What's In a Name?

Back to Contents of Issue: October 2004

by Kevin Cooney

AS BASEBALL SEASON winds down, I find myself wondering about Japan's boys of summer. How difficult it must be to introduce themselves at parties: "Hi, my name's Kenji, and I catch for The Swallows."

The Swallows? Who is naming these teams? How long was the brainstorming session that produced The Swallows?

Imagine some smoky boardroom where the question was put to the table. What will we name the team? And some brave gray suit rolls up his sleeve and says, "Carp." No, not The Sharks, or The Swordfish or even The Blowfish (which is at least poisonous). The Carp.
Now I realize that the carp is an ancient symbol of strength. But what are the real attributes of a carp?

A fat, bottom-feeding fish that spends most of its day gulping at the sky in hopes of catching falling crumbs. Its greatest quality is its ability to survive in the most polluted waters, which, come to think of it, is a rather fitting symbol for life in urban Japan.

THE NIPPON HAM FIGHTERS. Because, really, nothing says "fight" quite like a ham.
Honestly, I would find it very difficult to shout "Fight, ham, fight!" in the presence of friends, family or females.

Not all baseball teams in Japan have picked poor names. The Lions, The Tigers and The Giants -- Oh, my! Though I'm still hesitant about The Giants' fluffy orange mascot.

THE MARTIAL ARTS have provided a wonderful outlet for Japan's pent-up masculinity. The most curious of these for newcomers to Japan is, of course, sumo.

It is a wonderful sport, and its obese competitors are amazing athletes. What amazes me, though, is not the size of the competitors, but rather the religiosity of the competition. The sumo judge is in fact a Shinto priest, and the ring a sacred space. This begs the question: Why don't more organized religions have sporting events?

For example: Baptist car racing, or perhaps cock fighting down at the local Mormon Church.

TRULY DISTRESSING, however, is the absence of dominating competitors from the fifty United States.

Sure, a few Hawaiians have done their part, but where are our southerners and northerners carrying the banner? I'm sure the great state of Texas could field at least one or two Ozeki in the dohyo.

At a waffle house somewhere in Arkansas, there must be a Yokozuna in the making, slathering an inch or two of buttery ooze over his supersize Sunday brunch.
Who needs chanko nabe when you've got Wendy's?

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