Japanese brothers share love of hockey
By Darren Lum
Like any Canadian teens playing hockey, the Watanabe twin brothers of Yamanashi, Japan love the game.
Motoki and Masaki have been in Haliburton since August, playing for the Greater Metro Junior Hockey League Haliburton Wolves hoping to one day play in the U.S. for one of the National Collegiate Athletic Association schools.
The brothers may have a limited grasp of English so far, but shared what they could with the paper about Christmas and New Year’s in Japan where the dominant religion is Shinto and why they came to Canada to play hockey.
In Japan, there’s not much more than fireworks, a street party and family dinner with turkey for Christmas, Masaki said. Christianity is not widely practiced in Japan and Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan like it is here. Shops though will have decorations like you’d see in North America.
This is Masaki’s third Christmas in Canada, as he has spent the last three years playing competitive hockey. Last year he was in Tottenham, playing for the GMHL Steam.
His brother Motoki has never been to Canada before and has appreciated the fans’ boisterous support in his rookie season. The brothers said Japanese fans only show their appreciation in applause.
Both love to eat and are looking forward to the treats and the main courses served during Christmas.
New Year’s is a bigger holiday and is called Shogatsu, which includes a visit to a Shinto temple in the morning and visits with family and friends. A special dinner for Shogatsu features Osechi, which includes an assortment of seafood such as sardines, lobster and fish cakes, including egg, bitter orange in special boxes called jubako. Everything in the multi-tiered box has significance and is symbolic, relating to future fortune, health and prosperity.
With Mount Fuji – the country’s tallest peak, measured close to 4,000 metres high – within view of their hometown, the two are used to the outdoors and snow. Masaki misses making “snowhouses” in his hometown. The Yamanashi Prefecture, the jurisdiction they live in, is close to 130 kilometres west of Tokyo and has a population of close to 800,000 people.
Hockey isn’t usually identified with Japan, but for the boys it just runs in the family.
Their father played hockey for his high school team the Saitama Sakae Beavers close to 40 years ago. He continues to coach individual players now. After their father stopped playing, their older brother also played for the Beavers. Neither has come to Canada.
The boys still remembered playing hockey with mini-sticks (the same used here in many living rooms by children across the country), as they watched the winter Olympics in 1998 on television when it was hosted by Nagano, Japan.
Masaki loves playing forward because he can hit other players and score. Motoki, who has impressed in his GMHL rookie season with a quick glove and natural abilities in net, started playing goal at nine because there weren’t any goalies where he comes from.
Canada was an obvious destination for the boys because they said it’s the “best hockey country.”
Their parents own and run a hotel in Yamanashi and they also have two older brothers and an older sister.
The Haliburton Wolves billet co-ordinator and trainer Jenn Little (who also works at the Echo) will be giving the brothers a Canadian Christmas, as she will include them in trimming a tree, enjoying such Christmas fare as eggnog and gingerbread, and tourtière – a meat pie of Quebec.
On Christmas morning they will have a big breakfast and she will have them over when her children open their gifts while listening to carols.
Then Boxing Day Little will take them to her parents, Mike and Linda Wood for a large Christmas turkey dinner with all the Christmas sides.
“Family togetherness is what is most important at this time of year and I want these boys to feel that they are part of the family,” she said.
During the holidays she hopes to also have them participate in activities such as skating, skiing or hiking, depending on the weather.
As far as New Year’s celebrations, Little hopes to incorporate Japanese tradition and/or food. She hopes they can help educate her in the finer details of Japanese food.
Little is happy to bring holiday cheer to the boys during the upcoming break and is working to make them feel a part of the community.
“These boys are a long way from home and it is important to me that they feel as though they are as much a part of our community as possible. I want the experience of living in Haliburton to be something that they will always remember. It’s not all about the hockey, it’s about living and learning for all of us,” she said.