Baseball in Japan – Why It’s My Favourite
Why I Love Baseball in Japan
It may be sad to say, but one of the things I miss most about being away from home is watching my Blue Jays. I know…they are not living up to all the hype so far this season, but I really do miss watching baseball in the spring, there’s nothing like it. So when we came to Japan I said to Alyse that we really need to see a baseball game so I could get my baseball fix! We decided that when we travelled to Hiroshima to tour the Peace Museum, we would catch a game in the afternoon as we were certain we would need a little fun after a morning reflecting on the worst bombing in this planet’s history.
After making our way back to Hiroshima Station, we then battled our way through the hoards of Carp fans heading to Mazda Stadium to try and get tickets. Along the way, we noticed that the walls along this narrow street were covered with pictures of current and former players, each one a tribute to the city’s heroes. After finding our seats in a section labelled in Japanese, we realized we were sitting in the heart of the visiting Chunichi Dragons zone, which didn’t matter much to us, but I’m sure it wasn’t appropriate for any Carp fan to sit up there. After sitting down and looking out over the crowd, it seemed like we were in store for a typical afternoon at the ballpark, or so we thought.
We thought we’d have a few beers, some hotdogs, pretzels, edamame…..wait a second, edamame? Ramen soup? Fried pork? Chicken skewers? This was beginning to feel a little different from home but don’t worry, we found the beer girl! So the snack choices were a little different but that was nothing compared to what happened as soon as the first player entered the batters box.
Everyone jumped to their feet as a Chunichi Dragon stepped up to the plate. A man blew a whistle, two men with trumpets sounded an alert, a man waved a giant flag and our entire section began singing together in one unified cheer. They performed every cheer, every clap, and every song together, each person knowing their part in whatever cheer was commanded by the man with the whistle. They had a cheer for someone at the plate, one for a hit, one for a home run, one for an out, and so many more, and they all knew exactly what to sing and when to sing it. Here is the most amazing part about all of this though, they would perform cheers for their team with absolute passion even when their team was down 6-0 and getting out-hit badly by the opposition. There was no quit in these fans, they stayed to the bitter end and not once did any of them appear to lose hope.
Fast forward to the second half of the inning when the Hiroshima Carps were up to bat. The Dragon fans sat down, and on the complete other side of the stadium in the “Performance Section” of the stadium, giant flags started to wave, drums started to beat, trumpets sounded and fans broke into unified cheer. These Carp fans had a unique cheer where the fans would take turns sitting, then standing, then sitting, then standing, all in time with the song they were all singing. Not only was this one of the coolest things I’ve seen at a live sporting event, but I was insanely impressed that they kept this up all game, I was exhausted just watching them!
At the end of the game I had made the following 5 observations about baseball in Japan vs. America:
1) Fans in Japan only cheered, they NEVER booed anyone.
2) Fans in Japan will continue to cheer, chant and sing even when they are losing badly.
3) The fans in Japan are all active and lively during the games, no one is half asleep.
4) They have their “Stretch Time” after the 5th inning, which actually seems pretty logical to me.
5) When a player has a good inning (hits a homerun, etc.) fans in his section will give him a standing ovation when we comes out to play defense in the next half of the inning.
After the game, while waiting for the bullet train back to Kyoto and chowing down on some Okonomi-yaki, Fred Lewis, a player for the Hiroshima Carp, and former MLB player (played for the Jays in 2010) came into the same waiting area to wait for his bullet train to Tokyo. Following close behind him was a trail of fans young and old. The fans stood outside our waiting area and just stared at him…I felt like an animal in a zoo. The guy seemed nice enough, he went out and signed a bunch of autographs and took pictures with fans who were actually quite respectful in the way they approached him and let him have his space. The best thing was waiting in there next to him, and seeing everyones faces, big and small, light up when they realized who he was.
Going to watch baseball in Japan is not so much a quiet day at the park as it is a celebration of sport. I loved every minute of it, from the cheering, to the fans hanging on every pitch, to the ultimate respect that is shown to the players and even the opposing team’s fans. I can see now why Japanese fans fly half way around the world to see their stars play in the American major leagues; they have a love for the sport that goes beyond anything I have seen. I’ve had Japanese people see my Jays hat and tell me the names of every Japanese player currently and formerly on the team. It is obvious after watching a live game and speaking to people around the country about baseball that although they imported the game from the US, they have taken it for their own, improved it, and made it into their own pastime.
Watching that game reminded me why I love baseball so much, the passion that flows through the stadium is contagious and I would go back tomorrow and the next day if I could. Perhaps the most glowing endorsement of the game came from Alyse who doesn’t like watching baseball normally, but had this to say to me at one point during the game, “If baseball was always like this I could really get into this sport!”.