server what we wanted, but the servers here really bear with you until they understand what you’re saying. The noodles were delicious, and were in a soup with some type of meat. I have no clue what I was eating but I do know that it tasted very good.

CrossingstreetWhen we walked back to the hotel, the Japanese business day was in full force. The business attire seems to consist of conservative suits, typically with black sportscoats. Everyone is extremely polite and respectful. While it looks a lot like New York, it is much quieter. Honking horns? What’s that? People abide by the laws here.

Crossing the street is interesting. Nobody j-walks. You wait until the light turns green (that’s the walk signal for pedestrians.) There are no false starts around here.

Sayonara (for now),

Ian.

Konnichiwa

For those of us trying to learn the most elementary of Japanese, that means hello. Here I am in Tokyo after a long travel day that started with the MLB charter leaving Phoenix at 11 a.m. local time Monday and arriving here at roughly 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday. 1030061011

Yes, the system is a little out of whack, but it wasn’t a bad day at all. The atmosphere on the plane was very laid back. A lot of players slept, watched TV, played video games or cards. Bronson Arroyo played the guitar. The seats turned into beds. I must say, that was very cool.

Once we got here, the Japanese media seemed very excited to see the Major League stars. Flashbulbs popped the second we walked out the door of customs and toward the buses.
Picture04

It was a pretty decent haul from the airport to downtown Tokyo, where the team hotel is. It was a little after 5 p.m. by the time we arrived.

The drive was interesting. In Japan, they drive on the left side of the road with the steering wheel on the right side of the car. That much I learned. During the ride, I saw two of the largest ferris wheel’s of all-time. I can’t believe how high they were.

The sunset was gorgeous. Unfortunatley, this picture I took from the moving bus doesn’t quite illustrate how gorgeous.
Picture06Once we got close to downtown, the traffic made it feel like New York City at rush hour. So did the skyscrapers, which seemed even higher here than in the Biggest Apple. It’s going to be a great time. I can tell you that much.

The welcome press conference starts in about a half hour downstairs, so I’m going to go get ready for that. I’ll check in with some more soon. Happy Halloween to those of you back in the States! Have a Kit Kat on me.

Sayonara

Ian.

Desert first — then the Far East

Before this star-studded collection  of Major League All-Stars departs Monday for a fascinating trip to Tokyo, they have gathered here in the Desert for workouts this weekend. Sorry, you residents of Arizona, the gatherings are closed to the public.

1027061353For us media members lucky enough to get through the gates, there wasn’t a heck of a lot of excitement today, but it was hard not to marvel at the collection of stars sharing the field. Ryan Howard, David Wright, Andruw Jones, Jose Reyes, Jermaine Dye, mercy. Lots of studs.

Phoenix is a good, blissful place to kind of chill out before the electricity and frenzied excitement that will be Tokyo, and the other stops in Japan.

1027061639I must say, it’s kind of strange to watch Major Leaguers go through the paces of Spring Training in late October, when the World Series is winding down. The guys who didn’t make the playoffs have been off for the last month, and now, all of a sudden, they are starting it up again.

I suppose this tour represents the International coming out party of Ryan Howard. Do you think he can match the 515-foot homer that Big Papi hit in Japan two years ago? Don’t be surprised by anything this man does. He did swat 58 home runs this season, after all, and has the smile and the personality that will allow him to easily embrace the Big Attraction role that he will surely play during this tour.  Life isn’t so bad for Bruce Bochy right now. He became the Giants manager today, and, tomorrow, he comes out here to manage these All-Stars. Just FYI, i’ll be blogging regularly until this tour ends on Nov. 9. So come back here early and often for updates of the games and the sights.1027061506b

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