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Monday, April 16, 2018

SAKURA 2018: Day 13--Who is the Most Popular Person in Japan? Sho-time.

My final full day in Japan.   I'll get to the most popular person in Japan at some point, but my morning started with another humongous breakfast at the Tokyo Westin:


That's also the world's largest umeboshi, almost as large as a musubi, called onigiri, or rice balls.  Interestingly enough, these umes do not come from those cherry trees I've been seeing all over Japan.  Those colorful blossoms either don't produce a fruit at all, or essentially indelible fruits not at all marketed.  Hard to believe that most of the eating-cherries locals here purchase come from the United States.

A few thoughts about the Japan Rail Pass (JRP):
  • In the past you needed to purchase a JRP BEFORE you got to Japan.  However, for two years beginning on 8 March 2017 (ending on 31 March 2019) you can now get them here.  However, it is 10-20% cheaper to do this at home.  You can compare, for the following table shows the prices if bought in Japan:
  • You won't be able to make seat reservations until you are in Japan and have validated your pass.  A caution is that trains get filled up on some weekends and holidays, and, especially during Golden Week (around first week of May).  Should you specifically desire a window seat on a Saturday, if traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto, for example, and want to have a Mount Fuji view, forget it.  

  • Thus, travel during the weekday if you can.  Ask for a window seat away from the sun.
  • By all means, get a GREEN card, which is first class.  Sure, there is not much difference between ordinary and Green, for the seats look about the same, but there is something special about this marginally better environment.
  • There is now a Gran Class where the seats look like you're on an airline with stewardesses, free drinks and a bento.  However, I've done that, and the cost differential is so large that I cannot recommend this option.  For example, Gran Class from Tokyo to Aomori, a three hour trip, costs $154 more than the ordinary $92 seat.  JRP holders can pay this extra charge.  
  • My biggest gripe is that you can't catch the Nozomi from Tokyo going west (towards Kyushu).  There are so few Hikari trains, and you don't want the Kodama, for it stops at every station.
  • Which is which?  Can't tell at this distance for the difference is mostly on the time it takes to get anywhere.  They look the same.
  • The JRP also allows you to catch all Japan Railway trains (does not need to be a bullet train), and a few other transport modes like JR ferries and buses, as for example, the ferry from Hiroshima to Miyajima.
  • Don't tell anyone this, but you can make parallel bookings that might conflict in time, and their computer won't be able to detect your malfeasance.  Then when you don't use one set, the other automatically gets cancelled.  However, this will deprive anyone from using those seats in busy periods.  When you try to cancel one of these, the staff just gets confused because such is unthinkable here.
  • There is no penalty for changing the time or day of any trip.
  • However, the JRP will not work on any city subway system.  For those, get a Suica card or equivalent, and stuff in $50 so you won't need to stand in line at a confusing machine to determine how much to pay each time you enter a subway.  Each ride costs around $2 unless you go a longer distance.  However, in Tokyo (check in other cities) there is a one-day subway card for less than $8, and also 2- and 3-day passes.
Okay, so who is the most popular person in Japan?  Prime Minister Shinzo Abe?  Nope.  He might not run for a third term.  His popularity is down to all time low of 25.2 % and there is a longstanding scandal that just won't go away.  He certainly looks wearied.  His replacement, Japan's equivalent of Justin Trudeau, Shinjiro Koizumi, son of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi:


Someday, Shinjiro could well become Japan's most popular. However, about the current PM, Shinzo will leave tomorrow to meet with Donald Trump in DC.  Well, what's the popularity of the President of the USA in Japan?  I can't find a poll with recent numbers, but those I talk to here remarked that the Abe scandal is just politics as usual, while Trump is a nightmare on the verge of extinction. So strike Abe and Trump from the possible ranks of most popular.  Oh, you should read this op ed from Roger Cohen (who is linked to the New York Times, Harvard and Oxford--and not a Trump lawyer).

One more defamation detail before I name Japan's most popular person, the matter of James Comey indicating, "I think Russia has something on Trump."  If he knows, he is being discrete, but Charles Blow, op-ed columnist for The New York Times, is a bit more descriptive:

Then there is Trump, who, in the same week that Comey was on television saying that he could not be sure if the president was in a Russian hotel room with prostitutes peeing on each other, announced that we and a couple of allies had initiated a military campaign in Syria over its use of chemical weapons.

Without doubt, the most popular person in Japan is Sho-Time, also known as Shohei Ohtani, 6'4" pitcher-batter rookie from Japan for the Los Angeles Angels.  If he continues his early splurge, he will exceed the only other prominent pitcher-batter, Babe Ruth, who some say was the all-time best baseball player ever.  Ruth both hit and pitched only in 1918 and 1919 for the Boston Red Sox.  He became a batter for the New York Yankees.  Babe Ruth was a century ago.

Shohei came to America from the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters (also produced Yu Darvish, 6'5", to the left, and both wore #11), and recorded the fastest pitch in Japan:  102.5 MPH.  He reached 99 MPH in high school.  He began his professional career in 2013 as both a left-handed hitter and right-handed pitcher.  He signed a contract with the Angels last year for only $545,000/year, plus a one time bonus of $2.3 million.  If he had waited until the age of 25, he would have gotten more than $200 million in a 6-8 year contract.    However, he will get his share of endorsements.  The Ham Fighters will receive $20 million for allowing him play in the USA.   Oh, he is single, humble, and with movie-star good looks.

All of Japan will be watching the game between the Boston Red Sox at Los Angeles Angels at 11AM Japan time (10 PM New York--Tuesday night) on Wednesday:  David Price versus Shohei Otani.  The Angels have won 13 of their first 16 games, but the Red Sox team is 13-2, getting off to its best start in history.

Out of nowhere, Satoshi Kodaira of Japan shot a 5-under 66 in the final round of the RBC Heritage golf tournament at Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, forcing a sudden-death playoff with Si Woo Kim, sinking a 25-foot putt on the third playoff hole, to win his first PGA tournament and $1.21 million.  Most important of all, he will be exempt on the PGA Tour through the 2019-20 season.

By the way, three University of Hawaii sports teams did well this past weekend:
  • In the final men's volleyball game of the year, Hawaii edged out Long Beach, which was rated #1 and was undefeated all season.
  • The women's beach volleyball team swept Arizona State and Boise State, each twice, this weekend to end their regular season with a 32-3 record.  They won the Big West championship, were ranked #3 two weeks ago, and have not lost for more than month.
  • The men's baseball team won 2 out of 3 from the University of California Riverside, making this the third straight series in which Hawaii has prevailed in Big West League play. They are now in first place.
My next posting will be after I return to Honolulu, so I could be a bit late.  Less than two weeks, however, before this blog site changes from a daily to a whenever I can.

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