Last night I went off base to meet some friends for a special events. There was an American professional bowler here demo-ing a new bowling ball and hanging out with the amateurs. Perhaps not your typical Friday night activity but, you see, I am a bowler. My parents always said it was a good thing I wasn’t born on league night or I may have literally been born at the bowling alley. Even though mom made it to the hospital for my birth, the bowling center has always been my second home.
When I enter a bowling center, even if I don’t know anyone, everything is familiar. There’s the thump of the ball hitting the lane, the rolling toward the pins, the crash as the rack explodes. The sighs of disappointment and frustration. The celebratory “heys!” The laughing, joking and joy from barely made shots. The noise comes from all types of people at all ages. Everyone can participate. Last night the bowlers to the right of me were deaf. I know neither Japanese nor sign language, but communicating with them was no problem because in the bowling center we all “speak” the same language and we’re all friends. We slap hands and offer high fives for good shots. We congratulate each other for high games.
And all of the things I love about bowling seem to be even better in Japan.
The Japanese are amazing fans. Whatever they decide to be passionate about, they really commit to it. So, if there is an American professional in the house, he is a rock star. There is lots of autographing: shirts, bowling pins, phone covers, pictures. And everyone wants a picture with the bowler. It’s fun to watch the respect and admiration.
Japanese take the wardrobe very seriously. Almost everyone is wearing an official bowling shirt. All of the companies are represented. There is a variety of colors and designs, but my favorites are the Sakura (cherry blossom) design and the Stay Strong shirts (in support of Japan after the 3/11/11 earthquake).
The bowling balls are colorful, unique and add flavor to the game. Last night, we saw Brunswick’s new Mastermind Genius. Who wouldn’t want a bowling ball named Mastermind Genius? (I used Motiv’s Tribal ball.) But the spare balls are the best. These are basic plastic bowling balls, meant to do nothing except roll straight and pick up spares. But they definitely have the best designs, meant to show off the bowler’s passion outside of the bowling center. I used my Florida Gators ball. But there was also Miller beer, Hammer, Kuma-mon, The Simpsons, a pumpkin, and more.
And “only in Japan” (a phrase I find myself using frequently in this country), will you see bowlers, even men, with Hello Kitty “tackle boxes.” They have automatic shoe dispensers. On the counter was a hot towelette dispenser so that we could wash our hands – free, of course. No snack bars, but you can get your hamburger and French fries from the vending machine. And last night, if you got a strike in the 9th frame, you won a can of orange juice. I love these different customs.
As I get older, some of the sights and noises are changing. There is more twisting and stretching to try to loosen up. More wincing and rubbing as things get sore or pulled the wrong way. My 15 pound bowling ball often feels more like 20 pounds. But there are bowlers in their 70s and 80s in my bowling league, so I know I have a few years left in this sport. And I couldn’t be happier that this is the sport I was born into.