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Monday, February 19, 2024

Dragons Rice Ban: A sensible explanation to a sensationalist story

In August 2023, Yūkan Fuji reported that Dragons hitters had been banned from consuming rice. Dubbed in the media as the reiwa komesōdō (令和米騒動), a play on the rice shortage riots of 1918 and later the much less violent 1993 shortage, the narrative of a dictatorial management of player diets played well in hand with the overall image that manager Kazuyoshi Tatsunami had garnered as being and old school kind of ogre. It is said to have started with restricting Seiya Hosokawa, supposedly as a response to his dropping performance in summer. It was later extended to all hitters. Very little was done by the senior management team to quell this scandal during the season, but in the off-season comments by third-base coach, Takuyuki Onishi, the manager, Tatsunami and some players have given some detail and context.  

To say it has been overblown is probably underplaying it. The way it has been framed is that the players were forbidden from eating rice altogether but the summary is, as they were deemed unable to moderate their intake, a rice cooker was removed from the cafeteria and replaced with pre-made rice balls. For the unfamiliar, a cafeteria or buffet style restaurant will often have a large rice cooker available from which to scoop rice. There's no particular limit and it's like scooping from a large bucket. This was no longer made available to players before games.

 In an exclusive interview with RonSpo, Tatsunami explains:

 "Line-up regulars would often eat big bowls of rice and noodles before games. Before a game, there's no way you can move well with a stomach that full. We'd leave some rice balls for them, but we're just saying don't eat a massive bowl of rice (like that) like a fool. That's all it was." 

This was supported by veteran reliever Daisuke Sobue who says:

 "The story just got big, but there is rice. All it was, was 'let's just not eat so much before games'...after games, there's rice available like normal. In regards to diet, (the team) are being firm but kind. It's just that the article got big, that's all."

Takayuki Onishi was one of the first staff members to speak up about the controversy in a radio interview with Keiichi Wakaasa. Onishi gives his piece:

 "I was there. Chunichi's food is really nice, but line-up regulars would just go to town eating donburi. You could almost say 'are you really going to eat that much?', that's how much they were eating. Not just once, they'd keep going back for more serves. Anyone would think the same thing. (We) arranged a large amount of onigiri to be available. The conversation was about saving (rice for later) and being able to move a bit easier." 

He also goes on to say that the team enlisted the advice of a dietician who also suggested a reduction in the amount of rice eaten by players before games.

The news had some unexpected consequences, with one of the more amusing anecdotes being about Ryuki Watarai, who was the Dragons publicized 1st round pick going into the 2023 draft. Watarai previously had on his Instagram profile that he had a love of sushi, only to change this sashimi in the lead-up to the draft. Otherwise, it was an unfortunate distraction for fans that only made the reputation of Tatsunami and the team even worse.

Broadly speaking, dieticians do not recommend heavy carbohydrate loading before games. Writing for NHK, Satoko Yamada, a sports dietician, recommends loading days before a game while advocating for moderate intake in the 3-4 hours before a game. According to Leslie Bonci (2009), anything between 350 to 700 calories of carb heavy meals should be eaten 3-4 hours before a game to allow for slow burn and better performance. A 200g donburi of rice, for reference, is about 315 calories. A study by Rossi et. al. (2017) however, after assessing a team of NCAA Division 1 players, found the median required calorie intake to be closer to 440 calories depending on the size of the individual. Without doing a more in depth literature review, we cannot draw too many conclusions, but the consensus seems to be that any kind of complex carbohydrates should be induced 3-4 hours before a game. Calorie intake seems to be recommended based on the physical attributes of the player, but generally speaking probably not much more than 400-500 calories per meal. In this case, if players were going back for another bowl of rice that likely already had some kind of topping, this would certainly be a case of overeating which justifies the decision by the team to regulate the intake of rice before games. 

What does this say however of the players? I think it shows a low nutritional literacy among senior players, something that the team should be looking to educate the team on. It is all well and good that the team has taken measures to reduce the carb loading by players, but if the players themselves do not understand the reason behind this nor learn how to eat properly, then this is likely to create further problems and possible animosity down the road. The Dragons team of dieticians, assuming they have one, should be having some sit-down sessions with players in the organisation to educate them about this. 

One further problem that however stems from this is the fact that the team did nothing to control the narrative once the story broke. Tatsunami has spoken of how he paid it no mind and that he's more concerned with someone leaking this to the media, but the fact it took almost 4 months for anyone from the organisation to dispel these rumours seems like a public relations mess-up. For a team whose owners have their hands in media, it seems bizarre that this was let to bubble for so long leading to a damage to the reputation of the team, the manager and anxiety among fans.

Now that the air has cleared somewhat over the Reiwa rice riots, it's hoped that the team can focus on the season ahead. It is a do or die season for Tatsunami and he has organised a very interesting looking team. A finish that sees the Dragons have their first taste of playoff baseball is over a decade is the only thing that will satiate the fans' hunger.

1 comment:

  1. Good report. I actually felt like it was blown out of proportion right from the start. For those in the English NPB world, they took a story they thought sounded hilarious, did not read into the context, and they spread it like wildfire. Reminds me of the Curse of the Colonel, which became urban legend mostly because of a few inaccurate (English language) sources that got key facts wrong.