Monday, August 31, 2015

Day 29: A Post about Hiroshi Kisanuki

It's just a coincidence that Kisanuki wears #29 for the Fighters and I happened to choose Day 29 of the 30-Day NPB Challenge for him.  Also I'm sorry this took me forever to write.  I feel really bad because he's having a bad season and I want him to do well and I'm worried, but at the same time I want to talk about how cool he is.

Day 29 says: "A player you wish he was your friend that you'd be proud to show around".

Clearly it would be Fighters pitcher Hiroshi Kisanuki because he's a great guy and because we have random hobbies in common!

A Great Guy

Kisanuki came to the Fighters in a trade that kind of pissed off pretty much everybody.  We sent the overly-talented-and-popular outfielder Yoshio Itoi, plus the former-ROY pitcher Tomoya Yagi over to the Orix Buffaloes, and in return we got former Seibu captain Shogo Akada, former Hosei captain Keiji Ohbiki, and uh... former Giants ROY pitcher Hiroshi Kisanuki.  All I knew about him up to that point, to be honest, was that Tatsunori Hara disliked him for some reason, but I never really knew what.  (In 2008 I was shadowing Jim Allen reporting on the Giants, and we saw Kisanuki running up and down the stairs of the Tokyo Dome, and he was like "I'm betting it's a punishment.  That guy is always in Hara's doghouse no matter how well he does.")

Of course, Japanese fans are often of the "Well, they're on our team now, we should support them!" mindset, so even as people were yelling hello at Itoi from the Fighters outfield when we played the Buffaloes, they still made a point of welcoming the new guys to the team.  Ohbiki actually had a fairly big following from pretty early on (and he ended up being Fighters captain in his second year after the trade, which was odd).  Shogo Akada, at least in the Kanto area, had a lot of admirers from his Seibu days.  Kisanuki, however, didn't seem to have much of a posse at first.

Two weeks into the 2013 season I was watching the Fighters play the Buffaloes in Kobe.  It was a notable game for me because it was Kagiya's first pro win!  But actually, something else happened that day that was equally important.  As batting practice was coming to an end, my friends were like "oh!  come down to the fence with us and let's see if Kisanuki will give us some baseball cards."

I thought they were kidding, but sure enough, right before heading to the dugout, Kisanuki reached into his bag, pulled out a stack of baseball cards (in sleeves, no less), and started walking along the outfield fence and handing them to everyone in the crowd!  They were signed and numbered.  He even said a cheerful English "Hello!" at me when he gave me a card.

Kisanuki handing out cards by the fence in Kobe.

The card he gave me that day.

Apparently he just does this whenever he can.  I got #234 in April, and then later on in August I got #2170, which means that he seriously obtained and signed and numbered at least 2200 baseball cards to give to fans over the course of a season.  And this guy has been a pro pitcher for over a decade.  Who DOES that?  Kisanuki does, apparently.  In an article in early 2013 he said he was going to try to give out 5000 of them that year, and that the team only provided him with the first 1000 cards.

But anyway, Kisanuki was also involved in what is one of my favorite but most embarrassing fan stories ever.  Basically, in mid-August 2013, my friend Takuma and I had gone up to see two midweek Eagles-Fighters games in Yamagata and Sendai.

I had read that Kisanuki is a huge train nerd (more on that later) and I made him a somewhat silly cheering sign - a parody of the Yamanote Line station signs, except instead of phonetically spelling his name underneath the kanji I wrote 我らのエース which means "our ace".  He was the starting pitcher at the Yamagata game but had a pretty awful start (giving up 5 runs in like, 2 innings) though the Fighters ended up winning 9-5.

The next day at Sendai I thought there was a chance I might see him, so I waited by the outfield fence during batting practice, and when he eventually did came over to give people baseball cards, I  held up my sign and waved hello at him and he was like "oh hi!  Nice sign, did you make it?" and I was like "Yeah, I made it for yesterday's game and I cheered for you but it didn't work, I'm sorry" and he was like "Whatever, it happens, thank you for cheering" and then he tried to talk to me in English but it didn't work very well (while he was still giving out cards to people.  Seriously.)

Anyway, I knew I wouldn't be able to get a photo WITH him, but I had a crazy impulse and asked, "Hey, can I take a picture of you holding my sign?" and he was like "uhh... sure?  I guess?" and motioned to hand it over the fence, so I did, and I took this picture.

Kisanuki holding up the sign I made, because he's just that cool.

The card he gave me that day.

Many of the other people standing around in the outfield weren't necessarily normal Fighters fans (this was a weeknight in Sendai, after all) so they were like "Wow that guy is really nice, you must be happy to cheer for a cool player like that", and I was still kind of shaking like "OMFG did I really just ask one of our starting pitchers to hold a silly sign I made for him??"

Hobbies in Common -- Railway Fans, Unite!

So anyway, something you might not necessarily know about me is that while my number one hobby in Japan is clearly baseball, my number two hobby is trains.  "Train fandom" is a huge hobby in Japan, although to be fair, it is mostly dominated by men, and there aren't many foreigners who really get into it.  The Japanese wikipedia article about the hobby is really pretty accurate -- there are some people who are just into riding all kinds of trains and obscure lines, some people who like taking pictures of trains, some who like model trains, some who like train melodies and station lunchboxes and such.

I am personally an adventurer, riding trains all over the country.  I identify my fellow adventurer train nerds because they're also riding local trains in an obscure part of the country and carrying a big thick 時刻表 timetable book.  Local trains because special tickets like the Seishun 18 let you ride anywhere for cheap, but no express trains allowed, and timetable books because you can't rely on cellphone coverage everywhere.  If a train gets delayed at all, or if you just want to wander around some area you stop in, you better know when the next train out of town is, or you may get stranded. The timetable book is also good for inspiration; some of my better train trips have happened due to just finding something cool-looking in the timetable and deciding to take it.  (I accidentally ended up on the awesome Isaburo and Shinpei tourist trains in Kyushu one time after going to Kareigawa, the oldest train station in Japan.)

Just as Japanese people are generally surprised to find a white girl doing baseball tourism, they're also surprised to find a white girl doing train tourism.  One of my favorite trips had a stop at the Tappi-Kaitei underground station in the Seikan tunnel between Honshu and Hokkaido, where we got a tour of the steam tunnels and then took an incline cable car up to the surface to see the very northern tip of Aomori and look out over the Tsugaru strait.  It was awesome!  And of course, through my luck I ended up booking on a tour where all the other participants were a group of old men from Yamaguchi prefecture who were doing some kind of senior tour trip together.

Irony: at the beginning of the trip one of them looked at me and made some comment like "Is it ok that this tour won't be in English?" and by the end, they were all like "Holy shit you are one serious train nerd" after I spent half the tour asking the tourguide a bazillion questions about the construction of the tunnel and the upcoming Hokkaido shinkansen development.

One of these things is not like the others...

I am, indeed, a train nerd.  I wouldn't have gotten to 46 out of the 47 prefectures on local trains otherwise.  In 2013 when I was finally eligible for a JR pass again, I spent 21 days covering 8718 kilometers of track, all the way from Wakkanai to Makurazaki, sleeping in 12 different cities and seeing 18 baseball games.  Good times.  Apologies to any JR employees reading this for exploiting your system.

So anyway, this is supposed to be a post about Hiroshi Kisanuki and why I want to be his BFF.

Well... Kisanuki is self-declared as プロ野球界随一の鉄道ファン, or "pro baseball's number one railways fan".  Fans for ages have talked about how they'd see him riding a train home from the stadium after baseball games, even from his Yomiuri days onwards.  (Most players either have a car or get a ride; I do occasionally see baseball players on trains but it's really rare.)  In offseason training times, articles about him often mention things like his plans to go ride a steam train on his off days.  He was the "One-day station manager" for the train station in his hometown of Satsuma-Sendai (the one in Kagoshima spelled 川内, not the well-known one in Tohoku spelled 仙台) in 2004, and he was supposed to be the one-day station manager as well when the Kyushu shinkansen opened.

(Unfortunately that was March 12 2011, so I can't find any record of him actually having done it, partially because of spring training and partially because it was the day after The Big Tohoku Earthquake.)

After getting traded to the Fighters, he started writing a column for the Hokkaido Nikkan Sports newspaper called 乗り鉄 about the trains in Hokkaido.  The article about it featured this awesome picture of him at Sapporo station:

There was even a time when the Sapporo metro was decorating a special ファイターズ号 subway car with Fighters players and the next player that was supposed to go on it was Keiji Ohbiki, but Ohbiki didn't really care and Kisanuki was like "Come on, who besides me even rides the train anyway?" and the team staff all agreed he was clearly the biggest train nut and deserved to be on the side of the train, and so he was.

Another thing I have in common with Kisanuki is that we both like biking!  Back during Spring Training in 2014, Kisanuki made it into the "random bizarre" section of spring training coverage by deciding he wanted to bike from the Fighters' ni-gun camp out to Cape Hedo.  It's about 40 kilometers round-trip so he rented a mountain bike to try it out.

Kisanuki also has a road named after him in his hometown of Satsuma Sendai.  It's a little bit hard to dig up specifics on it but I was able to narrow it down in Google Streetview to take a look.  Image searches on 木佐貫ロード show that it came into existance while he was with the Giants but the town has updated the sign as he switched teams.  Supposedly it's the road he used to run on for training back in high school.

What this all comes down to, though, is that it's hard to find cool people to take train trips with; you really have to be with someone who is meticulous about schedules, and actually enjoys spending long amounts of time riding on trains, and wants to explore random places... and also is someone you can spend long amounts of time with and not want to kill.  I only really have one good train friend that fits that.  I definitely could use more.  And I bet it would be awesome to do a long train ride or hike with Kisanuki.  He just seems like such an interesting guy, and we could talk about trains, or baseball, or Japanese history, or whatever, and it would be so cool.

I Have No Point Here, I Just Wanted To Post These

There was this crazy Legends Series at the Tokyo Dome on September 3-5, 2013, which included the longest game in Pacific League history on Sept 4th.  But, on Sept 3rd, Kisanuki started for the Fighters, pitched 7 innings, gave up 2 runs, Daikan Yoh put the fighters up 3-2 in the 4th inning, and the two of them were the game heroes!  And so when Yoh and Kisanuki came to the outfield to wave to the cheering section, I was in the front row holding up my train station Kisanuki sign, and he saw me and pointed and waved!  I mean, I was only one of maybe 3 or 4 people holding up a Kisanuki sign in a sea of Yohs anyway, but that was so cool, and I waved back and gave him a thumbs-up.

And then I made my friends all pose for a Kisanuki cheering photo just because.

My friends holding up their Yoh and Kisanuki towels

Kisanuki on the big screen during the hero interview

We all end up on the big screen too!!  I had my camera ready just incase :)  You can see me holding my sign over my face and the camera just above it.

Kisanuki and Yoh come to the outfield to thank the fans and to throw signed baseballs at us (no, I didn't get one)

Kisanuki cheering section!

Okay!  Well, that was long.  Day 30 is going to be difficult too and I really did want to get it done by the end of July or August, but hopefully I'll get out that last post sometime in the next week.  I'm going back to Japan on Sept 19th so I better at least have it done before then.