The stakes were high.

Last time, the Americans had lost in the last inning.

This time the Japanese had a pitcher hurling fast-pitch softballs. One batter estimated the ball was crossing the plate at nearly 40 mph. He was only half-joking.

Despite the odds, the American soldiers, security guards and contractors were redeemed, winning 6 to 1 over the command staff from the Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s 21st Air Defense Missile Squadron.

The afternoon of soccer and softball last month was part of occasional outings at the base, where the Japanese support four Patriot missiles; and the Americans — who run the Shariki site — tend a powerful, missile-tracking X-band radar system.

The Japanese air commander, Lt. Col. Masaru Ohta, also invited local leaders from Shariki, the seaside village that houses the Japanese air base and the year-old American Army base next door.

Most importantly, 1st Sgt. Ben Williams brought his ribs. He had spent the earlier part of Sunday marinating seven slabs of pork ribs in garlic, black pepper, honey, mustard and his secret ingredient — Goya-brand seasoning.

While the Japanese airmen cooked up yakitori (grilled chicken on a stick) and yakisoba (fried noodles with beef and cabbage), Williams tended the ribs. He also drew a small but dedicated group of fans. “Oishii” (tasty), more than one Japanese airman said when they bit into the ribs.

Williams accepted the compliment, though not without showing the Japanese how to eat a rib: grab it with both hands and tear at the bone. Soon the converts were sucking the marrow.

Stock up, winter’s comingSHARIKI, Japan — “You’re at the gas station,” said 1st Sgt. Ben Williams as he pulled into his own garage — stocked with gasoline cans — at an American housing complex a few minutes from Shariki Communications Site.

As the only two soldiers at Shariki, Williams and Capt. Will Hunter must stock up on gas, groceries and other supplies during weekly mail runs to Misawa Air Base.

The air base is about two hours and 15 minutes away — “in the summer,” Hunter said. During the winter, when mountain passes close, it can take much longer.

The two don’t mind the supply runs. At Shariki, they share space with about 100 Chenega Blackwater Solutions security guards and Raytheon contractors.

They have their own gym and, most importantly, receive American Forces Network television.

“It’s great for morale,” Hunter said of the broadcasts.

‘Little Tsugaru’SHARIKI, Japan — She grows. She blooms. She’s Tsugaru-chan, the mascot of Tsugaru city, a municipality spread over villages and rice paddies on the northwestern corner of Honshu island.

The mayor of Tsugaru, Hiroyoshi Fukushima, explained “little Tsugaru” during a meeting last week with the two soldiers who make up the Shariki unit.

Her shoes are made of gobo, or burdock, a thistle used in soups and rice dishes. Her legs are yams. Her dress is half a cantaloupe, dotted with tomatoes. A leek tail sprouts from her back. Watermelon rind serves as hair, adorned with local flowers and topped with golden rice, the bulk of the harvest this time of year.

“I thought she was an insect,” said Capt. Will Hunter, commander of the 94th, remembering his first sight of a costumed Tsugaru-chan at a recent parade. The mayor laughed and passed out Tsugaru-chan key chains for all.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up