Wednesday, November 25, 2009

His Excellency

Above: The Ambassador standing next to Yukio Hatoyama, the Prime Minister of Japan
Above: American and Japanese flags side by side in the background as Obama speaks in Tokyo
It was 10am on Friday morning, October 30th, 2009. Rebecca and I stood outside of the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo wearing matching Beleza long sleeve jerseys. We had an appointment with the Ambassador. Security was tight, but nothing gets you past the gates faster than name dropping John Roos (he’s the Ambassador). -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- We walk through the metal detectors and were met by Mike Quinlan, John's right hand man. We were in. We were not your typical visitor. In his third month on the job, the Ambassador’s days were filled with formal meetings with Japanese officials, including the Prime Minister, and even the Emperor. So, when two young, American women with athletic builds, bright smiles, and soccer attire come strolling in, you do get some intriguing looks. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Why did the Ambassador, who has a celebrity status packed schedule, agree to meet with us and why do we want to meet with him? What do we do? What team did we come with? Who is funding our experience? ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- All of these questions and more would be covered over the next hour as we sat on the Ambassador's couch conversing, laughing, and building a relationship that proved to be valuable and rewarding in the weeks to come. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- So,why in the world was John taking time out of his day to meet with us? Well, it started with an email, one that I sent him out of encouragement from my partner in my commercial real estate business, Tenant Consulting. Craig Lussi, the brains and inspiration behind Tenant Consulting in Washington, DC, gave me strict instructions, "Get a meeting with the Ambassador or visit the Embassy every day until you do." ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ It was a mighty task but one I was not intimidated by. Spending 3 years under Craig's tutorial you start to believe you can accomplish anything. After doing ground breaking and world record deals for multiple Embassies in Washington, DC, we had plenty of reason to think we have something to offer. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------- And so I did, after building a resume that included a full season of professional soccer with the Washington Freedom in the WPS, 2 months of off-season training with an all Japanese team in an all Japanese league, a friendship with the "Mia Hamm" of Japan, Homare Sawa, an extremely successful blog that was also being translated into Japanese, and a strong presence in the business world back home, I had the perfect email composed for the Ambassador. I attached an article that was written about me on the cover of the Sports section of the Washington Post, I attached the link to our blog, I gave the good news that I would become the GM of the Washington Freedom W-League team, and most importantly, I spoke highly of the cross culture experience that Rebecca and I had been enjoying for the past two months. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
I am not exactly sure what part of the email sparked the Ambassador's interest, but I do know there was something about it he couldn't resist. Maybe it was my tenacity in wanting to meet him, the enthusiasm i­­­n which I spoke, or maybe, just maybe, it was the intrigue of meeting the two young women that came to Japan with little expectation and had their world turned around. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Why do we want to meet with John? It was simple really. We wanted an opportunity to meet the man that had the tall task of connecting two countries with the strongest economies. We wanted to pick his brain. We wanted to learn. We wanted an inside look at the everyday duties of an Obama appointee. We wanted to share our story. We wanted to share our story on a grander scale. We wanted John and his colleagues to learn about our unique and rewarding experience in Japan. In essence, we wanted, on a much smaller scale, to be Ambassador's ourselves. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ We learned how John became Ambassador. We learned how he was a personal nominee of Obama, a dear friend, who thought John would be great for the position, although he possessed no prior diplomatic experience. We learned how the celebrity treatment as U.S. Ambassador is an amusing and refreshing change. We learned how his daughter, Lauren, has aspirations to become a nurse in Los Angeles. We learned how his son, David, has several college prospects (one of which is Duke so Rebecca was a valuable source of information). We learned how his wife, Susie, is able to work remotely from Tokyo for her law firm back in California. We learned how John has a strong allegiance to Stanford and how this has enabled him to immediately bond with Yukio Hatoyama, the Prime Minister of Japan, who is also a Stanford grad. We learned how he lives immediately next to the Embassy in a private residence that General MacArthur once resided. We learned how Obama had plans to soon visit as he kicked off his Asian tour. As you can see, we learned a great deal, but above all else, we came to appreciate John for his comforting sense of humor and openness. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The learning, however, was not just on our part. John learned how our soccer careers started, where they have taken us, and how we ended up in Japan. He learned how the American and Japanese Women’s Professional Soccer league’s (WPS and the L-League) run. He learned more on Tenant Consulting. He learned how both Rebecca and I have California Berkeley family ties. He learned of our Japanese teammates. Her learned how our adventure has and will take us all over Tokyo and Japan. Most importantly, he learned how our passion for the sport inspires me and Rebecca to travel all over the world. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ John liked our story. He offered to help us in whatever way we could. It was the perfect segway for us to ask the question, could Rebecca and I write an article on the Embassy website about our experience? (A great suggestion by my brother, Peter, who is in the Foreign Service.) ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Ask and you shall receive........Our wish was granted and soon Rebecca and I will put together a piece that will detail our experience and all that Japan has taught us. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- We were thrilled at all the opportunities presented during the meeting with the Ambassador. We left with the invitation of attending Obama's speech the following week and watching the Cal Berkley/Stanford football game with a star studded guest list that included the Prime Minister himself at the Ambassador's private residence. We left feeling on top of the world. As we left, we smiled ear to ear, we laughed, we joked, and we even proceeded to walk in circles attempting to find our train home. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ I guess train stations are hard to find when you are on cloud nine=)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Yukio Hatoyama

Above: (Please refer back to our last blog, "Meet the Big Six") Me and Rebecca posing with Yukio Hatoyama, the Prime Minister or Japan during the Big Game Football Party at the Ambassador's private residence.

Meet the Big Six

Above: The U.S. Ambassador holding a California Berkley pin (much to his chagrin) during the Big Game Football Party Above: The Resident Awestruck Lady Bug holding her delicious pumpkin pancake concoction Above: President Barack Obama speaking at Suntory Hall in Tokyo, Japan
Above: Krishna on Miyajima Island
Above: Nik serenading us in his home in Shikoku
As promised in our last blog, “Splatter Painting Our Way Through Japan”, (and here is where I go out on a limb and assume you are a faithful reader), I will continue to paint our picture by introducing you to several people. Each individual, with his or her own distinct color, will be a featured star in future blogs.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Meet John Roos, U.S. Ambassador to Japan.
The lawyer made diplomat is new on the scene in the Pacific. John grew up in California and went on to attend Stanford University and then Stanford Law School (he was and is no slouch). His political career started on a whim when he got a call soon after walking into the White House (security was much looser back then) and dropping his resume on the front desk. With continued close ties to the government, he practiced law in California and rubbed elbows with the political elite. Fast forward many years and John’s long shot nomination turned victory, lands me and Rebecca in his office. With matching Beleza uniforms, (if you can’t dress business professional, dress soccer professional) we managed to make a lasting impression that would spurn valuable opportunities for the weeks following.
Future blog: More specifics on our meeting with Japan’s newest (going on 4 months) acting Ambassador/Celebrity/Big Deal. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Meet Resident Awestruck Ladybug, Couchsurfer in Sonobe, Kyoto.
The Vermont native now finds herself in the rural town of Sonobe, Kyoto teaching English to high school students. Going by many an alias, she is every bit as interesting as her Couchsurfing (Couchsurfing – Please refer back to an earlier blog for a detailed description) name suggests. A fan of death metal, scarification, and piercings, she makes one mean egg plant parmesan and an even meaner pumpkin pancake. To go along with her bubbly personality and warm smile, she possesses a playful energy that you can’t help but love. The Resident Awestruck Ladybug would be the first of many to welcome me and Rebecca into her home, and, therefore, onto her futon as we traveled throughout Japan.
Future blog: A full description of our Kyoto’s river boat tours, underground café’s, and post office debacles.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Meet Barack Obama, President of the United States of America.
If there was ever a man that needed no introduction, it is he. President of the United States and good friend of John Roos (nominated to Ambassadorship by Obama himself), Obama would kick off his Asian tour in Japan. Thanks to our newly established relationship with John, Rebecca and I would be invited by the White House to attend ­Obama’s speech at Suntory Hall. Sitting on the second level, surrounded by media and well dressed Japanese and American officials, we watched wide eyed and all ears.
Future blog: All the action on our Presidential shopping trip, early morning Obama eloquence, and worthwhile Embassy networking.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Meet Krishna Somnah, Couchsurfer in Hiroshima, Japan.
Born and raised on the island of Mauritius, (this island, off the African East coast and close to Madagascar, was once a French colony ….and, yes, it is OK to now look it up on a map), Krishna teaches English and math at the high school level. Pacifist and strong believer in friendly international relations, he spends his free time leading peace conferences at the Peace Park Convention Center in Hiroshima. With experience in teaching at an International Bachelorette School in Mauritius, he hopes to spark a similar program in Japan. He loves his tea and toast in the morning, spicy Mauritian curry at night, and is quick to debate on the death penalty, futbol history, and Japanese culture (this is where I must plug in that Rebecca was the fiercest debate partner Krishna has ever seen…..after about a half dozen comments highlighting Rebecca’s verbal aptitude, it was obvious to all of us that Krishna would dearly miss Rebecca’s intellectual feistiness). Krishna would be a fine host as Rebecca and I spent the day personally witnessing the historic implications of the A-Bomb.
Future blog: An inside look at the Peace Park Museum, cooking lessons, and run-ins with Bambi-Chan on the beautiful island of Miyajima.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Meet Nik Holm, Couchsurfer in Takamatsu, Shikoku.
Having met Nik in the first month of our trip, he was (and even more so now), relatively speaking of course (we met him on one occasion for only three hours), considered a close friend. Also a teacher of English to Japanese students, he spends his days on one of the most remote islands of Japan. With a dry, Canadian wit, he is a humorous source of knowledge on an endless array of eclectic topics. Fascinated by astronomy and 5 time champion of Halloween costume contests, he possesses the musical skills to serenade you over acoustic guitar. Although always in constant search for the next epic Leonid meteor shower, he never misses a chance to share a lively conversation over a home cooked meal.
Future blog: Education on never ending stair cases, bamboo forests, and Astronomy 101.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Meet Yukio Hatoyama, Prime Minister of Japan.
Recently elected from the Democratic Party of Japan, Yukio is a refreshing change to the 50 year rule of the Liberal Democratic Party. Also a Stanford graduate, Yukio has the challenging task of sparking a deflated economy in a country instilled with a unique cultural make up and stocked with tradition. With a star studded guest list at the Ambassador’s personal residence, Yukio would be the honored recipient of a California Berkley pin during the Big Game Football Party. Express mailed to Japan from my dear sister Molly and her husband, Tyson, in California, two pins (along with t-shirts, pom poms, fake tattoos, a visor, a winter hat, and rally beads) would personally find their way into the hands of both the Ambassador and Yukio courtesy of me and Rebecca.
Future blog: A celebration of Cal victories, historic MacArthur homes, and meals with the Ambassador’s family and friends.
So, it is obvious we have a lot to blog about. With a small taste of things to come, I hope you are as excited as we are to share this eventful end to our story.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Splatter Painting our way Across Japan

When I think about our journey in Japan, I liken it to a Jackson Pollack painting. Pollack was an action painter. He bucked tradition. He pushed aside the easel and brush, and created his works through a technique of pouring and dripping. With his canvas spanned across the floor, his entire body in motion, his paint would flow from all directions as if he were dancing. It is this unique style along with his intensity and oneness with his work that has made me an admirer and gives me great pleasure to compare my story with his. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- On September 8th, 2009, Becca and I came to Tokyo with an blank canvas. With every person we met and every experience we had, our canvas became more colorful, more textured, more intricate, more complex, and more fulfilling. Each event in Japan had its own unique style and each was memorable in its own right. However, when the movement ceases and you take a step back to view what you have truly accomplished, you witness it is no longer just a painting but a multi-layered masterpiece with each drip working harmoniously to create something more beautiful than ever expected. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ October 30th was a turning point for Rebecca and me, and at that distinct moment, our painting was already bright. So much so, that if were sent back to America that day, we would have applauded all of our achievements. What we did not know at the time, and would later learn, was that our experiences the last three weeks would add the necessary final touches to turn what was just a canvas of color into an unforgettable work of art. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- In order to fully understand and grasp how far this story has come, we must first introduce you to the new faces that will come to shape our lives. Each individual described in the next blog has a unique background and each will play a key role in our ever evolving journey. I will keep these intro's short and sweet, the purpose of this being three fold. One, to pique your interest. Two, to not spoil the ending, and three, to give you a sneak preview in the magical adventures in blogland that are about to come.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Veni Vidi Vici

Our last day with Beleza was both a happy one and a sad one. In normal fashion, we jogged around the outside of the training facility, warming up as we waited for practice to start. We stopped to exchange a few “Janglish” words with the fans that had come to watch our last practice. One fan, in particular, has always been very sweet to us, and we enjoy stopping to chat with her through the fence. She is a strong Beleza supporter and has offered me and Jo encouragement on many occasions. Our relationship with her is a funny thing, you know. We’ve only spoken a half dozen times, at games and through the fence at practice, and our vocabulary is equally as limited. In fact, language exchange has been a very small part of what we’ve accomplished here in Japan. Yet, we’ve built many meaningful relationships. It’s really a remarkable thing. We rely on facial expressions, body posture, big smiles, and a friendly tone of voice. On our last day, the fan had brought with her a present to give us after practice. ___________________________________________________________________ As we finished warming up, Mr. Hoshikawa called Jo and me over. Standing with him were Sawa and Shino. In a joint effort (mostly Mr. Hoshikawa speaking, Sawa translating, and Shino giggling), they informed us that we would be playing a four team, 5 v. 5, round robin tournament complete with futsal balls and mini goals! Mr. Hoshikawa and goalkeeper coach, Kazu, would be playing as well. Heck Yeah! After that, we would play a bigger match. Jo and I would be captains and responsible for choosing our own teams. Sound like fun? It sure was. ____________________________________________________________________ I don’t know if there’s anything more fun than mini goals and futsal balls. Add to that the skilled style and crafty thinking of the Beleza players and the thrill goes up exponentially. The games were fast and furious. For some girls the conventional seriousness of training began to melt away. There was an air of youthful jubilation, complete with silly jokes, goofy behavior, and laughs all around. My team jumped right in. We won; we lost; we cheered regardless of the score, and we had an absolute blast. ____________________________________________________________________ On a side note, Sawa’s team was stacked with offensive talent. I suspected she had a hand in choosing her team, and I was pretty sure they expected to sweep the tournament. As is often the case, on a team full of all-stars (Sawa, Naga, Jo, Shino, & Kazu), no one wanted to do the dirty work, and as the entire team crept forward, they were left exposed to the counter attack in the back. When one goal after another began to slip in, Sawa shouted to her teammates to fix the problem. In the end, however, overcome by a deeply ingrained sense of responsibility, she was left guarding the goal by herself. For Freedom fans wondering about the attacking prowess of Ms. Homare Sawa (as she is respectfully referred to in Japan), I hope one day you will have the pleasure of watching her play free of defensive burden. She is capable of having a stunning offensive presence, moving with remarkable speed and quickness, and her vision of the field is unmatched. ____________________________________________________________________ After the small sided tournament, battle/comedy show had ended, we divided into two teams. As captains, Jo and I both went for defenders first (unsurprisingly, the only undefeated 5 v. 5 team was almost entirely composed of defenders). Jo picked, “super model, Sudo” in the first round, and I picked “future business partner” in café Beleza, pastry chef, Toyoda. Here’s how the teams broke down: ____________________________________________________________________ Jo's team: TEAM PERSONALITY ____________________________________________________________________ Chiaki: aka “slow rabbit”. Also, the most likely player to trip (korobu), slip (suberu), or fall (ochiru) during the run of play, she is always the first to crack jokes. ____________________________________________________________________ Ganchan: aka Tako for life. Enough said. ____________________________________________________________________ Rumi: shy at first, but possessing a smile that can win you over without words attached. ____________________________________________________________________ Buchi: aka Gachapin, best friend to Muk (Jo), characters from what I believe is a beloved Japanese cartoon of old. ____________________________________________________________________ Kiryu: name sounds more like “kill you” when pronounced with an American version of a Japanese accent. She is also nicknamed, “the gazelle” because of her speed on the pitch. ____________________________________________________________________ Miku: the “pink panther”. Beleza’s colors are a combination of pink and green. Miku, unlike the WPS goalkeepers, eagerly sports her pink shorts and pink jersey. She rocks it with bright yellow shoes and catlike reflexes. ____________________________________________________________________ Hara: aka Inakamono, which in Japanese translates to “country bumpkin.” We learned this expression watching Hula Girls at Mai’s house, and we received strict instructions from Chi (slow rabbit) to use this phrase for Hara. ____________________________________________________________________ Misaki: like a sister. Soft spoken and caring, she was the first player to show warmth to me and Jo, and we will never forget her generosity. ____________________________________________________________________ My Team: BUSINESS BEFORE PLEASURE ____________________________________________________________________ Iwashi: aka Michael Jordan, “I’ve got ups, don’t mess with me.” ____________________________________________________________________ Sawa: unofficial team captain and center back king-pin for “Business Before Pleasure”. ____________________________________________________________________ Naga: Star forward turned goalkeeper. ____________________________________________________________________ Kinga: aka Camerrrrron Diaz and the energizer bunny. ____________________________________________________________________ Shino: Star forward turned right back. ____________________________________________________________________ Asano: aka Mickey Mouse gets my vote for “trendiest dresser” on the team. She’s like a less gothic version of Avril Lavigne. ____________________________________________________________________ Koba: an extra in the movie, “Pirates of the Caribbean”, took a blow to the face and was designated unfit to play until she no longer needed her eye patch. ____________________________________________________________________ And, last but not least… ____________________________________________________________________ Mai: aka Tako for life. Enough said. ____________________________________________________________________ Honorable mention: Yayoi, aka Paparazzi, still sidelined by significant pain and a relentless knee injury, watched from a bipartisan bench, cheering both teams and snapping pictures the whole time. ____________________________________________________________________ After a hard fought battle, complete with line changes, trick plays, nut-megs, football tackles, and many theatrical performances, the game ended in a 1-1 tie and destined for penalty kicks. Five to four, team “Business Before Pleasure”, took care of the business end of things and then celebrated like it was the World Cup. Team “Personality”, looking utterly surprised, had been completely distracted by each other’s playful banter and hadn’t noticed the score until just that moment. ______________________________________________________________ “Sasotte kurrete arigato”, said Jo. “Thank you for inviting me.” And, with that, the tears began to flow. All of a sudden, in three short words, Jo had reminded everyone that this was it. The wave of sentiment that followed was contagious, the tears as well, and before things deteriorated any further, Mr. Hoshikawa appeared, two zip-up coolers in hand, humming a trumpeters tune, presenting Jo and I with the coolers stuffed with farewell gifts hidden inside. ____________________________________________________________________ I could hear Sawa’s voice, echoing, “You’re going to cry.” And, I knew this wasn’t just any gift. Inside was a handful of things, Beleza gear, hats, coffee mugs (I have an international reputation for being an avid coffee drinker), stuffed animals, and so on. Two things stood out. One was a hand decorated canvas bag. On one side there was a soccer field with “FC Beleza” written diagonally across the front. On the other side was a Beleza jersey with the number 12, the number reserved for Beleza supporters, and our names written across the top. Inside the canvas bag was something truly remarkable. A handmade scrap book, each page decorated by two players, with pictures, a signed copy of their player cards, and a personal note attached. ____________________________________________________________________ I can’t begin to put into words what this book means to me, and I know Jo feels the same way. It’s an incredible testimony to everything we’ve done in Japan. We’ve seen so many amazing places and met even more amazing people. I have many lifelong memories from my time here, and thanks to the Beleza girls, I have a beautiful scrap book to commemorate my trip. Whenever I miss Japan I will look to my scrap book to remind me of all the fun I had and the wonderful friends I made. I hope someday I will have the chance to come back. ____________________________________________________________________ Watashi wa Beleza wo aishiteru! Beleza, I love you! ____________________________________________________________________

Thursday, November 12, 2009

So Long, Farewell, I Hate to Say Goodbye

Above: The Japanese half of the Tako Tomodachi
Above: Tako Tomodachi dinner in Fuchu (our new hometown)
Above: Sashimi dinner with Tsukoshi in Shimokitazawa
Permit me to go in reverse for one second. I mentioned in the blog yesterday that Beleza played their last regular season game on Sunday, November 1st. I also mentioned that after the game we partied late into the night, celebrating the successful season. And, I included impressive statistics about the 15,865 steps we walked, jumped, and danced that day. What I didn’t tell you was that the two days before were also action packed.
___________ Saturday morning, before training, we had to move from our comfortable thirty second floor living arrangement in Tsukishima into a bare but adequate Caesar Business Hotel (nicknamed, Caesar’s Palace) in Fuchu. Ganchan’s birthday dinner the night before, left us still packing at 2:00am. And when Saturday morning arrived earlier than usual we were anything but happy to wake up and lug our bags across Tokyo, only to have to drop them off and rush the rest of the way to practice to avoid being late. Needless to say, we were operating on a significant sleep deficit when Sunday’s festivities began. Whenever I felt exhaustion weighing down on me, I looked to Jo and her endless enthusiasm to help me rise to the occasion.

_________ Of course, on Monday, after all the moving and shaking, I crashed and slept the entire day away, curtains drawn, enjoying my “luxurious” western style twin bed (my first bed in nearly two months – a truly indescribable feeling).

_________ Tuesday rolled around, and I wasn’t sure if I was recovered enough to get through another week of soccer practice. I was relieved when Mr. Hoshikawa began with a playful speech that, when translated, sounded something like, “this is Becky and Jo’s last week; communication must be high.” Usually dividing players according to their starter or reserve status, convention was cast away and the teams were intermixed. Jo and I were separated, and everyone was encouraged to make the most of their last week with their American teammates. However playful soccer practice started that day, when the skills portion of practice got sloppy and the passing became imprecise, the tone was quickly revised as Mr. Hoshikawa’s stern voice and serious tenor snapped everyone into shape.

_________ Tuesday night we had dinner in Shimokitazawa with Tsukoshi. He is the fitness coach for the men’s team, Verdy. As bad luck would have it, he cannot work because he is in the beginning stages of rehabbing his knee from a torn ACL. As good luck would have it, this injury put him in the weight room, during a time of relative quiet, prime for Joanna to strike up conversations in her fledgling Japanese between sets of squats, lunges, and curls. Tsukoshi has aspirations to continue his soccer specific fitness education in the US, England, Germany, and/or the Netherlands. If he comes to the US, we intend to help in every way possible. Tuesday we celebrated our new friendship with Tsukoshi and expanded on our never ending list of exotic and raw foods.
_________ Saturday night was reserved for the Tako Tomodachi to spend together (as was Sunday night, but that will be included in the next blog). All week, the girls had been hearing stories about our new apartment: no hot water, a “broken” rice cooker, and a kitchen devoid of pots, pans, plates, bowls, knives, forks, and everything else you need to use a kitchen properly (or even at all). They were curious to know how we were handling our “atarashii chōsen” or “new challenge”. And so, the Japanese half of the Tako Tomodachi resolved to visit Caesar’s Palace and check up on their American counterparts.
_________ Starving from training earlier that day, we stopped to gorge ourselves on Chinese food before foraying into the walls and halls of Caesar’s Palace. Our friends only made it halfway through our front door when our un-Japanese behavior stopped them in their tracks. Our shoe closet, mostly empty of shoes, had one shelf stacked with books and two shelves stocked with the packaged food that didn’t fit in our tiny kitchen. The “ooo’s”, “aah’s”, and laughter that followed made it apparent that we had misused the closet space. After our American-ness was examined and explored, we passed the time eating ice cream and various salty and chocolaty snacks from the convenience store, watching YouTube videos of Ganchan singing and dancing with the FC Gold Pride, and sharing pictures of Moms, Dads, Bothers, Sisters, Grandparents, Nieces, and many other important people.­­­ Bidding Mai and Ganchan goodbye around 8:00pm, it was time to pack, yet again.
________ Next Blog: (1) Last Practice with Beleza & (2) Tabe-ho, Nomi-ho with the Tako Tomodachi

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Back to Beleza

Beleza Party: Adult Table Beleza Party: Kids Table
Beleza sisters: Asano & Naga
Last Game of the Season: Coach, Mr. Hoshikawa, thanks the fans for a great season. _____
It’s been far too long since our last blog, but since the length of our absence is indicative of how much fun we’ve been having, I hope you can see it is a good thing! Much has happened, and we are eager to share our stories with you. Everything from meeting new people and visiting new cities, to talking with the new American Ambassador and being invited to see Obama speak live in Tokyo this Saturday. Needless to say, reviewing all these happenings in one blog would be like running the proverbial marathon. Instead, in true sprinter style, I will do my best to deliver each experience in a quick and powerfully entertaining burst through a series of blogs to come one at a time over the next three days.
First and foremost, my soccer days in Tokyo are over. I have been away from the team only three days, and already I miss them. When I hear people talking with the youthful enthusiasm ubiquitous to all young people, independent of where you grew up or what language you speak, words like, “segoi”, “honto”, and “oskare sama des” bring me right back to the Beleza locker room and the voices of the people I’ve grown so fond of. As I am traveling through Japan, I know they are still training, braving the elements, working hard to become better soccer players, and laughing together along the way. Their exceptional attitudes and fun-loving spirits shown through bright eyes and big smiles, it’s impossible not to love them, and it’s impossible not to miss them.
Our last week with the team was a special one. We went to historic Kyougijyo Stadium built in 1964 for the Tokyo Olympics to see Beleza play in their last regular season game of the year. They beat Inac in true Beleza fashion, out possessing and out working the opponent to secure second place in the league and a number two seed for the post season tournament. During the game, Jo and I made our way through the stands saying our hellos (and goodbyes) to parents and friends. We spent one of the halves cheering and talking with Beleza’s biggest supporters. They have awesome chants, incredible enthusiasm, and we loved jumping into the middle of their sea of green to support our friends and teammates on the field.
After the game the supporters created a cheer to thank us for coming to Japan, training with the team, and cheering along with them in the stands on game days. They presented us each with a T-shirt from the Tsukiji fish market (the most famous in Tokyo) and a laminated group photo of us in the middle of all the supports taken at the game the week before. Their gratitude and generosity was incredible, and we are grateful for everything they have done to make our time with Beleza a truly amazing experience. It’s not always easy watching your teammates from the stands, not being on the field, not being on the bench, but joining the ranks of the true Beleza supporters gave us an outlet to contribute to the best of our cheering, chanting, arm raising, jumping, and singing ability.
That night we had a team party, complete with food, drinks, and Karaoke. We all solemnly swore before the party commenced that, “what happens at the Beleza party, stays at the Beleza party.” Alas, I am sorry to say, that’s all I am at liberty to share with you.
Critically important factoid! After game day at Kyougijyo Stadium and Beleza’s end of the season party Joanna’s pedometer read: 15,865 steps. That was our day off, and not the least bit atypical. I usually need a day off from our days off.
Next blog: Our last day of practice with Beleza