Sunday, 6 November 2011

Agent Orange's Safari Planet


Two years ago in Kobe, I had a now legendary encounter with a Humboldt penguin outside of Home's Stadium. When it happened, I thought it was a once in a lifetime event. Really, what were the odds of repeating the experience of coming across a small polar creature standing in a wading pool outside of a football ground in the sweltering heat of a Japanese summer?

Gloriously, I was mistaken. Outside of historic (trans. old and crappy) Todoroki stadium on Thursday, Kawasaki Frontale was putting on a fan event complete with food, souvenir booths and an event stage with an adjoining animal pen. Oooh! Animals! I'm in!

There was a sign advertising a petting ground for large, sedated creatures that resembled giant gophers. It turned out they were capybara. If you are not familiar with capybaras (as I was not until I perused Wikipedia), they happen to be the largest rodents in the world. Native to South America, the capybara are noted for their gentle nature and their ability to remain underwater for long periods of time. These cousins of the squirrel can reach up to 100kg in weight, much like Vegalta Sendai midfielder Diego, and eat as much as 3.5kg of grass a day. Very nice animals, kind of similar to an old labrador retriever. I definitely want one laying around my room. 

Two things surprised me about capybaras, though. First, petting them is kind of like petting a Christmas tree. They have long, coarse, quill-like hairs covering their body. Second, they really don't have any smell... unlike your average Tokyo salaryman, who has perfected the art of offending, confounding and nauseating with an odiforous and pungent blend of cigarettes, sweat and toilet stench, topped off with a hint of desperation and a touch of garlic. A veritable potpourri of BO!

If the capybaras had been the only animals I encountered at Todoroki, my day would have been complete. However, only a mere stall away, another surprise awaited. Not one but TWO majestic Humboldt penguins stood around grooming themselves and taking in everything around them, like a young Tom Jones accepting a pair of undergarments from a middle-aged temptress in the second row. 

If I had had any doubts about the result of the upcoming match with Frontale, they were crushed in an instant. Up until that point, Omiya was undefeated in games before which I had seen a Humboldt penguin... the stats stood at a resounding 1-0-0 if you are keeping score at home. Victory was in the bag, even though the last time I visited Kawasaki we lost badly, Klemen Lavric ended his Japan career with a petulant ten-minute performance and a seagull crapped on me right as the final whistle sounded. I don't know if the good people of this little Kanagawa burg felt bad and decided to make it up to me with a menagerie of creatures. Maybe they did. I was already satisfied with my trip and nestled in, awaiting the game. 

Wait! What's this? Kawasaki had one more surprise before the opening whistle! An alpaca! Hmmm, would the alpaca throw off the good mojo of my visit with the capybaras and the penguins? Are alpacas good luck or bad luck? As I watched, it got perilously close to keeper Takashi Kitano, who couldn't decide whether to pet the fuzzy creature or run as far away as possible. Luckily, the South American fur machine found the Todoroki turf more to his/her liking (I apologize for my lack of detail regarding the alpaca's gender but I didn't get close enough to check the pipes) and deposited some of Kanagawa's finest grass into its belly. What a delightful little beast! 

As for the game itself, absolutely horrifying. A goal in the first minute combined with 89 minutes of defensive play. Thank God we don't have to do that again... do we? 

Well enough of that. Capybaras! Penguins! And alpacas! In the words of immortal gay dude George Takei, oooh myyy! 

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