Coach Larry Donovan; American Football in Tokyo (The Chrysanthemum and the Quarterback)

Coach Larry Donovan is my Client, Friend, and Father figure.  Find his Wikipedia Listing and you’ll read testaments to his Athletic Ability demonstrated at the University of Nebraska.  You’ll certainly learn about his success as a Head Football Coach at the University of Montana and the Professional BC Lions of the CFL.  There might be some nice articles on his marriage to Georgia ; an Artist, Scholar, Miss. Nebraska and the Miss. Congeniality Winner at the Miss Universe Pageant. 
You will find little if any Historical or Biographical Data concerning  his seventeen years spent living and coaching in Japan.  He left an indelible impression on the Sport of American Football in Japan and was a positive influence on everyone fortunate to work or play for him.
His tenure of two decades was unprecedented and remarkable.  It began at the peak of the Japanese Bubble and carried on thru tougher Economic Times in Japan.  The Coach survived the Team’s Sponsor switch from  Hitachi to a Mitsubishi –Hitachi Joint Venture Company called Renesas.  His Career in Japan also weathered internal bureaucratic changes at the Sponsor Companies and allowed for Annual Contract Renewals on seventeen successive occasions.  If asked, the Coach attributes his good fortune to luck & the efforts of the Football Team’s General Manager, Mr. Atsuyoshi Koike. ( I think that Winning Records and other factors also played into his Careers continuity.)
To appreciate the Coach’s impressive win and loss records (above .600) and the Hitachi Hurricanes climb from a poor Division IV Team to competitive Division I Japanese X-League Member, we need to understand the Challenges & Obstacles:
-The Coach did not have Japanese Language ability nor assistance from an Interpreter.  He did not have any association with Japanese Culture prior to landing in Japan to Coach Football.  All Practices and Team Meetings were held in English.  (A tribute to the intellectual nature of the team and their eagerness to learn the game.)
-Successful Teams in the X-League have Rosters full of All Japan Players from First Division Universities – the Hitachi Hurricanes were made up largely of Division II & III University Players.
-The Top Corporate Sponsored X-League Teams recruit great Players and find positions in the Corporation for as long as they remain part of the Team.  Hitachi Hurricane Players were Engineers hired to contribute to Integrated Circuit Projects and were given special permission to play Football.
-Division I Teams practice five days a week and play games on weekends.  The Hitachi Hurricanes practiced on weekends, holidays, during Vacation Season and met Wednesday Night for Team Meetings.
-Japanese Championship Teams recruit 15 to 20 New Players Annually and most Athletes play 3 to 5 Seasons.  Hitachi added 3 to 7 Players each year but most Hurricanes continued playing thru 8 or 9 Seasons. (The Players longevity is significant as their Family’s Spring & Summer Vacations and Weekends were sacrificed in favor of Football Practice and Games.)
Most of us wondered how the Coach would Win a game in Japan without language or cultural back ground, better or equally talented players, time to practice and a barely replenished aging roster.  I’d hold my breath on mornings after game days waiting to hear results and details from “the horse’s mouth.”  The results were always close.  The Hurricanes usually found ways to win and the Coaches Magic got them by – but never by much.  He brought innovation to the game and applied it in ways suitable to his personnel.  A novel swinging gate option to compensate for the absence of a reliable kicker, a double tight end offence that few 2nd Division Defenses ever coped with and a Passing Game that allowed his Hurricanes to compete in Division I. 
His Team’s Motto was “Do your own Job.”  It united and focused a group of men more familiar with a Club Team’s Democratic and Playing Coach Style of Leadership.  He spent hours of time watching video to find ways to improve his team and prepare (over-prepare) for games.  The Hurricanes got better and opponents weaknesses found on film were exploited on Game Day.  His Game Plans were not complicated & Hitachi often won games by simply “running outside or inside the Defensive End” (depending on alignment to the Hurricane Double Tight End Offense).  The Great Ones make it look easy and the Coach made the right decisions.
The Team understood the Coach’s direction. A side line discussion with his Quarterback was overheard as follows:  “Run the 36 Tailback Option and don’t pitch!  Yes Coach, replied the QB. What did I say? asked Donovan,  “36 Tailback Option, don’t pitch.”  “Don’t pitch” repeated the Coach.  “Yes Coach, don’t pitch”.  The result was a well run play without risk that gained a first down, ran out the clock and advanced the Hurricanes from Division 2 to the Premier X League.  (The Coach’s rule in Japan was to pose important questions to more than one individual and be sure the answer was repeated for clarification.)
While in Japan, Larry Donovan exemplified focus, clear communication, the ability to condense complex planning to simple formula, an exceptional work ethic, and the ability to find ways to Win and make Winning his Team’s Habit.  He could converse with anyone (in English) starting with the common denominator of sports and especially football.  Mr. Koike, Team GM and a Business Vice-President at Hitachi was negotiating with Gentlemen from Texas Instruments and talks moved close to stalemate.  He called the Coach and asked him to drop by to join the group for some drinks in the Evening.  After three hours of conversation revolving around American Football the Coach departed for home.  “Is there anything else I can do?” he asked Mr. Koike.  “No, I think that will be fine.”  The mood was changed and business was successfully concluded the next day. 
At the end of the day it’s all about people.  Coach Larry Donovan is one of the finest. It’s not an overstatement to say that he left Japan and American Football in this Country a little bit better. Not a bad legacy. 


Valentine’s Day in Japan: A Celebration of Chocolate

Forty Years ago Japanese Chocolate Manufacturers launched one of the most successful marketing schemes of modern business.  Chocolate Sales on Valentine’s Day! 
Actually the concept of a Valentine’s Day (pronounced Barentain Dei) in Tokyo and gifts of Chocolate was a slow starter until the mechanisms of Japanese Social Structure were carefully harnessed. In short, Japanese Women were convinced that Chocolate should be given to your loved ones on Valentine’s Day. 
More importantly the practice of giving “Giri choco” (Obligation Chocolate) to your Boss, Father, or University Professors later took hold and brokers of coco beans stood back and smiled.  Today 10% of the Chocolate Industry’s $3.6 Billion Annual Sales is distributed in the first two weeks of February.
The Japanese Male of the 1950s would not easily buy into the Valentine’s Day Romantic Tradition but in the 70s the Confectionary Industry struck again with White Day.  The March 14th counter to Valentine’s Day offers venues to men wishing to return favors by purchasing  candies and cookies for loved ones. My wife informs me that young girls who have gifted their favorite boy with chocolate wait for White Day to learn his true intentions.  If she receives candies, he likes her.  Cookies are a luke warm response. 
She also reminded me that husbands, fathers, bosses and other men lucky enough to get chocolate won’t enjoy a repeat gifting the following year without proper attention to White Day.  In fact, the Modern Day Japanese Women have serious expectations for White Day and suppliers such as Cartier, Louis Vuitton and Tiffany’s are enjoying the benefits.  (I bought my wife a new iPod Classic, yes, a white one.)
So how did this Canadian do on Valentine’s Day?  Scored big with serious chocolate.  Pierre Marcolini, GODIVA, FERRERO ROCHER, and some Potato Chip Chocolate by a Sapporo Company called ROYCE.  Japan is a utopia for a man Addicted to Chocolate.  But what about Romance you ask?  The Japanese save that for Christmas Eve (and that’s another subject for a Blog later this year.)

Taverna Ripieno at Nishi-Shinjuku; Excellent Food, Professional Service and it’s Affordable

The Nishi-Shinjuku 1-3-13 Block has three nice choices for Italian Food. 

The Italia Bar Vancale offers tasty  dishes to accompany their full range of Italian Wine Options. (It’s a great place to start or finish an Evening as the Crowd, Bar Tenders and Wait Staff are friendly & open to conversation.)

About 50 meters away the IL Saccomanno offers Roman Style Dishes and is proud of their wine cellar. (They’re a good option when the Italia Bar Vancale or our favorite,  the Taverna Ripieno (next door) is full. 
The Taverna Ripieno is a cozy Restaurant with limited seating (Four Tables and a counter that seats six people). Our Best Friend Jimmy Takada, who had kindly given us his Top 5 Restaurants in this blog, introduced us to this tavern.  Mr. & Mrs. Amemiya Taverna Owners work as a team, with the Maestro in the Kitchen and his Lady acting as Hostess, bus, waiter, and sommelier. 
We’ve learned to trust Mrs. Amemiya’s instincts for pairing wines with our favorite dishes and she’s never failed to steer us towards the tastiest of Daily Specials.  We enjoyed a Spanish Wine from the Navarra Region that had spicy character which stood up well against the garlic pastas and herbs of the poultry.  This Dining Experience was a lot of fun.

The fresh fish antipasti were delicious as was their Foie Gras.

You are welcome to request items outside of the Menu and Colorful Special Boards as the Mamiyas work to please customers.  They prepared a Penne All’Arrabbiata  Al Dente that stands up against any we’ve ordered in Japan or North America. 

And, don’t miss the Herb Chicken that converted my wife from life as a Vegetarian. 

The Dinner Sets are reasonable and finish with a mixed dessert plate or cheese. 
Caveats:  The Taverna Ripieno discourage patrons only interested in pizza or pasta snacks.  They also charge 200 yen per seat; a cover that doesn’t limit customers as most nights we’ve found the Taverna full.  Some of our friends have had difficulty finding the location but it’s not hard to locate if you keep your eye out for signs located on the second floor.  Mrs. Amemiya says she’s ready to serve English Speaking Guests and we expect her to step up to the challenge.

Taverna Ripieno   http://www.wood-river.co.jp/ripieno/map.html (MAP in Japanese Only)
                               (Tabelog site Japanese Only)
Il Saccomanno        http://www.ilsaccomanno.com/access.html (MAP in Japanese Only)


KITADOKO Barber Shop, Established in 1871, History, Respect and Care for the Little Big Things

The Super Bowl Kick Off Time for fans living in Japan is painfully early and convenient only to Parties serving Breakfast, Mimosa, Bloody Marys and Cold Draft Beer for the intrepid.  We woke at 6 AM, traveled to our favorite Sports Bar in Hiroo, enjoyed a spicy breakfast conducive to cold beverages and witnessed a Great Green Bay-Pittsburg Championship Football Game (inclusive of the Black Eyed Peas half time show).  
The question:  what do you do at 11:30 AM on a Monday Morning after leaving a Super Bowl Party? You guessed it; your wife goes to Hot Yoga and you try out a famous Traditional Barbershop in Shibuya. 
The Kitadoko “Hair Salon” dates back to the Japanese Meiji Era (1871) and has been owned and operated by five generations of the Funakoshi Family.  As a student of Things Japanese it was a rare opportunity to look over artifacts proudly displayed and experience the same professional service and skill as Japanese Men whose names grace History Books. It is quite a list including Natsume Soseki (Author) , Nitobe Inazo (Statesman), and Hirobumi Ito (Japan’s First Prime Minister). 

On display was an original Congress Hydraulic Chair imported from the Dellar Barbers Supply Company of  1321 First Avenue, Seattle, Washington, USA.  They gave me a tour of antiques that included photographs, the Dellar Barber Supply Catalog, a Meiji Era Porcelain Shaving Bowl, old coins, bills and tobacco tins.  The mirror at the front door dates back to the original shop located in front of the Prestigious Tokyo University where much of the clientele worked or studied. 

From the early years of the shops existence the Funakoshi Management practiced the philosophy of caring for a customer’s physical and mental well being. Natsume  Soseki set the trend for a quiet atmosphere by replying to a Barber’s comment on the weather by saying “who cares, I’m here for a haircut and to relax.”  Until this day a customer will enjoy his experience without unsolicited conversation or hint of rush or urgency. My Hair Cut was indeed relaxing and was accompanied with a shave, shampoo & followed by a short face, shoulder, head and back massage.  The “Cut Course” took about 80 minutes and the fee was 5460 Yen.

Little Big Things: 
-Mr. Funakoshi took my glasses and cleaned them perfectly.
-A humidifying mist was sprayed on my face during the massage portion of the course.
-The staff use combinations of scissors, straight edge blades and electric clippers accordingly as results and patient comfort trump speed and efficiency at the KITADOKO Hair Salon.
-Customers have their choice of Tea or Coffee after the Course is finished.
-The KITADOKO accepts Credit Cards
-Mr. Funakoshi and his daughter kindly allowed photos and gave permission to Post them in this Blog.

Time spent at the KITADOKO was really a treat.  I’d recommend it to anyone ready to relax and enjoy time tested professional service.  When you start by caring for the top knots of Samurai and are still in business after 142 Years; you are doing a lot of things right.

Hair Salon Kitadoko  http://www.kitadoko.com/


Setsubun: Bean Throwing Festival Celebrating First Day of Spring (Japanese Traditional Lunar Calendar)

Over the years in Japan I’ve glimpsed Setsubun Festivals thru Television and other media with limited knowledge.  The cleansing rituals practiced at Shrines, Temples and Homes by casting “iri-mame” (roasted soya beans) and yelling “Oni wa Soto, Fuku wa uchi” (Devil outside – Luck in the House) makes the Japanese News Annually.  Once bad luck is driven from your home, the tasty beans are collected and one ”iri-mame”  is consumed for each year of your life. 
The Cultural Package has its Regional Influences such as Kansai’s Eho-Maki Sushi made special for the occasion. (It’s delicious and prior to my marriage to a Japanese Woman I purchased it several times at my local grocery store.  This was done with zero understanding of the cultural relevance.)


In actuality Eho-Maki really is only a well advertised and tasty maki-sushi (rolled sushi).  It is consumed in a unique fashion.  It is eaten facing the Auspicious Direction determined by the Chinese Zodiac Animal of the specific year.  This year we aimed the long thick roll towards the South, South East Direction (“Nan,Nan-To”).  Customarily you eat in silence and make a wish while devouring the Eho-Maki.  You might make several wishes as the meal requires several minutes.
The rituals date back to the Murimachi Period (1336) but recently the traditions are being spun as marketing tools.  Grocers  advertise Setsubun and Eho-Maki with flashy posters and fliers.  Devil “Oni” Masks are sold or given away as promotional tools and comedy television featuring stars from the Kansai Region work shows around Setsubun. 
Setsubun at our home was good fun and the excitement reminded me of Easter Egg Hunts and other great childhood family memories.  Dad (me) donned the Oni Mask and was pelted with beans.  My wife doesn’t remove them from the small packages. (This saves hours of clean up and preserves the roasted beans to be eaten later).

In spite of the weight of the packages they pelted me with indifference.  Our 8 Year Old Daughter screamed and her mother chimed in with “Oni wa Soto, Fuku wa Uchi.”  They allowed me to slip on shoes as I retreated to the front door and resumed their onslaught with the beans until I’d ran outside and up range to safety.

After removing the mask and returning home we picked up the packs and began counting out the individual beans.  One for each year of age.  For me, the count can be considered excessive and the beans could only be finished with the assistance of some cold beer.  Not a bad tradition.  We can’t wait until next February 3rd.