Saturday, December 31, 2011

FC Tokyo Supporters' Chants

In an earlier post I described how one goes about buying tickets to football matches in Japan. Once I had gotten over this initial hump and the process became easy, I went to a few more games over the last couple of months.

The club I chose to follow is FC Tokyo, one of the two 2nd division J League clubs from Tokyo itself. There's actually - if you count both 1st and 2nd divisions - a bunch of clubs that play in the Kanto region that Tokyo is part of, including this season's J1 champions Kashiwa Reysol, as well as the more storied clubs Urawa Reds and Kashima Antlers. My reasons for going with FC Tokyo were in part simply due to laziness - they play their home games not far from where I live - and also because theirs was the first game I went to, removing from my fandom contention the other local club Tokyo Verdy. (Of course, the fact that halfway through my first game I found out FC Tokyo were well-placed to win promotion back to J1, that was never really a factor.)

Anyway, here I'll share some of the chants that I've learned and recorded.

You'll Never Walk Alone
I know, kind of lame, but this is what the supporters sing before the start of every game. Didn't feel the urge to hit record on this one but here's a picture. It wouldn't be Japanese if it weren't done karaoke-style, with the lyrics up on the jumbotron.

Tokyo Koso Subete

Tokyo koso subete, orerawo atsukusuru
(Tokyo for sure all of us can feel the heat)       
Jounetsuwo butsukero, yusho tsukamitore
(Let's attack with passion and grab victory)
Vamos Tokyo, vamos Tokyo
Vamos Tokyo, vamos Tokyo

Vamos of course being Spanish for "let's go".

This particular instance was right after the last home game of this season. Tokyo had already won promotion to the top level the week before so here after the game ended they went up to the home supporters to celebrate and pose for photos.

Nemuranai Machi

Tokyo, Tokyo, nemuranai machi
(Tokyo, Tokyo, the city that never sleeps)
Ao to aka no, orera no hokori, whoa!
(In blue and red is our pride)

This chant is sung as the final seconds are running out but only if Tokyo are winning.


Oretachino oh Tokyo
(Our Tokyo)
Sa yuko sekai mezashi
(Come let's go towards the goal)

Melissa is originally a song by the Japanese band Porno Graffitti. It's also the theme song for a manga series called Fullmetal Alchemist. This chant just borrows the tune, I'm not sure if there's some other connection. You can listen to the original song here.

La Edogawa / O Cesar Ohh

Tatakae oreno Tokyo,
(Fight, our Tokyo)
Kyo mo shouri o shinjite
(Today again we believe you'll win)
Hajikeyou, Tobitakyu
(Blow it open at Tobitakyu) 
Makeru wake wa nai sa
(There's no way we'll lose)

Tobitakyu is the name of the train station closest to the Ajinomoto Stadium, one of two stadiums where FC Tokyo plays its home games (and yes, same Ajinomoto as the food flavoring/coloring company). With this chant, as I was recording it a goal was scored by Tokyo's Brazilian striker Roberto Cesar, prompting the crowd to break into "O Cesar Ohh".

Vamos Vamos Tokyo

Vamos vamos Tokyo
Vamos Tokyo, vamos Tokyo

Pretty simple, nothing to it really.

Aishteru Tokyo

Aishteru Tokyo, lalalalalala
(I love you Tokyo, lala...)
Aishteru Tokyo, lalalalalala
Aishteru Tokyo, lala-la-lala-la-la

This is set to the tune of Frankie Valli's Can't Take My Eyes Off You.

Verdy Dakeniha Makerarenai

Verdy dakeniha, makerarenai
(There's no way we'll lose to Verdy)
Oretachino chikara, misete yarouze
(Let's show them our strength)

This chant is specific to derby rivals Tokyo Verdy. I find it a little endearing how it is only mildly antagonistic.

Minna De Utao

Oh oreno Tokyo, hokori o mochi
(We have pride in our Tokyo)
Tachi agatte minna de utao
(Everybody let's sing together)
La la la la la...

Coffee Rumba

Ole ole ole ole ole ole Tokyo
Tachi agare tobi hanero
(Let's stand up and jump up and down)
Kyo wa makerarenai hida
( Today isn't the day we're going to lose)
Tobe sakebe oreno Tokyo
(Let's jump and shout for our Tokyo)

One of my favorite chants. The tune is borrowed from a song called Moliendo Cafe by Venezuelan musician Hugo Blanco. In Japan the tune came to be known as Coffee Rumba, and has been covered by a bunch of different people. There are two versions in particular that I really like. One is by two ladies playing the marimba in Ueno Park, while the other is an acoustic guitar version by the band Ohho.

So there you have it. This list of chants is by no means comprehensive, only those I've been able to work out so far. I hope to go to more games next season and record more stuff. Especially since because of being back in J1 there should be bigger crowds and a better atmosphere overall.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Virtual Girlfriends vs Fantasy Sports

Read this article from the Guardian today. In particular this passage got me thinking:
Virtual girlfriends became a sensation last summer, when Japanese game-maker Konami released its second-generation of its popular Love Plus, called, aptly, Love Plus +, for the Nintendo DS gaming system. Konami skillfully arranged for an otherwise deadbeat beach resort town called Atami to host a Love Plus + holiday weekend. Players were invited to tote their virtual girlfriends, via the gaming console, to the actual resort town to cavort for a weekend in romantic bliss. The promotion was absurdly successful, with local resort operators reporting that it was their best weekend in decades.
"This is very Japanese," is the first thought that came to my mind.

Now, however, contrast with this:
Over 2,500 fans attended the inaugural Fantasy Football SUPERDRAFT that took place August 27th - 30th 2009 in Las Vegas. Some came to host their drafts in true Vegas style at the customized Draft Room complete with cheerleaders, fantasy experts and surprise celebrity appearances. Some opted for a private draft experience in one of the luxury draft suites. ... SUPERDRAFT began as a destination weekend for fantasy football enthusiasts to hold their drafts like they had never done before. What SUPERDRAFT became was not only the largest fantasy football draft experience in history, but also an unprecedented media and entertainment phenomenon.
Is one necessarily weirder than the other? And this is coming from somebody who's spent a fair bit of time playing fantasy sports.

Conceivably, some people who have no qualms cavorting around with virtual companions might think it weird how a multi-million-dollar industry complete with regular news coverage is centered around imaginary sports teams. Isn't it just a question of perspective?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A KFC Christmas in Japan

Today over lunch with a group of friends (Pakistani place in Azabujuban called Siddique Palace, good food especially the bakray ki raan) conversation turned to plans for Christmas day.

"So are you going to KFC tomorrow?"

Er... didn't really have any plans in particular. Why?

"It's the thing to do! Everybody goes to KFC on Christmas! The tradition is to have fried chicken."

Huh. Had no idea. How did this come about?

Here no one seemed to know for sure. One of the Japanese girls at the table said that many years ago a Westerner was in Japan and wanted to eat turkey for Christmas dinner but not finding any opted for fried chicken from KFC instead. Someone else pointed out that with most Japanese not having ovens in their homes, baking a turkey or chicken is out of the question, and so getting chicken from KFC is just more practical.

Which is all fine and good I guess, and when I got home and Googled this it seemed to confirm what I'd just heard about the origins of chicken for Christmas. From CNN:
According to the company, their holiday campaign was first conceived in 1971, at their Aoyama store. A homesick foreigner wandered in, bemoaned Japan’s lack of turkey, and chose fried chicken as the next-best alternative.

Today, the company claims, ”Japan has a custom of chicken for Christmas, and the origin of this custom is KFC.”
But  the question still remains as to why this foreigner wanted turkey for Christmas. Is that a tradition somewhere that I haven't heard of? I know of course about turkey and Thanksgiving but this I can't understand. (Edit: Well, I'm obviously ignorant. As commenters have pointed out this is an established practice.)

Anyway, regardless of origin, the tradition is now firmly in place, and I'm sure we can all agree that this is ingenious marketing by KFC. Convince people that this is how it's done abroad and create a tradition out of thin air. KFC starts taking orders for party packs two months in advance. Japan Times quotes a KFC spokesman as saying that sales over Christmas account for 20% of annual sales, while another piece from the Financial Times says that sales over December 23, 24 & 25 are half normal monthly sales. The CNN article mentioned above also talks about how McDonald's now wants a piece of this market and is expanding the chicken offerings on its menu.

More Googling revealed that the largest density of KFCs in Japan is in Okinawa Prefecture, with 1.38 restaurants per 100,000 people. Okinawa is an island where the US has military bases so American consumers are probably what drive the business there. Also apparently the tradition there is to give fried chicken from KFC as wedding gifts. Sort of similar to Pakistan in that sense, how strong ties exist between weddings and the poultry industry!

On my way home from the lunch I popped into the KFC near my house and sure enough they had extra staff outside taking orders. Inside they were advertising their special Christmas menu:

While the whole dining area inside the store had been converted into a delivery station. If you had pre-ordered you just brought your receipt here where they had stacked up all the boxes and picked up your order.

Now if you'll excuse me I have some chicken nuggets to wolf down.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Buying Tickets to a 'Sakka' Match

I had an interesting experience the first time I went to buy tickets to a football - or 'sakka' (soccer; in Japanese: サッカー) - match in Tokyo. I had been wanting to go ever since finding out that Tokyo had 2 club teams playing in the J League 2nd Division. These being FC Tokyo, who got demoted from J1 last season, and Tokyo Verdy. So one weekend I found out FC Tokyo were playing Yokohama FC at home, and I decided I'd go check it out. Yokohama is just south of Tokyo, about half an hour by train. It's also the 2nd most populous city in Japan. All signs pointed to a healthy derby-like atmosphere.

The game was being played at the Tokyo National Olympic Stadium, which isn't too far from where I live. So the day before the game I walked over moon utha kay, thinking there probably would be a booth or office where I could buy tickets in advance. I looked at the map outside the stadium and started walking towards the information center marked on it.

The national stadium is also a track and field center so there were a bunch of runners doing their drills outside. This stadium held the IAAF World Championships in 1991 for which they still have the leaderboard outside. And one of my favorite athletes' name is right at the top. It was here in 1991 that Carl Lewis ran the 100 meters in 9.86 seconds to set a new world record, which stood for about 3 years. According to Lewis this was the best race he'd ever run.

Leaderboard for Tokyo '91 outside the National Stadium

Anyway after getting a bit sidetracked I finally made my way to the information center. There in my broken Japanese I expressed my desire to buy tickets to the next day's game. But I was very politely told they didn't sell tickets there. One of the ladies behind the desk looked up something on her computer for a couple of minutes and then came to me with a number written on a sticky note with 'Loppi code' written next to it. At first I thought it might be a phone number I needed to call, which would be a real pain to do on my own. But then she said something about Lawson convenience stores, and entering the code she gave me in a Loppi machine. At least that's what I think she said as I only understood about 50% of it.

Lawson stores as I mentioned in an earlier post are everywhere. There are two within a 5-minute walk from my apartment, and luckily there was one right next to the stadium as well, so I didn't have to walk far.

Now, inside each store there is this machine that looks like an ATM called the Loppi.

It's all touch screen, and the big button on the left seemed to say something about entering codes so I pressed that.

I then entered the number the lady had given me. This pulled up another screen with match information. The date and team names matched what I wanted (not in this example, I took these pictures when I went to buy tickets for a different game) so I just hit the button to go to the next screen.

Next the machine asked me what stand I wanted tickets for, giving the various price options. (If tickets have sold out it doesn't let you go beyond this point; if they're still available it asks you how many you want.) Once I made my selection, it asked me to enter my name in Japanese, and then my phone number.

Finally, after confirming all the details, it printed out a receipt. I took this receipt to the store counter where they processed it. My tickets printed right there and then, I paid for them at the counter, and that was that.

It all sounds pretty simple now that I've done it a few times, and it's super convenient. You can buy tickets to just about anything from this machine: sports events, concerts, movies, plays, etc. Each event has its own unique Loppi code, the trick is being able to find the code online, navigating at times Japanese-only websites. But once you have the code then it's just a question of whether tickets are still available or not. Like for example I tried to buy tickets for the recently concluded FIFA Club World Cup but within a few days of going on sale they had all sold out. Or tomorrow FC Tokyo are playing in the quarter finals of the Emperor's Cup (Japan's equivalent of the Copa del Rey or the FA Cup) and that sold out pretty quickly as well.

Just another one of those things where now that you know how its done you wouldn't think to do it any other way. But learning the process itself is the challenge.

Anyway the game itself was fun. Tokyo ran out easy 3-0 winners over Yokohama. Though the derby-like atmosphere I had hoped for wasn't really there. Or well not by Spanish or English derby standards anyway. There's definitely home and away supporter sections, each with their respective chants (more on FC Tokyo chants in a following post), but true to norms of politeness everything was done in a very civil manner. For example, when a Yokohama player was subbed in the 2nd half, he got an ovation from all sections of the stadium, there was no booing or jeering.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Assorted Earthquake/Tsunami Links

I wanted to share a few links related to the March 11 earthquake and resulting tsunami in the Tohoku region of Japan.

The first comes via Al-Jazeera, a short documentary called Tendenko. It's mostly an interview with one family in the town of Kamaishi in Iwate Prefecture. Iwate was one of the areas hardest hit by the tsunami, yet in this one town survival rates were unusually high, especially among schoolkids. The reason? From the Daily Yomiuri:

Since 2005, the Kamaishi city government has invited disaster management education experts to offer advice, and among the lessons' important points was "tendenko"--a word coined from the city's long history of repeatedly being hit by tsunami.
The word means to "go uphill independently at the time of tsunami caring only for your own safety, not thinking of anyone else, even your family."
On the afternoon of March 11, about 80 percent of the 184 students were on their way home from Kamaishi Primary School due to a reduced-hour schedule toward the end of the semester. Tsunami hit many school zones except on the mountainous side of town, but all the students were safe.

Here's the documentary, in Japanese with English subtitles:

The basic idea behind Tendenko might not seem too earth-shattering, especially to anyone who's listened (or pretended to) to flight announcements before take-off, how you should put your own oxygen mask on first before trying to help anyone else, etc. Yet, as Al-Jazeera puts it, "Tendenko prioritises individual action and self-preservation - and yet such thinking is anathema to Japanese culture." Putting the well-being of the community over the individual seems to be culturally ingrained. Which might explain why the concept of Tendenko isn't readily practiced elsewhere.

Next, here's a clip showing size and location of all earthquakes that happened in the world between January 1 and October 15, 2011. The point here is just to put into perspective the force of nature unleashed on Japan on March 11. Watch the seismic death spirals around the 2:00 mark.

Last week scientists in the US said that the tsunami generated by the earthquake was actually created by the merging of at least two wave fronts. The power of this combined wave was such that even with Japan having the most advanced tsunami warning system in the world it was caught by surprise.

On Monday, Google announced that it had made available on Google Maps Street View more than 44,000 km of 360-degree panoramic imagery of the tsunami-affected Tohoku region. From the Official Google Blog:
A virtual tour via Street View profoundly illustrates how much these natural disasters have transformed these communities. If you start inland and venture out toward the coast, you’ll see the idyllic countryside change dramatically, becoming cluttered with mountains of rubble and debris as you get closer to the ocean. In the cities, buildings that once stood proud are now empty spaces.
The images can also be viewed via a special website called “Build the Memory,” where you can easily compare before and after shots of the towns changed by these events.

Monday, September 26, 2011


From yesterday's New York Times:
After a long, hot and dark summer in Japan, the days are cooler and the nights are brighter. For this the Japanese can give thanks not just to September, but also to setsuden, or “energy saving,” an ambitious and strikingly successful campaign to conserve electricity after the March earthquake, tsunami and nuclear-plant disasters.
The destruction of the Fukushima Daiichi plant led Japan to shut down all but 15 of its 54 nuclear reactors. This was a huge blow to a country that depends heavily on nuclear power and has made scant investments in renewable energy. As summer approached, the only way to avoid a national energy emergency was through drastic conservation. And so the Japanese powered down.
And boy, power down they did.

One of the first things I noticed when I got into Tokyo was how dark everything seemed to be. Complete contrast from the sea of neon lights I was expecting. Other than the necessary street lights and a few lights in buildings here and there, everything else was shut off.

In my office building there's a bank of 4 elevators. Two had permanently been closed while next to the other two there was a sign politely asking you to take the stairs if you could help it. Generally if people had to go up 3 stories or less, they'd take the stairs. And on the way down almost everybody took the stairs. Since it's only a 6 story building, it didn't require that much effort.

The thermostat in the building was turned up and air conditioning hours were reduced.  To accommodate this the suit-and-tie dress code was relaxed. Most hallway lights were turned off. The kitchen light stayed off unless you needed to use it.  On the ceiling, alternate rows of tube lights had been turned off. In fact, not just turned off, in some areas building maintenance had come and physically removed them so that you couldn't even be tempted to turn them on. People were also asked to come in to work early and finish early, thereby reducing the need to have lights turned on in the evening.

In most train stations and department stores, down escalators had been turned off. If you wanted to you could still take the elevator in cases where you had a lot of bags to carry. This would usually involve a bit of a detour to get to the elevator, but I suppose on the list of inconveniences this would be pretty minor.

The diligence with which all this was done was simply amazing to observe. And it wasn't all just because there were government directives you had to follow or because people wanted to avoid having to go through blackouts or load-shedding. You got the feeling that Tokyoites were doing this because it was a way for them to show solidarity with their compatriots in the Tohoku region. Tokyo itself received very little damage from the earthquake and since it sits in a bay there were no tsunami fears either. So relatively speaking people's lives here had hardly been disrupted other than the initial shock and aftermath. Taking part in the setsuden campaign then was a way for them to sacrifice a little and share in the misfortune of millions of people in the northeast.

Most of these steps are things that would seem to be common sense. They don't really require one to give up all that much. But with everyone chipping in just a little bit, collectively it has had a huge impact.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Kurinto Iisutowuddo

There is a Korean restaurant near work where I go every now and then for lunch. I wasn't that familiar with Korean food before coming here so when I first went I was quite interested to check it out. And I liked it, so have kept going back for more.

My standard thing to get is bibimbap, which is rice served in a hot stone bowl, topped with sliced vegetables and meat and a fried egg. I remembered to take a picture this time.

It's served as part of a set. This includes a soup, salad and kimchi, which can come in many varieties but here is spicy pickled radish. There's coffee and and a small dessert at the end of the meal as well.

The main dish as you can see is served steaming hot, and you're actually supposed to stir and cook the food a little bit before you begin eating. If you want your sinuses cleared this is a great thing to have, especially if you also mix in the hot sauce they provide.

Anyway, usually this place is pretty crowded at lunch time. This time it was a latish lunch for me so I ended being the only one there, which allowed me to take in the ambiance a bit more. Until now really the only thing I had noticed about the place other than the food was the music. (They are really fond of playing 80s soft rock ballads, like Richard Marx, etc.) This time as I looked around I saw these movie posters up on the wall. All films starring the great Kurinto Iisutowuddo. You can click to enlarge to see the original titles in English but I've left the captions as they're written in Japanese.

Buronko Birii

Daati Harii 3


Daati Faitaa

Since they're borrowed from English, the titles are all in katakana, which makes it good reading practice for me. And actually I don't think I've seen any of these, other than maybe Dirty Harry 3: The Enforcer.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Inzamam and Run Outs

Inzamam-ul-Haq is widely acknowledged to be one of the worst runners between the wickets in One Day International cricket. With 40 run outs next to his name, he's joint 2nd on the list of most run outs along with Rahul Dravid, just one behind Marvan Atapattu's 41.

Australia vs Pakistan, Headingley, 1999. Source: ESPN Cricinfo

But is there more to his run out record than meets the eye? In this post I try and dig deeper in the stats to find out.

Below is a screen grab of the 11 players with the most run outs in ODIs, with a minimum qualification of 30 dismissals. You can access the direct query here.

Inzamam leads the Pakistani pack ahead of Mohammad Yousuf and Wasim Akram. In fact the list is dominated by batsmen from the subcontinent, with 9 out of the 11 players coming from Sri Lanka, India or Pakistan. This is not completely unexpected given the large number of ODIs these countries participate in every year. The idea being that if two batsmen get run out say 5% of the time, then on an aggregate basis the guy who plays 100 games will have more run outs than someone with 50 games.

So it might be more worthwhile to look at the above list rearranged in order of run outs as a percentage of total dismissals. This is not straightforward to do on Statsguru (or if there is a way then I don't know how) but with a bit of work one can come up with the following list:

Run out percentage is calculated as run outs divided by dismissals, while dismissals are simply innings less not outs.

As you can see, Inzamam - with 13.5% of his total ODI dismissals being run outs - comes in at #7, surprisingly behind guys like Dravid, Mark Waugh and Arjuna Ranatunga. Atapattu meanwhile maintains the top spot, while both Akram and Yousuf move well ahead of Inzamam to second and third, respectively. At the bottom of the list come Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting, and one can make the case based on their low percentages that it's simply a case of having played a lot of games that they make the list at all.

So already based on percentages one can argue that Inzamam wasn't as bad as some of the other guys on this list. (Note by the way that this list isn't of players with the highest percentage of run outs overall, just those with 30 run outs or more.)

Next, let's take a look at Inzamam's run out distribution, by way of a graph showing run outs per year. I have excluded 1991 since it only covers 2 matches and no run outs.

Here a curious pattern can immediately be seen. For the first 8 years, with the exception of 1995 there is a relatively high number of run outs each year. But then starting in 2000 all the way through to his retirement in 2007, they level off at 1 run out a year (2 in 2003). This picture suggests two distinct phases in Inzamam's career, namely the 1990s when he was getting run out a lot, and the 2000s with hardly any.

What could have caused this drop? A few explanations came to mind.
  • Inzamam didn't play as many games in the second half of his career.
  • Inzamam didn't run as much in the 2000s, scoring more runs in boundaries.
  • He grew wiser/more responsible (possibly as a result of being handed the captaincy).
  • He got faster.
As for the first two points, stats can show that this isn't the case at all.
The data above shows that the split between matches played in both decades is roughly the same. Inzamam played 53% of his matches in the 1990s and 47% in the 2000s. So the two groups are fairly comparable. The figures also confirm the dramatic drop in the 2000s both in total run outs as well as in percentage of run out dismissals. Total run outs and percentage of run outs in the 2000s are about a third of what they were in the 1990s, suggesting quite a dramatic improvement. For comparison's sake, Sachin Tendulkar over the same period in the 2000s had 10 run outs in 136 dismissals, compared to Inzamam's 9 in 133.

Next, we take a look at the percentage of non-boundary runs scored, i.e. runs that required actual running between the wickets. The idea here is simple: the more you run between the wickets, the more opportunities there are to get run out. And so conversely if you cut out these opportunities you won't get run out as much. In Inzamam's case, this figure stays pretty close to 60% throughout. There is a slight drop for sure in the latter half, but that difference equates to about 120 runs. It is hard to imagine that such a small difference in runs could account for run outs to decrease by a factor of 3.

The one caveat with measuring non-boundary runs is that the stats don't show what types of runs these were. It could be that as he went along, Inzamam cut out sharp singles entirely and was content with easy runs like pushes down the ground or to third man, etc. In this manner he'd still have plenty of non-boundary runs but with very little risk of getting run out. Unfortunately, this is not something that can be verified easily with the stats available, but if I were to guess I'd say these would average out across both samples.

For the third and fourth bullet points, there's no way to measure this statistically. Inzamam did captain the team for 90 out of the 178 games in the 2000s so there is a case to be made for him taking on more responsibility while batting and not being as reckless. But the low run out period had begun a couple of years before he became captain.

Regarding his speed, I was only joking. Hard to imagine that a guy who went from this:

Inzamam in 1992. Source: BBC Sports

to this:

Inzamam in late 2000. Source: ESPN Cricinfo

got faster over time.

Having said that, I don't think speed was really the issue with Inzamam. His first captain, Imran Khan, once while commentating during a game remarked how Inzamam early on was an extremely poor judge of when a run was on. A lot goes into when you decide to run, whether the fielder is quick, has a good throw, who your partner is, who's running towards the danger end (the end closest to the ball). With Inzamam, it seems it took a lot of time before he gained a sense of whether he should be going for a run or not.

This could potentially be one explanation for the lop-sided nature of his run out stats, that early on he had bad judgment, but then as he matured over time he gained this intuition and got the monkey off his back.

Finally, there's also the other side to run outs, which is how many times you run your partner out. If you're a really bad runner, then you'll involve your partner in a lot of mix-ups as well. Here again, stats are not easily available and to actually compile a list would take a lot of effort. However, some years ago the folks at Cricinfo did precisely this. What emerged from this study was quite surprising. If you count the number of run out dismissals plus the number of times you run your partner out i.e. total run out involvement, then it is actually Steve Waugh who's the biggest culprit (at least as of 2005).

So was Inzamam a bad runner, one of the worst ever? I would argue he definitely started out that way, and if his career were to have ended in 1999 he very well could have carried that tag on his own. However, he made a remarkable improvement to this facet of his game later on, and it is something that he doesn't really get credit for.

Monday, September 12, 2011

After Three Months in Tokyo (Part II)

Here's the second part to my three-month Tokyo recap. You can read Part I directly below or follow the link here.

On my first day at work, among other things like instructions on how to access my email etc, I found this sitting on my desk.

For a second I wondered if we were going on a build somewhere. But no, as it turned out this was for earthquake safety. Everybody keeps one of these hardhats under their desks. In the event of a major earthquake you're supposed to put this on and hide under your desk. So far we've had numerous tremors though luckily none that have required us to put our hats on. Still it's a constant reminder of the everpresent danger.

To get a sense of the size and number of earthquakes that happen in this part of the world, here's a time lapse map of every earthquake greater than 4.0M that's occurred since March 11. As of today, there have been over 1500 of these. Pay close attention at around 14.45 JST on March 11, that's when the big 9.0M quake struck.

Today (yesterday, technically) Japan marks the six-month anniversary of this earthquake - one of the five most powerful ever recorded, which lowered the coastline by a meter and pushed the island two meters closer to the US. The resulting tsunami - with waves in some areas reaching as high as 40m - was what caused most of the damage and loss of life. You can see some pictures of the devastation here and here.

Cleanup and rebuilding efforts are well underway and the speed at which things are progressing is quite impressive.

Fukushima and Radiation
Of course the third disaster after the earthquake and tsunami was the meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The situation in the area immediately surrounding the plant is not so great. Tens of thousands have been forced to evacuate their homes and it is feared the area will be uninhabitable for decades to come. The plant itself is scheduled for a complete shutdown by January.

Outside of a 15-20 mile radius of the plant, things while not completely normal are relatively under control. Tokyo for example is far enough away that there is no direct threat from radiation. The problem arises due to secondary causes, however. Fukushima is an agricultural area so a lot of produce comes from there, as well as dairy products and seafood. There have been cases of radiation being detected in Fukushima produce, enough to deter people - foreigners especially - from buying anything from that area. (Some are avoiding Japanese produce altogether, and instead only buying imported goods.) Another example of this secondary effect is that beef produced from cows outside Fukushima was found to be contaminated, because the feed they were given was from Fukushima. This led to a brief cattle shipment ban last month in the areas where this beef was found, though this has now been lifted.

This is not to scare any of you away from visiting. As I said there is no direct threat from radiation in Tokyo. One can take simple precautions when it comes to things like food. Water levels in the city are regularly monitored and so far there has been nothing to worry about.

The best time to bring up public safety is probably not immediately after talking about earthquakes and nuclear fallout. But anyway, in general Japan is very safe. There is virtually no petty crime. If you ever lose your wallet, for example, chances are pretty much 100% that it will be returned with everything intact. The perfect example of this comes from this recent report about how close to $50 million lost during the tsunami was recovered and returned. (The only thing I've heard is considered acceptable to 'borrow without permission' is umbrellas. It's raining constantly in Tokyo, and every establishment has an umbrella stand outside usually with a bunch of spares that you can use if you forgot to carry your own.)

On the subway every day I'll see little kids on their way to or returning from school completely unattended. Nobody bothers anybody, they're all extremely well-mannered and polite. This is something that matters a lot to some of the expats I've spoken to that have kids, because there are very few places where they can raise their children in such an environment.

The Japanese love rice, or gohan. So much so that the words in Japanese for breakfast, lunch and dinner literally mean morning-rice (asagohan), noon-rice (hirugohan) and evening-rice (bangohan), respectively.

While I can't say I have rice three times a day, it is definitely one of my favorite things to eat. I particularly enjoy going to this sushi-go-round restaurant near the office. You sit at a bar and either pick stuff directly off of a conveyor belt doing the rounds, or call out to the chef what you'd like to eat, which he'll make fresh, usually two rolls at a time.

Other food I enjoy is donburi, which is a bowl of rice served with food on top. 'Food' in my case means either seafood or vegetables. You can see pictures here, I'm not sure if I'm allowed to post them directly on the blog. I will try and do a better job of taking pictures as I go along.

On the desi food front I lucked out with having this place be directly in front of my office building:

While the sign says "Indo Restaurant" in Japanese, the place is actually run and owned by Pakistanis. You'll find me here every Friday tucking into the all-you-can-eat lunch buffet.

The best part though was being able to go for iftar during Ramzan.

The pakoray, dahi phulki, and fruit chaat were enough to make me feel right at home.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

After Three Months in Tokyo (Part I)

It's now been exactly three months since I came to Tokyo. Time to take stock. What's about to follow might seem disjointed but I think it's appropriate given the haphazard way my mind has been processing things. I'll just jump right into it.


Japan has more 7-Eleven stores than anywhere else in the world. They are everywhere. Within walking distance of virtually every train station you are bound to run into one of these. It turns out that 7-Eleven is now completely Japanese-owned, with the parent company 7 & I Holdings headquartered in Tokyo. Apparently when the chain first came to Japan from the US, it became hugely successful and popular, so much so that when the US company ran into financial trouble, it got bought out by the franchise in Japan.

In fact 7-Eleven isn't the only formerly-US-owned convenience store franchise in Japan. Almost equally ubiquitous are Lawson stores. These stores are used for many different things. Apart from buying food and groceries, you can use them to pay your utility bills, make photocopies, send faxes, buy tickets to concerts and plays, withdraw money from your bank account, transfer money to other people, etc. etc. In sum, they put the convenience in a convenience store. In Japanese they are known by their short form as konbini.


The above is a map of the Greater Tokyo train system. I think I read somewhere there are over 600 train stations in Tokyo. These are served by many different train lines criss-crossing the city, some state-owned and some private. On top of that, any one particular line can have as many as 5 or 6 different flavors of itself. A local train that hits all the stops, an express train that skips a few, a special express train that skips even more, etc. This detail is not reflected in the map above.

Trying to process all this information is daunting. There are a couple of websites, such as Hyperdia and Navitime, where if you enter in point A and point B they will give you route guidance. Though despite this, it took me around 2 weeks before I could get to work and back without getting lost on the subway.

The beauty of it all is of course how the system works like clockwork. You can without exaggeration set your watches by train schedules. Every platform has a display showing when the next train is arriving and there are rarely any delays. Coming from Boston, this was quite the contrast for me.

My only beef with the trains is that they shut down from around midnight till 5 am every day. Between those times you either walk or take a taxi. Or you can do like many Japanese which is pass out in front of the station and wait for the gates to open in the morning.

Japanese for Muppets

The biggest adjustment for me by far has been trying to learn the language. Initially, the difficulty of not being able to understand any of what was being spoken around me was compounded by the fact that I also couldn't read anything.

Now, you can Wikipedia all this to your heart's content, but very briefly, Japanese has three different writing systems. There's kanji, which is the character system borrowed from Chinese. If you want to be able to read a Japanese newspaper, you need to know at least 2,000 of these characters. Next comes hiragana, which is an alphabet system used to spell words for which there aren't any kanji characters. And finally there is katakana, which is another alphabet, used to spell loan words from other languages such as English (for example konbini above would be spelled using katakana).

When I first got here, I knew zero kanji, zero katakana, and about half of the 40 odd hiragana letters. So naturally I couldn't read to save my life. However, with some practice I was able to sort out the hiragana and katakana in about a month. That doesn't mean that I could read things easily, only that following a process much like that of the two-headed monster on Sesame Street, I could string words together.

To give an example of this process, a while ago I saw a sign that read:


Step 1 is recognizing which of the three writing systems this is in. In this case this is katakana. And the pronunciation key for this is sa-ma-a-gi-fu-to-se-n-ta-a, as in that is what the letters above spell out. So that's step 2, figuring out how to pronounce it. Step 3 is putting it together, so saying out loud "samaagifutosentaa". There are no spaces so you have to work those in yourself. Now, using the knowledge that since this is katakana it is probably something transliterated from English, I first am able to tell that the last part "sentaa" probably is "center". So it's some sort of a center. A "futo" center? Ah yes, a photo center! It's a sign for Samagi Photo Center!

But wait, what does Samagi mean? Sounds like a native Japanese word, so then it should have its own kanji character. Also, photo would be "foto" and not "futo". So that can't be right either. What is it then? At this point I try to sound it out in various different ways.

to-sentaa....    fu-to-sentaa....    gi-fu-to-sentaa....   

.... gifuto-sentaa.....

Ah. GIFT center! Samaa Gift Center. Summer Gift Center! Got it!

So the whole process of reading three words took about a minute and I was able to read something that ultimately was completely worthless. I had no need for a summer gift center. Anyway, those are the sorts of problems with reading that I encountered at the start. It is getting better now, but it still is a very slow process.

Spoken language on the other hand is relatively simpler. Pronunciation is almost exactly as it is in Urdu or Spanish so if you know either of those two the accent shouldn't be a problem. Grammar is much simpler than it is in English, so just by learning a few simple rules you can get by at a basic level.

What's helpful for me is that sentence structure is at times exactly like it is in Urdu. For instance, consider the phrase "chotto toi desu ne". This means the same thing as "thori duur hay na?" with the 4 words in the same order meaning the same thing in both languages. (In English, "it's a little far isn't it?")

I think I'll stop here and continue the rest in another post. If you've made it this far, thank you for reading. If you're still interested in more, check out my co-worker's blog. He's been pretty regular with the posting and has some really interesting stuff.

I'll leave you with this picture of a painting in Shibuya Station. This is a piece by Taro Okamoto called Asu no Shinwa (The Myth of Tomorrow). The whole thing is 30 meters long and depicts the moment the atomic bomb exploded in Hiroshima.

Friday, August 26, 2011

On Nusrat

A few weeks ago I randomly came across this short film, which I'd first seen around 10 years ago. The film's called Nusrat Has Left the Building... But When? and is directed by Lahore-based filmmaker/journalist Farjad Nabi. It came out in 1997, a few months after Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan passed away. The sound quality isn't super but it's still worth watching:

To give some background, the title is the same as that of an article that Nabi wrote in The News (which unfortunately I can't find anywhere on the web) shortly after Nusrat's death. The article although it was an obituary of sorts was simultaneously a scathing critique of the last few years of Nusrat's career. Essentially, Nabi argued, the real Nusrat had 'left' a long time ago, leaving behind a disinterested star who had abandoned his roots in favor of some quick bucks in the pop music industry. That Nusrat's true fans had stopped following him precisely at the moment his music started being set to Channel V dance routines.
Needless to say, coming so soon after Nusrat's death, the article wasn't well-received at all and Nabi caught a lot of flak for it. However, it ended up being an inspiration for this film, in which he uses Nusrat's own music - from its origins in Sufi qawwalis and through to kitschy Bollywood pop - to track the metamorphosis of his career.
I think Nabi's criticism has its place and something that I find is forgotten amidst the Nusrat hero worship. That for all his greatness he also lent his voice to some pretty ordinary projects.
At the same time though, I would argue that had it not been for the last 10 or so years of his career many of us wouldn't have known about him. (My first exposure to Nusrat was through this song, a Massive Attack remix of a Michael Brook rearrangement.) Without his collaboration with the likes of Peter Gabriel or Eddie Vedder, qawwali would probably have struggled to free itself of the graveyard midnight slot on PTV.
Furthermore, 14 years after his passing, a quick glance at tributes online and fan pages on Facebook reveals that the music people are listening to is in fact Nusrat's qawwalis rather than his disco jhankar stuff. The pop music one might say has served as a conduit, leading people to the music that first brought Nusrat fame. That this is now his legacy is something I think Nabi might take heart from.
(Incidentally I wonder where Farjad Nabi went. I hope he's still making films. There's some really cool stuff by him on that Vimeo page. There's this short documentary called Cricket Lives in Lahore, while I also really enjoyed No One Believes the Professor.)