Note: "Russell's Ken-Bun-Ki" is a series of articles I wrote for my Japanese City Hall newsletter back in 1996-97. They were articles about life in America or life in Japan as experienced by an American. This one is from January 30, 1997.
What sports do you enjoy watching? At this time of year in Japan marathons and relay races are held and televised almost weekly. This surprises me. Why do Japanese people enjoy watching these sports events? Is it to watch the young people's legs and backsides while they're running? Is it to watch the runners doing their best during the competition? I have never seen these types of sports broadcasted on mainstream American television. Even the very famous Boston Marathon is not broadcast on US network television.
What sports do you think Americans like to watch? American Football, baseball, and basketball games are the most popular. Every year the highest ratings for a televised sports event is the American Football champion game, The Super Bowl. Every year even the best family man will get together with friends, with a beer in one hand and some pizza or potato chips in the other, cheering on his favorite team. Wives are called 'Super Bowl Widows." This is the same as the Japanese term "Golf Widow" or "Abandoned Wives."
Speaking of golf, this is a sport that Japanese and Americans both like. You can watch several professional golf tournaments. However, I think golf is one of the most boring sports to watch. And when I watch golf broadcasts I'm confused by something. The golfers cannot hear them, but the announcers insist on whispering during their broadcasts. Do I think this is odd because I don't like golf?
This is one of my favorite articles, for a few reasons. First of all, it does what I always liked doing: comparing our two cultures, finding shared ground in-between the differences. I have yet to find many Americans who admit to watching marathons or relays except maybe during the Olympics, but we do have millions of golf fanatics. And Japanese simply do not understand the appeal of American Football (so-called to differentiate it from the other Football game that we Americans call "soccer.")
The other reason I like this article is because it basically got me in trouble. In great Jonathan Swift style, some people did not see the humor in this and complained that I was calling the entire country a bunch of letches for watching young people in skimpy running outfits. :-) I remind my audience that this article was written by me, edited by the newsletter editor, and checked by her staff. So it's not something that "got by" anybody. It was humor, and obviously misunderstood by certain people.
On the other hand, this is one of those articles that I got a huge amount of feedback on. ALL the adults in my English Conversation Class tried to explain to me why they watched what they did, or why golf announcers whispered, or how American Football reminded them of rugby (another popular Japanese sport). Basically, the people who liked me or liked to think about international things liked this article. So that made me feel good.
However, because of the "controversy" of this article, I was eventually told to stop writing this feature. Now, full disclosure: I was never told directly that this article or some of my other more controversial topics played a part in my column being "re-assigned." However, when I asked why I was being let go my boss in the education department told me directly that the town was hoping to invite more and more marathon and relay racers to our track facilities for training, and it would "look bad" if we were making fun of them. ?!? Makes me laugh every time I think about it.
So....this is my long-winded way of saying that Russell's Ken-Bun-Ki is almost done. We have another month or so to go until my sudden finish. I was not "renewed" at the end of the 1996-97 fiscal year (April-March) so my last article will be in late March.