Saturday, June 26, 2010


On Never Not Knowing a Fight Song Again

Meiji Jingu Stadium
Meiji Jingu Stadium, 2010
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Hanshin Tigers vs. Tokyo Yakult Swallows
Meiji Jingu Stadium
Central League, Nippon Professional Baseball
Tokyo, Japan

Outside the Game:
Weekend games in Japan are generally at 2 PM, so there wasn't any time to do anything before the game this day besides get up after another crummy night of sleep, hit the breakfast buffet, and head out to the stadium.

This was my first interaction with the famous Tokyo subway. As with every other train service in Japan, it was preternaturally clean, efficient, and always on time. Once you work out the basics, it is extremely easy to navigate. The only two things for anyone familiar with the NYC subway to remember are that the fare is distance-based, and that you have to retain your ticket for when you exit the train. Otherwise, it is exactly like most other subway systems... except that it is clean, efficient, and always on time.

Tokyo subway
Just like America, except completely different

It was also in the subway that the Japanese predilection for mascot animals came into focus. Especially in Tokyo, there are mascots for seemingly every public safety initiative. There is an earthquake preparedness elephant. And, in the subway, there is a family of raccoons that warns against hand injuries in closing subway doors. No, I am not kidding. Ahead of their American counterparts that are just starting to pick up this trend, there are TV screens in every subway car, broadcasting commercials, and, from what I could tell, public television-esque educational programming. The Tokyo subway trains (and most commuter trains for that matter) also have a row of hanging advertisements through the center of the train. In America, of course, these would be torn down or defaced nearly instantly, but in Japan, their advertising integrity remained unblemished. Speaking of things that would not have a chance of working in America, all the subway stations also have easily accessible and clearly marked emergency train stop buttons on every platform. I'm trying to imagine if there is a small enough unit of time to record how quickly those would need to be removed from, say, Brooklyn.

A quick train train ride got me to the stadium, and an equally quick one got me home afterward. I went back to the hotel to wash out the accumulated sweat of an afternoon outside and to pack up for my trip to Nagoya the next day. Flipping through TV during this time, I saw a math program on the television during prime time. Sometimes this stuff just writes itself. By the time I had napped, packed, and washed, it was about 8:00 when I headed out.

I had dinner at McDonalds. Shut up. I've had dinner at McDonalds in seven countries, and damn it, I was going to have it in eight countries. As always, the Big Mac was eerily indistinguishable from every other one that I've ever had, if slightly better made.

Big Mac
#1 meal, eighth or so county

After eating, I went back to Hanzono Jinja Shrine at night. It was one of the few temples in the city that was open all night, and it was a completely different experience lit up in the nighttime. In the interim since my last visit, I had looked up the proper devotional procedure in one of my guide books. This involves purification washing, ringing the bells to summon the temple's spirits, providing a donation, praying, clapping, and bowing. Not for nothing, I started to feel better the next day after my visit.

Hanzono Jinja
Night shrine

The rest of the night was largely wandering around the area. One of the things that I found was how accurate some of my guide books could be. One describes the "red light" district in town as easily definable by the wanna-be yakuza that patrol its outer reaches. As I was trying to get my bearings after taking one too many "short-cuts" through the countless alleyways near the train station, I found myself thinking, "Who are all the meatheads in cheap suits?" And about five second later, someone came up to me and asked earnestly:

"Sexo club?"
"Uh, ie, arigato." ("No, thanks.")
"Big breasts!"
"Ie, arigato. Sumimasen." ("No, thank you. Excuse me.")

After finding my bearings again, I went back to the hotel for an early bunk, as I had to get up relatively early to get the train to Nagoya the next day.

The Stadium & Fans:
Home to center, Meiji Jingu Stadium
Home plate to center field at Meiji Jingu Stadium

Unlike many ballparks in Japan, Jingu Stadium is not right outside a train or subway stop. There's about a five to ten-minute walk from the subway stop to the stadium, and when there's a game on, it is not too difficult to find the way. Nearly everyone leaving the subway station at that time is going to one place, so you just cow up and follow the herd. Capitalism takes it cut, as the road from the subway to the stadium is filled with merchants selling cheap food and team merchandise before you get to the somewhat jacked-up prices at the stadium.

The entrance to the stadium does not lend itself to a pro baseball portal. It looks like the entrance to a high-school football stadium or the like, but that has more to do with the close confines of the stadium than anything else. Once inside, the stadium gets the most of its cramped quarters. There are the requisite shops and fan clubs, and shop for the visiting teams and the like. One thing I saw for the first time here was vending machines for team merchandise. Like slightly over-sized gumball machines, for the equivalent of 2-5 dollars, you can buy merchandise ranging from mini-players batting helmets, to baseball cards, to bobble heads. I would find that these machines are fairly common throughout Japanese stadiums.

Another interesting ballpark feature that I saw here for the first time was having the rigs for the lights actually located outside of the stadium proper. I have to imagine that this was become of space constraints, earthquake tolerance, or other such requirement, but it was actually quite a striking architectural look.

It turns out that Jingu is one of the oldest parks still in use, having been built in the 20s, which explains some of the close confines. Babe Ruth's All-Star Team played here in his tour of the country, which makes this somewhat cramped park a claim that the new Yankee Stadium currently lacks and gives it bragging rights that only two MLB stadiums can match.

The interior walkways of Jingu are on the claustrophobic side: low ceilings and narrow walkways hold an array of concessions stands and vending machines. Stairs and rampways lead out to the field. As with most of the outdoor stadiums I visited in Japan, this was all one steep seating level that wraps around the entirety of the park. Although not quite as restrictive as the Seibu Dome, the bleacher cheering areas were separated from the other areas of the stadium, and you couldn't get in there unless you had a ticket. The dividing lines into those outfield areas were two entrance ramps that the home and visiting team used to access the field. There was a covered luxury area behind home plate, the requisite center field scoreboard, and a smaller ball and strike board behind home plate.

The Swallows fans were as enthusiastic and fervent as any as I had seen in Japan, but today, the crowd was at least a 50/50 split between Swallows fans and fans of the visiting Hanshin Tigers. The Tigers are the rough equivalent of the Boston Red Sox in America: they play in the second city of the country (Osaka, as opposed to Boston); their home field is a historic jewel of the league (Koshien); they are a decided second-fiddle to their long-term, hated rivals (the Yomiuri Giants, in this case); and their fervent, loud, and boisterous fans are loved at home and... less loved on the road. And the fans in yellow were there in force that day, not only filling the entire left field side of the park (traditionally the visitors section), but also permeating far behind home plate and in the right field side of the stands. Tigers fans are known as the loudest and most fervent in the league, and while it serves them well at home, I got the sense that the Swallows fans perhaps enjoyed their success against the Tigers a little more than average.

It was here that I also noticed that the mascots' over-sized hats were actually removable. Social convention dictates the removal of hats in certain situations, so the mascots can actually remove their hats to conform with those customs. It was just one more little thing to help remind me I was no where near home.

In addition to the Kampai Challenge I mentioned earlier, the Swallows had their seventh inning celebration with the cheerleaders, and the local twist on things, mini umbrellas, which was particularly relevant given the rainy weather today. Oh, and there was the fight song.

Tiger mascot & Tsubakuro
Mascot madness

I'm going to take a minute to warn you. This song is still in my head as I write this, and I'm fairly certain that it will remain there until the day I die. Friends, relatives, achievements, loves may all go from my (hopefully) aged and addled mind, but somewhere a shadow of this tune will still dwell. I was able to find a clip on YouTube of it, but please, please, please be aware that this door only goes one way. There is no leaving the way you came in. It is particularly insidious in that you may not think much of it at first blush, but it is just planting a seed. And that seed will sprout, friends. Enjoy.

The Wings
The Wings dance

At The Game With Oogie:
Japan scorekeeping
International scoring

I had told the JapanBall folks to get me the best seats as possible for all the games, and once again, I was in the area right behind home plate. The Saturday game was close to a sell-out, so it was wall-to-wall people, even given the slightly rainy weather. The home team fans were at least matched by the visiting fans (more on that later), but the home team was quite enthusiastic.

This was personified in a tweener girl sitting near me with her father. She was an almost painful combination of adorable and earnest, who was so clearly living and dying by every pitch that you couldn't help to want things to work out for her (and, as per my standard operating procedure on these trips, I default root for the the home team unless I have a stake in the game, and this is about as far removed from a rooting interest as I think I can get).

Swallows fan
It is her fault I'm a Swallows fan

During the game, there was a promotions event of which I think I got the gist. Some celebrity (I believe him to be a former Hanshin Tigers player, or someone associated with them in some way, as he got a big cheer from the visiting fans) led an event called the "Big Kampai," or something similar. From what I understood, I think it was to set the Guinness Record for the largest toast at one time. So I think I may have participated in a Guinness World Record, so I have that going for me.

The Game:
First pitch, Tigers vs. Swallows
First pitch, Tigers vs. Swallows

This was a tightly contested number throughout. Though the Swallows got some runners in scoring position, for the most part, the first four innings were uneventful pitcher's contests. The visiting Tigers fans got to celebrate first, as a single, wild pitch, and another one-bagger brought home the game's first run in the top of the fifth. Their glee was short-lived, and two doubles in the bottom of the inning plated the equalizer for the Swallows. A walk and back-to-back singles gave the Tigers the lead in the top and the seventh, but in the bottom of the eighth, the Swallows erupted with two home runs, which held in the Swallows 8-5 victory over the visiting yellow-jerseyed masses.

The on-field player of the game ceremonies then commenced, with American Swallow Whitesell getting half the honors. Another of his American teammates made it a more familiar affair, as Whitesell's home run was celebrated with a shaving cream pie to the face during his interview.

The Scorecard:
Tigers vs. Swallows, 06-26-10. Swallows win, 8-5.Tigers vs. Swallows, 06-26-10. Swallows win, 8-5.
Tigers vs. Swallows, 06/26/10. Swallows win, 8-5.

I had been informed before I left for Japan that American-style scorecards were fairly rare in Japan. Given all the complex cheering going on, this is probably easily explainable. At any rate, I equipped myself with a Scoremaster scorebook before leaving home that I brought along with me for the trip so I'd be able to adequately record the games I saw.

Given everything that was going on this day, I think this fairly certainly proves my mettle as a scorer. I was using the Scoremaster book for the first time in my life, I was translating everything as I went before I could record it, I was walled in on both sides by cheering people, and there was a dispirited drizzle going on through the game. If I can score under these conditions, I could score a ballgame anywhere.

The Accommodations:
This was my last day at the Sunlight. Nothing much of note on this front.

2010 Japan I


  1. I'm not sure if you know this, but your blog has been translated in Japanese and lots of people like your blog.

    1. Yes, please take a look at the newest post in the blog. I am in Taiwan right now and saw the surge in traffic from Japan the last few days.

      Thank you for your post.