The Big 6 Bleacher Bum gang threw me a going-away party at the Abu-san izakaya in Yotsuya tonight. The restaurant is named after Abu-san, a baseball manga written by Shinji Mizushima. (The title character in it, Yasutake Kageura, is the only manga character in Japan to have a number retired in their honor.) It's pretty much completely full of baseball memorabilia and photographs, and there's always something baseball-related showing on the big-screen TV, and the patrons and staff are pretty much always big baseball fans who come there to eat and drink and chat with likeminded folks.
As such, baseball players actually come to the restaurant as well sometimes, which is probably how the place came to be completely full of memorabilia in the first place.
While we were there tonight, the rumor floated around our table that there was a Lotte coach sitting at a table near us, though nobody has any clue who it is. One of my friends tells me where the supposed coach is sitting and tells me to turn around surreptitiously and look when I have a chance.
I do, and I realize it's Kiyoshi Yamanaka!
Everyone's like "Are you sure?" and I get out my cellphone, where I have various photos of me with players and such, and show them this photo from the 2009 season, when Yamanaka was still a minor-league bullpen coach for the Fighters. I used to actually say hi to him fairly often outside the Kamagaya minor-league facility, since he was buddies with Ojisan and was a fairly friendly and funny guy.
Our group all says, "You really ought to show him that photo and see if you can take a new one with him! I bet he'll be happy!"
I was a little too shy to do that myself, so when Yamanaka's group was leaving, one of the people in our group basically went ahead and called out to him on my behalf, like "Hey, will you take a photo with our friend? She's leaving Japan next week."
We take the photo, and I'm like "Do you remember me? I used to talk to you at Kamagaya a few years ago when you were a Fighters coach."
"Oh!" he said, "Yeah, I thought I'd seen you before..."
"I was really sad when you went to Lotte as a coach, but, CONGRATULATIONS on the championship this year!"
My friend was elbowing me like "Show him the photo from Kamagaya!" so I did. And he laughed, probably because he was making the exact same thumbs-up pose back then too.
So, that was surreal.
Here's another shot of the Abu-san restaurant that I took a few weeks ago:
It's really quite full of stuff. I always seem to spend one-third of my time there eating/drinking, one-third of my time talking, and the rest of the time staring at everything on the walls. They even have the name plate that was actually used in a scoreboard for Koji Akiyama (not sure what stadium... Heiwadai?):
And yeah, I'm leaving Japan on the 18th and moving back to Seattle. Very sad. You would never believe how many pounds of baseball magazines I'm trying to take back with me.
On the other hand, as part of my going-away gifts tonight I received both an Abu-san plate signed by Johnny Kuroki, and a pink baseball signed by my favorite Keio catcher Masahiro Nagasaki. That was pretty cool. My friends wrote me a card and also got the staff to sign it, including Makoto Ashikawa (an actor who works there as a waiter as his "day job") and Yoshida-kun, a waiter who used to play baseball at Horikoshi HS, though he was a few years ahead of Hisashi Iwakuma and a few years behind Hirokazu Ibata.