Monthly Archives: June 2012

Eastern Dragons and Yorkshire Terriers

The number of Japanese students studying abroad has been in decline for many years now. I’m sure there are a variety of economic drivers at play here however, there is one thing in particular that I believe has had a significantly more profound effect on the desire of Japanese to leave the safety of home.

The Internet.

Japanese no longer need to leave the comforts of home in order to consume foreign culture. It’s already being packaged and sold to them at astonishing rate and now there’s the option of same-second delivery. Generally made via YouTube; a website my students on average believe to have existed for around fifteen to twenty years. And if not from there, well the rest of the social networking world is picking up the slack.

Twitter is booming, Facebook is gaining a foothold and Mixi has already been a firm part of the youth culture in Japan for sometime now having skillfully tapped into the long kept and stunningly well maintained school day’s, nostalgia coated friendships.

On top of this plethora of gateways to the wider world stands sport, particularly football and The Premier league.

It’s inescapable.

One boy in my class who has never been to England, as far as I know, idolizes Steven Gerrard and even portrayed him in our speaking project this term. Somehow, from thousands of miles away this fifteen-year-old boy has made a connection with this club, even slipping in, “You’ll never walk alone” into his project script.

There may have only been the one Steven Gerrard in my class but there were more than a few Atsuto Uchidas, Nagatomos and Shinji Kagawas. I also expect that cohort to include Ryo Miyaichi by the end of the year thus precipitating an unusual Man Utd/Arsenal rivalry to break out within the fans in my town, especially amongst the football fanatic kids in my classes.

This fascination is driven by a Japanese media that never hesitates to follow its sporting stars around the world. Shinji Kagawa alone had a dozen Japanese reporters at every Borussia Dortmund game to cover his every move. Now that he’s at Manchester Utd it’s fair to say that interest in his career is only going to multiply.

And if Ryo Miyaichi were to become a stand out player at Arsenal to boot, resulting in some real competition between the two giants of the nineties? I’d never escape their faces plastered across newspapers and TV screens. Endless inquiries from my students would make my ears bleed through sheer repetition and Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City would all be swiftly forgotten by this generation of teenage fans.

With this kind of devotion to fandom, especially in Japan, it is of course no surprise to see clubs outside of the top flight of English football trying to get a slice of the pie.

The most famous and dramatic example of this has to be Cardiff City and their now confirmed rebranding.

In exchange for a total investment of around one hundred million pounds, with money being detailed for use in expanding the only recently completed stadium, a new training ground as well as a substantial transfer kitty for the manager Cardiff City will now be playing in red and their club crest has been redesigned to feature the figure of the Welsh Dragon far more prominently, with a tiny bluebird below as a small touch to placate the fans.

However, with the reasoning behind fandom in Asia apparently quite firmly established; historical success, TV exposure, academy presence in the countries and of course the presence of a national icon at your club such as South Korean golden boy Park Ji-Sung and Japan’s young hopes Kagawa and Miyaichi at Utd and Arsenal respectively, I was left to wonder how effective Malaysian billionaire Vincent Tan’s efforts would actually be in rebranding Cardiff City’s Bluebirds by donning them in lucky red and emphasizing the dragon.

Certainly the fans seemed to be pretty adamant about their feelings on the matter initially, though football being a money game seems to have swayed some opinions. This kind of thing after all, is simply a part of the modern game and when one man is willing to put a hundred million of his own cash up, then he can do what he likes by and large.

However, I couldn’t help feeling that my own team, Huddersfield Town, currently on the up thanks to our very own generous owner Dean Hoyle, might be missing a trick here.

Now I’m not for a second here suggesting that Town change anything at all. The trick being missed is that Huddersfield Town already connect to the Japanese market in an important way.

Sheer, unadulterated cuteness.

You see, the Japanese have for some reason in recent years, decided that they prefer to have pets rather than children. A tired economy, limited living space and a generation seemingly uninterested in sex has seen the number of pets overtake children. So while a young couple may not be able to afford kids and all the costs that go with it, a pampered poodle is well within their reach. (Evidently not quite so true…see below comments)

So will Huddersfield Town and Terry the Terrier one day tap into the Japanese market and begin to exploit the benefits of the Japanese adoration of all things kawaii (cute)?

It’d only take a single summer tour of a couple J-league teams and the gift of about half a million Terry the Terrier based omiyage (souvenirs) to sway this nation to the blue and white.

Maybe one day, when one of my students, stunned to discover that Yorkshire is a place and not just half the name of a fluffy ball of cuteness asks me once again,

“Is my dog English?”

I might be able to reply,

“More than that, he’s a Town fan.”

Handily Divine

As the shinkansen flashes by on the parallel bridge, a bullet blur humming and thumping like a taiko drum as it bursts forth from the tunnel I take a deep breath and smile, soak it all in. A clear night’s sky, a cool breeze whipping over the bridge and across the rice paddies below, drifting presumably upwards and towards the heaven like burst of light on the hillside that is otherwise known as the Gorilla Golf Centre. That bright beacon of Japanese culture nestled in small valleys and hillsides around Japan. A porch light to a nation of golfing moths.

After the first experience I had with it, I never expected that so shortly after I’d find myself feeling thankful towards it, even impressed by its speed, efficiency and ability.

Oh Japanese health system, who knew you had it in you to be those things?

Thanks to you I get to enjoy a part of Japan that had eluded me before. The beauty of the countryside and the city as I jog, amble, stumble and sweat up and down hills, across bridges and beside rice fields. Occasionally scaring the bejesus out of poor folks as a sweaty foreigner rounds the corner at the exact same instant. Getting them a second time by declaring my surprise in Japanese.

In stark contrast to my first experience of medical treatment going to get my knee fixed couldn’t have been simpler. After a few weeks where my lifelong dodgy knee, a family trait, had begun to play up far more than usual, (walking and driving, two things that had never affected me before made my old man knee flare up all of a sudden) I decided it was about time I got it properly checked out, rather than accepting the family defect for what it was.

So after strolling into the appropriate local hospital (Japan’s smaller establishments are separated by discipline so to some extent you have to diagnose yourself) ostensibly just to make an appointment, I was passing and it’d be easier than doing it by phone with my middling Japanese, I soon found myself snuck into the one gap in the day’s appointment list.

An hour later I found myself in the first doctors office where he recommended an X-ray to check this troublesome knee as well my back. I sighed. This story occured during my last job, one where free time was at a premium. Getting to this local hospital was a logistical nightmare that minus a car involved an hour and a half hour of travel by train and foot. The thought of trekking back and forth for tests didn’t appeal.

The doctor looked puzzled.

“Nah, we’ll do it now. Down the hall on the left.”

Outside an accident and emergency room in the UK this almost never happens.

So… two scans later.

“Your knee is fine.”

“Huh!”

“Your back however… this X-ray shows a normal spine, this is yours. It’s very straight and tight. It’s the source of your pain.”

Two minutes of massage later and my pain magically disappeared.

I asked, “What’s magic in Japanese?”

“Noooo.” He replied, “God hands!”