Shiga Lakestars Head Coach Ishibashi fired

Former Lakestars head coach Ishibashi gives a high-five to a fan.

Ishibashi Takatoshi (石橋貴俊) has been fired as the head coach of the Shiga Lakestars, one of the bj league’s pro basketball teams in the Western Conference. The team announced the dismissal on Feb. 22, 2011.

The news is quite shocking as the Lakestars is still one of the top four teams in the Western Conference with 19 wins and 15 losses. The Lakestars’ official Web site announced in a brief, two-sentence statement that Ishibashi was dismissed and that 31-year-old Assistant Coach Nema Hirokazu will be the interim head coach until a replacement is found. No explanation was given for the firing.

But Kyoto Shimbun newspaper reported that team president Sakai Nobusuke (坂井信介) explained that besides wanting to break the recent string of losses (five games in a row), he wants the team back in 1st or 2nd place in the conference and win in the playoffs. He concluded that a change in the head coaching was necessary to this end.

Right now, the top four teams in the Western Conference is in a very tight race. They are separated only by 2 wins/losses. The Lakestars was actually in 1st place in Jan. 2011, but five consecutive losses from Feb. 6 put them down to 3rd place. The string of losses is certainly disappointing, but I don’t think it’s enough to fire the HC.

I still haven’t seen a Lakestars game this season (notice that I haven’t posted any photos this season). I have to confess that I’ve lost much of my enthusiasm for the team after former head coach Robert Pierce and Bobby Nash were released despite their popularity among fans. I like Joho and Wara, but as for most of the others, I can’t even remember their names and faces. They change too often. The high turnover of players and coaches has been disenchanting and it makes it difficult for me to develop a real bond with the team. I just don’t know these people.

And look at the way they announce such firings. No explanation at all. Not even a public “thank you” to poor Ishibashi-san. It’s like they are discarding a piece of machinery. Cold, very cold. So anyone and everyone on the team is expendable. Here today, and maybe gone tomorrow. It must be stressful for them to think about it.

The team president’s policy seems to be “win at all costs.” Sure, a winning team gets more sponsors and more money. But sports should not be only about winning and/or money. It’s about teamwork, working together, overcoming adversity together, never giving up, and forging a bond with fans. It’s really about doing your best.

I’m really concerned about the local children when they see how “winning is everything” and how coaches and players can be discarded like a paper toss to the trash can at anytime. Kids look up to pro teams, players, and coaches. These adults must set a good example.

OK, so five losses in a row. Work to turn a negative into a positive. That’s what sports should be about. The kids should see and learn that it’s also about the struggle, personal experience and growth, physical health, and self-improvement. Winning isn’t everything. Losing is part of the game and kids should learn how to face it and deal with it.

Go and Azai Sisters Expo

Azai pavilion: Azai–Go no Drama-kan (浅井・江のドラマ館)

In concert with NHK TV’s year-long Taiga Drama called Go–Himetachi no Sengoku (Go–Noble Ladies of Feudal Japan), Nagahama is holding a year-long mini expo called Go and Azai Sister Trio Expo (Go–Azai Sanshimai Hakurankai 江・浅井三姉妹博覧会) from Jan. 15 to Dec. 4, 2011. The expo spotlights the three Azai sisters (Chacha, Ohatsu, and Go).

The expo has three pavilions (see below) in three different locations: central Nagahama, Odani, and Azai. The three pavilions are linked with a shuttle bus that runs every 40 min. (weekdays) or 30 min. (weekends) starting from Nagahama Station’s west exit at 10 am on weekdays and 9:30 am on weekends and national holidays. (No bus service from noon to 1 pm or 1:30 pm.) The bus also stops at attractions between pavilions such as the Kunitomo Gun Museum. Each bus also has a bus guide. Bus schedule here.

The pavilions are open from 9 am to 5 pm. For adults (high school and older), admission is 750 yen for all three pavilions or 1,000 yen if you also want to use the shuttle bus between the three pavilions.

You can also pay admission separately for each pavilion if you will not visit all three. For junior high and younger kids, admission is about half price. Tickets are sold at each pavilion and at the tourist information counter in Nagahama Station. Unfortunately, none of the pavilions have English information.

Nagahama Kurokabe Rekishi Drama 50-saku-kan (長浜黒壁・歴史ドラマ50作館)
You may want to visit this pavilion last since it is the smallest and least important. You can easily drop by on your way home if you plan to go back to Nagahama Station. The pavilion is actually a small exhibition room in a shopping complex in central Nagahama (across from the Hikiyama Museum). Using panel displays and a small theater, the pavilion introduces the 50 NHK Taiga Drama TV series broadcast from 1963 to 2011. Incidentally, the very first NHK Taiga Drama, called Hana no Shogai, was about Hikone Lord Ii Naosuke. This pavilion opened earlier on Dec. 25, 2010. Admission 300 yen for adults. Shuttle bus service is provided from Nagahama Station’s West exit and to go to the next pavilion near Odani Castle, taking about 30 min.
Pavilion address/map: 滋賀県長浜市元浜町13-31 パウビル2階

Odani pavilion: Odani–Go no Furusato-kan (小谷・江のふるさと館)

Odani–Go no Furusato-kan (小谷・江のふるさと館)
Being near Odani Castle where the three Azai sisters were born, this pavilion focuses on the history of the Azai clan, the attack and fall of Odani Castle, and a small video theater showing a good video of the castle. There is also an impressive scale model of Mt. Odani with Odani Castle on it. There is bus service (500 yen) from this pavilion to Odani Castle during the warmer months when the road is not snowed in. The 5-min. ride takes you well up the mountain from where you can explore the castle remains (mainly stone walls). A guide will be on hand to show you around the castle remains (probably no English). Pavilion admission 300 yen for adults. Shuttle bus service is provided to go to the next pavilion in Azai, taking about 10 min. If you have time, you should also visit the Odani Castle Sengoku Historical Museum (小谷城戦国歴史資料館) a short walk away. Admission 300 yen (not included in the expo ticket price).
Pavilion address/map: 滋賀県長浜市湖北町伊部757-1

Azai–Go no Drama-kan (浅井・江のドラマ館)
In the area named after the Azai clan, this is the main pavilion and the most impressive of the three. It displays kimono worn by the actresses (Ueno Juri, Miyazawa Rie) and samurai armor worn by the actors playing Oda Nobunaga and Azai Nagamasa. There’s also a small video theater showing the making of a scene where the three sisters and Nagamasa and Oichi are filmed on Mt. Odani. Admission 500 yen for adults. Shuttle bus service is provided to go back to the pavilion in central Nagahama, taking about 20 min. There is also a large gift shop next to the pavilion, selling Azai sisters-related goods, guide books, and local produce. Do your gift shopping here.
Pavilion address/map: 滋賀県長浜市内保町2843

More expo photos here.

Official Web site (no English):

Also, during July 23 to Aug. 31, 2011, the Nagahama Castle History Museum will hold an exhibition on Go, displaying about 130 items related to Go. Her possessions, writings, etc.

The NHK Taiga Drama Go–Himetachi no Sengoku is broadcast in Japan on NHK General (Sogo) TV every Sunday night from 8 pm to 8:45 pm and rebroadcast on Sat. at 1:05 pm. The first episode will air on Jan. 9, 2011 from 8 pm to 9:15 pm.

Movie: Katen no Shiro (火天の城)

Released in Japan on Sept. 12, 2009, this movie is about Okabe Mataemon, a Nagoya (Atsuta)-based master carpenter who in 1576 was ordered by Japan’s leading warlord Oda Nobunaga to build Azuchi Castle on Mt. Azuchi fronting Lake Biwa. The main castle tower or donjon was to have an unprecedented five stories. It was to be the grandest and most lavish castle Japan had ever seen. Mataemon and his crew had only three years to complete the epic construction which they did. The movie shows the major and minor tribulations Mataemon and his crew went through during the construction. The movie is also unusual because it has no battle scenes despite being a samurai movie.

Being a castle fan, I really looked forward to this movie. However, I was somewhat disappointed with the quality of the acting, completeness of the story, believability, and overall visual and emotional impact. The movie does have a few outstanding scenes with what looks like thousands of people working, but they were too few and too short. Computer graphics depicting the construction of the mountaintop castle were impressive enough. But I thought there were too many story lines and characters which could not be fully developed or explained within the movie’s 139 min.

For history buffs, it might be frustrating because the movie is obviously not historically accurate since it is a work of fiction. For castle fans, the movie does not show all the major aspects of building a castle. I wish they showed more scenes of the actual construction (which sped by too quickly). Work on the stone walls, interior, moats, etc., are missing. Seeing the stones being cut and fitted onto the walls, the beams being fitted to the main pillar, the construction of the roof, moat digging, interior painting, gold leafing, etc., are all missing. So the educational value of this movie does not attain its potential.

The movie does have interesting story lines. Construction of a major castle with mostly manual labor, Mataemon the carpenter prodigy, Nobunaga’s affection for imported European goods, merchants getting rich from European trade, ninja-like assassins, and a few love stories. But the movie was too short to adequately develop them all. It tries to cover everything, but in doing so, it never really developed any story to its fullest and best potential. It might have been better to make it a TV series rather than a movie.

I was also disappointed that Governor Kada Yukiko did not make a cameo appearance. I had heard that leading actor Nishida Toshiyuki asked her to appear in the movie. I thought she agreed. Well, you won’t see her in the movie. The movie also does not mention the word “Omi” or “Shiga.” And it does not introduce any places, people, or products from Shiga. Also, none of the main actors/actresses are from Shiga.

But I still recommend seeing this movie. It is worth seeing the few outstanding scenes that it has. The movie was filmed in Kyoto; Adogawa in Takashima where they filmed the giant boulder scene with 200 extras, Awajishima island in Hyogo for scenes atop Mt. Azuchi overlooking Lake Biwa, Kiso-Fukushima in Nagano for forest scenes, and Taiwan for the big tree scene.

It is pretty much an all-star cast headed by Nishida Toshiyuki as Mataemon, Otake Shinobu as his wife, and Ogata Naoto (who gave a fine acting performance) as a woodsman.

I have posted a detailed review and detailed summary of the movie plot for those of you who cannot understand Japanese, so you’ll know what’s going on:火天の城)

In Shiga, the movie is playing at the following theaters (phone number in parentheses):

Otsu: United Cinemas Otsu (077-527-6188) and Otsu Alex Cinemas (077-527-9616)
Hikone: Hikone Viva City Cinemas (0749-26-1002)
Omi-Hachiman: Warner MyCal Omi-Hachiman (0748-37-3433)
Kusatsu: Warner MyCal Kusatsu (077-561-4545)
Koka: Minakuchi Alex Cinemas (0748-63-8801)

Official Web site (in Japanese only):

Hiko-nyan confusion

Yoi nyanko

Hikone no Yoi Nyanko in Tokyo.

Hikone no Yoi-nyanko and Tanemaru

Hikone no Yoi-nyanko and Tanemaru at Yokohama Port Opening Expo.

Another snafu has erupted between the city of Hikone and Moheron (もへろん), the artist who created Hiko-nyan for Hikone Castle’s 400th anniversary celebration in 2007.

You might have noticed some Hiko-nyan merchandise being sold under the name “Hikone no Yoi Nyanko” (ひこねのよいにゃんこ). It looks exactly like Hiko-nyan, but under a different name and in poses different from what we usually see, and credited to Moheron.

In early Aug. 2009, I surprised to see my neighborhood convenience store in Tokyo selling Hikone no Yoi Nyanko dolls right next to the cash register, a very prominent place. (Photo above.) (But by late Aug., it was no longer there. They had either sold out or discontinued the product.) I also saw it sold together with Tanemaru, mascot character for the Yokohama Port’s 150th anniversary when I visited the port festival in Yokohama (photo above).

The city of Hikone has requested Moheron to stop marketing his Hiko-nyan lookalike. Copyright and trademark rights to Hiko-nyan had been obtained by the city, and Moheron was duly paid off (for a reported 1 million yen). Hiko-nyan was originally supposed to be used only for the castle’s celebration. However, Hiko-nyan has proved to be so popular nationally that Hikone decided to keep Hiko-nyan as its official mascot indefinitely. This upset Moheron who sought a court order in 2007 to stop Hikone from continuing to use Hiko-nyan. Both sides then reached an agreement where the city would be allowed to keep using Hiko-nyan as its mascot in three standard poses, while Moheron would be allowed to continue publishing his Hikone no Yoi Nyanko picture books for children. (Not sure if Moheron is male or female.)

But in the eyes of Hikone, Moheron has stepped out of bounds by starting to sell dolls and other souvenirs other than books. On Aug. 10, 2009, the city of Hikone issued a request to Osaka-based Moheron to stop sales of his Hiko-nyan lookalikes (other than the picture books), citing copyright and trademark infringement. He defiantly replied that it was possible for the same character to exist under two different names. Moheron claims that Hikone’s rights to Hiko-nyan are limited to the three original poses (showing Hiko-nyan jumping, sitting, and drawing a sword) adopted for the 400th castle celebration, and that he is freely allowed to create and market other poses of Hiko-nyan.

In late July 2009, the city requested local shops in Hikone to stop selling Moheron’s lookalike goods other than the picture books. But the shops did not comply (especially those in the Yonbancho Square shopping mall), citing that sales were good.

On Aug. 13, 2009, the Yonbancho Square shopping mall in Hikone, where both Hiko-nyan and Hikone no Yoi Nyanko goods are sold, distributed a flyer in the morning edition of major newspapers (circulation 60,000). It essentially said, “Please allow Hiko-nyan and Hikone no Yoi Nyanko to get along!” Yonbancho Square is actually a third-sector project, run as a joint venture by the city of Hikone and private companies. Hikone owns about 40% of the mall’s stock. The city’s own little baby rejected requests to stop selling Moheron’s goods. This embarrassment has prompted three city officials serving on the mall’s board of directors to resign, including a Vice-Mayor who served as Vice-President of the mall.

Everyone calls it “Hiko-nyan,” and I don’t see anyone (except Moheron) calling it anything else. You cannot call the same character two different names unless one is for Japan and the other is for overseas markets. Hikone does have the upper hand since they own the “Hiko-nyan” name (created by a naming contest) and everyone knows the name. Hikone no Yoi Nyanko is just too long as a name. (More apt as a picture book title which it is.) But Moheron is showing strong marketing skills with a national presence.

Hikone will either have to take Moheron to court or hope that the Hiko-nyan “imposter” will fizzle out naturally when people recognize that it’s not the original Hiko-nyan. It might be best to let the buying public decide whether they want only the real Hiko-nyan or both the real and “imitation” one.

*Hiko-nyan was created as the official mascot for the 400th anniversary celebration of Hikone Castle held in 2007. The city of Hikone accepted mascot proposals from professional illustrators and selected Moheron’s entry which was called “Kabuto-neko” (Helmeted Cat). The name “Hiko-nyan” was decided following a nationwide calling for a mascot name, and “Hiko-nyan” was selected.

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