One of the most enjoyable aspects of world travel is seeing how people do things differently from us. If you go to Japan for the select foal and yearling sale, you'll find a lot that is familiar. The auction procedure is similar to ours, and the Japan Racing Horse Association's facility has a sale ring, a couple of walking rings, and a holding area for the horses behind the auction stand. But there are a few hospitality efforts and features that are unique. In addition to seeing a world record for a foal or weanling sold at public auction broken, here's what I enjoyed most during my trip to the sale earlier this month:
1. Free food for everyone. And its not cheap chips and dip. Chefs in tall hats fire up the grills in the morning and keep serving for hours. Dishes served under outside tents include beef, scallops, and crab, and no one complains if you keep coming back from more. The menu also includes soup, salad, noodles, and a variety of other foods. Among the desserts are three flavors of ice cream: green tea, melon, and lavender. The drinks are free, too.
2. They take care of you when the weather is bad. Because of a typhoon, the first two days of this year's auction were rainy. Of course, I didn't pack and umbrella or rain coat. But the sale company came to rescue. They had boxes and boxes of plastic raincoats and plastic shoe coverings, and they never ran out. I wasn't the only one who took advantage of this free service. There were a number of women who wore the shoe coverings over their high heels.
3. It's easy to take pictures. Everyone, both fans and journalists, has an opportunity to get a shot of the high-priced horse. The sale company has an outside photography area, with a background of small trees in pots. After each horse goes through the ring it is led to the area and posed for photographers. You see people using everything from camera phones to the latest Nikon and Canon equipment. Sometimes the buyers come out and pose, too.
4. A beautiful setting. Outside the sale pavilion, there is a large grove of tall trees. Before each session, the horses that will be offered that day are brought there and buyers are allowed to walk around and inspect them. It's peaceful and quiet. The horses seem to like it and so do the buyers.
5. Souvenirs galore. The Northern Horse Park, where the sale is held, has a large gift shop. It's different from what you see at racetracks, which tend to promote primarily themselves with the merchandise. Sure, you can buy Northern Horse Park T-shirts and various doodads. But most of the souvenirs are oriented toward a particular horse. There was a whole section devoted to Japanese Triple Crown winner Deep Impact and another section that featured Sunday Silence merchandise. There also was a whole bunch of stuff -- cell phone charms, hand towels, etc. -- that carried the names or images of other successful runners. My credit card got a major workout.