I could get used to Japanese baseball. They're my kind of crazy.
On Sunday, Seiya and I went to a J-league game at the Nagoya Dome between the local Chuunichi Dragons and the Yomiuri Giants, the Yankees of Japanese baseball. Even in a domed stadium, it was still toasty, but the game was entertaining and I didn't mind.
Let me correct myself - the game itself was a pretty standard baseball game, assuming you don't have the giant power hitters of the American leagues and every single manager believes in the bunt. For more information about the culture shock in store for Americans encountering Japanese baseball for the first time, I recommend reading You Gotta Have Wa, by Robert Whiting - it's a little old, so some of the concepts have become out of date with the coming of Ichiro, Matsuzaka, and Matsui, but everything it says about the Japanese approach to baseball is still valid.
No, what was interesting about the Chuunichi Dragons vs. the Yomiuri Giants was the spectacle of the whole game. To get an idea of what a Japanese cheering section is like, imagine the most rabid baseball fans you know. Make sure they're sober. Now multiply them by a few thousand and have them all sing in unison. It's really new to me - the only similar experience I've ever had is the stands at Oakland nearly a decade ago, when a drum section in the bleachers would thump out a tribal beat before everyone shouted "TEJADA!" Every time someone would come up to bat, the crowd would stand and sing that batter's song, as written by the Dragons fan club (the Ryuushinkai, or Dragonhearts). The Giants fans in the stadium would sing the songs for their hitters too, and it made for a great show, one I've never really seen before.
It's at once a creepy and awesome experience to be part of that kind of crowd. You feel like you're an outsider at a Catholic mass or a Rocky Horror Picture Show, watching this joyous throng sing about their favorite hitter with the solemnity of a choir. You see people dressed in costumes, from pink jerseys and skirts to shachihoko hats and even team-branded yukata.
Some notes from the Dragons game:
- After the 5th inning, they sang Take Me Out to the Ballgame, and for the 7th inning stretch, they sang "Moeyo! Dragons!" by Mizuki Ichirou (who you may know as the singer of Mazinger Z, Getta Robo, and many other famous anime songs).
- The Dragons mascot is a fuzzy-eared mouse-thing named Doala, who has garnered a fairly large following since he was introduced in 1994. I've seen him described as creepy-cool (キモかっこいい), and that just about covers it. I'm pretty sure that if I walked into a kindergarten classroom wearing a Doala costume, the children would run crying as if I were a clown with a bloody knife, and yet he's popular enough to have a book, a DVD, and even his own figure from Figma.
- Japanese stadium food is pretty cheap compared to American stadium food, with drinks costing 200 yen, only an 80-yen markup from a standard vending machine price.
Monday, I went to a place I've dreamed about for years - Koushien. You may remember Koushien from my first trip to Japan, when Seiya and I visited it in the winter. Well, this time I'm in the country in time for the national high school baseball tournament, so we visited one of the most famous sports events in Japanese culture, one I've spent almost a decade reading about in various baseball manga - mostly written by Adachi Mitsuru.
Hanshin Koushien is an old-fashioned field, modeled after the old Polo Grounds. That means that there's no dome to shield players and fans from the sheer brutality of the midday sun. It meant that Seiya and I paid extra money to get shaded seats and it was worth it. It was still hot as hell, but it was fun to watch high school basebal, where so many of the students tried to emulate the fans of the pro leagues. Each cheering section had songs provided by the school band, which meant that most of the batter's songs were variations on songs every high school band knows. I heard, among other things, the Popeye song, the Yamato/Starblazers theme, and the Cutey Honey theme recommissioned for baseball purposes, which was amusing as all hell.
Along with the amateur nature of high school baseball (thus making it the more "pure" sport for those fans who care if players are playing for money or pride), it felt a lot like a college football game, so I warmed to Koushien even more than I thought was possible.
To cap off my tour of Japanese baseball stupidity, I swung by the unofficial mascot-slash-nemesis of the Hanshin Tigers, Colonel Sanders. Even with the Curse of the Colonel still firmly in place, the Colonel is treated well in baseball circles. At the KFC inside of Koushien, we found a Colonel Sanders statue jovially dressed in Hanshin regalia, so we had to stop and take a picture. (Random note: the Akihabara otaku crowd is also fond of dressing up the Colonel).
So that's my Japanese baseball tour - I don't think I'll keep up with Japanese baseball as closely as I follow my hometown San Francisco Giants, but I may just go re-read Touch when I get back...
'Til next time!