In the port city of Hachinohe in northern Aomori prefecture, three teenage boys drank alcohol last December. This recently emerged story has made the national news, humiliated a local community, and reminded me I`m still in a very foreign country.
Legally, Japanese teenagers can`t drink alcohol (they have to wait until 20 before life properly starts / ends). But underage-drinking is not the story.
The scandal emerged, leaked in a blog, because the boys were baseball players for the local High School team, one that had just reached the final of the prestigious August tournament. Knockout games in the tournament are watched in bars, cafes and living rooms across the nation.
Baseball, particularly school baseball, is more like the military than sport; it involves a strict code of honour, unquestioning commitment, crewcuts, morning-to-night practice sessions and a lot of needless shouting. Women can watch.
It`s the pride of the nation. And I`m proudly crap at it. But I am fascinated by the pride people take in their local baseball team. For their small sin, in my blurry eyes anyway, the local and national media-attention these students got was astonishing.
At a press conference, the visibly shaken Headmaster of their school: “This deplorable affair is a betrayal not just of the school, but of everybody who loves baseball”.
Others did not seem so angry. Quoted in the same newspaper, a local resident said, “their mistake does not change the fact that the teams` superb performance lifted the spirits of people living in the disaster area”.
The team are still heroes of Hachinohe. In part two below, I meet some more.