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Wednesday, June 4

Take Me Out To The Ball Game

When we first arrived here in Japan, I had a pretty long “to do” list. These days, that list grows ever shorter as I am crossing the few remaining things off rather quickly.

Of course, it comes as no surprise to anyone reading back home in the states that baseball is a big thing in Japan. With just about ever major league team sporting at least one Japanese player in their lineup, you would have to live with your head in the sand to not have noticed this little fact. When we visit the states, one of the biggest requests from Japanese friends of gifts to return with, are jerseys from these American teams with their favorite Japanese player sewn onto the back. We do try to accommodate without breaking the bank. Now here is the funny thing about those jerseys… I just can’t see a Japanese person ever wearing one. For real! I think they basically are hung on a wall somewhere and never sported out in public as we Americans so casually do with all of our favorite players and sports. In fact, it is just plain rare (or, I should say, not at all) that I have ever seen anyone wearing something that signifies they even have a favorite team. My only guess on this is that, it not only isn’t the style to wear such casual clothing, but it also might be considered impolite to force your opinions of whose the best team onto those around you. This is only a guess, but I would venture to say I am close on this. These are the same people who keep covers on their books so that the titles might not offend those they are packed armpit to armpit with on the train. I digress.

So we went to a game! Something that I really wanted to do while living here. If you recall a long time ago, we had been to the Tokyo Dome for a Billy Joel concert. This is the place where the Yomiuri Giants (essentially the Tokyo Giants) play their home games. While I really wanted to attend a game, I didn’t relish sitting in those seats again. I was not disappointed in my agony as I squeezed my ever widening birthing hips into the seat. Not until we were walking past the vendors selling kitsch outside did I even know that the opposing team was the Hiroshima Carp. Not a very intimidating name if you ask me, but their fans darn well were! Before the game even started, an entire section filled with red and white wearing Carp fans began waving three huge flags over the heads of their people. They chanted and they sang their followers into a frenzy… and this didn’t stop for more than a few minutes at any point in the game. In comparison, the home team fans (who also had a large section of orange, white and black wearing fans) seemed relatively absent from the game. They weren’t, but there were drown out by the cheers of the opposing team. As I just mentioned the fan regalia, I will also point out here that this is the one and only time I have ever seen people actually wearing team gear in public here in Japan. It was so… out of place. Even at a game. Strange for someone to say who would be more than willing to paint her face black and gold and don a spiky matching wig for her beloved Steelers. I must admit that I missed most of the start of the game, because I was so enthralled by the everlasting bunny Carp fans. At first, I enjoyed their enthusiasm, but it actually got old at one point and I really just wanted them to quiet down and let me concentrate on the game.

Ah the game… not quite like back home. First, the Tokyo Dome is inside. I don’t like watching games inside. You are supposed to be out there… in the elements. If it rains, you rush for cover or you stand singing the rain delay songs belted out over the loudspeakers with the rest of the drunken obnoxious fans. But, alas, that is only in America from what I can tell. Here, we made our cheers politely from our seats, without trying to start a fight with the opposing fans. We banged plastic bats together over and over, until the beating sounds were a bleating on our brains.

We had skipped dinner so as to indulge in ball game snacks… hamburgers and hotdogs with hush puppy style things… not even close to back home. I swear they use real meat here. Blech. I kid. There is also a variety of curry dishes, ramen bowls and bento boxes for the typical Japanese game fare. Wishing for a cold beer, but knowing it wasn’t a possibility, I tried to get a box of grape juice that sat in a case directly behind the counter lady. She simply refused to let me buy it with her hands forming that adamant “X.” I still have no idea why, but eventually caved and bought a water that she was willing to sell.

After the first few innings, my interest in the actual game waned. Not being a fan of either team makes it very hard to stay focused on what is going on. Plus, there weren’t that many great plays in the middle innings for the Giants, who if I was going to rout for anyone, it would have been them. Instead, I turned my fascination to the beer girls. There must have been about ten of them in each section at any given time. They walked up and down the steep stairs carrying a keg on their back and calling out their brands as they went. We noted that the best looking girls were carrying the best brands. There must be some sort of hierarchy at work there. Not that any of the girls were unattractive, because even those tasked with the job of carrying the ice cream were quite pretty. When someone did wave them over, the beer girl would race up to them, bend down onto her knees and pour the beer from her kegged back. This was really one of the greatest things to watch at the game… at least for me. I was fascinated by how strong their legs must be after a season of hill running and getting on their knees to simply serve a beer to the one or two people that would flag them down every half hour. Oh, and there were cheerleaders to watch. For baseball. Just. Plain. Weird. I am digging the Giants mascot though! He’s a cute little guy… although I have no idea what he is. Bear? Dog? Gopher?

This was a school night and the dome is about a two and a half hour train trip from home, so we didn’t stay until the end of the game. We got enough of a sense of it though, by the 7th inning. Our friends stayed an inning longer to find out that the Giants had pretty much cinched the game by then, which the paper confirmed the next day.

While there was little music like we are used to hearing during a game, and the cheers certainly can’t be understood as they are in a foreign language, Japanese baseball is trying to be as close to American as it can be. I’m not sure that’s a good thing. But it was a great thing to see. For a one time deal anyway.

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