Teaching In Socks

47Black Cats
October 26, 2009, 4:32 pm
Filed under: Japan | Tags: , , , , ,

The 47 Ronin are Ako’s most notable contribution to Japanese history. In Edo Period Japan, 47 Samurai from Ako exacted revenge in the name of the former master- Asano, the Lord of Ako, against his enemy Kira. To accomplish this, they executed a masterful plan which involved them feigning disinterest and deceiving their enemy for two years before attacking. The immediate reward for their service was that they were forced to commit seppuku by the Shogun as punishment for the murder of Kira. The greater reward however, was that they had restored their honor (as well as the honor of the Ako domain)  and today their story is held in high regard as an example of loyalty and bravery.

Oishi Kuronosuke cat

Oishi Kuranosuke cat

I have noticed that the 47 Ronin are often depicted in cartoon form as black cats. There is even a series of black cat samurai dolls that seem to make a yearly appearance in Ako station as well as at local city events.  The choice to portray them as cats was something I questioned, albeit passively, never giving much thought into why they would be cats. I suppose that I casually  assumed that it was somehow related to the popularity of Hello Kitty.  However, since I am more of a dog person, I did think it was a little regrettable that these fearsome and treasured Samurai were not bestowed the honor of being a creature that perhaps inspired more respect. Also, cats are creatures more known for their independence and less for their loyalty.

Recently, I have started to do a little extracurricular study of Japanese history. My investment paid its first significant dividend last week as I was able to uncover and understand why the 47 Black Cats are black cats.

Last Tuesday a representative from the Post Office dropped by my school and asked if we would put up a promotional poster in our lobby. The poster was advertising a line of post cards which chronicle the story of the 47 Ronin using the Black Cat characters. While putting the poster up, I scanned through the listed of characters and noticed that one character, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, was depicted as  dog.

During my reading I came across a short biography of him. He was the 5th shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate–the dominate shogunate of the Edo Period. He was also the Shogun who punished both Asano and 46 of the 47 Ronin by forcing them to commit seppuku.

The beginning of his reign as Shogun was actually rather successful. He enacted many popular reforms; He chose advisers for their merit as opposed to their lineage, he was known to reward common people who were generous to their parents and he kept close tabs on local bad governors.

Unfortunately, in his late 40’s he decided to hand over the daily mechanics of the government to his close advisers-which resulted in political chaos. In addition, the economy began to decline. This was partly a result of Tsunayoshi’s extensive government spending and issuing of bad currency.  Tsunayoshi’s decline in popularity came a direct result of his fondness for dogs.

He established a law forbidding the killing of dogs across Japan–which seems like a positive reform, but he also began to build large (and expensive) kennels for stray dogs across Japan.  Under normal circumstances this is a policy I would support, but  the fact that he was nick-named the “Dog-shogun” is probably evidence that he took his obsession to an unhealthy extreme. When people begin to think the government cares more about dogs than them, it usually is cause for dissent.

As a result his legacy is not one of a prudent and pragmatic leader, but instead he plays the snarling canine foil to the noble and heroic Black Cat Samurai from Ako. Let this be a lesson to us all; if you try to do something good and this is what happens.

Images via The 47BlackCats Blog



I know. I’ve been here over a month and I’ve mentioned next to nothing regarding baseball or game shows. It’s poor form, I agree. I also figure at this point everyone in America except my grandparents are bit tired of hearing about me. Thus, it’s time to start the amelioration process and provide you with the some SUPER EXCITING JAPANESE BASEBALL MEGACONTENT.

I figure the finest method to approach and convey the Japanese baseball experience is to watch an entire game on television, with the trusty aid of a Kirin’s lager, and write about it. Okay maybe it’s not the best way, but I promise it will be fun.

Today’s action between Hanshin Tigers and the Hiroshima Carp is brought to you live on TSS (which must stand for Total Super Sports) and is sponsored by Mos Burger, Kirin’s, Mizuno, Ryobi, Samurai baseball players, Pachinko, the Color Magenta, and the letter L.

This one goes out to you Dan, consider this your engagement present.

23:05 No surprises here. Japan takes the first pitch a bit more seriously than we do in America. The pomp and circumstance are escalated.  First, the responsibilty for the pitch is designated to a little leaguer. This is a call move, and a motion that might be supported by a few weak-armed American dignitaries that in retrospect, perhaps wish this was the American custom.

There is also large intimidating mascot standing right behind the catcher. I no realize that neither the Japan nor America are getting the full potential of the umpire outfit. Why all balck? It’s so depressing and un-entertaining. Seriously, we could make those guys wear anything. I understand why America has had trouble of grasping and developing  this great concept, but Japan, this is your wheelhouse…shame on you.

Final difference; they actually have a batter from the other team stand in the box, and guess what, he takes a swing! (It was a half cut, but still). The pitch from the 12 year-old was just a bit outside, so it will go down in the score books as a strike. One can only imagine what psychological impact this will have on the lead off man for the rest of the game.

11:06: First Legitimate pitch by professional pitcher wearing his official Japanese pitcher weird plastic twisty necklace that they all wear. Ball one–low and away, The little leaguer had a better arm.

11:07: Five pitch, walk. Things look ominous for the Carp. Do they even have a chance? on team insignia alone…Tigers vs Carp? I think not. The name “Carp” lends itself to some dangerous manipulations if you’re a struggling baseball team.

11:09  It takes seven pitches but the second batter in the lineup finally gets a successful sacrifice bunt down. One out, runner on second. It appears they have a strategy of always moving the runner into scoring position.

11:14: Ripped to left field by Kahemoto, the cleanup hitter. Tigers 1, Carp 0. Sacrifice strategy seems to be be paying off… (insert your own Kamikaze joke here)

11:15: Slow roller to second, inning over. Tigers 1 – Carp 0, Bottom 1st.

11:16: Real Commercial on Jsports: Be sure to check in tomorrow night at 11pm for the NHL preview show!!!– I’m sure families are fighting over the remote to catch that one.

11:17 Hanshin (pronounced han-SHeen) pitcher, Andoh fires in a strike. He has no necklace, but is wearing a large yellow hospital bracelet. Intimidating. Three pitches and he induces a pop out to second base.

11:18: The crowd shot you have all been waiting for: not only are there Thunder sticks, there are super thunder sticks. They are shaped like baseball bats.  Also, when approaching the batters box, the player does not get a chosen pop song pumped through the stadium sound system. Instead, sections of the crowd are equipped with trumpets, or perhaps kazoos. I think the fans are into this.

11:19: Pop up in foul territory, The catcher and the first baseman run into each other and drop the ball. So much for fundamentals. E-both of you idiots. Customary seppuku to follow between innings

11:20: The camera shows the stadium flags to confirm that there is no wind, and that it was an error of judgment on the player’s part.  Japan is into this shame thing.

11:21: The pardoned batter grounds out to second. The catcher and the first baseman will be spared. No harm no foul. (get it?)

11:24: The pageantry is in high gear. There are heavily coordinated cheers in the crowd. There is alternating standing and sitting. This isn’t “the wave” folks, this is a new species of “super-wave”.

11:25: There’s a great grab by the third baseman on a ground ball hit sharply towards the line. He makes the throw and the inning is over. After 1, Tigers 1 – Carp 0.

11:26: From our Sponsors: Tune in this week to experience the excitement and action of JAPAN NATIONAL RUGBY LEAGUE! (Rugby and baseball? together? this is highly unnatural, my head might explode, pick one Japan! You’re either English or American, you can’t cherry pick the best sports, you either get cricket or football, now go make some decisions).

11:27: Seikimoto swings at the pitch and says, “I am different than you!” Katsubashi! Tigers 2, Carp 0.

11:28: Replays confirm that in any language that was a hanging curve ball. Let the replays of shame continue.

11:30: Stellar defense as the Hiroshima Shortstop fumbles an easy grounder. E6, there’s a reason he’s not on the Yankees I suppose. Runner on first, one out.

11:31: The sacrifice is on.

11:37: The sacrifice was a rouse all along, The batter takes a big cut, but grounds to the shortstop 4-6-3 double play. The surprise attack fails….ahhh, awkward…inning over.

11:51: Bottom of the second, nothing of interest happens. Top of the third, Tigers at bat. Runners on first and second, full count.

11:52: Ball four, low in the dirt. Somebody get on whatever fancy communication device or robot they have that contacts the bullpen (or perhaps it is a space-pen/space-dome here) and get someone warming up. We are on the cusp of a blow-out.

11:54: Starting pitcher, Saito, gets himself out of his own jam with a ground ball double play. Tigers 2 – Carp 0 after two and a half.

11:57: Single for the Carp. We have a runner on first. Do I smell a sacrifice?

11:58: Bunt sacrifice.

11:59: Multiple replays of said sacrifice. I can’t understand what the announcers are saying, but I can hear them drooling over the technique.

11:59: Routine fly-out to center, aggressive base running as the runner advances to third. Ankiel would have nailed him.

12:00: It all pays dividends! The ball is ripped down the first base line and the Carp are on the board. Tigers 2- Carp 1. That’s why you sacrifice folks, it’s all about tactical advancement from base to base until reaching home.

12:01: SURPRISE BUNT! not a sacrifice situation with 2 outs, but he lays one down anyway. No one saw this coming and he is safe at first. Runners on first and second, 2 outs.

12:04: The Tigers meet on the field to discuss how they could not see such a surprise attack coming. The Hanshin manager is either giving signals to the players or his armpit really itches.

12:10: Strong grounder to the American third baseman, who fires a strike to first base. Inning over. Tigers 2- Carp 1.

12:16: Carps pitcher, Saito, strikes out the side. His necklace power must be at full beam right now.

12:23: One out, runner on first for the Carp, and the batter the forgoes the sacrifice bunt. He immediately fouls one of his toe. Instant karma is gonna get you; that looks painful.

12:24: Now he tries the bunt but it is too late to repent. He pops it up to the pitcher and offers the customary baseball player grimace as he walks back to the dugout.

12:27: The Tigers get out of the inning with no damage. We go to the Fifth, Tigers 2 – Carp 1.

12:32: After an incident free half-inning, the game is half over and I’m half done with my Kirin’s tall boy.

12:37: Bloop single for the Carp. The thunder sticks rejoice!

12:38: No bunt again! the Carp are playing desperate ball here.

12:39: Single in the gap, two on, one out.

12:46: Single the left field and an error by the left fielder. Two runs score the Thunder sticks rejoice again! Tigers 2 – Carp 3.

1:05: The Tigers strike back, and group together a couple of singles, a fielder’s choice and stolen third base (no bunts!) to tie the game. Tigers 3 – Carp 3.

1:06: It appears Mike Scioscia is managing the Carp. That man is talented, he angles and the Carp at the same time! Also, he brings in the third pitcher of the night for the Carp as the Tigers are threatening (as Tigers are known to do).

1:20: TSS is showing some highlights of past Carp teams and playing, “The Long and Winding Road”. Brilliant, what I wouldn’t give to be change this for the the Nickleback soundtrack Fox pumps through for every replay montage.

1:34: Seventh inning stre…………nope. No stretch. Instead they have a balloon launch. Large, untied, highly phallic balloons are rocketed into the air simultaneously by the crowd. This is followed by much rejoicing. I can only imagine that telephone call that started this trend:

America: Yeah, and in the seventh inning we all get up and…

Japan: Launch Balloons?

America: No, we just stand up and sing “Take Me Out….

Japan: This balloon launch is going to be great! We’ll make ours look like…

President Taft is spinning in his humongous gave somewhere.

1:50: I should note, there doesn’t appear to be any beer in the stands. They are doing this out of joy for the game. How honorable and goofy. Also, we’re headed for some free baseball. EXTRA INNINGS.

2:08: My beer is done and the game continues. Of course I picked the longest game to watch. Mid Tenth, still 3-3.

2:14: Sometimes, even in Japan, baseball is boring to watch.

2:30: The trumpeters look exhausted. no hits to mention and it is still 3-3 heading to the 12th.

2:45: Two on for the Tigers, HIT! men are rounding bases, the end is in sight. Tigers 5 – Carp 3. It looks like after a 5-game losing streak the Tigers might pull this one out and extend their division lead back to 4.5 games. A half-inning left.

2:52: Down to their final out, with no men on, the Carp do not bunt and are punished by the gods with a slow ground out to second base. Game over and all (including me) are exhausted. We now join the Kelly Slater mini-surf documentary “Into the Pipeline”, already in progress…