Friday, June 23, 2017

Tokyo in 40: Take Me Out to the Ballgame

I finally managed to catch a professional baseball game in Japan this time, as this is something I always wanted to do but never had a chance to. I was planning my itinerary for Saturday afternoon when I realized Den was literally right next to Meiji Jingu Stadium which is the home field for Yakult Swallows, and they happened to be playing at home that weekend against Seibu Lions. So I thought it would be a good idea to attend the game after my lunch at the restaurant.

My only knowledge about Japanese baseball was limited to the anime series I watched when I was a kid or the news of a few Japan-based players that made their way across to the Major League. But I thought it would be an interesting cultural experience observing how this "American's favorite pastime" transpired in another country. The game was nearly sold out when I checked online just before I departed for Tokyo, but luckily I found a seat just behind the first base so I fetched the ticket immediately.

The game was well underway by the time I arrived at the stadium as my lunch went longer than I expected, with the visiting team well ahead 4-0 after top half of the 3rd inning. The stadium was old - built before the war - and compact in today's standard, but it does bear some resemblance to those vintage baseball parks like the Camden Yards, home of my beloved Baltimore Orioles. But the open-air stadium (unlike those dome ones) mean most of the seats were without cover, which could be quite gruesome under the fierce sun or when it rains.

Outside the stadium there's a few food trucks selling a good selection of casual street food, and inside the stadium underneath the stand there were more food stalls selling everything from takoyaki, hotdogs, rice bowls to a Jack Daniels bourbon bar or even an artisan espresso stand operated by the famous Streamer Coffee Company. I was also fascinated by the constant patrolling of biru no uriko, or beer girls, around the stand, in special uniform of the beer brands they were representing, serving drinks off the plastic keg that they had to carry around at their back. Things only exist in Japan I guess.

Despite the ticket price being surprisingly reasonable, my seat was in one of the prime sections, half way up from the field in between home plate and first base. I had a clear view of most the pitcher and hitter actions, even with a few foul balls landing near me. Later I even got a better view by sneaking down and found another seats nearer to the field – no one seems to care with people walking in and out of their seats constantly, typically during any baseball game.

It's clear Seibu Lions was the better team of the afternoon, but that didn't stop the passionate home fans from shouting, chanting and waving in support, even as the game became out of touch well before it ended. Mini umbrellas were the unique props for the Yakult Swallows supporters – many spectators have one in their hand, and they would make noises by open and hold the umbrellas up high in unison whenever their team scored or during the 7th inning stretch. Fans for the visiting team also showed up in force, taking over the entire section behind the right outfield, and obviously had the better day waving their flag and chanting their fight songs in response.

With two innings left and Seibu Lions scoring a few more runs, I figured I have seen enough and made way to the exit. With all the sports teams I support coincidentally use birds as their mascots (Baltimore Orioles and Ravens, Blue Jays from college, and of course Tottenham Hotspur), I was happy to be a Yakult Swallows fan for one afternoon and chanted "Go Go Swallows" with the 30000 home fans inside the stadium, under such great weather for the ballgame.

Yakult Swallows:
Meiji Jingu Stadium:

The rest of my Tokyo weekend:

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