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Monday, March 12, 2012

Play ball!

Street sign in Fēng​yuán 豐原

Yesterday was March 11, the one-year anniversary of the triple disaster - earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown - that affected Japan's northeast region 東日本大震災. A number of media outlets ran stories on how the country and its people have been coping one year on, and there have been endless repeat showings of the many video recordings of the waves and the havoc they caused. In the midst of all these remembrances and commemorations, the Daily Yomiuri ザ・デイリー読売 ran a short story yesterday on a charity baseball game Saturday played between all-star squads from Japan and Taiwan:

On the eve of a day sure to bring back a lot of painful memories, the members of Samurai Japan made it their mission to offer a little bit of relief, if only temporarily.

Tōhoku 東北地方 native Kenta Kurihara 栗原健太 came through with the biggest hit of the night, a two-run homer in the third inning, and Tōhoku Rakuten Golden Eagles 東北楽天ゴールデンイーグルス ace Masahiro Tanaka 田中将大 got the win, as Japan routed Taiwan 9-2 in a charity game in front of a crowd of 35,505 on Saturday at Tōkyō Dome 東京ドーム.

"I was able to swing the bat the way I wanted," said Kurihara, who hails from Yamagata Prefecture 山形県 and is the star slugger for the Hiroshima Carp 広島東洋カープ. "For me, who is from Tōhoku, this game means more. I am happy I was able to have a good result."

The game was held on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, which devastated a large swath of northeastern Japan, as a way to help aid ongoing relief efforts.

A total of 12,000 tickets were given to residents from disaster-stricken areas and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to disaster relief.

"In a charity game like this, or in a pennant race, I hope to be able to show some courage by playing well," said Chūnichi Dragons 中日ドラゴンズ pitcher Kazuki Yoshimi 吉見一起, who tossed a pair of scoreless innings for Japan.

The Taiwanese team consisted of an All-Star squad from the Chinese Professional Baseball League 中華職業棒球大聯盟, led by CPBL MVP and home run leader Lín Hóng-yù 林泓育. The game marked the first time NPB has invited the CPBL, which began in 1990, to Japan for an exhibition.

Prior to the game, Japanese players' union head and Hanshin Tigers 阪神タイガース star Takahiro Arai 新井貴浩 urged everyone to continue to do their part to help the relief efforts and popular vocalist Masayuki Suzuki 鈴木雅之 sang a poignant rendition of "Kimigayo" 君が代 (the Japanese national anthem).

A better writer than myself could probably wax poetic on the symbolism of this game - of how baseball and life itself both start anew in the spring, and of how a love of the American national pastime is also shared by both Japan and Taiwan, therefore making the baseball diamond an appropriate place for two cultures to come together in a shared cause. So I won't. Instead, I'll let the last paragraph of the article stand on its own, without comment:

The Taiwanese team took the field following the game and bowed to the Japanese supporters then to their own, receiving a standing ovation in the process.

 A stall at the Féngjiǎ Night Market 逢甲夜市

In the aftermath of the disasters in Tōhoku, many people in Taiwan donated generously to help the victims there (as did we, at my daughter's insistence). I was here in Taiwan when the horrors unfolded, and like many Taiwanese, I watched it all live on TV. I was indirectly affected by what happened - one of my former students from Yokkaichi 四日市 in Japan had to be rescued from a building near Sendai Airport 仙台空港, losing his car to the tsunami (though fortunately he was unhurt), while I had to cancel my plans to visit the Tōhoku area in the summer of 2011 (one of the stops I had planned to make on that trip was to the island of Kinkazan 金華山, itself largely spared, but accessible only by train and ferry from Ishinomaki 石巻 and Ayukawa 鮎川, two of the worst-hit towns by the tsunami), going to Okinawa 沖縄 instead. I was intending on trying again this summer, but a sudden change in plans will have me traveling to Hiroshima 広島 and some of its surrounding area next month instead.


It's remarkable how well the Japanese people as a whole have endured the events of a year ago - a testament to the spirit of the society. I, on the other hand, am finding myself at home this morning, unable to cope with something as simple as the common cold and a headache. I'm not worthy.

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