Admiring Ichiro’s Shirt Game [46/365]

This week two Japanese engineers started at my school. I am teaching their “Critical Analysis Workshop” class – an afternoon session where we discuss the good and bad aspects of topics I have prepared in advance: life, people, objects…pretty much anything is on the table so long as it gets them talking passionately in English.

The homework I set yesterday was to prepare a brief mini-presentation about a person whom they respect and admire. This class’s level is quite low and I am still getting to know them so I kept it simple: Who is the person? What have they done? Why do you respect/admire them?


Both of them did really well at this! The first student’s chosen person was the baseball player Ichiro Suzuki. We were told that Ichiro is a successful athlete with a strong heart and a great sense of team spirit and loyalty.

In these sessions the most interesting discussion always comes from putting the speaker on the spot to field (hohoho) questions from others.

Since they were quite brief in their explanation of Ichiro, I probed further, with much help from the other in the class who – especially for a Japanese student – is very confident at enthusiastically posing challenging questions. We asked if Ichiro did anything other than play baseball.

The speaker thought for a moment and said: “Well, he is often on TV advertising an energy drink”.

This is a fine answer and I followed up asking if Ichiro advertises anything else. The student in question is a fan of football, supporting Liverpool F.C., so I mentioned that, to take as an example one of the most famous footballers, David Beckham is internationally well-known partly because of his athletic ability but also because he is used as a model for fashion brands.

There followed a discussion (in English) between the two Japanese students about the fact that Ichiro doesn’t really wear hyper-fashionable or flashy clothes, his taste is quite “normal”, and baseball really is his main focus in life.

Just as we were about to move onto the other student’s presentation, one of them said thoughtfully “Nantoka… Wait! There is something he is known for wearing. He wears words on his shirts!”

something, something or other, so-and-so

I didn’t know exactly what they meant by that. Logos? Slogans?

“No,” both students explained. “Custom shirts with his own messages”.

That sounded awesome so I searched on the computer in the classroom and the students pointed out this picture to me:

ichiro shirt picture

“kore ni te oshimai”
this is the finish // this is the last one

We had to move on with the lesson so I didn’t really get to the bottom of this (besides both students explaining the words meant “this is the end”, “it’s over”, “the last part”, etc.), but it was interesting that they seemed to remember it so clearly. This must have made an impression in Japan!

When I came home I read the following article on the Miami Marlins blog, from March 2015:

The great T-shirt tease is coming to an end.

For 15 days Marlins outfielder Ichiro Suzuki has worn a different T-shirt to spring training. And each day Ichiro was photographed with the pictures and video being sent back to Japan. After a few days, if #IchiroTshirt had been created, it would have been trending.

Finally, on Wednesday, the 15th day of Ichiro T-shirts, Ichiro walked into camp with a white T-shirt that was blank on the front. But as he walked past the media he had a message on the back written in Japanese. Translated it read: “This is the last one.”

“They were just T-shirts I would normally wear,” Ichiro said through a translator.

Meanwhile, none of his teammates had any clue as to what was going on but found it amusing once they when they were told.

“He knows how to handle it,” Jose Fernandez said.

The T-shirts included ones with characters Ichiro customized (including one with a marlin for his new team), a couple with Japanese parodies on Adidas and Lacoste, a German soccer shirt, one with a photograph of two Japanese baseball heroes including Sadaharu Oh, a Star Wars shirt and one with a Mickey Mouse design.

Ichiro did not know his choice of attire each day was becoming a national sensation until he was told by the Japanese media and then, “he was just playing around,” said his translator, Allen Turner.

Turner said he was watching the news from Japan and one segment was devoted to Ichiro’s T-shirts and what they meant.

“The T-shirts he wore they scrambled to try to make more because people wanted to buy them,” Turner said.

Ichiro was asked what’s next? What will he wear tomorrow?

“This is the last T-shirt so maybe I’ll be like Stanton and paint something on,” he said, referring to Stanton’s body paint cover in Sports Illustrated.

It still feels like there are some unanswered questions associated with this T-shirt episode but I doubt we will ever really know what Ichiro was up to. Something my students also told me about Ichiro is that he is a rather unique character. I guess he does his own thing!

In a future entry I will talk about whom the other student chose as his “person I admire”. That one has somewhat less mystery involved!

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