Updated Mar 30, 2012 - 5:20 pm
Final thoughts and pictures from the Mariners trip to Tokyo
By Shannon Drayer
This trip has been an absolute whirlwind. At times it was hard to put a coherent thought together because of the pace we kept up, the jetlag, and the complete and total sensory overload. Luckily, I had a ten hour flight for my brain to catch up so here are my final thoughts from the trip.
The Japan experience was not at all what I thought it would be. Before the trip when I thought of Tokyo I thought of millions of people on the streets, fast paced environment, big city go, go, go, techno wizardry in place of culture. In a word, chaotic. It was anything but.
It was the opposite of chaotic. There is a sense of extreme order to the city but it is far from a sterile environment. The people were wonderful. Communicating was not an issue even though I don't speak Japanese and a lot of the people I interacted with did not speak English. They were also incredibly helpful. I have heard story after story of people asking directions only to be personally taken there by the stranger they had asked. The people were extremely hospitable.
They also seemed to have a sense of humor. As I fumbled my way through the proper etiquette in restaurants, shops and even just walking down the sidewalk, (they walk on the opposite side) if I laughed at myself, they laughed as well. They were never impatient and never acted put out by having to deal with the American. They were incredibly friendly.
In my travels I have learned that a smile and a "hi!" goes a long way. Here they often beat me to it. This was not a population that was afraid to make eye contact. There was a lot of greeting and acknowledgment with complete strangers. Left me with a good feeling each day.
The city is incredibly clean, which is a huge mystery to me because it is next to impossible to find a garbage can anywhere. The city is also very safe. The late night subway was no problem nor was the early morning one when it was as jam packed as the front few rows at a rock concert.
I could go on and on but I should probably talk about the baseball. I am not panicked about the offense we saw. Would I have liked to have seen the Mariners score eight runs in the first game? Yes. Heck, eight runs between the two games would have been great. We didn't get that but let's get a few more games under our belts before we start claiming this is the same offense as last year. It's not. You get a full year of Dustin Ackley and there is a legitimate dh. Justin Smoak and Ichiro have bounce back potential. The 1-2-3 makes sense. Let's give this a little time to see if it works. Two games is not enough time.
Lastly, it was a great experience to see Ichiro play in his country. To see the number of jerseys in the stands was unbelievable. To see him play things up a bit for those fans was fun. To see him more relaxed than I have seen him in a few years was interesting. To see his teammates thrilled for his big Opening Night was just plain good.
The biggest Ichiro moment that left the biggest impression on me came off the field. At the Yomiuri reception to watch him engage a table that included two past Prime Ministers of Japan really painted the picture of just how big he is in that country. It was fascinating to watch the interaction. He was completely comfortable in that setting.
There are two experiences from this trip that will stick with me for a long time. The first comes from the trip to Ishinomaki where the three players and Eric Wedge put on a clinic for the kids who live in the tsunami ravaged area.
Watching the kids that day was special. They have been through unimaginable tragedy yet on that field they were kids playing baseball. They smiled, they laughed, they mugged for the cameras and they joked around with each other. I thought to myself that they were going to be okay and if they were going to be okay, everyone would be okay. Behind the kids on the field were their parents and you could see the looks of relief on their faces to see that their kids were once more having fun.
On the way to the buses after the clinic, as I walked alongside the outside of the stadium I saw a young boy about nine years old. He was walking quickly and he looked worried about something. Had he left something in the stadium? Was he trying to get back to get an autograph? I have no idea.
As he walked toward me I made eye contact with him and stuck out my hand. He put his hand out as he walked by and without a word I pressed a small Ichiro pin into his hand. He kept walking. A few steps later I turned and saw him walking backwards looking into his hand. I then saw a look of recognition in his eyes. He bowed as he walked and gave me a thumbs up with a little smile.
I don't know if it truly meant something to him or if he was just being polite, but that smile meant something to me.
The second memory is from Opening Day. As I walked through the stands looking for pictures to shoot I suddenly got goose bumps. Here we were thousands of miles from home and I looked up in the stands and saw thousands of Japanese fans doing exactly what we do at home. There were families together, excited about the game they were about to see. There were people young and old settling into their seats, many wearing Mariners jerseys. They were baseball fans. They love the game like we love the game. It is a part of their lives like it is ours. What a wonderful thing to share.
One last time...Pictures!
This morning I decided to venture out further than I had before and was not disappointed. My destination was Nakamise Dori, which was at the end of the Askusa line, about a 30 minute subway ride. Thirty minute ride and still nowhere near being out of Tokyo. Tokyo is huge!
Beer in a vending machine. You can also get whiskey in a can out of a machine as my friend Jen Mueller accidentally found out. Not quite the energy drink she was looking for!
Outdoor/indoor market just right outside the train station.
This food is not real.
Remember Monchhichis? They are still alive and well in Japan.
I think these were little fishes.
Apparently we were close to the Tokyo Tower.
I have no idea what these were.
Buddahs outside Senso-ji Temple.
Pruning the trees. I wonder how old they are.
Brave gal in tree.
The one and only time I saw cherry blossoms on this trip. They are a little late this year.
I'm not sure what this was all about.
This has to do with fortune telling and good luck. Participants shake a metal container until a stick with a number comes out. They find the corresponding numbered drawer and then retrieve the fortune.
After the fortune is read the omikuji is folded and tied to the rack to ensure that the fortune comes through.
After the visit to the shrine it was time to head to the ballpark to the game. The Metro is surprisingly easy to navigate even though most of the signs are in Japanese. We did see on thing that day that we hadn't seen before however.
The switching of the advertising. Now the train shuts down at 1am which coupled with the fact that the banners were made of paper led me to believe that the signs change throughout the day.
Fans lining up to see batting practice.
Shiggy doing Japanese TV. Notice the the cords on the mics? Wireless is illegal in Japan we were told.
One hour after the final game this was the scene on the field as Friday was Opening Day for the NPB. At the bottom of the picture you can see the worker washing off the MLB Opening Day logo.
Here they are redoing the mound. I am told the Japanese pitching mound is softer than the MLB mound.
Last look at the Tokyo Dome. I wonder if I will be back some day.
Leaving the New Otani. You can see the staff lined up in the back. They waved until we were out of sight.
A short distance from the hotel we saw a ball field...
Last look at the Tokyo Tower.
And Tokyo Bay.
The big bird that got us home.
Great trip. Can't wait to get the season started again.
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