The Japan Series, Japan's national baseball championship, is over, with the Nippon Ham Fighters beating the Chunichi Dragons 4-1 in the 5th game. It was a big win for the Hokkaido-based team, which hadn't claimed a championship in 44 years, but also very big for Tsuyoshi Shinjo, who played for the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants a few years back. The flamboyant baseball player, who has amused fans by dressing in costumes like Darth Vader, Spiderman and the Power Rangers, announced that he would be retiring this season, and yesterday's win was his last game as a professional ball player. By the end of the game he was in tears, so much so that his last at-bat was an easy strike-out. It was interesting to see the many changes that have taken place in Japanese baseball during the time I've been here. In addition to the standard two foreigners that the team fielded -- never more than two, by unofficial agreement among the teams, to preserve the Japanese-ness of the game -- the Fighters' star pitcher was young Yu Darvish, a lanky half-Iranian half-Japanese with a killer fastball, and the manager that brought the team to victory is Thomas Brad Hilton, formerly of the Texas Rangers.
When that old Pepsi commercial featuring rapper M.C. Hammer singing "Feelings" when he's given a Coke was shown here, it created problems for Pepsi, since Japan is among the many nations that doesn't allow companies to compare their products directly to competitors ("our product is better than brand X"). When companies do make a statement that a product is better, lasts longer, etc. you invariably see the words "compared with this company's previous products" on the screen in small letters. It seems like the tendency for companies to avoid direct comparisons might be lessening somewhat, though. Recently the government has required that cell phone companies allow users to keep their phone numbers when they change companies, allowing consumers to flit between providers at will, and as a result, Japan's #2 phone company ("au by KDDI") has started a big push for market share, touting their #1 customer satisfaction and actively courting switchers. Maybe we'll see those Mac vs. PC commercials on the air in Japan someday?
Do you dig JPOP music? Apple's iTunes music store is a great way to gain access to thousands of Japanese artists. There's just one problem: unless you happen to have a credit card registered in Japan, you can't buy from the store. There is one great way that people around the world can get in on these Japanese tunes, however: buy the prepaid iTunes music cards that J-List sells, which make it a snap to surf over to the iTunes Japan store with the iTunes you've already got installed, browse their offerings, and make your purchases with your Japanese account. Music purchased at the iTunes Japan store is fully compatible with iTunes and iPod, no matter where you live. It's a great time to try the iTunes Japan store, because BMG/Sony has just added their catalog to the Japan store, so there's more cool music to choose from than ever before.