The New Year's Eve Dynamite K-1 bout between Akebono and Bob “The Beast” Sapp featured a very rare double knock out.
In the actual fighting, Bob Sapp knocked Akebono flat with about two seconds left in Round One. Akebono had looked surprisingly energetic up to that point and had scored a couple solid hits. He also shocked viewers with a couple sloppy front kicks. Both kicks were barely worthy of white belt karate students, but the surprised “ooh” from both the Saitama Super Arena crowd and your humble editor's living room was great. Akebono also had little trouble with Sapp's low roundhouse kicks which almost every commentator figured would be Ak's undoing. (For the uninitiated, Akebono's sumo career left him with bad knees.) Although Sapp has been working on the kicks for some time, he telegraphs them so clearly he might as well just go ahead tell his opponent to get ready for them.
In the end, Sapp merely let Akebono punch himself out. About 2:00 minutes into the round, Sapp scored on a right to the head that took Akebono to his knees. Ak got up but Sapp unleashed on him and finally got Akebono with his hands down with about five seconds left. He hit him in the side of his head with a perfect right and Ak dropped as if the floor had fallen out from under him. He ended up face down with his hands under his torso and his legs splayed back. He looked a lot like a frog does right before you dissect it in biology class. The referee started to count, took one look at the twitching Akebono and called the fight.
The second knock out was the unprecedented defeat of the Kohaku, or Red and White Singing Contest. This contest, long term sufferers will remember, features the “most popular” singers of the year in a boy versus girl battle that blends elements of Hee Haw, American Idol and the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon. (i.e. bad jokes and bad costumes). Traditionally, the Kohaku is the most watched show of the year and usually garners an audience share in the 60% range. Going up against it is considered a form of suicide. Many credit the demise of singing duo Pink Lady with their futile attempt to go up against the Kohaku rather than singing on it. Film director/comedian/TV host “Beat” Takeshi Kitano admits his own annual new year's show is crap and merely brings on the same people every year to argue about UFO's and the paranormal.
The Akebono/Sapp fight, however, garnered a 43% share of the audience, reducing the Kohaku to a meager 35%. This leaves the scent of blood in the water for the other networks, and leaves NHK with a show desperately in need of revamping. This year's show was especially boring and some of the women sang the same songs they sang last year.
Sapp is now apparently contracted to fight Mike Tyson. No word yet on when. (Or where, the Japanese government has barred Tyson from entering Japan.)
Other highlights from New Year's television revealed both a regression and a change in Japanese TV.
In addition to the Dynamite K-1 fights, two other channels chose to air fights. One network had Japanese professional wrestler Antonio Inoki's Bombaya pro-wrestling matches while another featured PRIDE brawling. (For the uninitiated PRIDE is a brutal form of fighting with 10 minute rounds and punching while a man is down allowed. Fights go on until one fighter taps out or physically cannot go on any longer.) This also garnered a large share of the New Year's Eve audience.
Before New Year's Eve, though, there was a show that was more a throwback to the days of Tonight2 and SuperJockey. This show, hosted by former Bikini model Yuka, featured a battle between popular bikini models and attractive Cabaret Girls (i.e. nude hostesses.) Although there was no total nudity--Japanese TV hasn't regressed that far--there was Strip-Bowling, Nude Figure Drawing (each team sent its best artists to draw nude men.) and Cat Fighting.
The trick was that all the women had part of their face covered with a pink bar. If their team won a round or a match, the bars would be removed for 30 seconds and they would have their faces on TV. If they lost, the bars would stay in place. Also, the women were referred to only by their initials. Therefore, if their faces weren't shown, they were getting almost no usable publicity.
The cat fighting was the most brutal contest and involved surprisingly serious kicking and punching. The Cabaret Girls had an intimidating fighter who defeated two bikini models in a row (The rules were that the woman who won stayed in until she lost.) She won mostly by scaring her opponents off with kicks, then grabbing them, throwing them down and choking them with her forearm until they gave up. The third bikini model, however, was an athlete and not only did she easily block the kicks, she also delivered a kick that brought with it a moment of clarity. The Cabaret Girl, whose face was uncovered at this point, went from tough and catty to wide eyed and scared. She lost as did the next two Cabaret girls.
In other tv news: the stalking show, which long term sufferers will remember from a previous issue, has deteriorated to just another “Watch Comedians Do Stupid Things” show, of which Japan has an excess. Even now, when there are no sports to talk about, late night TV is overrun with sports shows.
Oh well, a new year brings new hope.
Two weeks ago, despite overwhelming public opposition, Japan sent Ground Self Defense Force troops to Iraq. Just yesterday, the government passed the laws necessary make such a move legal. (Yes, they sent troops before it was technically legal to do so.)
Right now only an advance force is present in Samawah in Southern Iraq. (This is how the Japanese press always refer to it.) Samawah in Southern Iraq (SiSI) has been one of the safer areas thus far and there is already a contingent of Dutch forces stationed nearby. The advance team will, among other things, secure land for a Japanese fort, hire necessary workers and report back to headquarters when it's time to move in the main force. For now they are staying in the Dutch fort.
Expectations are high among SiSI citizens as rumors of large Japanese corporations moving in and creating jobs preceded the GSDF. It's possible that, when Toyota et al don't arrive, the mood could change harshly. (Nobody, apparently, expected much from the Dutch.)
The other problem may be the overwhelming presence of Japanese reporters who are treating the handful of GSDF troops like the British Press treated Princess Diana. Everywhere they go they are chased or swarmed by hundreds of reporters who are literally crashing into each other to get a story. At one point they almost ran over a small girl and many observers are taking bets that the first Japanese casualty of the new year will be a Japanese reporter who gets knocked off by an Iraqi sick of answering questions about the GSDF. (For the uninitiated, the Japanese press on overseas assignment are notoriously single minded and seem to move about with blinders on. They will ask everyone they can about a Japanese while walking the past the bodies of dead foreigners. If someone gets in their way, they will literally push through them. If a foreigner appears on TV, it will only be because they are answering a question about Japan.) It's also likely they will kill each other before an Iraqi resister has a chance to attack them.
What's more, the GSDF are forbidden from assisting any foreign troops under attack. If the Dutch camp is attacked, the GSDF will be expected to hide out until their safety is directly threatened. Once the Japanese fort is built, they will simply watch like spectators unless directly attacked.
The only good news is that the mass of reporters serve as effective human shields for the GSDF. A bomber will have a hard time getting past the press to get close to the GSDF.
Two years of bitterness and spite came to a conclusion of sorts last month when the government finally adopted a privatisation plan for the Japan Highway Corporation. The plan splits the JH into four separate corporations, each controlling a different portion of the Japanese highway system. Unfortunately for the reformers, because the new corporations are technically private, they are free to go ahead and build any and all highways they want and the government is unable to stop them.
Three of the five remaining members of the reform committee were practically shouting in protest. They feel that most proposed new highways are unnecessary and want to see the projects terminated. They view the government's decision as an act of betrayal. (They honestly seemed to believe that the government was interested in reform.)
The other two committee members, including a writer who has served as the very public moral center of the committee, were mildly disappointed but happily pointed out that the cost to the taxpayers of the new highways, even if all were built, had dropped from some 20 billion dollars to just over 10 billion.
The discovery of one BSE infected Canadian cow in the United States has led the Japanese government to ban all beef imported from the USA. Japan has expressed grave concerns about the safety of U.S. beef and a special delegation sent to investigate the U.S. beef industry ruled that every cow sent to Japan be tested for BSE.
Japan, it should be noted, has had eight cases of BSE in the last two years, including a discovery last year from a cow born after the cannibal feed ban. The last cow is especially scary as it seems to contain a new strain of BSE. This news, along with countless mislabeling scandals, has led to a serious decline in domestic beef sales. In its place people were buying U.S. or Australian beef. This was espcially true of restaurants, many of which were finally recovering from years of scandals and BSE cases.
When the ban on U.S. beef was announced, there was a mad dash to secure the final supplies in Japan, and then a dash to get as much Australian beef as possible. Several chains specializing in gyudon, or beef-and-rice bowl, rather than kill their profits with expensive Japanese beef, instead announced we were now in the “post gyudon era” and began looking for alternatives such as chicken or pork or began designing new dishes altogether.
Your humble editor suspects that the Japanese government will lift the ban sometime in the next six months when industry pressure finally becomes overwhelming and it becomes clear that nobody is going to buy domestic beef. However, once import supplies jump 25-30 percent, even though that's way below pre-ban levels, Japan will, as it did when sales began to recover after Japan's BSE scare, hit imported beef with an emergency tariff, aggravating the situation.
Early this year, it was discovered, after several people got sick, that the Poultry Famers Association in Kyoto had sold 50,000 six month old eggs after relabeling them as fresh. The eggs had been laid June 19th but didn't sell and were therefore returned by various retail chains. Rather than being destroyed or sold at a cheap price, they were stored. Then, as they approached the six month “sell by” date, the Association repackaged them with labels saying they had been laid December 2.
Believe it or not, selling the eggs was legal as they were not set to “expire” until December 19th. However, changing the date is an act of fraud.
This is remarkable for two reasons: 1) That it's legal to sell six month old eggs in Japan and 2) That it's legal to sell six month old eggs in Japan.
To make food matters worse, the outbreak of Avian Ifluenza has reached Japan causing a huge decline in chicken sales.
Your humble editor briefly pondered becoming a vegetarian until he remembered the worst case of E.Coli poisoning in Japan was caused by bean sprouts. He's now considering eating only small children.
Democratic Party MP Junichrio Koga has been involved in one of those only in Japan scandals that are as funny as they are inexplicable. Koga, a newly elected MP who campaigned while riding a mountain bike, has been caught falsifying his academic record.
On his resume, Koga claims that he has a degree from Pepperdine University in California and that he attended UCLA. Someone did some checking, however, and discovered that Koga 1) never actually graduated from Pepperdine and 2) never actually attended UCLA.
Koga became very magnanimous and said that this was all a mistake. He said he didn't attend graduation but that the school had sent his diploma to his lawyer who gave it to him. When asked to produce the diploma, Koga said his mother had lost it. This went on until a spokesman from Pepperdine verified that although Koga had attended the school, he had not completed graduation requirements. Then, a UCLA spokesman said that the school had checked it's records back to the 19th century and there was no record of Junichiro Koga having ever attended UCLA.
Koga quickly backtracked on UCLA saying his staff had merely misspelled CSULA (California State University—Los Angeles) and promised to fly to Pepperdine and clear up their mistakes. Koga flew to Pepperdine, met with university officials, then flew back to Japan where he announced that the school was correct, he had not been approved for graduation. He then resigned from the DP, although he kept his seat in parliament, and put on an “I have sinned against you” blubbering-fest worthy of Jimmy Swaggart.
All this will remind long term sufferers of “Sachi” Nomura who, while campaigning for a Diet seat, claimed she had attended Columbia University. When it was provent that this was a lie, she claimed that she'd had a special status, Foreign Auditing Student (something like that). She maintained this until Columbia pointed out that they didn't allow unregistered students to audit classes.
Mongolian born Yokozuna Grand Champion Asashoryu has done little to endear himself with Japanese fans the last two months.
He has 1) gone on vacation in Mongolia instead of staying in Japan to train, 2) skipped a traditional new year's rope-making ceremony 3) skipped the funeral of his Oyakata Takasago 4) met professional wrestling icon Antonio Inoki while wearing a suit rather than traditional kimono and 5) he got back from Mongolia late, missing a couple days of training.
The Yokozuna Council quickly got it's knickers in a twist and began saying that if Asashoryu doesn't shape up they will ask for his resignation. They also repeated their call for Asashoryu to become a Japanese citizen as “required” of all Yokozuna. (He's all but refused to do this.)
Asashoryu then went 15-0 in the New Year's Basho, the first perfect record since Takanohana back in November 1996. At one point, Asashoryu literally picked up his closest rival, a man weighing in at over 300 pounds, and body slammed him. He did seem a little more reserved than usual, even making a show of helping up fallen opponents. (The Yokozuna Council was pleased with this and said it showed maturity.) When Asashoryu wrapped things up on the 14th day he gave a smile and fist pump that, while traditionally un-Yokozuna-like, were delightful nonetheless.
It's a real treat to see someone at the peak of their skills and the hatred Asashoryu inspires has done more to help Sumo's falling attendance than almost anything else the Sumo Kyokai has tried in the last three years.
By the way, the first white guy to make it to the makuuchi got a winning record this past basho. His name is Kokkai, which means “Black Sea” and he hails from the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. He looked pretty good, but your humble editor suspects he'll be one of those guys who bounces up and down the chart as he gets a winning record in one basho and a losing record in the next.
The final oddity is the rising complaints about “cloned” cell phones. Recently a number of people have claimed that their high cell phone bills were actually the result of someone using cloned versions of their cell phones.
Although the press has been all over this story, no reporter has made any effort to prove that cloning a cell phone is possible or to explain how it is done. They do, however, imply that it is quite easy. NTT Docomo and the other cell phone companies claim that cloning a cell phone is impossible and that there must be some other explanation.
The press, however, have not asked the complainers any tough questions. In one case, a single mother took NTT Docomo to court when she got a 1000 dollar cell phone bill. She claims that it was impossible for her 15 year old daughter to have racked up such a large bill. She says she asked her daughter if she did it and that her daughter said no. Therefore, the only possible explanation is a cloned phone.
In her defense, NTT Docomo has been very cagey about releasing specific billing information, and what they have released has been, at best, vague. They gave the mother a list of times the phone was used to access various websites but not the sites' URLs. The information did show several hits to a site in a very short period of time. To the mother this proves that it could only have been done by a cloned phone as it's impossible for one person to have accessed the site so many times in such a short period of time.
You see, it's easier to believe that a cell phone operating on a unique chip has been somehow cloned than to believe that a teenager would 1) loan her phone to friends 2) attempt to access a restricted website by repeatedly entering different passwords and 3) lie to her mother.
What teenager would ever do that?