The Japanese High School National Summer Championship at Koshien Stadium:

Yes, Canada, baseball can be exciting, or How Steppenwolf and Queen Played the Game and Both Came out Winners.  By Keith Wesley Adams


1. (The famous ivy laden entrance wall of Koshien stadium, Osaka Japan. Photo: Keith Adams)


I’m not a big fan of spectator sports. If I watch them I get very excited, make loud noises of joy, shock and disgust, and generally enjoy carry on your like your average barbarian, even so, I almost never watch, cheer no teams, and have been to only about 2 games in my life.  I never feel I am missing anything, especially when it comes to baseball. I guess I have the typical Canadian prejudice against it as boring. I mean where’s the ice? Where is the graceful, skillful, continuous action? Where are the fist fights?

 Athletically speaking, a friend who worked in a hotel that put up many professional sports teams summed up for me the difference between baseball and “real sports”:  When the NHL players stay before a game, they are in bed by 8 O’clock at night and up at the crack of dawn.    When the Major Leaguers stay before a game, they’re up until dawn and are doing crack all night.  However when I came to Japan 22 years ago, I saw another side of baseball that cracked my prejudice: the National Summer High School Championship at Koshien Stadium.


(Inside Koshien Stadium before the game.  Viewed from the Ritsumeikan Uji stand. Photo: Keith Adams)

 For Canadians to understand why Koshien baseball is exciting, you have to understand the context.  Imagine if absolutely every high school in Canada (x3 for Japan’s Population) had a hockey team that practiced minimum 4 hours daily, 8 on holidays, and at the end of the year they competed in a provincial tournament that was televised.    Then the 15 to 18 year old winners of those provincial championships went on to play against the other provincial winners in the Montreal Forum (ok Molson Centre) and it was not only televised nationally, but people actually watched.  I mean the whole nation watched. 


(The first ceremonial pitch for the National Summer Championship, 1915. Photo: Public Domain)


The Koshien Championship Tourney, which began in 1915, takes place in the almost week long summer holiday called Obon in August, when people go back to their hometowns to visit the graves of their ancestors.  Millions of people stay home and spend the day in their grandparents’ air-conditioned houses with the whole family, and watch it on TV.  Every bar, bistro and restaurant has a TV on and customers and clerks are glued to it, service slows down, but everybody is happy drinking beer, eating edamame or shaved ice.   People in the tens of thousands travel from across the country to participate, and people in the hundreds of thousands fill up the stadium during the two weeks of the Tourney.   Often the crowds wait hours in the 38 degree Celsius, 60% humidity weather of August to get a ticket.

Also imagine (back to our Canadian analogy) that the most outstanding players would be picked-up immediately by the NHL, so that the students playing knew they had a chance to graduate from high school and walk right into a professional sports career. That’s what the National Summer Baseball Championship at Koshien stadium is like: high school kids getting a chance to play in a professional stadium, live on national TV, with a chance to make or break their sports career. The emotion is raw and roaring. The effort and stress is tangible.

(Wife and I in the bleachers for the game with out Ritstumeikan hats. Photo: Keith Adams)

Parents, brothers, sisters, school mates, the girl you’re secretly in love with, are all in the stands among the 30,000 fans.  Your high school band plays your anthem and cheerleaders both male and female shout and jump wave pompoms (okay the males mostly shout and the females mostly wave pompoms, Japan is not fully enlightened yet) all in support of  these hormone and hope filled teenagers. If you make a great play, get a run, you’ll be a local hero. If you drop the ball, your error will be witnessed across the country, and preserved in some national archive and you will be known the rest of your life among your high school friends as the guy who won or lost the game.... At the end of 9th inning, there is as much uncontrollable weeping as there is euphoria.  The drama is enormous.

 My daughter’s high school baseball team, Ritsumeikan Uji, made it to Koshien this summer and we went. They got in by beating the Kyoto provincial champions two weeks earlier in an underdog upset.   My usually staid, pharmacist wife watched the televised winning provincial game, which she recorded, four times.  However, my daughter’s brass band club had their provincial band competition on the same day, and so they missed the first Koshien game, which Uji also won.  Their 2nd game was against the long running best high school team in Japan, Seiryo from Ishikawa.   US major league players like the famous home run batter, two time All Star and World Series MVP, Hideki “Godzilla” Matsui, who played for the New York Yankees, came from this school —straight out of high school into the Japanese leagues and then onto the Majors.   


(Wife in serious baseball & heat protection garb.) (Hideki Matsui, playing for Seiryo High School in the infamous 1992 game where he was intentionally walked to avoid his getting a homer. By chance, my wife was at that very game.)


Seiryo had been beating many teams with scores as high as 12-0.   Ritsumeikan Uji was the clear underdog.  Uji has only one pitcher, who has to play the whole game, Takagi-kun.  Seiryo on the other hand has four. Seiryo was so confident  that they announced before the game they were pulling their best pitcher and putting in their 2nd rank.   Their 2nd rank pitcher was still amazing, and at the end of the 5th inning with the score 5-0, it looked like Seiryo had it stitched up, with Uji barely getting any hits, only reaching first base by walks.   Then, feeling over-confident, Seiryo switched in their 3rd rank pitcher.


(Seiryo Yellow and Uji White, head to benches after ceremonial bow. Photo: Keith Adams)

To be Honest, at 5-0, I was starting to get bored.  Every time Seiryo was at bat, they managed to load the bases.   Takagi-kun would start off with a number of powerfully pitched strikes, getting two outs, and then he would weaken.  A number of balls and hits followed and the bases loaded.  Then suddenly Ritsumeikan would pull of an amazing hit-catch-throw-out combination that got their 3rd out and blocked Seiryo from scoring.   It was the same pattern every inning.  It seemed it was only inevitable that one time Uji would miss and Seiryo would score a crushing four points run.  Uji’s spirits would sink, and Seiryo would take advantage of the slump with run after humiliating run.  Every time Seiryo was at bat, I waited for the inevitable womping that make would Uji’s team return home depressed and embarrassed.    It was a drama I did not wish to watch unfold.


(Seiryo at bat. Photo Keith Adams.)

Further, I know nothing about the rules baseball and I was annoying my wife with questions like, “Why doesn’t the batter on first run to second right away when there is a fly ball?”   Apparently, he has to wait until it is clear the ball is not caught.   “What good is that?”  Apparently, it would make it too easy.   Ah, too many rules.  Certainly, the number of rules must exist in proportion to the lack of action, or the ridiculousness of the concept of the game in the first place.  Baseball requires too many strict limitations to make it work.  I suppose that’s why it is Japan’s favorite sport, it teaches socialization.   I was a soccer player as a child, and love the freewheeling, beauty of the sport, how you never know what may happen.  It cannot be so easily reduced to statistical averages like baseball.  I was getting bored enough to notice the searing heat.

To amuse myself, I started changing the rules to get more action into the game.    For one, I wanted more running, more fluidity, less stopping.   In the baseball game of my mind, I added more balls and batters.  Simultaneously.  Further, batters could run in various patterns, not just in a straight line to the base.  Short stops –many more of them too—could chase and tackle the batters after a hit, but they had to wear protective padding and head gear, because the batter ran with the bat and could use it.  I also played football in highschool (the Canadian version of the American sport) and loved the war like strategies.  By the top of 6th inning, I was imagining whole rows of blockers running with the batter after a hit, and the defense team making sweeping battering ram movements to keep the batters from reaching a base.   It was total chaos, but the melee was worth it.

Then things suddenly changed in the actual game. In the bottom of the 6th, Ritsumeikan Uji, My daughter’s team started hitting the ball and getting on base. They soon had two runs with bases largely full. The champions called a time out and brought in their star pitcher, Yoshinobu Okugawa, who boasts 154 km/hr pitches.   A cheer went up from the stands, even on the Uji side, because it was an admission Uji was giving Seiryo a scare, that Uji had a chance.  Even with their best pitcher, Uji got another run.  It was now 5-3.   It looked like Uji could make a come back.   Tension and drama had returned to the game. 

The music also adds to the drama of the game.  Each team brings its brass brand, and they choose a number of songs.  My daughter’s band chose a lot of Queen, of course the main rock anthems: We Will Rock You and We Are the Champions.  Seiryo’s band repeatedly played a powerful blasting brass rendition of what at first I thought was some wild traditional song. It sounded like something that would be played at a gladiator games in a Roman amphitheatre in some avant garde Italian movie.  Then I realized it was Steppenwolf’s Born to Be Wild!  How surreal: Japanese baseball cheered on by western 60s rock classics played by brass bands.


(TV and Newspaper Cameras covering the band as they do a cover of Kyoto Anime's Star Dream3. Keith Adams)

There was another music story during the game.  My daughter’s school is close to the famous animation studio in Uji, Kyoto Anime, that was burnt down last month by a disgruntled young man, leaving 33 people dead, and many of the countries greatest animators gone forever.   This tragedy was international as well as national news.  So when in memory of the victims, Uji Ritsumeikan’s band played Three Star Dream from Kyoto Anime’s acclaimed movie, Hibike Euphonium, the cameras all turned away from the game and onto the band.    It was a moving tribute.



 (Ritsumeikan band--my daughter on baritone sax, left—play Kyoto anime studio’s song Star Dream 3, Photo: Daily Yormiuri.)

In the end the stronger team, Seiryo with their 4 pitchers, won 6-3.  Steppenwolf trumped Queen.  Though it seemed there was a questionable call by the umpire when Seiyo’s number one pitcher threw what looked like a fourth ball but the ump called it a strike, breaking the running streak of the underdog team Uji.   However, reviewing on TV, which my wife of course recorded, it seemed a legitimate call.  No commentators mentioned it.  Likely it was just us emotion filled, hopeful Ritsumeikan parents and students who perceived it differently from our distant seats in the bleachers. 


(Uji Pitcher Takagi and the final scores. Photo: Daily Yomiuri)

And it is the emotion that makes the high school baseball so exciting: the raw energy, the youthful perception of the importance of an event, which in the grand scheme of things is just a silly game.  I have always agreed with the ancient Greek philosophers who thought we give too much attention, applause and reward in our lifetimes to our Athletes whose names will not be remembered in 100 years, and not enough to the scientists and thinkers who change the course of history and are still talked about 2000 years later.   Yet it is easy to get caught in the emotional drama of young players who try their hardest, and the energy and hope they inspire in their entire school or nation.   While Ritsumeikan lost, they played their best and gave the best team a scare.  They lost only by 3 runs. They are rightly proud of their effort, none at least will look back with regret.  They were not crushed.  All left feeling they gave it their best, and ARE Champions, and that they can “climb so high, never want to die,” because in the end its not if you win or lose, but how you play the game.   



        This week marks my 20th year in Japan and ten years living in the samehouse and town--the longest I have

ever lived anywhere.  As I walked the dog last night and looked up to see the moon behind a cloud shaped much

like the map of Canada, especially Quebec, I reflected on my experience.  I realise I have come nowhere near the

dreams, goals and aspirations that I set out with. I seem, indeed, astronomically far from them.  Yet, paradoxically

I am closer to them than ever.  I have achieved things I never thought I would.  Like all humans, no doubt, I have

let myself down at times, morally or ethically, harming those I love most and being more a burden to the planet

than a benefit. However, I have also at times been exemplary in thought and action and stood up against oppression

of others. I have taught thousands of students, and helped countless among them towards their dreams.  I have

experienced joys and pains too many to numerate. I find myself with so much, and yet at times feel so empty. 

Some days I cannot help but feel so intellectually alone in a distant land, and other times so spiritually rich with friends

and family.  I guess my life can best be summed up  by the Grateful Dead lyrics: "Sometimes the lights are all shining on me.  

Other times, I can barely see.  Lately, it occurred to me, what a long strange trip it's been."


     Okay, you have renewed you passport, paid your Canadian taxes or submitted your non-residence exemption form, renewed your Japanese visa,but did you know that as an expat you HAVE TO RENEW YOUR CANADIAN CITIZENSHIP while living abroad for more than a year or it is possible to FORFEIT ALL CLAIMS to a full CANADIAN IDENTITY.  Luckily for you there are numerous ways to do so within your new country that will not cost you dear, and ensure that you are a true Canadian.  Like the passport application you will NEED A SPONSOR of any nationality in order to GUARANTEE YOUR APPLICATION.   Luckily, like the new passport regulations, this sponsor need not be a medical, legal or other professional.  Any witness to your application will suffice. 

Unluckily, there are no strict guidelines, nor easy to fill in forms that may be obtained from your local consulate or embassy.  We realize this is a setback for expats residing in Japan who have become so native that filling in blanks is an expected necessity, possibly a joy, and definitely an anxious frustration when not provided.   BE PREPARED: You are ON YOUR OWN. YOU MUST DEVISE, ENACT, AND CERTIFY YOUR OWN CITIZENSHIP RENEWAL.

Luckily for you there are a few groups and places that facilitate citizenship renew processes.  Here are a few suggestions from the Kansai area of Japan:


     By far the number one way to prove your Canadian citizenship is taking part in a traditional POLAR BEAR SWIM on January first.   This may be done in a group.  (See figure 1.) Here members of the Kansai Canadian Association prove their Canadian identity en masse at Maiko beach near Kobe.  While it was not actually snowing at this moment, the requisite zero degrees Celsius temperature was obtained, and so these expats were successful in renewing their citizenship for this year.  










 (Figures 1 and 2) :  Polar Bear Swim Do’s and Don't’s 

DO’S AND DON’TS.  In figure 1, the people with shirts on are considered cheaters and are put parole and will have to fulfill at least two other PROOF OF CANADIAN IDENTITY applications within the next 12 months or have their citizenship revoked.

Although Mr. Levesque’s shirt bears a Canadian flag, it is still officially recognized as a WIMP OUT and is penalized in the point count of his application.

     The Canadian flag shorts, however in figure 2, show both bravado and a slight mockery of the national flag.  Mr. Robinson, here, earns full points, as a true Canadian enjoys life and refuses to take nationalism seriously!    Note also the breaking of waves on the pier.  The more blustery the day, the better the application.

Swimming in snowy or icy is conditions is almost and absolute guarantee of renewal of citizenship.


     Participating in any kind of hockey event is a plus for any application for citizenship renewal.  Not enough decent hockey games in your area?  Then make one.  Ball hockey is especially high on the citizenship point count.  Anyone in any country with ice can play hockey, but only a true Canadian loves the sport enough to play in on cement without any protective gear.

(Figure 3):  Ball Hockey

Here a group gets full points for managing to scrap together a game WITH NETS in the Kobe area!   Further bonus points were for sloppy casual attire and team shirts from actual Canadian teams!  Although, the Senators shirt is questionable. Those looking for actual games should contact Gen Hamada at the Owl’s Rest in Umeda, whose hockey coaching has won him a lifetime citizenship guarantee.


     Lower on the list is watching hockey while getting shit-faced with friends.

While this is an easy to perform application in today’s web connected world, BEWARE!  Make sure you wear an appropriate shirt.  Below, figure 4 is a group fail!  Although Mr. Dupuis appears sufficiently shit-faced, he should have known better!  All members of this application were rejected despite their appropriate activity for wearing extremely inappropriate Detroit Red Wing Shirts. 


Figure 4:  Failed Citizenship Application.

4.  FINDING AND EATING POUTINE, or very cheap Pizza slices in your new country at a Certified Canadian Establishment during a Canadian celebrated holiday event. 

Simply knowing what poutine is, or having eaten it without knowing what the heck it was you ate, is enough for citizenship renewal.   But finding an establishment in a distant country that serves it on its daily menu is a guarantee.   Every Canadian also understands that Pizza is a cheap food.  Large slices should go for $1.50 or under.     (500Yen/slice accepted with exchange rates and life standards adjustments).

Here, Mr. Tanderich, a Mexican, gets automatic honorary Canadian citizenship despite never having been to Canada or even having applied for citizenship renewal.   

Figure 5. Honorary Canadian Citizenship obtained at SLICES, Shinsaibashi-West, 

Yoshimoto Building 1F
2-3-21 Nishi Shinsaibashi
Chuo-Ku Osaka

Let us look at his point count on the official application form below:


As we can see, Mr. Tanderich has scored over the requisite 50 points to earn an honorary citizenship.  You too can get your Canadian Citizenship renewed easily and cheaply by following any of the above steps. 

Dangerous Signs:  

     “But finding time and motivation to renew is めんどくさい!”, some complain.  BEWARE.  THIS IS THE FIRST SIGN OF CANADIAN IDENTITY LOSS.  Note the slip into Japanese.  Sliding into your host country’s language and adopting their attitudes is a sure sign your Canadian citizenship needs renewing.

     “And besides, I love Japan.” Uh OH!   This phrase is often followed by, “I’m not sure if I could even live back in Canada, what with the winters!”  If you have spoken these words or even had these thoughts, it means FULL IDENTITY CONFUSION IS NOW IN PROGRESS.  YOU ARE IN DANGER.  It will be very difficult for you to reenter the country and renew your medicare card and have access to medical marijuana. 

 To see if you have reached this phase, take this simple test: 


1. What team did Wayne Gretsky originally play for?

2.  I like lots of foam on my beer.

3. Budwiser is alright.

If you answered  A) Eh?  Or B) Piss off! to any or all of the above, then you are still fine.  If you answered correctly or “yes” to any of the above, then your citizenship is already forfeit and you will need to take a full citizenship renewal course. 

       But first, do not worry. Let me reassure you that loss of identity is both understandable and, yes, forgivable. I, the author, confess to having had to undergo the full citizenship renewal course.  So I will explain both how this happened to me and how I re-attained my identity and citizenship, so you can avoid the loss or reattain citizenship identity if you have the most unfortunate experience to lose it.


How I lost my virginity--I mean my identity:     

    Japan, it turns out is one of the easiest countries to lose your virgintiy-- I mean identity in.   Let’s face it:  the daddies are rich, the mothers good looking, and the living is easy!  It’s always Summer Time, at least in comparison to Canada.  Seriously:  the people are kind, the culture rich, and the food fantastic. Hence we get lulled, seduced--I do not think seduced is too strong of a word-- into a false comfort.  The jobs are plentiful and our egos constantly fluffed by too easy praise.  The electronic, cultural and other distractions are plentiful.  We are kept too busy to care or think about who we are. 

    Further it all happens so slowly and insidiously because there are many ways the Japanese are just like us:  they love nature, they like peace, and they respect other cultures.  Well two out of three is not bad.  They say すみません、as much and in the same places we say sorry, even when it is the other person’s fault!  Just like us!

     And we are like them: we will negotiate and see the other person’s point of view rather than punch our way out of a bad situation, unlike some other North American country I won’t mention.  While we may be spiritual and enjoy going to places of worship, it is more for the community, the architecture and atmosphere; we do not  wear our religion on our sleeves, as do our Southern neighbours.   And like the Japanese we are quiet and listen to others rather than shout our opinions.  Well 2 out of 3 ain’t bad. (As Will Ferguson wrote in Why I hate Canadians, we are only quiet compared to Americans, not compared to any other country on the planet.)

      But the point is that these similarities lure us into a false sense of shared identity that is only shattered on the occasion when we are reminded we are gaijin. Ok admittedly that happens on a daily basis, but it happens so often we’ve become inured. And before we know it we wake up one day and realize, we do like lots of foam on our beer!  AgggH!  We find ourselves pointing at our noses when referring to ourselves.  We clap when someone makes a joke.  We cover our mouths with our hands when picking our teeth.  We sleep on any train anywhere.  We even piss in public.  Well 5 out of 6 is pretty bad.     


Look at the pictures below.


(Fig. 6):  A typical sign in Japan.                              (Fig.7): Restaurant Décor.

     If you understood the sign in figure 6 and accepted the décor in figure 7 as normal for a public eating space you may have advanced symptoms of Canadian identity loss. Here are some other symptoms:

  1. You find yourself lining up because other people are.

  2. You do not speak up about injustice so as not to upset the Wah.

  3. You stay at work overtime without any expectation of extra pay.

  4. You automatically withhold yourself from freely kissing, hugging or even touching another human being, reducing powerful emotions of joy or sorrow so as not to appear out of control.

  5. You do not find any irony in signs like these:



(Fig. 8) A transport company sign. (Fig. 9.):  A t-shirt on a student at a university in Osaka.

    If you suffer from any or all of these symptoms, then it is desperately time to make an act of citizenship renewal.  I suffered such terrible, terrible, sad symptoms. That is when I knew I had to do the whole course, as outlined below.

    First, I played lots of Canadian music.  Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young,    The Guess Who, Alanis Morisette.  Leonard Cohen, Orealis, Ashley McIssac, Bare Naked Ladies, The Great Big Sea, Oscar Peterson, Glenn Gould, Sarah McGlauglin, are all acceptable musicians you may play or listen to in order to renew your identity.  Justin Bieber or Celine Dion are NOT and will be punished heavily with scorn and looks of disgust.  And I participated in traditional Canadian events. 

 (Fig.10.) Author playing Farewell To Nova Scotia at KCA Thanksgiving dinner 2013.    Sorry but flags mandatory.        

   Second, I indulged in Maple Syrup, salmon and Canadian club. Consuming Canadian products internalises and speeds up the citizenship renewal process by getting Canadianess directly into the bloodstream and the rebooting the identity genes!                       




 (Fig. 11) Author gorging on Canadian products.  Step two of Full Canadian Identity Renewal process.


 Third, I returned to Canada to participate in classic Canadian outdoor activities: teaching my daughter the joys of climbing trees and canoeing into the sunset. (figures 12-13)


(Figure 12.)  Climbing a maple tree –here my daughter for her first time and -- (Fig. 13):  Canoeing into sunset, while gazing wistfully, are mandatory parts of the third step of the renewal program.   NOTE.  You must look wistful.  Wistfulness is an absolute necessary quality for passing the test. 

      Finally, I engaged in dangerously dumb outdoor activities myself.  Further, I taught my students the joys of the outdoors and the staple of Canadian cuisine: the Potato!


14. Zip lining in Rigaud.  Any dumb dangerous sport will do. 15. Leading students to field to dig potatoes-real Canadian cuisine. 

  All these activities are part of the full citizenship renewal course. You may invent your own version, alter the order, change the intensity level, but if you are feeling out of sorts, detached, isolated, cut off from your roots and alone as an expat, these are all the kinds of things you can do to renew your citizenship as a Canadian.  Basically anything you do that brings you in close contact with nature, that is lots of fun, that involves a community of people, and especially the sharing of various cultures will reconnect you.  In other words, anything that celebrates your humanity, your love of nature, your love of life, your love of people from all cultures, races and nations, automatically renews not only your Canadian citizenship, but your human citizenship on this planet.

Beware of Slipping Back!

    But even then you must be careful.  Once you have gone native once it is easy to slip back in.  For me the final test came just this January first.  I was engaging in my favorite Japanese activity: having an onsen in a traditional Japanese setting-- a cypress clad mountainside in a riverside rotenburo-- after a day of participating in a traditional Japanese festivity: oshogatsu, at Hongu Shrine.

    Despite the intense citizenship renewal course, I was slipping back into my Japanese identity.  I was too happy here. I mean, in what other country in the world can you get stark naked in an outdoor bath with perfect strangers of both sexes and exchange pleasantries as if you met them on the street fully clothed?  


  Fig. 16 The Rotenburo from hotel window in the evening.

  And as I enjoyed sitting in the hot water up to my neck, snow drifting down over head, talking to two strange women, with only a thin towel and a few feet of steaming sulfuric water between us, it occurred to me, I was failing the test.   I was getting lost again.

Maybe it was the fact that they were talking to me because I was a foreigner and not just being polite.  Maybe because they asked me where I was from.  But I was suddenly reminded that I am not a citizen here; that I cannot vote; that when it comes down to the Japanese version and the English version of my work contracts the former will be accepted; that I will never be fully accepted and I will usually be in the wrong if trouble occurs because of my foreign identity.  Then I knew that I had to prove once and for all my Canadian citizenship. 

So when they asked me what country I came from--and before I answered and they could tell me that Canada is cold there and that it produces maple syrup and has a maple leaf on that flag, all unknown to me-- I knew there was only way I could show them where I came from:  I went traditional: 

I got up from the rotenburo, and in my birthday suit, I crossed the rocks barefoot to the river, my pale white butt competing with the moon.  And with the wind blowing cold, and the snow swirling around me, I plunged into the ice cold river.  I went back to the rotenboru and then returned a second and third time to the river.  And after a few of them tried and failed to get in the river,  I replied to their question of my origin:  I AM CANADIAN, I said.  It was then I knew I had passed and succeeded again in fully renewing my citizenship.

 (Fig. 17): Snow dusts the trees and riverbanks in the morning.  Steam rises from the rotenburo in the distance.  Ice cold rivers are a good place to renew your Canadian and world citizenship. 






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