Teaching In Socks

Soccer Swans
March 9, 2009, 4:56 pm
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i thought winning was the only thing.

half-time entertainment = mountains

On Sunday, I went to Kyoto with a few of my students to watch a soccer game. I went to several games last year to support my adopted team, Vissel Kobe, but this was the opening week of the 2009 season.

The professional league in Japan, J-league 1, was established the same year as MLS was in America; however, it is, it my estimation, relatively more popular in Japan.  While baseball is wildly popular and has a similar season, it is the only sport that the J-League really has to compete with for an audience.  It also helps that Japan has co-hosted a World Cup within the last decade, and soccer doesn’t carry the kind of stigma in Japan, the some feel it has in America

Thus, I found myself at a packed converted college stadium with around 17,000 other people to watch Vissel Kobe take on Kyoto Sagna. Being a new league compared ot Europe, the teams, and their fans specifically, look to Europe for inspiration in building traditions. As with anything that corsses language and cultural barriers, there are elements that are lost in translation.

Several team names are the most obvious examples of this. The most successful team over the last few years has been the Kashima Antlers. The translation of the city name Kashima literally means “deer island”. Still my students were delighted to learn what the word “Antler” meant, even though the team logo is a silhouette of a deer head.

Another popular team, Gamba Osaka, has a name with mixed derivation. “Gamba” in Italian means “leg”. “Gambaru” is a Japanese word for “do one’s best”.  I’m not sure many of their own fans pick on the cleverness of the nomenclature. My students actually argued over the root of this name until we checked the internet to discover that they were both right.

However, I think the names of the two particpants of the match I attended are the most interesting of the bunch. Vissel Kobe is a derivation of two English words into what might be described as an English non-word. Kobe is famous for it’s shipping port, which prior to the earthquake in 1995 rivaled Tokyo’s, thus the owners or marketing wizards in charge combined the word “victory” with the word “vessel”, hoping to capture the spirit of the city. Instead they created this lexicographical mutant, which I had always assumed was denoting a corporate sponsorship of the team by a vacuum company. (Please note, I do not condoen Vacuum compnay sponsorship of professional sprts teams unless it’s one of the following The Dyson Los Angeles Clippers, Chicago Cubs brough to you by Hoover, or the Washington Oreck-Generals) (SubNote: The New Jersey Dirt Devils may also be acceptable).

While, Vissel is a non-word, I found that even less people knew what “Sagna” meant even though it has actually etymological roots. I will confess I had to turn to Wikipedia for this one, but the article stated that “Sanga” is a Sanskrit word for “group” and is an homage to Kyoto’s tradition as the epicenter of  Buddhism in Japan.

I’m not sure which is a more peculiar choice for a team name, a modern cocktail of two words, or a word from multi-millennium old language that has about a total of 14,000 living speakers remaining, none whom live in Japan, let alone Kyoto (that I know of).

Nomenclature aside, a game was played between the “victorious ships” and the “group”. While there were moments of inspired play, it was evident that this was the beginning of the season.  While Kyoto Sanga spent a good portion of the start of the match and the end of the match backed up against their goal, they were able to grab a goal in the middle and keep a clean sheet and the 1-0 victory.

Having read the soccer-sociologist bible, “How Soccer Explains the World” a few years ago, I’m always trying to look at the game as something greater than just soccer– rather and entity indicative of a social identity. On Sunday, two things stood out in this regard. First, the league allows each team a quota of four foreign born players. Almost league-wide these players tend to be Brazilian or Korean–and I would say a brief survey suggest they are predominantly Brazilian. Brazilians are to the J-League what Americans are to Japanese baseball.

While in one respect this can be attributed to the surplus of soccer talent in Brazil,  while in Japan I have learned that during the 1980’s there was an engineer exchange program between Brazil and Japan. many Brazilians came over to Japan as part of a program to train engineers. There are several cities in Japan that have substantial Brazilian populations. I imagine that this program, over time, has forged a national familiarity between the two countries, and soccer has become part of the social currency exchanged.

Stylistically too, the Brazilian players compliment the Japanese style of play. Although I’m not sure to what degree Brazilian influence has crafted the Japanese style any more than any other country; from loose observation what I saw, and have seen from the national team, appears to be something that feels organically Japanese.

Goals and chances may begin with a variety of ways, but the preferred method of attacking always seems to include lots of short, quick passes, delicate footwork, clever and calculated little runs complimented by these intricately weighted balls designed to dissect the defense rather than overpower it or out-run it.

Watching Japanese soccer always reminds me of Oragami. I think of this way: if you asked an American or German to turn a a piece of paper into the shape of a swan, they would get out pair of scissors and swfitly cut the paper into the proper shape (and Germans would yell cuss words the entire time and measure things in millimeters). However, A Japanese person would undertake the process by executing a sequence of precise folds, exuding  diligence  with each step until creating this fascinating  3-d representation.

In soccer terms, this can be a frustratiing process to be audience too. Whether it be Vissel, or the Japanese National team (which is notoriously guilty of this style of soccer for better or worse), I often find myself wanting to shout at the player to play more directly. The again, America’s soccer record doesn’t give me much leverage in any suggestion I would make.

Candy and Calligraphy
October 8, 2008, 3:57 pm
Filed under: Japan | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
One small fold for mankind

One small fold for mankind (via Pinktentacle)

First, I just want to say I think it’s cool that I live in a country that look up at the stars and wonders, how can we get origami up there. These ships are going to be thrown towards earth from the ISS.

Now to content:

My experience living in New York with a cleaner than usual roommate has left me damaged (read: civilized). Suddenly, it’s never clean enough any more. I even dusted the other day. In the near future, I promise to share the the details of my “apaato” with you, but in the meantime i haven’t been able to keep it up to Home & Garden photography standards (sorry, Grandma). Sadly, it constantly looks like someone lives here of something.

In the meantime, my mom went retro-summer camp style and sent me a packed stocked with Halloween candy. The amount of candy contained in this package was daunting and surpassed my best candy consuming abilities. Plus, I have a duty to instigate a little cultural exchange with my students from time to time. Apparently this is part of what they pay for.

Thus, I took potion of the stash  into school to share. Specifically, I took the jumbo bag of DOTS–sporting a ghost/”invisible mystery flavor” theme for the season. In retrospect, I see it was a bit cruel and perhaps and error of judgment on my part to try and pass along something with “mystery flavor” theme to my students. In my defense, certain items at the grocery store would convince one that nothing, let alone a :mystery theme” could inspire culinary shyness in a Japanese person.

However, this is exactly what happened. I admit was put off a bit when they approached it with the same reaction I approach Japanese candy. It was like watching Superman encounter Kryptonite for the first time.  They found the packaging a bit intimidating, and most of them cautiously took timid half-bites into the individual DOTS and reacted with a variety of faces. It was a winner with some of the students, but they all had an opinion to share. The stickiness of the candy certainly was a talking point.

I guess it was a bit ethnocentric of me to expect them to worship this as the gold standard of candy. Also, I was thrown because Japan is a gel/food culture. I think this has to do with their fish-centric diet. In this respect, DOTS are perhaps the most Japanese of the canon of classic American candies. Perhaps, the medium is the message, and that medium full of English writing, mystery flavors, and only semi-goofy pictures of cartoon ghosts says “strange” to my students.

I suppose i might end up bearing the weight of making sure this candy does not go to waste. There might be a number of nights during the next month that I end up like good ol’ Hariett . Pray for me to make it until All Saints Day.

This week I have also undertaken the task of learning Hiragana. It’s one of three Japanese systems of writing, and perhaps the easiest of the three. It’s phonetically based, which is nice. I’m enjoying the process. Today, one of my students was giving me some help when she decided she wanted to figure out a couple of ways to write my name in Kanji (a pictograph system of writing). She could only think of one symbol for “Te” which was the symbol for “Hand. The two options she gave me for “Do” (there is no ending “d” sound in Japanese”) were the symbols for “sand” or “door”.  So there you go, I am either “hand sand” or “hand door”. I think those both suit me well.

And now, “sophisticated” Britons let loose in Japan: