I’m Number Two

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Being number one in the whole world is easy to say in Japanese. Sekai ichi (世界一), literally ‘world one’, translates as ‘number one in the world’ . Nihon ichi (日本一), literally ‘Japan One’, likewise translates as ‘number one in Japan’. You can simply name a location and add the number one: prefecture, school district, continent, etc. This is easier to say than just saying ‘number one’ which, depending on usage has many forms: ichiban, daiichi, ichibanme, daiichibanme, etc.,

I like tossing this phrase out there as a conversation starter. If someone tells me they are an athlete, artist, or whatever, I often ask them, “Oh, are you the best in Japan?” Being only four syllables, it just pops out there. Most people, holding the appearance of humility in high regard, respond with a thorough conversation about there experience, but starting with how bad they are.

One junior high student was catching a train at the same time as me. We greeted each other. Since it was a weekend and she was in her school sweatsuit, I asked if she was coming from club. Every student is in some club, but mostly club means sports. (Track, Soccer, Baseball, Basketball, Soft Tennis, Ping Pong, Volleyball, Badminton, Kendo, Art, Home Ec) She answered yes. Interrogating further I found she runs 100m hurdles in track. So, I tossed out my “Nihon ichi?” To which she responded, “Nihon ni.”

Indeed she was the number two seventh-grader in all of Japan for 100m hurdles. She rides the train to Ichishi from Matsusaka everyday, gets her bike from the “Bicycle Keep Office” in front of the station, then rides to school like normal students. Our track coach is kind of famous and draws students from other areas. Some families move in order to put their students in the area. He likes to tell me stories about running against Edwin Moses, but the stories tend toward locker room observations.

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