A couple months ago, a fellow named Azasa showed up at Jerry's school looking for a place to practice martial arts while he was visiting from Japan for the Conference on World Affairs at CU. He only speaks a little English, but between that and Jerry's Japanese, they were able to communicate enough for him to successfully sit in on a few classes. Since he lives in the Osaka region, we made plans to meet up while we were there.
Well, it turns out that the place we were meeting for lunch is only a couple train stops away from Hirakata, which is where Jerry attended Kansai Gaidai for two semesters. And if we were that close, he really wanted to see if he could reconnect with Hiroshi Yamamoto and his family, who kind of took Jerry in when he was feeling very lonesome.
So after breakfast (it turns out that every place we stayed at on the trip had breakfast as an option, and it was 100% worth it; not needing to go through our entire morning routine before we'd had breakfast made us both happy) we hopped on the train and took it a couple stops past Hirakata-shi to Negayamachi, then set out on bus and on foot to find the Yamamotos' liquor store.
And lo and behold, success! Hiroshi wasn't there, but his son was working that day, and he let us know that he would be there in about an hour. So we got ourselves some drinks and snacks at the grocery store a couple blocks down, and wandered around the neighborhood a little bit, and then we went back and we had a happy reunion. Hooray! Jerry also got contact info for Madoka (Hiroshi's wife) and Momoko (his daughter), and we got a picture, and it was lovely.
Rather than try to catch the bus back to the train station, we just took a taxi to Hirakata-shi station, which took us past the school and a bunch of other familiar places from his semesters abroad. At the station, we looked for the photo booth in the arcade that used to be there, but alas, it appears they are a thing of the past now that everyone carries around smartphones. But we got some good nostalgia time in.
A couple stops back towards Osaka got us to Kuzuha, where we were meeting Azasa for lunch. We realized when we got to the restaurant that it was the first time the entire trip we'd had sushi! Had a nice visit and a tasty meal and got some more pictures and it was great.
And then we went to a baseball game!
It's not something that I would have put on the itinerary, but he was enthused and one of my wedding vows was to let him drag me into new things, so sure! And boy howdy, was he right. Japanese baseball is great!
We saw the Hanshin Tigers (the home team) play the Hiroshima Carp at Hanshin stadium. The first thing is, Japanese baseball is a much brisker game than American baseball. We arrived 45 minutes after the start and they were already in the bottom of the 3rd inning. There's no waiting around for relief pitchers to take the mound; they get driven out in a little car so as not to waste time, and of course the lady who drives the car has her own fan club.
There are cheerleaders. And a band. There's a different cheer for each player, and everybody knows them, and when it's the other team's turn to cheer, everyone politely lets them take their turn. And in the 7th inning, you blow up balloons and then let them fly up into the air.
The crowd was very mixed in age and gender, and I think it's more of a family thing and less of a guy thing than it is in the U.S. Everyone was enthusiastic, and there was this really great atmosphere of... camaraderie, I guess.
And as a result, I found myself getting pretty into the game. Like, oh man, there are two outs and two men on base, and suddenly there's tension about whether or not the next batter gets a hit! It was a pretty close game for most of it; the score was 3 to 2 going into the 9th inning... and then the visitors got 7 runs and won by 8 points. Ouch!
But the other thing that was really fun is that the two of us colored our beards. I brought some watercolor pastels, so we both did yellow and black stripes - the team colors. And all the Japanese fans thought this was AMAZING. We had no less than SIX groups of people ask for pictures with us at the end of the game! So that was neat.
We went through the team store and picked up some t-shirts, then took the train home, getting late dinner from 7-11. It was a long and successful day.