Tokyo: Don’t mistake meme for reality

I used to think Tokyo was opposite-ville.

Movies like Lost In Translation made Tokyo seem like an unintelligible neon wonderland of weirdness.

I assumed the rules and logic of the outside world would be immune to the surely sci-fi realities of this megalopolis.

But I’ve come to realize it’s not opposite. Just different. One thing I never imagined was just how unsophisticated mainstream media is in Japan. Most morning talk shows feature hosts going over news that they have literally cut out of a newspaper and glued to a piece of foam board. Most commercials feature the latest celebrity holding up a beer or ointment or bank card up to their face and declaring it ‘number 1!’

There are fringes of extremeness in art, politics and technology. But I’ve found it really takes an effort to find the really weird stuff. When a new Japanese weird thing is discovered, it is memeified instantly and shines like a beacon across the internet and spheres of urban legend.

When my friends visit Tokyo, they hope to validate the ubiquitous absurdity through the lenses of their iPhones. They come asking about lewd nightclubs or vending machines stocked with women’s underwear. Or about cellphones that dial directly into the future. They’ll ask where the Blade Runner district is. And if they will be immediately assaulted by white-gloved men in uniform in the subway.

The answer to these questions is, well, some of that is true. Some of it maybe happened once. And most of it is just the sci-fi hopes and dreams being projected by their own prejudices and Japan obsessed Tumblrs.

Yes, living in Tokyo can feel extreme. At certain hours, in certain districts it can feel like all 30 million residents of the Tokyo metropolitan area have some kind of death wish against you. And yes, if you seek them out, you can find some outlandish night clubs.

But Tokyo and Japan is mostly filled with what you won’t find being reported in some sensationalized VICE TV documentary about the yakuza. If you live in Tokyo for any duration of time, you know the quiet places of the city where you can disappear to relax. There are regular, non-robot staffed grocery stores with old men standing out front and screaming at you to buy their damn pumpkins. People still walk their dogs by holding the leash with their own hands and not using some kind of drone doggy walking service.

Daikanyama gothic.

Shinjuku style.

Shinjuku style.

Terminators die hardest.

Terminators die hardest.

Ayumu Hirano’s snowboard.

Ayumu Hirano’s snowboard.

Ueno, Tokyo.

Ueno, Tokyo.

Good morning Tokyo.

Good morning Tokyo.

Pinterest is My Creative ‘Batting Practice’

Being a baseball player, I have a certain fondness for repetition.

I’ve seen how committing to doing the same specific action over and over, sharpens you.

I’ve taken this spirit of repetition into my creative life. One of my newer creative rituals is to use Pinterest for ten minutes every morning. I think of it as a kind of creative batting practice. I’ll scroll through a bunch of blogs and Tumblrs, very quickly. Then when something catches my eye, I take a swing and pin it. I don’t think about it, I just react, pin and then keep on scrolling.

When I go back and look at my boards later, sometimes I see trends or themes in my taste that surprise me. But I save the analysis for later. Like how a baseball hitter will review film of their swing after a game or practice. You don’t analyze during the swinging itself. You let go and react.

I find this a useful exercise to stretch my creative muscles each morning. I flood myself with different perspectives and visuals and see what sticks. I also pin images throughout the day from websites and articles I come across. But nothing replaces my early morning Pinterest batting practice. It keeps me sharp and inspires me throughout the day.

I lot of people ask me how to get started on Pinterest. They say ‘oh, I don’t know what I would pin.’ I suggest committing to some simple morning routine. Go through your favorite blogs and just pin. Just swing and let go. If you do this on a daily basis, you will start to build an archive of your own personal taste. Then you can go back in and analyze what you’ve found later.

The first step is just starting. Don’t over think things and worry about what people will think of your boards. Just pin what moves you. And then move on. 

Just like batting practice in baseball. Not every swing will be a home run, but each repetition will help make your overall game sharper. I’ve found the same dynamic works in the creative world. Taste is a muscle that needs to be worked out in order to get stronger and more nimble. Flood yourself with inspiration and references. The results will come.

Allen Iverson: The Swagger of Greatness

There’s a well-worn backhanded compliment about Allen Iverson.

'He was great for his size.'


Allen Iverson was great for any size. He does not need any padded qualifiers to justify the hyperbole around his game. Iverson is a flat out legend. He was simply great.

Period. Paragraph. End of career.

Single defenders could not keep up with Iverson. He was too quick, too fidgety to be contained. It wasn’t a matter of when Iverson would cross you up, but how. No two of his killer crossovers were the same. 

His handles and first step defined a generation of wannabe streetballing Iversons. You know the types. The dudes down at the local court, wearing a sleeve on their arm because Iverson did. Same with the tats, same with the do-rag. Then the game starts and these Iverson-lites start doing crossovers at half-court, unguarded but still determined to show off their handles.

But Iverson was inimitable.

Once he would leave his man off balance, nursing broken ankles and a nasty floorburn, he would turn his attack to the forest trees defending the lane.

There was no hesitation. No thought of ‘oh, but my size…’ There was only clear and decisive cutting to the hoop. There was the intentional drawing of contact. There was very often a foul. And also, very often, there was the ball going through the hoop to start yet another three-point play.

Iverson played with a heart as big as the invisible chip on his shoulder. He never lost that chip. Even when he was certified league MVP and taking his sub-par Sixers team single-handedly to the NBA Finals in 2001. The chip remained. When asked repeatedly about the events of once infamous ‘practice’ the chip most definitely remained.

Iverson seemed uncomfortable being the best player in the game after Jordan. He didn’t accept being an heir apparent. He seemed determined to promote an image of himself that went against everything MJ had conveyed with his. Iverson was controversial in interviews, where Jordan had been unfailingly diplomatic. He chose to be loyal to the streets, where Jordan had chosen to be loyal to the boardrooms. Iverson was a walking tattoo parlor menu, while Jordan chose to display no ink.

To fans, Allen Iverson was the changing face of the NBA during the growing pains of not having Michael Jordan around. You always got the feeling that Iverson sensed that, but that he didn’t want to come within a mile of a mantle that weighty.

Instead, we were just treated to some of the best individual basketball we have ever witnessed. We were treated to a singular talent who seemed to give 210% on a nightly basis. We enjoyed a prinkly personality who gave us soundbytes even when he was trying to ignore the media. Yet for all we witnessed of Iverson’s extraordinary talent, we still know so little about him. Ironic for a man whose nickname is The Answer.

So tonight, as Iverson’s number 3 is rightly raised to the rafters, we are left with questions about who the man was. But we are left with nothing but certainty about the basketball player Allen Iverson was.

Allen Iverson was great.

A Typical Moment of Japanese Television

Several celebrities sit at a local food stall. Beer posters plastered on walls that haven’t been washed since the 70s.

The crusty food stall owner brings out the steaming local food.

The women celebrities all let out a playful shriek: Ehhhhhhhhh?!?

We get a super close up of the wobbling, dripping local food pinched between a pair of chopsticks. Some small talk follows.

The celebrities all put the food in their mouth at the same time. They chew for several seconds and make an expression that could only be described as confused. Then, one after another they open their eyes as wide as possible — ready to declare their judgement.

The women say: Oishii!! (Delicious)

The men say: Oishii! (It’s always this same word)

The crusty food stall owner cackles.

Cut to more celebrities in the studio shrieking and declaring how delicious that local food looks.

Transition to the next segment with a different group of celebrities trying a different local food and declaring how oishii it is.

Tanaka’s Debut

Masahiro Tanaka’s first outing for the Yankees was impressive. It was only two innings in a spring training game, but he did nothing to disappoint. That tells me something. It shows he is capable of tuning out the hype and just pitching. Whether he can keep it up remains to be seen, but I like the presence he had on the mound in the brief appearance. He controlled his fastball and his splitter looked nasty. Now we just need to see how he does in a full start and going through the lineup multiple times. Good work today Ma-kun, I look forward to your next start.

Lunch choices

Lunch choices

Playing Hurt: The Pride and Stubbornness of Japanese Baseball Culture

I read a quote from Yankee scouting advisor, George Rose, praising Masahiro Tanaka for a legendary story that he once threw 700 pitches in 5 days. The scout used this as evidence of Tanaka’s unique character.

To follow up, the advisor said, ”When I saw that, I said, ‘Wow, that’s a 17-year-old kid doing that,’” Rose added. “That’s the kind of thing you can’t coach.”

Actually Mr. Rose, in Japan, this workaholic approach to the game is EXACTLY what they coach.

700 pitches in 5 days IS INSANE. No argument there. My argument looks at the broader context of baseball in Japan. High school pitchers are expected to never, ever come out of a game. They are expected to pitch when they are hurt. They are expected to pitch when they are spent. And they are expected to pitch every day. To complain or ask to be taken out is a sign of major weakness.

To a Western baseball mind, this is of course insane. But within the unique culture of Japan, this kind of over-pitching is a cultural point of pride. Japanese baseball coaches scoff at the way American coaches ‘protect’ their pitchers. Of course, there are also many well-documented cases of Japanese pitchers blowing their arms out and having career ending injuries. I do not understand the point of pitching when your body is not capable of it. Take a long term view of these players. They are high schoolers with developing bodies. Protect their futures.

Anyway, back to Tanaka. The fact that he pitched so many pitches in so few days actually makes the reverse case that the Yankee scout attempted to make. It doesn’t show any bravery or uniqueness to me. To me it says that Tanaka was afraid of asking his coach to take him out. To me it says that Tanaka fell in line and behaved how 99 percent of Japanese high school players behave. Tanaka is the status quo in this story. He was afraid of the consequences and perceived weakness of not pitching 700 pitches in 5 days.

Hideo Nomo has the same high pitch count legend. So does Dice-K. If you are a high school ace in Japan, you pitch every game. There is no rotation. It is a anecdote that is more enlightening about the state of Japanese baseball culture than it is in judging the grit of a player’s character.

Tanaka is enormously talented. All I’m questioning is that we evolve the narrative and understand more about the culture that these Japanese players are coming out of. Japanese baseball is not the MLB, it’s not triple A. It’s a particular and proud version of baseball that has many differences, mostly in mentality and training that their American counterparts, especially scouts should take the time to understand.

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