Sunday, March 20, 2011

Updates on the Disaster and the Effect on Sports


Life in Tokyo is pretty much back to normal, with the exception of fewer trains and far fewer foreigners. I'd say about 75% of my non-Japanese friends have fled, some of their own accord and others because their companies offered them a free trip to another location. Those of us that stayed are happy we did now that things here have stabilized (not that there was ever any real danger in Tokyo) and we look forward to their imminent return.

There is an air of optimism in Japan, despite the horrific tragedy that occurred just 9 days ago. It has been fascinating to watch an entire nation move from shock to acceptance to hope. The death toll will exceed 20,000 but the Japanese are moving on. It was not the first disaster to befall the country and there is almost a sense of "it could have been worse" that allows them to keep things in perspective. To be sure, there is an incredible amount of work to be done in the northeast and the Fukushima nuclear situation is by no means settled, but an incredible amount of progress has already been made on both fronts.

The stoicism and resilience of the Japanese has impressed those overseas and should lead to increased respect on the international stage. Japan has a history of using large events to change direction (the 1923 Tokyo earthquake led them to militarism while the atomic bombs led to the industrialization and subsequent economic growth for the country). There is no doubt that change was needed to revive a moribund leadership and declining population; it may be indelicate to say so but this disaster may be the spur to get Japan fully into the 21st century and beyond.

That's all I'm going to say on the matter. With a potential war in Libya breaking out, Japan's disaster is already old hat. Such is the life in the modern news cycle. If you want to continue to follow this story, I encourage you to find some trusted journalists who report based on facts rather than alarmism. Remember, there's no danger from radiation in Tokyo and certainly none overseas; find a reporter or newspaper who reports that and you should be fine.

Before I go, a few sports updates to get this blog back on topic.

Basketball

The bj League season is continuing but without the Sendai 89ers, Tokyo Apache, or Saitama Broncos. Sendai had no choice after their hometown was destroyed, but rumour has it that Tokyo and Saitama used the threat of radiation and reduced electric power to pull the plug on money-losing seasons. Ed Odeven has a good article on the politics behind the decision. No doubt that a better solution could have been found to keep Tokyo going at least. This news pretty much ends the bj League as a viable sports alternative for me.

The Japan Basketball League canceled the remainder of their season.

Baseball

The Pacific League (which has a team in Sendai) has postponed their season until April 12 while the Central League will start just 4 days later than scheduled, on March 29th. (Update: bowing to government pressure, the CL has now postponed its opening day until April 12th as well). There are some modifications as teams try to save electricity; no extra-inning games is the main rule change (and games will be limited to 3.5 hours), but there will also be more day games and reduced scoreboard use among other incentives. I'm going to see some games as part of my Stadium Journey work and am looking forward to seeing how fans react.

Minor league games are going on now though, which is fine as they are played during the day and don't use that much electricity.

Soccer

The J League has postponed all games in March. Several stadiums were damaged by the quake and there is still some work to be done to determine where games can be played, but the season will get underway in April.

The Asian Champions League postponed games in Japan, but allowed Japanese clubs to play their overseas fixtures. Both Osaka teams travelled to China last week and lost in what must have been a difficult situation.

New Zealand were scheduled to play Japan in a friendly on March 29th but they have pulled out in a rather short-sighted decision. The friendly will now pit Japan's national team against a J League best 11 in a match to raise funds for those affected by the disaster.

Ice Hockey

The Asian Ice Hockey League had scheduled their championship series between the Tohoku Free Blades and a Korean team on March 12. The first 3 games were to be played in Koriyama, a city in Fukushima prefecture. Tohoku means northeast in Japanese and was the area that was mostly destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami, which hit on March 11th. With the nuclear power plant nearby, the entire series naturally was cancelled.

There were many other events cancelled or postponed, but those are the major ones, at least for me.

As for my next trip, I'm still planning to fly to San Francisco on April 12th. Ironically, California is where all the radioactive fallout from Fukushima is landing, so I just can't get a break! But I'm still going to take the risk and put myself in danger, if only to keep reporting to you about the beauty of taking a sports road trip.

Best,

Sean

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