Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Japan Friendship Tour 1994, part 1

My wife was out of town at a Frisbee tournament last weekend, so I took the boy to go sledding with the de Frondevilles over at a hill in Arlington. This was his first real sledding hill, although we had gone a few times in the backyard. He can actually get some speed going in the backyard if the snow is right, and there is a tree a bit off to the side to make it interesting, but it’s small. At the Arlington hill, I rode with him a few times at first, but then decided to let him go by himself (after glancing around to make sure the missus hadn’t flown in suddenly to say it was a bad idea). He made it just fine, although with the crowded hill there were a few close calls. I think he may have even been knocked over one time at the bottom, but it was barely hard enough to merit a foul.

The memory of careering down a hill, however, brought back memories of 1994. Twelve of us were flown to Japan (all expenses paid) to be instructors for a week at a frisbee camp. This was about the fifth time that Masa Honda and Hiro had worked with Mike O’Dowd (a teammate of Masa’s on Windy City in the ‘80s) to bring some Americans over to help them develop the game. Considering how good they’ve become, maybe this wasn’t a good idea (I told Masa at Nationals last fall (he played with O’Dowd’s Troubled Past) that maybe they will have to come over here now to give us clinics). Here is an article from an American ex-pat who was in Japan and played in their Nationals that year, a few months after this clinic.

The crew:

  • from San Francisco: Mike O’Dowd, Brian “Biscuit” Morris, Scott Lipscomb, Caryn Lucido, Molly Goodwin
  • Portland: Kathy Porter, Jon King, Aaron Switzer
  • Colorado: Buzzy Ellsworth
  • Boston: me, Christine “Teens” Dunlap
  • St. Louis: Mark Houska

This was the first time that women were flown over. There were a few women’s teams attending, possibly for the first time, but mostly it was the men’s teams. Teams attended for a day or two, had some instruction, and also got to play one game against the Americans.

To cut to the story, one night, we had a few Sapporo beers and decided to explore the grounds. (I should stop now and say we were pretty inconsiderate, disrespectful, and stupid about the whole adventure.) We were at the Dai Shin En in Takahagi, about three hours north by train from Tokyo, where we had stayed the first night. This place was a cross between a hotel, a camp, and a dorm. There were plenty of sports training facilities, including a disc golf course and a golf pitching course. But we were more concerned that night with the alpine slide and the artificial ski hill.

It was raining steadily that night, so sliding down a hill seemed like a good idea. We first tried the alpine slide, using trays taken from the cafeteria, but that didn’t work too well, so we headed across the facility to the ski slope. The slope was a hard plastic fake grass, with small densely-packed needles which got pretty slick when it rained. I think we may have been using the trays to slide down and were having fun, when someone (probably the same guy (cough Switzer cough)) found two big park benches. Thus, the Jamaican bobsled team decided to come out.

We were a bit drunk, of course, and hit the hill hard. I was on the first bobsled, and it became evident very quickly that this thing was fast. We did everything we could to slow ourselves but still sped down the hill. We managed to stop ourselves, though, and immediately started running up the hill to tell the other bobsled not to go. We yelled, waved our arms, and jumped up and down, but maybe it was the rain, or maybe it was the beer, or maybe it was the obliviousness of the girls and Switzer, and they took off at full speed, giggling all the way. Near the bottom of the hill, Switzer bailed out and suffered some brushburns, but the girls continued on, past the bottom, up the ramp, through a pavilion (narrowly missing a cement pole), caught some air, and got themselves stuck under a plasticky chain-link fence. We all immediately decided that this was the last run of the night.

Other non-frisbee memories:
Two water-closet stories: At the Dai Shin En, there was a row of stalls in the bathroom. The first one didn’t have a toilet, just a hole in the floor, as did the second one, so I stopped looking, figuring they’d all be that way, and I used this one all week, squatting to do my business. At the end of the week, I decided to venture all the way to the end, and saw an “American-style toilet”.
In the restroom at the Tokyo airport, there was an American-style toilet along with the normal ones. Apparently, they had had some trouble with natives not understanding how to use it, so there was a sign indicating that you are supposed to sit on the seat and not squat on top of it.
Waking up at 5 am a few times because of the jet lag and walking around town and playing the golf course. (It wasn’t really a course. The holes were each about 20 yard doglegs, about 6 feet wide, and you have to keep the ball within the ropes before chipping it into a bowl suspended above the ground.
Doing lots of guns.
Hanging out at the beach one evening and doing a group photo gun (that was a favorite photo of mine for some time; I wonder whether I still have it). The wall at the edge of the beach was really far from the water, I want to say 50-100 yards, and we were sitting there chatting when all of a sudden a wave ran all the way up to the wall. We then found out that there had been some recent drownings (strong swimmers, too; it seems that sometimes strong swimmers are more at danger because they think they can handle greater challenges when it really doesn’t matter how good of a swimmer you are. Snorkelers who dive very deep (more than 30 feet) can black out when they hit the surface, but that wouldn’t ever happen to an average swimmer who would go no more than 10 feet deep) where people got washed out to sea by a rogue wave.
Hanging out in the sento at the inn. Buzzy and Aaron were jawing good-naturedly. Aaron made a crude comment. Buzzy told him if he said it again he’d pop him. Aaron said if he popped him he’d give him a forearm shiver back. Buzzy repeated his threat. Aaron said it, and the rest occurred as promised, and we continued with our evening.
Mystery meat in the cafeteria. And the corn chowder.
Ro-cham-squirrel. We had a party one night, and Biscuit and I did a series of roshams to see who had to drink the warm beers lying around (loser drank). You weren’t allowed to look in the cup first to see how much, you had to guess. Luckily, there were no smokers, so there was never a risk of having to down a cigarette.

Next: the frisbee

1 comment:

Kathy Porter said...

Hey Jim! Kathy Porter here - i'm back in Portland (from Seattle) and have a daughter of my own. Random google search brought up your blog and Japan. I had a wonderful time reading your post (now 15 yrs later!) and having some flashback moments myself. That was a good trip and a good time. Just wanted to let you know you made me smile. Oh, I think I saw you in Colorado this July - i was playing for Schwuz - you still can move out there, old man! Hope you and your family are well. Take care.