Michael Bowden and I first crossed paths when he was in the minor leagues with the Red Sox organization. I could go on and on about how much the Sox front office respected him, but I’ll keep it simple. As of 2008, there was plenty of buzz about him as a prospect, perhaps superior to either Justin Masterson or Josh Reddick (just to cherry pick two).
Instead of gushing about his on field prowess, I’ll spotlight his intelligence, warm nature, competitive spirit and thirst for adventure and new life experiences.
Like I did in 2005, Michael left to play in the Land of the Rising Sun, in part to chase down those sublime exploits that only come with risk-taking. He’s currently there, sponging up the collision of professional baseball and culture that only Japan can provide.
It’s with honor that I introduce you to an unusual athlete, capable of articulating his journey in writing, exclusively for you, the readers of this blog.
It’s all yours, Michael. Thank you for this gift.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is a challenge; doing so in a foreign country requires willpower and resourcefulness.
As an athlete, my diet is not only a very important part of my training throughout the season; it’s my year round lifestyle. I grew accustomed to eating most meals at the field while in the States. Although there are plenty of struggles to maintain a healthy diet throughout the course of the season, there are usually adequate options available for fairly guiltless consumption.
I was blessed with an opportunity to play baseball in Japan this season; I jumped at the chance to immerse myself in a culture so different from my own while playing the game I love. Prior to my arrival, I had no idea what to expect in terms of food. However, in the four months I’ve lived here, I have come to learn that the Japanese take pride and care in all that they do, and their cuisine is no exception.
I very much enjoy the typical Japanese lunch provided by the team daily. It consists of my choice of soba, udon, or ramen, rice (or rice balls), salad, fruit and a few pickled options. Occasionally, I indulge in one of the fried selections and/or a small dessert – I always try everything once!
I prepare the other meals throughout the day in my apartment. Here, I have the freedom to cook what I like and eat very similarly to how I would at home. Since eating healthy is not a part time gig for me, you can imagine my apprehension at the uncertainty of my meals while in foreign country, in addition to the inability to communicate due to the language barrier. I felt no relief after my first few trips to the grocery store, almost conceding to the idea of my diet suffering for the duration of the season. I remember standing in front of the milk section for what seemed like 10 minutes, staring blankly, hoping a carton of 2% would speak to me, because there was no hope of reading the labels.
The game of grocery store roulette continued for a few weeks, but before I knew it, the worrisome transition period had ended. I got myself a bicycle, observed the locals and walked every street in my town searching for all the best options. I ride to the stores to pick up all the locally grown produce I can fit in the front basket on my bike. I still struggle to read the labels, but since most of my diet consists of fresh fruits, veggies and meat, I welcome the occasional adventure. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve ended up with my fair share of mystery meats, and the hunt for real bacon continues…
As much as I like to stick to my strict, healthy diet, I never pass up a chance to try an exotic food while I am here. I am far from a picky eater and my palate is pretty accepting, so the explorations with food have been abundant.
Yakiniku is the Japanese word for “grilled meat,” and the Yakiniku BBQ style restaurants in Japan leave the door of opportunity to try different meats wide open. The ability to choose and grill your own meat is why it has been the most appealing to me and my most frequented restaurant. I have consistently enjoyed a wide variety of mouthwatering meats, and I have never left disappointed. The bite-sized portions are served raw so the guests can cook the meats to their liking on the charcoal grill in the center of the table. The cow intestine was a one-time try. However, I’ve ordered cow tongue more than once, and the snails were much better than I expected.
A couple of weeks ago I took a trip to Tsukiji Market, the world’s largest fish market. I scoped out a nearby sushi joint with a long line of locals – my indication that it was definitely a place to try. After a little over an hour wait, I finally settled into my seat at the sushi bar. My inclination was correct. Hands down, it was the best sushi I have ever eaten – and I’ve eaten a lot of sushi.
Last week, we were in Kobe playing the Orix Buffaloes. Of course, since the city is the origin and namesake of Kobe beef, I had to get a Kobe steak here. Though it wasn’t the best steak I have eaten in my life, it was undoubtedly the most tender. Every bite just melted in my mouth giving me just enough time to appreciate the quality.
With a little more than half the season left, I look forward to continuing my exploration of Japan. I believe one of the best ways to really learn and experience a new culture is through food, so I am going to make the most out of the opportunity I have been given. I have been actively trying everything I can get my hands on, but I know I have only scratched the surface when it comes to all Japan has to offer. Let the food adventures continue…