Nagoya dome relay marathon

I still don’t understand why they build domes. Nowhere feels more like nowhere than the inside of a dome, and for that reason the Nagoya Dome doesn’t suck any more than any other dome in the known universe. Unless you try to squeeze a 12,000 runner relay marathon into it. Then it sucks more… That’s what happened last weekend. Within minutes of the Marathon start the dome smelled like a giant gym locker room with wall to wall astro-turf. The baton pass (or sash pass as it happens in Japanese relays) took place in the Chunichi Dragons’ centerfield, and the course passed through the back door into the parking lot. Two kilometers of hairpin turns and random meandering through the undersized dome parking lot and the runners returned to the dome through the visitors bullpen to pass the sash to the next in line. While it is likely true the the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona is, in fact, a safer event than the passing of the sash in Nagoya Marathon, the running of the bulls is missing one key safety element than is present in the dome: there’s a guy with a bullhorn repeating, “Please stand off the race path.” Of course few noticed as they trampled over him fighting for position to take the sash from their team’s previous runner. Smart teams like us brought big signboards and held them above our heads to stand out from the fray. It worked pretty well, but the teams that hired thugs and goons to push people out of the way fared better. Next year we hire the thugs. Despite these trials, we did pretty well this year. Nobody knows our actual time, but at least everybody on the team finished their leg of the race with nothing more than a few bruises, one broken arm, a collapsed lung and one case of PTSD. Next year we hope to do better.

the largest bowling alley in the world

Homer Simpson, Fred Flintstone, Howard Cunningham, even George Jetson. These are the role models of my youth, the faces of authority, and the men who made bowling cool. Weekends spent at Leisure Lanes took on real significance knowing that these men shared my passion for rolling a 13 pound black and silver swirled ball into the gutter. Much has happened since those days. My passion and dream of entering the pro-bowlers tour diminished as I faced the challenges of the real world. I stopped going to the bowling alley. Apparently a lot of people did, because bowling alleys have started disappearing like banks after the Lehman shock. So imagine my youthful exuberance to discover that the world’s largest bowling alley is still live and well and living in Nagoya. The Grand Bowl Nagoya is 162 lanes of pure pin-setting bliss. The venerable attraction boasts three full stories of lanes, snack bars with cardboard food, pro shops teaming with amateurs, shoe vending machines, and an information center–all in a building that has as much ambiance as the local Sokol Hall, or your church or synagogue’s multi-purpose room. I didn’t waste a moment. I typed the address into my GPS and I was on my way to Nagoya’s southern Midori Ward, where crime is a little  higher, the buildings are a little older and the folks don’t go much at night. Once inside the three story parking garage of Grand Bowl Nagoya I locked my doors and went inside. “Three games for 18 bucks.” That’s what the woman at the information booth suggested. That’s six bucks a game. But an individual game is $6.50 so you do the math. I have no idea what the going rate is, but it seemed like a good deal so I signed up. I selected my shoe size at the AutoShoeser vending machine (pictured above) and found a suitable ball. Then I bowled my three discounted games. The truth about bowling is: it isn’t a boring as it looks, but it is pretty boring. I guess if you’re good at it, it could get pretty exciting, but that’s something I’ll never know for sure. I’m guessing I’m never going to get pretty good at it. Especially If I keep up this rigorous training schedule of bowling three games per decade. Still how many bowlers can say they’ve bowled at the largest bowling alley in the world. Chances are, unless you live in Nagoya, you haven’t joined this exclusive club. But next time you’re in Nagoya don’t let the opportunity pass you by. I’m up for bowling a game or two… or even three.. anytime, so just let me know. It’s already in my GPS — you just pay for the gas.

Eisa in Toyota

The painful truth is, if I tie a bandana around my head and strap a drum to my body I just don’t look cool. I’ve tried. And that’s what separates me from being one of those guys who can pull off anything. In fact, I don’t really pull off much at all. I look awkward just walking down the street–even with sunglasses. That’s why Eisa is so cool. The premise is to strap a drum to yourself, dance around with about thirty other people in a big field, all the while banging the drum, in unison, in time with the music … all the while looking cool enough to cause fleeting fantasies of divorce to cross the minds of the audience members. Sure, you have help. The drums are a striking red, and big enough to hide even my spare tire. The traditional garb is fashioned of bright yellows, reds, blues and greens of flowing cotton and silk cloth. It’s pretty hard not to look cool under these conditions. Unless, like me, you dance like a pop tart. When I do Eisa it looks more like dominoes. That’s why I just watch. Last week in Toyota City the yearly Aichi Prefecture Eisa Matsuri was held. It’s an all day affair — 8 hours of Eisa Taiko in the August heat. By the end, most of the audience has liquified into a pool of Orion Beer. But, if you can stand the heat and the booming drums, it’s an amazing show. The atmosphere is so alive and so friendly you might feel for a moment like the people fanning themselves next to you are actually close friends. That’s the way it often is at Okinawan events. People just start liking each other more. Even if they’re not actually Okinawan. Even if, by day, they’re the typical angry, pushy and remorseless subway jumpers that define my morning commute. Here at the Eisa Festival everyone is friends again. And that’s the way it ought be.

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