Hiroshima-ken 2015 Pt VII: Tomonoura – Ponyo Locations

This small fishing port in Fukuyama City was indeed brought to my attention thanks to its role in the sixth X-Men movie but whilst searching for the locations of those scenes I saw an article saying that Tomonoura was where the Wolverine and Ponyo crossed paths. That was in June last year when I had no idea who or what Ponyo was!

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Once I’d booked my ticket to Fukuyama for Golden Week the wheels were set in motion and I set about getting my hands on a copy of ‘Ponyo‘ (2008) which is sometimes also known as ‘Ponyo On The Cliff By The Sea‘. I asked around a select few friends who are into animation and got lucky when my friend Ben quite literally delivered me the dvd of it as he just happened to move from my hometown to Tokyo at that time.

Having watched it, I think I even surprised myself as I was quite moved at times by the cute story (albeit a bit weird) of the fish-girl and the five-year-old boy from Oscar-winning animator and director Hayao Miyazaki who I’m ashamed to say I only knew about due to some tribute inThe Simpsons‘ (S25E10 – Married To The Blob) where Homer and a Japanese guy both drink habushu (snake rice wine) and then stumble home intoxicated, where Springfield turns into a wonderland based on some of his Studio Ghibli work.

Now it has to be noted that there are no exact filming location match-ups in Tomonoura for this port town was the inspiration and basis for Miyazaki’s story. He spent two months there in 2005 before production started on the movie and his experiences helped inspire and shape the animated town where Sōsuke lives. The house that it was modelled on is a private house on the cliff lying just beneath Ankokuji Temple which was founded during the Kamakura Period (1192-1333).

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The place where Sōsuke finds Ponyo is the rocky beach situated near to the ferry pier and Enpuku-ji temple.

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Sōsuke and his mothers commuter route takes them along the road seen below and his school is the building in the distance on the left. The exterior of the school even has a painted signboard featuring Ponyo on it.

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Sōsuke and his mother are determined to get home on the stormy day despite the horrendous conditions and the danger involved. They pass an intersection similar to the one below which is basically just looking back the opposite way to the aforementioned commuting route.

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The tunnel where Ponyo loses her human form is about 3km west and was too far away for me to reach within my time constraints sadly. However, Rila Fukushima did go there during a break in filming of ‘The Wolverine‘ (2013) in September 2012 and tweeted a picture of her in front of the tunnel where Ponyo reverts into a fish due to using too much magical power to help Sōsuke and others along the way.

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Just before I left Tomonoura I passed the ferry terminal and noticed a boat was about to depart for Sensuijima so I thought I may as well take a (very) quick trip to the island which is just five minutes away and costs only ¥240 (return). The fences in the screenshot and photo’s below are very similar and both lead to similar shaped cabins with the reality one being the ferry passenger terminal.

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The time I spent on Sensuijima was short to say the least as I had to take a ferry back 20 minutes later. I took a quick look round the island though which has a hotel, camp ground, observation decks, boardwalks, walking courses and some  coloured cliffs covering the rugged coastline.

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First port of call before all of those locales though should be the Tourist  Information Centre which stocks a good selection of Ponyo merchandise. It is the penultimate stop on the bus route from Fukuyama station to Tomonoura and they can print you off a Ponyo map of the area for free though sadly not the one like above. Wolverine maps are also available.

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As you walk around the main town there are other a fair few posters on shops and noticeboards showing how proud they are that Tomonoura was the inspiration for  the town depicted in this visually stunning fairy tale.

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How to get there: Take a bus from stop #5 on the south side of JR Fukuyama station. It takes approximately 25 minutes to reach the tourism information centre or you can get off a few minutes later at Tomokou bus stop; the final stop down the road from there.

Want more Japanese anime locations? Click here to see the Fukuyama locations faithfully depicted in ‘Kamichu!‘ (2005) 

You can see The Wolverine locations in Tomonoura here

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Hiroshima-ken 2015 Pt VI: Tomonoura – The Wolverine Filming Locations

My main reason for only taking the Shinkansen as far as Fukuyama (rather than just going directly to my final destination of Hiroshima) was not only to see the station locales used in ‘The Wolverine‘ (2013) but also to continue the filming location theme by taking a trip to a place I have long wanted to visit.

This tiny fishing port of Tomonoura may no longer be a place for major cargo transportation trade but it has become a popular place for filming in recent years and is a short half hour bus ride south of Fukuyama. On screen, the viewer is made to think that they Logan (Hugh Jackman) and Mariko (Tao Okamoto) are going to Nagasaki which is the ancestral hometown of the latter. As mentioned in ‘Hiroshima-ken 2015 Pt V‘ they leave the Shinkansen at Fukuyama Station and then take a bus to Tomonoura.

I got off the bus at the tourist information centre which is highly recommended. There was a very nice and helpful guy working there who was able to help me with my extra-nerdy questions relating to the whereabouts of the screenshots I had on my iPad. He printed off a couple of very interesting maps detailing the locations and inspirations for ‘The Wolverine‘ and ‘Ponyo‘ (2008) too.

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The Wolverine map specifically focuses on when and where filming took place, what Hugh Jackman did on his days off, Tomonoura-related tweets from the directors and stars and short reports detailing behind-the-scenes information of shooting and how the area was decorated and dressed to appear more Nagasaki-like.

First stop was the Tomokou bus stop five minutes away by foot where Mariko and Logan disembark from the bus on 52 mins. This is the final stop on the route from Fukuyama station and where the bus turns around and heads back that way.

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They are next seen on the other side of the road next to the harbour with the mountains standing in the distance and Logan asks “Where are we?” to which Mariko replies that they’re just outside Nagasaki. Well if being 530km from Nagasaki is “just outside” it then I guess she’s right!!

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Tomonoura scenes are then blended in with other ones shot on Omi-shima island in Ehime-ken which is about 65km west in the Inland Sea just south of Okunoshima a.k.a. Rabbit Island. The one where Logan chops up the tree that’s fallen across the road is Omi-shima but Mariko’s house is in Tomonoura.

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It’s a private house located on the hill next to Enpuku-ji temple which can only be accessed by a couple of paths leading up there.

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The private house appears again later on 69 minutes when Logan wonders where  Mariko has gone.

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Realising she’s been taken he gives chase to the yakuza and the scenes switch back and forth between Omi-shima and Tomonoura.

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Yukio (Rila Fukushima) pulls up in her car near the ferry pier as Logan hobbles towards her having been shot in the leg by one of the yakuza. They drive off with a roaring sound, go over a mountain and within seconds are back in Tokyo albeit one looking very much like a street in Sydney!

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The movie was actually titled ‘Wolverine Samurai‘ in Japan and there are various posters and signs around town alerting tourists to the fact that the movie was shot in the area.

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Above is a tweet from main star Jackman (@RealHughJackman) when he was in Tomonoura in September 2012 for shooting which took place between the 5th and the 11th following a day in Fukuyama on the 4th and two days in Omi-shima on the 6th and 7th. I guess I need to visit Omi-shima now to complete the Japanese locations for this movie.

How to get there: Take a bus from stop #5 on the south side of JR Fukuyama station. It takes approximately 25 minutes to reach the tourism information centre or you can get off a few minutes later at Tomokou bus stop; the final stop down the road from there..

You can read ‘Cycling The Wolverine Tokyo Trail…In One Day’ here

The Tokyo Fox review of ‘The Wolverine‘ (2013) can be seen here

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Hiroshima-ken 2015 Pt V: Fukuyama – The Wolverine Filming Locations

The sixth film in the X-Men franchise paid little respect for distance and time as the movie zig-zagged its way across Tokyo and then south to Nagasaki. However, no filming actually took place in the city which will always be remembered for the atomic bomb that was dropped on the place on the 9th of August in 1945. In fact, one can’t even go south from Ueno station where they board, as the Shinkansen (bullet train) only heads north from that station.

Anyhow, on 52 minutes Logan (a.k.a. Wolverine) and Mariko disembark at what is actually JR Fukuyama station in the east of Hiroshima prefecture. All the action (well all 17 seconds!) takes place on the South gate side (the opposite side to where Fukuyama-jo castle sits) as the two take one of the exits. The blue signed Nippon Travel Agency can be seen in the background although that style of sign is no longer on display.

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The crew filmed in Fukuyama for just one day on the 4th of September 2012 and Sun Station Terrace (or Sansute as its abbreviated to in Japanese) is in the background of Logan and Mariko with the bus station on the right and the red JTB is noticeable in the distance.

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Whilst reinforcing their need to find some place safe and get off the streets away from the trailing yakuza they walk by a statue and decide which direction to go in. The station has been renovated a bit since filming took place in 2012 with a new building in front of the statue….or behind it as one views it on screen! This statue is called Izurachojin (basically five cove fisherman) and was made by Denchu Hirafushi and could also be seen in episode 11 (Koi wa Yukue Fumei – Love is Missing) of the 2005 Japanese animated series ‘Kamichu!‘.

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The Nippon Travel Agency can be seen in the background again as Logan asks where downtown is. She replies that it’s straight ahead and it may well have been in that same direction albeit some 700+ km away!!

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The love hotel which they subsequently check into is actually back in Tokyo. It’s the Nakagin Capsule Tower (8-10-6 Ginza) which in reality is not a place for couples to get it on but is home to many unmarried salarymen wanting to stay in a small place. The interior of these tiny apartments could be seen in episode four of the BBC documentary ‘Journeys Into The Ring Of Fire‘ (2006). The building is a fine example of Tokyo modern architecture and now you can actually stay there thanks to airbnb website.

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The “Nagasaki” journey then continues on to Omi-shima and Tomonoura and you can see the Wolverine locations in the latter here.

You can read ‘Cycling The Wolverine Tokyo Trail…In One Day’ here

The Tokyo Fox review of ‘The Wolverine‘ (2013) can be seen here

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Hiroshima-ken 2015 Pt IV: Fukuyama – Kamichu! Locations

Whilst doing my research on Fukuyama I came across the 2005 Japanese animation ‘Kamichu!’ which, though mainly based on real-life locations in Onomichi, also briefly featured an episode in Fukuyama. The actual name wasn’t referenced for it was just “a nearby town” where Miko and Shoukichi run away to for mysterious reasons. This can be seen in episode 11 (though advertised as episode 10 in this YouTube link) which is titled Koi wa Yukue Fumei (Love is Missing).

No sooner had the Golden Week holidays began and I was departing Tokyo on a 7:10 am Shinkansen train to Fukuyama where I would spend the day in the area before moving on in the evening to Hiroshima to spend time with my parents-in-law before my wife joined us a day later.

At just after 11am I arrived at Fukuyama station and immediately set off in search of the Izurachojin (basically five cove fisherman) statue standing beside the south exit. Playing truant from school, Miko and Shoukichi are stood in front of it on 5 minutes trying to decide where to go exactly having arrived by train from Onomichi. Miko even suggests going home maybe but as it is they leave their school stuff in a locker before going for a burger at the fictional (presumably!) Nichibatsu Burger (NB) restaurant.

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Fukuyama-jo Castle is a stones throw from the north exit of the station and it can be seen on 20 minutes. The pair of them eat taikyaki (a kind of fish-shaped cake) from a vendor in the castle grounds. I took a brief wander around the castle grounds amid a sizeable crowd of families enjoying the holiday sun but I decided against going in the castle (¥200) as I wanted to move on to my main destination in the area of Tomonoura.

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As it gets darker, Miko and Shoukichi are sat on the swings talking in the Fukuyama-jo castle park which is a small park on the lower lot of the castle grounds. They debate the idea of going home before Yurie and friends eventually find them. I’d make fun of the pair for not doing too much in Fukuyama if it wasn’t for the fact that I did just as little whilst I was there!!

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Sadly I didn’t have enough time on this trip to get to Onomichi once again but this was a nice taster and naturally the next mission is to hunt down the many locales used in the TV series. In the meantime I will just have to settle for enjoying the following blogs which give some fantastic detailed information on the real locations in and around the city which have been faithfully depicted.

Punynari’s Island Aventures          Cardcaptor’ Blog

You can watch all 16 episodes (English dubbed) of ‘Kamichu! here

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Hiroshima-ken 2015 Pt III: Okunoshima (a.k.a. Rabbit Island)

This small island located in the Inland Sea of Japan has grown in fame during the last twelve months at a quite staggering rate and its present fame has been heightened by appearances on a BBC2 nature programme (watch it here) and an Expedia advert in the UK (watch it here) as well as a few mainstream articles in the printed media. It may be nicknamed rabbit island but its history is so contrasting to its cuteness appeal these days.

During WWII the Japanese army secretly produced poison gas on this isolated island which was considered to be discreet and away from civilisation. The rabbits were brought to the island for testing the effects of the poisonous gas though there is debate as to whether the thousands of rabbits present today are relatives of freed test bunnies or were in fact brought to the island by schoolchildren in 1971.

My wife is very much an animal lover and I thought that Okunoshima would be very much to her liking and an ideal birthday treat as attending the Sanfrecce Hiroshima J-League football game wasn’t her present. It just happened to fall on the actual day of her birthday!

Anyway, her mum agreed that taking her there was a great idea and together we plotted when to take her there for a surprise trip. That day had to be in Golden Week on a gloriously sunny day inevitably leading to huge crowds of people lining up in the port of Tadanoumi to take the ferry on the twelve minute journey across the water. It wasn’t until we were queuing up that my wife realised where we were taking her (she wasn’t aware of the place beforehand) and immediately her face lit up with excitement.

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Having left Hiroshima at about 7:30 am that morning we finally got on to rabbit island just before midday and took the 10-15 minute walk round to the west side where there is a large hotel and it is there that many of the bunnies are supposed to congregate.

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Normally, wild rabbits are difficult to see as they’re so alert to danger from predators but not so on Okunoshima where they have no fear and it didn’t take too long for us to see our first rabbit and the look on my wife’s face was exactly how I hoped she would react. She was delighted and seeing her play with them throughout the day was a memorable one for me.

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Sadly, there were far too many visitors on the island on the day we went for the rabbits to mob and surround us like in the aforementioned TV appearances. On the day we went, there were bits of carrot and cabbage lying all over the island as well as the rabbit food (the packets of this aren’t sold on the island and are only available at the ferry port ticket office) which is probably no surprise as every visitor wants to obviously feed the rabbits so for the cuddly, tame bunnies it’s basically all-you-can-eat each and every day! No wonder some of them are a bit fat!

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What was also very interesting for me were the half a dozen haikyo (abandoned ruins) on the island. These valuable war ruins recount the times of the very distant past including cannon batteries of the Geiyo Fortess period, and the power plant and poison gas storehouse from the days of the Imperial army. Entry is prohibited though as they are still considered to be dangerous.

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After a lunch break we cut through the middle of the island (which is only 4km in circumference anyway!) on a lovely hiking trail that ascended to a lookout point for some fine views of the surrounding islands. It really doesn’t matter how many rabbits you’ve already seen as we were still pretty excited every time we saw one which it has to be said was very, very often!

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It may have taken a couple of hours to get off the island and it was a very long day trip (13 hours in total) but certainly one I’m glad we did. Of course the rabbits are the main star attraction and rightly so but Okunoshima is a beautiful and interesting island in itself and I would’ve probably enjoyed it just as much even without the bunnies!

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How to get there: From JR Mihara station you need to take the Kure Line to Tadanoumi station and it’s a short 10 minute walk from there to the port. A return ticket on the ferry is ¥620 and it takes just over ten minutes to reach the island.

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Hiroshima-ken 2015 Pt II: My First J-League Game For A While

It wasn’t just live baseball that I saw in Hiroshima-ken this Golden Week as I also took the opportunity to see the 2012 J-League champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima play against Vegalta Sendai at the 50,000 seater Edion Stadium last Saturday.

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The weather was glorious as we joined the purple brigade on the journey to Koiki-koen-mae station at the end of the very expensive Astram Line (440 yen one way!). Saturday was also my wife’s birthday so what could be more romantic than taking her to see her first ever live football match!!

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As for me, it was my first J-League game for 7.5 years (though in that time I have seen a friendly match involving Arsenal against Urawa Reds). Back in November 2007  I wrote on here about losing my appetite for J-League football but in the last year or so that has been rekindled due to my interaction on Twitter with some very passionate fans of the game in Japan. Furthermore, I have also contributed a few articles to the quarterly J-Soccer Magazine publication albeit stuff relating to the Samurai Blue national team rather than the J-League itself.

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As for the action on the field, Sanfrecce were in control of the game really without ever having to step up a gear or two and Sendai look like a team who will be fighting for survival this year. Midfielder Gakuto Notsuda bent the first one in to the top corner from 20 yards on 38 minutes and then substitute Takuma Asano made it 2-0 towards the end with a great finish on a counter attack as Sendai pressed on in search of an equaliser. No sooner had that match been settled and my attention turned to more pressing matters; Leicester versus Newcastle in the Premier League relegation battle.

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Anyone who read my previous post is probably disgusted with me for switching allegiance regarding my baseball team of choice but that is definitely not going to happen for the J-League. I was very glad to have the chance to see a Sanfrecce Hiroshima match at their home stadium but I am way more attached to Kashiwa Reysol than I was for the local baseball side.

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In fact the Sanfrecce fans were singing Kashiwa throughout this game which was quite reassuring for me although it was actually for their player of the same name rather than my J-League team who I am now keen to see in action once again as soon as I get the chance.

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Hiroshima-ken 2015 Pt I: Live Baseball At The Mazda Stadium

For this years Golden Week holiday I’ve based myself in Hiroshima at my in-laws house and will be travelling around Hiroshima prefecture a bit. As I was in Hiroshima a day before my wife joined us I thought it would be nice to do something with my in-law’s so I suggested going to see some live sporting action.

My father-in-law is a passionate fan of the Carp (as indeed are most locals in Hiroshima) albeit an armchair fan so going to see the baseball gave him the opportunity to go to the Mazda Stadium for the first time which has been their home since 2009. Prior to that they played near the A-Bomb Dome at the now demolished Hiroshima Municipal Stadium which I actually saw on my first trip to Hiroshima in December 2005.

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Despite being exposed to the game a fair bit through movies like ‘Mr Baseball‘ (1992) and ‘The Bad News Bears Go To Japan‘ (1978) as well as other offerings like ‘A League Of Their Own‘ (1992), ‘Hardball‘ (2001) and ‘Moneyball‘ (2011) I still had very little idea of the rules going into this clash between Hiroshima Carp and Yokohama Baystars. Thankfully, my mother-in-law was patient with me and my many questions as to what was actually happening and why!

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Our seats were very good and it was a nice Summer’s night (in Spring!) with a great view and a beautiful backdrop with the Shinkansen regularly running by in the near distance of the stadium. On top of that there was the James Bond theme which was used fairly frequently as music throughout the night.

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This was my first time to watch a baseball game since the Summer of 2006 when I went to see Chiba Lotte Marines at the Makuhari Stadium. On that occasion I was just accompanying a friend and my only concern was the beer! Albeit in different circumstances this occasion was also about drink and it proved to be a landmark day for me as I had my first alcohol for 113 days!

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It seems that baseball is actually quite a simple game; pitchers throw the ball, batters hit it and then………..the Carp lose!! By all accounts the Carp have struggled in recent times not that the outcome mattered too much to me as I didn’t really understand the scoring system anyway! Maybe it was just this game but I think baseball movies have deceived me as they tend to include countess numbers of home-runs whereas in reality there was only one in this match courtesy of the Baystars!

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It was nice to watch some sport in a more relaxed manner though compared to the nerve-wracking high tension Leicester City games in recent weeks! The atmosphere was good and it sounds like the Carp fans are some of the most passionate in Japanese baseball. While cheering, they alternate between standing and sitting in quick succession which has to be seen to be believed.

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For the rest of the time in Hiroshima in the holiday season I was never too far from seeing some Carp merchandise in a wide variety of shops and stores in the area.

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It seems that this team, which was founded in 1950, mean a great deal to the people in the area and I have even decided to switch allegiance from Chiba Lotte Marines to them which is a ridiculous idea and not something I ever like to see anyone do but why not?! I felt more of a connection and interest to this team (I can even name a few of their players unlike with the Marines!) and have continued to follow them a little bit as their losing streak continued…..up until yesterday when they had an amazing shock win against the Yomiuri Giants.

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