Every year, at around this time, a small part of Chiba fills with the sound of bagpipes and Americans talking slightly embarrassingly about their clan leaders. Yes, the Tokyo Highland Games are here again, and I recommend those who have a bit of spare time on Sunday to pop on over to the Kanda University Of International Studies and have a look, for it really is a nice day out.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Highland Games, they are like an Olympics for people who don’t much like running and jumping. Basically men throw heavy objects, and they do so while wearing kilts. Now, I know that might not sound like much fun to watch, but I urge you to give it a shot. Certainly, our Royal Family are fans. Look, here’s The Queen at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, and at the Braemar Highland Games in Scotland:
Over the years I have come to recognize the regular competitors at The Tokyo Games – two of the best of whom are Japanese. One is a huge fellow who wears a fetching custom-made black kilt with dashes of tartan, and the other a far smaller chap whose stature belies impressive strength. These competitors join others, mostly from western countries, in tossing the caber, putting the stane, throwing the hammer, and the delightfully simply named weight over bar. The last of these is my favourite. The men stand under a horizontal bar perched between two uprights, and the aim is to one-handedly swing a 56 pound metal weight between your legs and up over your head in the hope that it passes over the bar without knocking it off its perch. I went for a feel of the weight once and nearly slipped a disc just trying to lift it. These guys throw it over a bar which is steadily raised in height until it reaches about 13 feet.
I am impressed by those who can do this, but of course I prefer watching the ones that can’t – the crap guys who you admire for having the guts to take part, but can’t help wonder what the devil’s arse they must have been thinking when filling in the application form. One gangly fellow a couple of years back stood on chicken legs, and with spindly arms threw the weight so that it barely cleared his own head. He was lucky not to ram it straight into his own face. He garnered good applause. Sympathy applause I suspect, partly due to his lack of ability, and partly because he seemed to have been unable to find a kilt and appeared to be dressed in a Japanese girl’s tartan miniskirt. Never above the knees, sir, never above the knees!
Elsewhere you can amply counter the testosterone by watching Japanese chaps doing traditional Scottish country dancing. Women do it, too, but there is something particularly curious about the men. How did they garner an interest in such a hobby? Why do they do it still? And just how much were they bullied in school?
There are pipers and drummers, there are children’s events, there is a football competition, there are real live ginger-haired people and there are stalls selling both British souvenirs and food. You can have fish and chips, and black pudding and mushy peas, and meat pies, and you can wash it all down with pints of Bishop’s Finger or other ales with similarly smashing names. Even if you have no interest in piping and dancing and tests of strength, what better way is there to spend a Sunday than lounging around outside with a few pints and a taste of home?