Kohei Uchimura, the best gymnast in the world

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I wrote an article about Olympic gymnast Kohei Uchimura in last weekend’s New York Times Magazine. You can read it here. (There’s also a video story to go with it!) It’s a fun piece with quotes from NBC commentators, Olympic judges, and the athlete’s mom.

Uchimura actually screwed up a bit on his pommel horse routine earlier this week. He has another chance to really prove that he’s the greatest gymnast of all time when he hits the mats again on 8/2. Fingers crossed he’ll live up to his Superman reputation!

UPDATE: He *just* won the individual gold in London!!

Ashima Shiraishi is the cutest most bad-ass rock climber ever

Ashima Shiraishi is a 4-foot-5 Japanese-American 11-year old girl who can kick anyone’s ass rock climbing. She grew up climbing boulders in Central Park when she was 6 – her parents came to the US from Japan in 1978 – and for the past couple of years has been dominating some of the hardest climbs in the world including the Crown of Aragorn, a V13 (do you know how hard that is??) near El Paso that most adult professional climbers can’t flash. Yes, she does have the advantage of being tiny. But that doesn’t make her any less badass.

Here’s a recent story about her in the NY Times.

(Thanks, Jeremy!)

New freerunning facility in LA features real-life Mario World

I would really like to go to this new parkour facility in LA called the Tempest Freerunning Academy. Parkour is so amazing (I’ve trained a couple times with a Bay area group–so fun!); but perhaps the best thing about this place is that you can jump around in a real Mario World.

Contrary to what you might think based on the last few posts, this blog is not exclusively about Super Mario Brothers.

(Thanks, Jordan!)

Sumo tournament canceled because of text message scandal

SUMO-AKEBONO-25 Japan’s spring sumo tournament was canceled this year because of allegations that 14 sumo wrestlers were fixing matches and arranging bribes via text message. This has never happened before. A few of the text messages negotiating fixing bouts leaked to the press–three wrestlers admitted to having sent and received them, the scandal snowballed, so the chairman of the Japan Sumo Association gave a tearful press conference (note: it is almost obligatory for a regretful head of anything to cry at these things) and called this “the darkest ever chapter in the long history of sumo.”

Sumo matches, especially among the lower ranks, are highly susceptible to fixing because of the way the pay scale works–you get paid nothing unless you reach the rank of juryo, at which point you suddenly make $12,000 a month. So the juryo wrestlers conspire among themselves to make sure they all get to maintain status and earn income. Makes sense.

The last time a tournament was canceled was over 60 years ago, in 1946, because the sumo stadium was damaged by World War 2.


Runner takes wrong turn right before the finish line and loses

This is maybe the saddest marathon video I have ever seen. The guy in the lead is about to finish–he’s at mile 25.99–when he accidentally takes a wrong turn, following a highly misleading van that does the same. Sad face.

Correction: According to the comment below, this guy is in a relay race, not a marathon, and proudly won his school a place in the top 10 for the first time. Don’t believe the American commentator!

(Thanks, Joe!)

Akiyo Noguchi, 21-year old global bouldering champ

Akiyo Noguchi is a famous Japanese rock climber. She’s especially known in global bouldering comp circuits — she won a gold last year in Kazhakstan, and this video shows her performance during a recent comp in Sheffield. Noguchi has a blog, where you can see that, her amazing heel-hooking skills aside, she’s a typical 21-year old Japanese lady with teddy bears and boy problems and lots of emoticons.

Giant Baba, a great man and wrestler

I went over to my friends Ben and Nina’s house today, and Ben was wearing a shirt he’d bought at Uniqlo with an illustration of Giant Baba on it. Giant Baba was a Japanese baseball player-turned-wrestler who was famous for being a really tall, prolific wrestlerfrom the 60s through his death in 1999. In his lifetime, he wrestled in over 5700 matches and was battling it out on the ring just nine days before his passing. What’s more, he was known throughout society as a kind, gentle person.

The amazing video footage above is from a public funeral held several months after his death, in which famous wrestlers from around the world came to pay their respects. I love the moment when his wife comes on the ring and puts his wrestling shoes down. Here’s another video of Giant Baba and Andre the Giant in a match against The Land of Giants circa 1990.

On a side note, I love how Uniqlo makes t-shirts commemorating nostalgic figures from my childhood. I just bought a Dr. Slump tee at Narita on my way back from Tokyo this past winter.

Mao Asada v. Kim Yu-Na in the figure skating short program

200px-Mao_Asada_2008_World_ChampionshipsWow. Did you see Kim Yu-Na and Mao Asada compete tonight in the Winter Olympics? They’re both so good! Asada skated first; her performance was flawless and she was the only woman to do a triple axel, but Kim kicked her butt, scoring 78.50 points — a world record — to a James Bond number. Personally I thought the fingers-pointed-as-a-gun finish was kind of cheesy and found Asada to be the more elegant skater, but Kim really displayed a power and style that was unrivaled in the competition. Asada had 73.78 points.

The most touching performance was by Canada’s Joannie Rochette. Her mom died just a few days ago, so she was competing while mourning — when she finished she broke down in tears, but skated her personal best and came in third.

Apolo Anton Ohno, half-Japanese celebrated speed skater

Apolo Anton Ohno is an American speed skater. I’m sure you’ve seen him on TV — he’s very famous, tied for first for the most winter Olympic medals one by an American, and he was also on Dancing with the Stars in 2007.

Interestingly, Ohno was raised by his dad, a first-generation Japanese. Since the dad had to work a lot when Apolo was young, he enrolled his kid in after-school sports. That included roller skating and speed skating. You can see his dad in this Father’s Day promo video for the Vancouver Olympics. He’s doing really well this year and determined to win more medals, even if it means making some controversial moves, so keep an eye on him.

CM featuring Akebono for Glee, the best TV show ever

Did you know that Glee, my favorite thing to watch on American TV, is airing in Japan? So exciting! Glee is a musical comedy about a bunch of high school kids in Ohio who are in a Glee Club — a group of people who sing and dance, often at the bottom of the who’s-cool-in-school hierarchy. The story line is fairly simple, but it’s so much fun to watch — it is, in fact, probably the only show on American TV that genuinely makes me happy. Instead of just having ordinary casting calls, producer Ryan Murphy spent a bunch of time on Broadway recruiting some of his favorite talented singing-dancing actors there. The main character, Rachel, is actually played by broadway veteran Lea Michele, for example.

I just discovered this Glee Japan ad via actor Cory Monteith’s Twitter feed. (He plays the part of Finn, a sweet airhead football player who likes to sing in the shower — my favorite character in the show!) It’s an amazing clip featuring legendary sumo wrestler Akebono that really gets at the heart of how enjoyable and silly the show is.

Btw, here’s one of my favorite scenes from Glee:

Curling, my new favorite spectator sport

Picture 1I just returned from a long weekend in Canada, where everybody is always watching the Winter Olympics right now. Although, as always, I love watching moguls and bordercross and luge, I also developed a newfound appreciation for curling. It’s such an interesting game! To my newbie eyes, it appears to be a kind of mix between lawn bowling and billiards — two teams compete to get these color-coded discs perfectly positioned in the middle of a bulls eye on ice by knocking the other team out and strategically placing their own discs in certain places.

Japan actually has a good women’s curling team, called Team Aomori (pictured here). They beat the US yesterday, and should be playing again today. I’m also on the lookout for places where you can play curling recreationally. Anyone know a place?

Scott Fujita, a white NFL player who feels culturally Japanese

Sf20100206a1aDid you know that one of the tallest linebackers in the NFL is named Scott Fujita? He’s a white guy who was adopted by a Japanese-American father (who, by the way, was born in an internment camp). He’s never been to Japan, but he celebrates Oshogatsu and Children’s Day, eats with chopsticks, and has Japanese grandparents in California who grow bonsai trees. I just think it’s interesting and probably pretty unusual story.

More info via The Japan Times and Wikipedia.

Asashoryu gets in trouble for putting arms in air after victory


Sumo star Asashoryu got in trouble yesterday for expressing his happiness in winning a match by raising both arms up in victory. His stablemaster had to later apologize to the Sumo Association head for the lewd act. Asashoryu, who is originally from Mongolia and has been the subject of several behavioral controversies in the strict sumo world, later explained that he got too excited and forgot that he wasn’t supposed to do that.

Personally, I feel like this isn’t such a big deal. The art and sport of sumo has had some trouble maintaining its pure image as of late, and perhaps loosening some of its less important rules, like how victors rejoice, will give it some breathing space and help it survive.

Link (Japanese) (Thanks, Yushi!)

Wat Misaka, the first non-white NBA player

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Did you know that the first non-white person to ever play in the NBA was a Japanese-American? His name was Wat Misaka, and he was the first draft pick of the NY Knicks in 1947 &mdash three whole years before African-Americans were allowed to play in the league. This was just several years after he served in the US army, where part of his job was to go to places like Hiroshima and find out what the effects of repeated bombings on civilians were. Some of his family, including an uncle, still lived in the Hiroshima area, while others were interned at a camp in Utah.

Misaki apparently only played three games, but his name lives on on a plaque in Madison Square Garden, and he’s also the subject of a new documentary called Transcending: The Wat Misaka Story.

via NY Times (Thanks, Alex!)