Visiting difference baseball stadiums is a big hobby of mine. I’ve been all the MLB stadiums on the west coast, including a couple of older versions that no longer exist (Candlestick and the Kingdome). I went to the old Yankee Stadium and the new one, Wrigley Field, Fenway, and Citizens Bank Park in Philly. Still, some of my favorite ball game experiences were visiting ball parks in Japan to watch the NPB (the Nippon Professional Baseball).
The game is much the same as the American version. There are twelve teams total in two leagues, the Pacific – which allows the designated hitter – and Central – which doesn’t. Each team plays 144 games from April to October, after which two rounds of playoffs are played before a “Japan Series”.
Pro baseball there is a bigger deal than it is in the states, it’s still the most popular sport, with soccer a distant second. The game day experience reflects that. Here’s a few videos illustrating the differences:
This will jump out right away as a major difference. You’ll probably be able to score a hotdog if that’s what you’re into. But the main fun at the games is trying the Japanese street food on offer. Each stadium has it’s own specialities, but the common fare across the country are going to be panko-crusted tonkatsu chicken or pork, especially paired with curry. Udon, Ramen and Soba noodles are also likely to make an apparanence. Each stadium also has its own varieties of bento boxes.
After the food, which would be easily expected, this is probably the biggest difference at games in Japan. Each stadium has a coordinated band, with drums, trumpets, trombones, etc, all performed by offical members of the team’s supporters club. They have pretty intricate cheers. The music is pretty deafening if you are sitting close, and it’s best to find seats far from the band.
Official Cheering activities
Some of this sort of thing is done state-side, such as the “King’s Court” at Mariner’s games when Felix Hernandez is pitching. But even that is not at the day-in, day-out level of Japanese Pro baseball. In the above video, you see balloons letting out the end of a game, below there’s the umbrella dance at a Yakult Swallows (you read that correctly) game in Jingu stadium.
These sort of things get all the fans involved. The batting team’s fans are usually the one’s clapping and making the noise – it’s not very Japanese to cheer for someone to fail. In this way the game is pretty different from American games: no boos for bad calls, no jeers for fielding errors by the opposing team.
Beer keg girls (and guys)
Rather than heading to the concession area to get beers, at Japanese games beer can be purchased from young men and women (mostly women) in brightly coloured outfits running up and down the stairs with small kegs in their backpacks. As the video shows, they pour the beer into paper cups from their keg. This service is fantastic, and the beer is way more reasonable than at games in the states: the last beers I got in Hiroshima were 450 yen, or about $5. At Safeco the “small” beers run you $8.50.
For some reason Bat-flipping is a big faux pas in American baseball. Not in Japan. The video above has pretty poor quality, but you get the general idea.
There’s more, but I hope this gives a brief introduction in to the experience.
Getting to a game
If you find yourself in Tokyo, check out either the Yomiuri giants, kind of like the Yankees of Japan, who play in East-Central Tokyo at the “Tokyo dome”. Nearby are the Yakult Swallows, who play in the outdoors Jingu Stadium. Tickets for either shouldn’t be terribly difficult to come by in the middle of the week.
If you are in Osaka, the Hanshin Tigers play a bit out of town in the Hanshin Koshien Stadium, which is new and quite nice.
If you make it to Hiroshima, the Carp play in Mazda Zoom-Zoom stadium, which features picnic-table seats and a grass-picnic style sitting section, in addition to normal seats. The version of Okonomiyaki there is better than it is in Osaka, and Hiroshima itself is beautiful.
There are other stadiums, but I’d start with these if given the choice.