The ABCs of Japanese sportsu


As I’ll be heading back to Canada next month, this will be my last Sports Scope. I thought I’d write some sort of reflection on what covering sports in Japan has meant to me, but all I kept coming up with were buzzwords and catchphrases.

After seven years here, I must admit I’m not as fluent in Japanese as I’d like to be. I have, however, managed to acquire a vast vocabulary of English loanwords that take on whole new meanings in the Japanese sports arena. To closely follow the local scene, one must have a mastery of expressions like “hande” (handicap in golf), “member over” (too many men on the ice in hockey), and “trainer” (training suit).

Here, from A to Z, is a guide to help you follow Japanese sports like a real puro (pro):

Anchi-Jaiantsu (“anti-Giants”). The Yomiuri Giants, Japan’s most rich and powerful baseball team, has legions of fans. But there are segments of the population who despise the Giants and everything they stand for. Like with the New York Yankees (often called the “Damn Yankees”), you either love ’em or hate ’em, and it’s not only Hanshin Tigers supporters who hate the Tokyo-based team. People from the capital who fall into this category might be considered anti-establishment rebels in a country where conformity rules.

Betto (bet). A popular hobby in this part of the world, with billions of yen wagered each year on horses, keirin cycling and boat racing, not to mention illegal action on boxing, sumo and mahjong. Punters are even lining up for TOTO — and I don’t mean the toilet or the cheesy 1980s band. TOTO, from Italian, meaning “sucker,” is the new J. League (see “J”) soccer lottery. Tickets — unlike those for J. League matches — are selling briskly.

Chia gaaru (cheer girl). In addition to cheer girls (cheerleaders in English parlance), “mascot girls” can be seen at baseball games driving pitchers in from the bullpen and awarding stuffed animals to home-run hitters. From “campaign girls” to “race queens,” pretty young women all over the country are dolled up in costumes to make events more appealing to men. Works for me.

Deddo boru (dead ball). This baseball expression, meaning “hit by pitch,” would be more accurately termed “dead batter.” If Seibu Lions flame-thrower Daisuke Matsuzaka beans someone with a 150-kph fastball, it’s much more likely that the batter — not the ball — will wind up “dead.”

Entaitoru tsu besu (entitle two base). Another baseball expression. This occurs when a batted ball bounces over the outfield fence and the batter is awarded second base (a ground-rule double in “real” English). Something like “entitled to two bases” would at least be grammatically correct. But while English grammar may be drilled, memorized and tested on in the Japanese school system, grammar rules are thrown out the window when it comes to practical use.

Faito! (fight!) A common cheer used in sports. It was popularized by the long-running energy drink commercial in which one adventurer saves another by pulling him up from certain death while yelling “faito-o-o-o-o!” It can also be used in everyday life to mean “good luck.” When I left Japan after my first stint living here, I was encouraged to “fight.”

Gattsu pozu (guts pose). This is a term for a fist-pumping celebration in sports. “Guts” is frequently used to express fire and determination. If a player makes a brave play, risking injury to help the team, one would say “nice guts.”

Heddingu shuto (heading shoot). The English word for this kind of soccer shot is “header.” The word “shot” has not yet found its way into Japanese, so “shoot” is used as a noun, as in “volley shoot” and “long shoot.”

Imeji toreningu (image training). This technique, used by some athletes before competing, could be translated as visualization. It should not to be confused with an imeji kurabu (image club), where the role-play fantasies of salarymen are fulfilled by costume-clad hostesses.

J. League. Japan’s national soccer league kicked off with much fanfare in 1993 and spawned a number of products with the “J” prefix, including J. Phone, J. Beef and Channel J. Other leagues picked up on the idea, and now we have the L. League (ladies’ soccer league), V League (see “V”) and X League (see “X”).

Katto (cut). After a player makes a defensive move to intercept a pass or break up a scoring chance, a teammate might say “nice cut!” Much to the consternation of television viewers, “cut” is also used liberally by TV producers. The practice of cutting off televised sports events before they’re finished has been documented and decried in these pages for years. It’s a tradeoff of living in a land of bells and whistles, where schedules are rigidly followed. You can set your watch to when the trains arrive and depart, but the downside is that you can also set your watch to what time the baseball game will be preempted.

Lakkii boi (lucky boy). A player who has a good game is often called this — even if luck has nothing to do with it. In baseball, the seventh inning is frequently referred to as “lucky seven.”

Mai pesu (my pace). The use of “my” is another example of butchered grammar. “My pace” in itself is OK, but any English speaker would be confused at hearing an announcer say, “The pitcher is working at my pace.” Forget “his,” “her” or any other pronoun, it’s always “my” for certain personal possessions. E.g. “my glass”– “You have a very nice my glass,” or “my car” — “The accountant drives to work in my car” (meaning HIS car).

Naitaa (nighter). A summer night game at the ballpark can be a delight. A “nighter” TV broadcast, on the other hand, is usually associated with “katto” (see “K”), and should be viewed with caution.

Opun sen (open sen). In North America, this is what’s called a preseason game. One would usually identify “open” with the beginning of the regular season (e.g. opening day). But as you realize by now, logic has nothing to do with it.

Puro resu (professional wrestling). The shortening of words is a common practice, as we see in Ame futo (American football) and basuke (basketball).

Q-chan. 2000 Olympic women’s marathon champion Naoko Takahashi’s nickname comes from the popular cartoon character Obake no Q-Taro. The “chan” suffix of endearment is found in several sports nicknames, including Yawara-chan (gold medal-winning judoka Ryoko Tamura) and Maru-chan (portly Yomiuri Giants slugger Domingo Martinez).

Raningu homa (running homer). Fortunately, this baseball expression is used sparingly, as inside-the-park home runs are rare.

Sutoreto (straight). Why a fastball is called a “straight” escapes me. I always thought an effective fastball should have a rising, sinking, tailing or cutting action.

Taimurii (timely). Baseball announcers routinely describe a “timely hit.” No problem here. But a “timely error”? An error is NEVER timely!

Untimely. A word I hereby propose be added to the “Japlish” language.

V (pronounced bwee). The letter V can stand for victory, as in “V sign” or a sudden-death overtime “V goal.” It also stands for volleyball in “V League.”

Warudo hai (World Cup). Here’s an expression combining English and Japanese (hai means cup). With the World Cup coming to Japan next year, get ready to hear this one a lot.

X League. Japan’s company football league was around long before wrestling kingpin Vince McMahon’s new dog-and-pony show, the XFL. The Japanese football league should sue for copyright infringement. Then again, by the time the case got to court, the struggling XFL would likely be an ex-league.

Yakult Swallows. Yakult gets its name from yo-guruto, as it’s a company that produces yogurt drinks. The Yakult Swallows baseball team has a bird for a mascot, but it’s said that the company chose the name because “swallow” is what it wants people to do with its products. Not a very clever advertising ploy, since 99 percent of the population has no idea what “swallow” means.

Zero. Another English word that is used in combination with Japanese. The score of a soccer match might be announced ichi tai zero (1-0), and the term for shutout is zero fu.

We’ve reached the end of the alphabet, so this is my cue to sign off. Thanks for the support and all the best.