Sunday, January 31, 2016

It struck a nerve

Kachin to kita

The running lapsed for two weeks because of the previously mentioned snow and a lack of discipline (but not motivation. Never confuse discipline with motivation, though the two certainly compliment one another). I finally got out there this past Friday for the first time in two whole weeks. While my mind was praising itself for its discipline, my body began protesting violently at about 2 in the afternoon, and continues to protest two days later.

I finally snagged a copy of The Shell Game, which is another rowing book. This one is nonfiction. It’s by a Yale rower who was chosen to but did not go to the Olympics because he was chosen in 1980. Fun to read, but the ending seemed to be a bit bland after the meticulous detail in the beginning. Maybe he planned on writing more when he finished, and wanted to leave the ending open.

Since the Pumpkin City Public Library does not have an extensive collection of books in English, when I want to read something in English, I am almost always obliged to buy it. So now I have The Boys in the BoatThe Shell Game, and Flat Water Tuesday on my bookshelf beside 頑張っていきまっしょい (Ganbatteikimasshoi) and the レガッタ (Regatta) series. Add the couple other books I want to read (including but not limited to Course Correction) and I’ll have the biggest English rowing library in town.

When people see rowing books on my bookshelf, they’ll either think me cool or geeky (but everyone knows that geeky is cool. Right? RIGHT???) What they will think of me if they see Wrong on my bookshelf is another matter altogether. I clicked on this one on Amazon because the author is someone I know from the comments section of a currently dormant website about an American TV show. She was a fun person on the site, so I figured this book would be these things too. And it was. It didn't make me feel things the way Flat Water Tuesday did (that one altered my respiratory function for at least three months). I won't rave about it the way I did about the Boys in the Boat. It was trashy, smutty fun. But...

The basic premise is that there’s this college student who has a crush on a customer who frequents the coffee shop where she works, and he turns out to be a gynecologist at her school’s student health center, and they get into a relationship. This story requires an “other woman” and since the man is a gynecologist the other woman will, of course, be a surgeon. And...I won’t go into detail because someone might actually want to read the book (go ahead, if you’re into smutty trashy fun) but the surgeon is painted in a really bad light and I couldn’t help but wonder if she went through the whole “balancing career with romance and potential family” thing during residency and fellowship, while the young, shiny baggage-free college student...doesn’t. 

I’m probably reading too deeply into something that’s intended to be nothing more than witty, fun porn, but it kind of struck a nerve. I'm keeping this one on a back bookshelf, the way teenage boys hide their porn from their parents (or so I've heard...)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

About Toda

Toda no hanashi

Rowing Ruminations Part 14

(Does anyone I don't know read this? By "don't know," I mean that I didn't go to JHS or HS with you, or know you from FB or Twitter or old mailing lists or bulletin boards. I don't think anyone from university (crew or otherwise) or work reads this...I write under the premise that no one from there knows about this blog, but I don't think I've written anything TOO incriminating about myself or others...anyways, I'd love to hear from you, whether I know you or not!)

The big race (for us) that year was held in Toda. Toda was where the 1940 Olympics were supposed to be held, but, well, we all know what happened in 1940. It was used in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, though. It’s an artificial body of water, the concrete shores engineered to dampen wakes. It can be 3000 meters or so when it wants to be, but much of the time it’s more like 1200 with half of it used for motorboat racing, which is an interesting sport itself. It hardly ever freezes in Toda, so you can row there pretty much year-round. The main enemy in winter is the darkness, and that is combated by flashlights strapped to the bow and stern, and the streetlights on either side of the course.

Nearly all of the big name schools and clubs in Tokyo have boathouses with bays that open to the rowing course, complete with training areas and housing facilities. The rowers in those top schools actually lived in those boathouses during most of the year, as in, slept there, ate there, bathed there, and left (with various degrees of regularity) to attend classes from there. Some of those collegiate rowers would have no housing in the Tokyo area other than the boathouse.

At the very end was the Main Toda Boathouse, where the public junior high, high school, and community clubs were based, and there were housing facilities for those lesser creatures not fortunate enough to have their own boathouse (like us). Lodging in the Toda Boathouse was Spartan but clean, with metal frame bunk beds and shower rooms. There was no meal service, but you could make tea and instant noodles or microwave stuff in the common kitchen. There were also some restaurants within walking distance. The rooms were for about eight people each. There were enough guys in our school for them to have two or three rooms to themselves, but I usually ended up in a room with people from other schools and clubs.

I remember when the room was me and a four from another school. They were humanities majors from a different national university, and took their rowing quite seriously. Unlike the lake where we practiced, Toda had pavement on both sides. Coaches stalked rowers on bicycles and shouted instructions and criticism (and then some) through megaphones, and they’d always get an earful from theirs. In Toda, you did not have the option of disappearing behind a little inlet with tall trees. The stroke frequently came back to the room in tears because an outing went badly. At mealtimes, the rowers would leave, and coxswain would stay behind. She was cutting weight, trying to hit the 45 kilo mark. My mom’s friend Y, women’s coach of Big Name Rowing Club, would have approved.

Toda was (and is) the Mecca of Japanese Rowing. Big name clubs rowed alongside lesser clubs in limited leagues (like yours truly). The big name school rowers looked gigantic (but were still small by international standards) and had an attitude of arrogance. Perhaps that is a necessary evil in elite level sports, but it’s kind of annoying to have them glance at your blades and smirk “some shit xxx school.” (Yes, they actually said that out loud.)

So we shit xxx schools had our annual shit xxx school league race. Our boat made the final, but didn’t medal. After the race, everyone jumped into the water regardless of seat or final results. I was hiding behind a tree to stay away from the craziness when a rower from another school I did not know approached me, and said “I’d really like to jump in with you” and took my hand and pulled me toward the water. One of his friends said “here, let me take your glasses” and I surrendered them and we jumped into the cloudy green water together holding hands. Oh, how romantic, except not really. (I got my glasses back later, btw. That was the last time this ever happened, because I got contacts the next spring.)

And then our captain jumped in and started swimming sprint pace (he was in swim team in high school) across the course while the women’s eight of Team Japan was rowing a piece. The resulting stopping and yelling became a team legend.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

For mature tastes

Otona no aji

vader wants KitKat

Kit Kat for grownups (dark chocolate)

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Snow country


I bought a full set of winter tires for the Pumpkin Minivan at the end of 2015. I thought that this would guarantee there would be no snow in Pumpkin City. Those of us who live in Japan know how well the winter tire purchase worked. For my friends reading this who don’t live in Japan: Snow was forecast for Sunday night and Monday morning.

Sunday night, when I went to bed, I heard rain on the roof of the Pumpkin Palace. I scoffed.

When I woke that at around midnight, I still heard rain on the roof. I scoffed again and went back to sleep.

When I woke at three in the morning, the room was slightly light even though I’d turned the lights off before going to bed. As a former Midwesterner, I could only think of one way that could happen. I decided there was nothing I could do about it and went back to sleep.

Sure enough, at six, I woke up to this:


Right out of an old school Christmas card, isn’t it? If Pumpkin City had an actual fleet of snowplows that would plow every street in town including the one in front of the Pumpkin Palace, I’d have felt less gloomy. We're not really snow country. (Or maybe we are, due to climate change.) People are using their paid leave days to not show up, which is acceptable except that the work that has to be done is still there, so the people who do show up have to do it.

For the past five days, I’ve gone to work wearing exactly the same thing in different colors: Uniqlo Heat Tech long sleeved T-shirt and long johns, dress shirt or blouse, Uniqlo cashmere pullover or cardigan, and stretch twill trousers, with rubber boots (I change into leather clogs at work). I wear a down jacket and a big wool scarf over all that, and the scarf doubles as a shawl if it’s cold indoors. Forget middle aged professional fashion, I probably look like someone’s grandmother. But at least I'm warm.

One thing I haven't  been able to do is to remember to take an umbrella when it's snowing. The snow here is wet, and umbrellas are practical. I guess you can take the girl out of the Midwest, but you can't take the Midwest out of the girl.

Of course, the snow has put a serious dent in my running. I haven’t checked, but the path I usually run is probably frozen over, and the snow has also put any non-essential shopping trips on hold. Trying not to get too down about this, and also trying to remember to do squats and pushups and planks instead…

Friday, January 22, 2016

A little more about tools

Dougu no koto wo mousukoshi

Rowing Ruminations Part 13

When I rowed (you know, when dinosaurs walked the earth, OK, maybe not that long ago, but in a previous millennium,) there were no cox boxes. Stroke rate was measured by a hand-held meter by yours truly. Time was also kept by yours truly. I had the rudder cord toggles hooked between my fourth and fifth fingers, and the buttons of the stroke rate meter/ stopwatch under my first and second fingers (stroke rate meter in my right hand, stopwatch in my left), but because my hands were so small, I kept pressing buttons I didn’t want to press and getting wrong numbers and times. This drove my boat to seriously consider a mid-practice coxswain toss more than once. (Traditionally, coxswains are thrown into the water when you win a race. Talk about gratitude.) No microphones either. You projected with a head voice using your diaphragm and abs, even on a rare day you were coxing an eight. I think that was the one thing I did better than anyone on the squad and most coxswains in other schools as well. However, in this age of cox boxes and microphones and speakers, this skill is probably about as useful as my ability to sharpen pencils with a kitchen knife.

When I addressed individual rowers on the water, I always called them by seat (“Bow, watch that handle height.” “Two, you’re missing water.”). The issue was practical more than anything. Japanese culture demands that you use honorifics on those older than you. I would have to call my two seat “Tanaka-san.” (If I ever rowed with a Tanaka, that is. I never did.) That’s an extra syllable that could have been used to say something else.

Apparel-wise, I think this was kind of the transition period between natural fibers and man-made fibers in Japanese athletics. My first year, we got cotton regatta tees with snap fronts or cotton tank tops. I think I still have mine somewhere in my parents’ house (the tee, that is. I didn’t get the tank). The rowers wore black spandex rowing trousers with padded bottoms, but I opted for plain black running shorts. The season I rowed, I had knee-length running shorts (I would have gone for the rowing trousers but none of the other rowers wanted to, so I decided to be cooperative) and a high-tech synthetic fiber tank that was supposed to wick away moisture and be breathable but still got wet in the summer heat and humidity. We got the women’s version that had bra strap holders. Sports bras were still very expensive and not very good back then.

For practice, the rowers would wear their spandex rowing trousers or plain running shorts with cotton T-shirts. The running shorts were sometimes distracting, especially when they were worn with boxers. I’d look at the stroke’s seat or knees to see when they began their slides, and, well, I’d see male anatomy that I didn’t mean to see, but couldn’t unsee. The first time I saw a rowing unitard was some time in my fourth year, in Toda. I pondered the logistical aspects of nature calling and decided it wasn’t something I would be interested in, but that it would solve the problem of seeing things other than the edge of the stroke’s seat when coxing.

Fleece was only beginning to be a thing in Japan, and there was only LL Bean and Patagonia, which were marketed as luxury brands. I wore a wool sweater under a nylon windbreaker, and when it rained, I wore a plastic rain poncho over that. Raindrops and lake water would get on my glasses and bother me, but this problem was solved when I got contacts shortly before my third season. I never wore sunglasses because no one I knew wore them during races and I wanted to get used to seeing through glare.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Something is not right.

Nanika machigatte iru.

So I saw this. And I squealed.

And I did some Amazon-ing and found Tiny Vader. And I squealed some more.

And I just could not get him out of my head, just like I couldn’t get that boy I used to like out of my head. And unlike the boy, whose heart I couldn’t have no matter how hard I tried, I could have Tiny Vader if I used my credit card.

So Tiny Vader is here. And he’s mine. The Pumpkin Prince is forbidden to touch him.



A 40something woman playing with a Star Wars toy, fighting off a six-year-old who wants to play with it, too.

Something is not right.