Lots of long overdue updates to come but with the MLB’s opening day today I thought this was a good place to start.
On March 27th I was able to go, along with my family, to my first baseball game in Japan. As a big San Francisco Giants fan, I was even more excited to be able to see the Tokyo Giants play at Tokyo Dome. It was the opening series, and the Giants played the Yakult Swallows (also a Tokyo-based team).
After taking way too long to find our seats (deciphering the kanji on our tickets was more challenging than I anticipated), what I was initially struck with was the fact that we were in a dome. I’d never watched an indoor baseball game before. Growing up in California, and even watching baseball in Yankee Stadium and Fenway park, I’d never experienced professional baseball inside. It was strange not to be freezing from the winds off the bay or melting under the direct sunlight.
Of course in most ways, it was a baseball game. Nine players on the field, 9 innings, a home team, an away team, announcers, and big screen advertising. But of course it was not without its quirks that made it so Japan. After getting over watching baseball indoors (it even feels weird to say those words together), I noticed the typical vendors walking around the stands selling drinks and treats. However, one glaringly big difference was that they were all women. All of them. I could not find one single male selling beer or ice cream or any other staple baseball junk food. Most of the vendors were for beer, and the girls carried small kegs in backpacks on their backs, wore baseball caps pinned to the tops of their heads with huge flowers on the side, and a towel tucked into their tops like a bib to wipe away the sweat from lugging a keg up and down the countless steps of the Dome.
Another big difference was the fans. I don’t know that I can accurately portray just how impressive the Japanese baseball fans are. For starters, they don’t boo. Not once did I hear a boo; I barely heard any frustrated sighs. No matter how close the call, the unfavored team accepted it and moved on without a second thought. Now, this does not attest to them being any lesser devoted to their team than the fans you can find in America (although I don’t anticipate anyone’s ever seen a Japanese person in nothing but the body paint of their teams’ colors). The organization and orchestration of their cheers and chants were unlike any I’d ever heard. They had the basic “let’s go” and shorter variety chants, but they also had what seemed like complete songs that every single fan in the stadium knew all the words to without fail. Not only the words, but the specific times at which they beat their noise makers (which were mostly two small plastic bats they hit together). And they all had them too- the appropriate fan goods. I found the Swallows fans to be particularly impressive because not only did they all have the noise makers, they also had these baby umbrellas– umbrellas too small to have any function other than fan paraphernalia– that they all opened up when their team scored. I guess they aren’t aware of the superstition that opening umbrellas inside brings bad luck, but the Swallows did lose that day. Both teams also had brass bands playing to orchestrate every chant too.
There was a surprising amount of English throughout the game. Many of the shorter chants were in English, and most of the suggested cheers that flashed on the big screen were English words. Even the MVP- or at least that’s my best guess of what he was- of the game was a former MLB player- Garrett Jones, so we were actually able to understand his answers because they were of course in English. A lot of the signs had English beneath the Japanese as well (except of course the seating). Another thing that was really surprising was there was no bottled water for sale. At least not that I could find, and I circled the level trying to. You could buy a cup of ice or oolong or green tea but I couldn’t find water. They had the usual baseball park foods otherwise, with the addition of obentos, ramens and donburi bowls too (none of which I tried because like America ballparks everything was marked up).
This was a big Japan bucket list item for me and I’m really glad I was able to do it, even more excited to be able to go to see the Tokyo Giants. I’m hoping to go again before I leave, perhaps to check out a more local team like Hiroshima Toyo Carp. Afterall, baseball season has just begun!