There weren’t too many American traditions I missed while we were living overseas. My family tried to embrace the local culture. Both Japan and China have such rich histories and interesting holidays that I rarely felt a void – except in March. Since both my wife and I are part Irish, St. Patrick’s Day has always been a big deal – green clothes, green food, green beer, Italians pretending to be Irish, etc. However, the reality was that I had no trouble temporarily forgoing St. Patrick’s Day in exchange for holidays like “Bunka no Hi”, Tomb Sweeping Day, Chinese New Year or even “White Day”. What left a void during my more than decade long sojourn in Asia was the absence of “March Madness”.
The statistics from the blog tell me that about half my readers live outside the US and come from over 40 countries so perhaps an explanation of “March Madness” is in order. No matter what you have heard, baseball is NOT America’s past time nor, according to a recent deception sweeping the land, is NASCAR. Basketball is - and not the boring brand played by spoiled multimillionaires in the NBA. I am talking about college basketball and more specifically, the season ending conference and NCAA tournaments.
March Madness sweeps the land – the reset button is hit. Even teams that have lost twenty games during a long, cold winter still have a chance at glory if they suddenly find their stride as spring approaches. The rest of the world may stop for a couple of weeks every four years during the World Cup - March Madness is an annual event, too important to be left to even or odd years. The impact is far reaching. People who don’t really care about basketball are drawn in, office productivity declines as workers skulk around office corridors with their “bracket sheets” hidden between file folders so they can fill them out as they pretend to be taking notes in a meeting. Others bring down the US GDP by spending time figuring out how to watch their favorite teams via live streaming on their computers at work. Pizza sales soar but the food industry upside does not compensate for the lost hours across the rest of the economy.
Since I am no longer working for the employer I had during my ex-pat years, I can come clean on the fact that several times during my years in Asia, I arranged trips to the US in March for two reasons: a chance to ski a couple of days and catch part of March Madness. The “productivity police” never knew because there was always some meaningless conference I could sit through in the US in order to get my skiing/basketball fix. St Patrick – forgive me.
During my years in Japan I became a sumo fan. Our local tournament, the Osaka Basho, takes place for a couple of weeks in March. I loved attending the event or watching on TV. Sitting near the dohyo (sumo ring) was exciting. My daughter was almost sent to her eternal reward when an airborne wrestler landed in the spot she was sitting shortly before I pulled her out of harm’s way. She thought the shower of sweat that landed on us was "very cool".
Osaka Basho circa 2002 - my daughters with young sumotori
Unfortunately even Sumo could not fill the March Madness void. Now that I am back in the US, you won’t see many stamps in my passport dated March. I am waiting until April to go back to Asia.