The Olympic games continue in Tokyo, Japan, in spite of the on-going COVID19 pandemic; several medals have been awarded already, with many interesting and inspiring stories developing, as competitions take place. Mexico has medal hopes in several sports, with its first one crystalizing on July 24, with Luis Álvarez and Alejandra Valencia, who reached the podium for a bronze medal in Archery Mixed Team. The second bronze was achieved on July 27, in the Diving Women’s synchronized 10-metre platform event; the team of Gabriela Agúndez and Alejandra Orozco attacked the edge of the platform with no qualms for an amazing performance. Canada’s Women’s Softball team just crushed its Mexican counterpart’s hopes for a medal, winning the match for bronze 3-2 (I nourish no haughty feelings, since I was rooting for both teams, LOL). Oher medal hopes include sports such as taekwondo and baseball; the main attraction for Mexican fans, though, continues to be the men’s football (soccer) team. “El Tri” (as the team is called as a reference to Mexico’s tri-coloured flag) surprised the world with an impressive opening victory over current FIFA’s World champion France 4-1. Then, on Sunday, July 25, a sobering losing score of 1-2 against host Japan, just served to increase the attention even more. The game took place at Saitama Stadium; with its capacity for 64,000 people, it is the largest football dedicated stadium in Japan, and one of the largest in Asia:
Saitama has a a long tradition of football fandom, with two professional teams in their realm, the Urawa Red Diamonds, and the Omiya Ardija Club; the name “Ardija” derives from the Spanish word for squirrel (spelled ardilla) which is Omiya borough’s mascot, as pictured at the top of this post, adorning a street in Saitama, along with 2020 Olympic banners (photo from my daughter.)
Saitama and the Mexican city of Toluca (capital of the state of Estado de México) became sister cities in 1979, and they have established many programs together since then, such as the MOA Cultural Centre, founded in 1981, following Japanese philosopher Mokichi Okada‘s teachings of health through beauty, Nature and solidarity (MOA stands for Mochiki Okada Association, originally founded in Japan in 1980). Another important program is the “Torneo Internacional de Futbol Juvenil de Ciudades Hermanas” – “Sister Cities Youth Football International Tournament”, which started on the same year as the sisterhood itself, celebrated in alternate years in Saitama and Toluca; the Mexican delegation manage to achieve 4th place in the 2019 edition of the tournament in the city of Saitama.
Toluca also boasts a long football tradition; their professional team is Deportivo Toluca, popularly known as Diablos Rojos – Red Devils. Their stadium, Estadio Nemesio Díez, is one of the oldest in Mexico, inaugurated on August 8, 1954, with a capacity of 31,000 seats. In the photos below, views inside Saitama stadium, left, and Estadio Nemesio Díez, right:
Omiya, Saitama’s ardija mascot offers male and female versions (photo below, left), while Toluca has “Diablito” as a mascot, a little boy devil (video below, right). All the mascots are, of course, wearing the teams’ uniforms:
Saitama and Toluca have many other features in common; they are both modern cities, but have a rich history. An example of an important religious building in Saitama is the Hikawa-jinja Shrine in the Omiya borough (photo below, left), one of Japan’s most prominent ancient shrines, with a history of over 2000 years (Omiya actually means “a great shrine”, and it is a reference to this building). In Toluca, the construction of its imposing cathedral took almost 100 years to be completed, starting in 1867 (photo below, right):
The geographical setting of each city in valleys amongst mountains and a profusion of rivers, have granted impressive natural views, and vast economic activity. In the photo below, left, Mount Kumotori (雲取山, Kumotori-san) at the boundary of Tokyo, Saitama, and Yamanashi Prefectures, standing as the tallest in the region, with an elevation of 2,017 m (6,617 ft). On the right, El Nevado de Toluca, an inactive volcano and one of Mexico’s highest peaks, with its highest summit at 4,680 m (15,354 ft):
And last, but certainly not least, both Saitama and Toluca have a long tradition as producers of some of the best pork meat and sausage in their respective countries. Japan’s history of pigs goes back to their introduction to Okinawa from mainland Asia as far back as the early Yayoi-Heian period (1700–2000 BP), later developing greatly during the Samurai era because of their relatively easier maintenance, compared to cattle. In Saitama, and the rest of Japan, ramen (photo below, left) and breaded cutlets (tonkatsu, photo below, right) are two examples of their many delicious pork specialties:
In the valley of Toluca, pigs were introduced in the 16th century, as one of the earliest types of foreign animal farming during Spanish colonial times. Stay tuned for more on this, in my next post.
Also stay tuned for El Tri’s next football match, against South Africa, on Wednesday July 28, 2021 (7:30 AM ET).