2017/10/05 What's On
Take Me Out To The Ballgame… In Osaka
by Jordan Mounteer
Since it was first introduced to Japan in 1872, baseball has been a surprisingly popular game there, something which often takes foreigners by surprise. The first actual competitive baseball games didn’t actually start until the late 1920’s, by that time the sport had already gained a significant foothold and following. Today the game is, arguably, more popular in Japan than it is in America, and alongside soccer it is one of the primary sports that high school students engage in. If you’re wanting to experience baseball up close and personal while in Japan, there are some excellent places to catch a game, but by and large the most influential city would have to be Osaka. But there are definitely some things to keep in mind which may differ from the North American experience.
Owned by railroad magnate Hanshin Electric Railway, you can almost guarantee you’ll hear their name pop up in conversation the longer you stay in Japan. That’s because beside being one of the oldest teams in the Japanese League (they played their first game in 1936), they also have one of the strongest followings in terms of fans – and by ‘strongest’, I mean diehard and fanatical. While it’s certainly not the violent thug-like culture that comprises European football, there is a definite animosity between the Tigers and their arch-rivals, the Tokyo Giants. The rivalry has been long-standing, and if you happen to attend a game where it’s one team versus the others, just be wary of which colors you’re wearing or you might get plenty of stink eyes from the opposing fans. Often Tiger fans will greatly outnumber home team fans as well, and the Tiger’s themselves are infamous for being a bit more rowdy and ‘in your face’ than some of the other teams.
Female Announcers and Cheering Squads
While Japan may be very much a conservative and patriarchal culture, it’s actually interesting to note that during Japanese ball games the announcer will be a female voice (as opposed to North America, where the announcers are almost all exclusively men). Referred to as the uguis-jyo, they are often a pleasant calm contrast to the jubilant cheering of the crowd. Another fun feature of any game is the fact that each of the 12 teams in the professional league have their own particular cheers, songs, or dances associated with them. For example, if you plan to be rooting for the Hanshin Tigers, you’ll be able to gain plenty of new friends if you memorize their song (also known as Rokko Oroshi, or Downward Wind of Mount Rokko – referring to the famous mountain to the north of Kobe/Nishinomiya where the Hanshin Tigers call home). You’re sure to hear the lyrics being roared by the ouendan or ‘cheering squads’ which always make it to every game.
Japanese Fast Food Cuisine
I have some American friends who admit the real reason they go to baseball games is for the food, which is often an assortment of junk food ranging from nachos with fake cheese to hot dogs dripping with condiments. In Japan, however, the diet is considerably less fatty, and you’re more likely to find a spectacular array of different bento boxes, which includes ones specially tailored to the home-team. But what would a baseball game be without beer, you ask? Well, I’m glad you asked – the role of the uriko, or beer seller, is an arduous one, and here too you’re likely to encounter and almost entirely female staff.
Finding A Seat
The Kyocera (Osaka) Dome, where the majority of such baseball games are held, is a wonder unto itself. While it isn’t any more or less spectacular than its American cousins, there is a huge advantage in seeing a game here than in New York or Los Angeles – namely, the price. While there are reservations and a reservation system, many of the seats can easily be grabbed for as little as $20 (although they do get up to $70 depending on the row, season, home team, etc.). Plus, sitting in the cheaper seats is still a great way to meet other people, and for foreigners especially it’s an excellent opportunity to make friends (again, especially if you’ve memorized the corresponding dance or song of the team). Nevertheless, baseball – or yakyu – is a much more affordable event in Japan, which may be why the stadiums are almost always full. Another fun fact is that unlike America, where there is a bit of designation in terms of ensuring that the majority of seats are held for home team fans, in Japan is much more evenly split. Because Japan is relatively small, and connected so well by trains, the rationale is that loyalists will happily make the trip to visiting cities just for a chance to cheer on their champions.
Mascots, Love ‘Em Or Hate ‘Em
Another quirky thing that foreigners definitely notice the first time they go to Japan is the preponderance of Mascots. Sometimes it seems like there is a mascot for everything, whether it be for a specific city (the antler headed Sento-kun of Nara), a television station (the omnipresent Domo-kun of NHK), or even ramen brands (Hiyoko-cha, a puppy-eyed yellow duck). The same, of course, applies to baseball teams, and in this way they aren’t all that different from American teams, which also tend to have their own dressed up mascots who rally the crowd, perform comedy routines, and generally keep the atmosphere light and fun. Coming back to the Hanshin Tigers, don’t be surprised if you see a couple of mascots – they’re such a popular team that there is both a female and male tiger icon (Rakki and Torakki, respectively).
As a side note, don’t be alarmed if during a game you happen to be scared out of your wits by the simultaneous screeching of thousands of yellow balloons going off all at once. Definitely a Hanshin tribute, apparently they tried this once as visitors and were subsequently barred from ever trying such a prank again!
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