Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part IV: In Which Our Heroes Depart Tokyo for Kyoto [II]

Dave doing his best to look gangsta outside of Tokyo Station.
Dave doing his best to look gangsta outside of Tokyo Station.

A day of baseball behind us, our tour was now set to depart Tokyo and journey east to Kyoto, the former capital of Japan. That means that we would get a chance to ride the famous bullet trains for the first time. After a quick taxi to Tokyo Station, Dave and I found ourselves waiting on the platform wondering about the naming conventions behind the various lines of the Shinkansen (the Japanese name for the bullet train). Mayumi broke it down like this: the slowest trains are the Kodama, which means echo. They stop at local stations and generally take longer. The next fastest are the Hikari trains. Hikari means light and, like any good physicist would expect, they are much faster than the Kodama trains. The fastest class of trains is named Nozomi, which means hope. Therefore, hope > 3 x 10^8.

Lost by a nose! Dave vs. a Hikari Shinkansen
Lost by a nose! Dave vs. a Hikari Shinkansen

While waiting on the train Dave and I also noticed a few people smoking, which is nothing too special, until we realized that they were also wearing face masks. It was bizarre to see a man so worried about his health smoking, but, hey, hypocrisy is funny, so enjoy the shot below.

Dave was there so that I wouldnt offend this stranger by taking a random picture of him enjoying a smoke.
Dave was there so that I wouldn't offend this stranger by taking a random picture of him enjoying a smoke.

Cultural lessons from Susan taught us that while Japan is a germaphobic country, the face mask thing is primarily to prevent other citizens from getting sick. They’re so concerned with keeping harmony and not spreading their germs with other people that they keep the masks on at the slightest hint of disease. Still, the vast number of masks that I’ve seen throughout the country make me suspicious that the recent influenza outbreak might have a lot more to do with it than that statement implies.

The train ride was rather long, since we were crossing the entire island, but we eventually made it to Kyoto in the afternoon and stopped to drop our bags off and grab a quick bite to eat. Funny thing about Japan is that while bad people almost certainly have to exist, most everybody is super trusting to the nth degree. Our bags were set in the lobby without any lock or key and we were pretty much guaranteed that no one would touch them just because there was a net over them. Plenty of folks don’t even bother to lock up their bikes when they ride them around. It’s jarring.

It doesnt look like much, but this net is the ultimate theft deterrant.
It doesn't look like much, but this net is the ultimate theft deterrant.

Not yet sick of curry, Dave and I sat down to grab a plate at a place that seemed like it was an Eastern European-themed ale house. They had a robust drink menu that was filled with hilarious Engrish spellings of popular drinks and cocktails. Our meal done, it was time to head right back up to the lobby…after a quick pit stop in the bathroom.

Mmm...Id love a Cuba Lible.
Mmm…I'd love a Cuba Lible.

The entire territory of Japan could easily fit into a good deal of the larger US states. The result of that phenomenon is one of my favorite bits of minutiae related to Japan. In almost every bathroom in Japan (all but one that I’ve observed), the exact same urinals are installed. Thanks to this, all of Japan feels cohesive even when you’re somewhere far away from Tokyo.

Now that we’ve completed that digression, let me get back to the main narrative. Dave and I went up to the lobby and right back out to the Kyoto train station. We were jumping on the Shinkansen again to head up to Skymark Stadium in Kobe, home of the Orix Buffaloes. I cannot emphasize enough how great the rail system in Japan is. Throughout this whole day our train has arrived precisely when it’s been slated to arrive on our tickets and in the station to the minute. Not a delay in sight. Longer Shinkansen rides all feature “stewardesses” who push a cart down the aisles selling food and drinks.

The trains are also filled with friendly people. On our way to Kyoto, Dave and I met a man who went to RIT and worked for Eastman Kodak. At first I found his English very hard to understand, but eventually I got it down and we were able to speak to each other just fine. Thanks to him I learned about the surrounding areas, where Mt. Fuji was, about Toyota in Nagoya, and about how he likes to American football and “Science Fridays” on NPR. It was definitely a pleasant train ride, even if I was exhausted. There was just too much going on to try and sleep.

The approach to Skymark Stadium from just outside the station.
The approach to Skymark Stadium from just outside the station.

Didn’t I just end all the digressions? Rejuvenated from our curry, we arrived in Kobe just steps away from the stadium itself. There was a concessions stand right nearby, some ticket vendors, a nice fountain, and a nice park in the area, but otherwise not much of anything at all. The question of how I’d commemorate my Japanese stadium visits came up again since I hadn’t resolved the conundrum at the Tokyo Dome, so I went over to check out the stand.

I didnt really see any ticket windows, but can this really be the ticket booth for Skymark?
I didn't really see any ticket windows, but can this really be the ticket booth for Skymark?

For my visits to American stadiums, I buy fitted caps from the ballpark and take them home, but I noticed last night that the Giants had no fitted caps that I could find and that just wouldn’t do. The other options, their noisemakers and other miscellaneous charms just didn’t feel right either. I noticed that the Bs, as their team name is often shortened to, had jerseys available for only ¥3500, an amount cheaper than some of the caps I buy. It was settled and the collection began.

One of the entrances to Skymark Stadium.
One of the entrances to Skymark Stadium.

We actually entered the ballpark after I threw on the jersey and noticed that it seemed a lot smaller and emptier than the Tokyo Dome. Someone explained to me that Skymark Stadium is actually the alternate stadium for the Bs while the Kyocera Dome is the primary and I definitely believe that. Skymark is very nice, but it’s also very small and the concessions seemed underdeveloped. In fact, some of the foodstuffs ran out by the third inning. The comparative attendance was also rather lacking compared to the Dome, but then again it was a day game on a work day (that’s right, they work on Saturdays out in Japan).

The Marines fan section came out in full force, but the stadium is very empty.
The Marines fan section came out in full force, but the stadium is very empty.

Now that I’ve been to two stadiums, I feel that I can start to make some genuine observations about Japanese baseball. The first thing I noticed was that the pitchers are constantly being worked and worked hard. In between innings it’s common to see the pitcher just tossing the ball around with another player to keep loose and warm. On the mound they seem to throw until the managers feel they’ve thrown enough. I remember seeing a pitcher up to 120 or so pitches by the fourth or fifth inning and he stayed in the game until the sixth or seventh. I’ve also noticed that Japanese pitchers tend to pitch a little slower than their American counterparts. Very rarely did I see pitches pass 144 km/hr, which roughly translates to 90 mph.

Buffaloes fans LOVE Tuffy. Hes been in Japan so long that he doesnt even count as a foreign player. The Bs have a history of embracing foreign players.
Buffaloes fans LOVE Tuffy. He's been in Japan so long that he doesn't even count as a foreign player. The Bs have a history of embracing foreign players.

The number of hits appears to be huge compared to the number of runs scored. In the MLB, if you had a game with a combined hit count in the 20s, you can bet that it would be a blowout or a game whose score was 8-9. This is the status quo out here in Japan thanks to all of the selfless hitting. Huge hit counts, but also a lot of men left on base between innings.

Like last game, I noticed a lot more small ball being played at the plate. Hit and runs, bunts to advance the runner, and chops to ensure safe baserunning are the norm. Also normal are the ōendan I mentioned last time. The opposing team brought in a huge crowd, yet again, and they filled up the left field bleachers and went crazy. It’s one thing to cheer like a nutcase all game to prove you love your team. It’s another to travel from Chiba to Kobe, sit in the 90+°F sun, and jump up and down like the Marines cheer squad. These guys seriously were hopping in an alternating formation during a large number of their cheers. I almost got heat stroke just watching them.

Speaking of the heat, the lack of a dome reminded me just how much I love both afternoon baseball and outdoor baseball. It’s much harder to stay properly hydrated, but it’s so much better to be out in the sun enjoying a ballgame instead of in a stuffy, climate-controlled room. I could rant for hours on this topic, so I’ll spare you all the arguments about why non-retractable domes are way less cool.

The Buffaloes mascots. Note that they are NOT buffaloes nor do they look like buffaloes.
The Buffaloes mascots. Note that they are NOT buffaloes nor do they look like buffaloes.

Like the Giants, the Buffaloes also had mascots that seemed to have nothing to do with the team name at all. Neppie and Ripsea are vaguely cowboy-themed white folk and look nothing like buffaloes. Missed opportunity. Their posse did include cheerleaders, rather like the Giants, and during the 7th inning stretch they also snag their fight song, but there were no balloons yet again.

One peculiarity in this ballpark was that they played the Marines fight song during the 6th inning. Our friend Susan said it was to be polite, which is absolutely crazy when compared to Western baseball, but it makes good sense in this case. Where else but in Japan, where the home team gives retail space to the opposing teams for merchandise whose profits will go to the opposing teams would it be ok to listen to another team’s fight song in the 6th?

Despite my Bs jersey, I was impressed by the gusto shown by the Marines, so I was rooting for them to win. Things got interesting when, yet again, the game was tied up and went into extra innings. Dave and I feared that we’d have another 12 inning affair on our hands, but luckily (for the Marines) the score was increased to a respectable 6-3 Marines, giving the visiting team the win, which means that for two straight games the home team has not won. Since Dave and I left during the 8th and the Giants tied it up, we’re pretty sure that we’re home team kryptonite.

One last thing to mention about the game: It seems like the foreign-born players don’t hustle as much as the Japanese-born ones. That could be because they’re older and fatter, but it could also be a cultural thing.

After the game we took the train back over to Kyoto. It was already getting to be rather late, so Dave and I decided to take it easy for the night. We crossed through the station looking for food in the large, 12-story shopping center Bob told us about earlier in the day. After taking the escalators all the way up, we understood why this place was recommended. The views were spectacular all around, but it was too dark for most of the pictures to really come out all that well. We had a quick meal in a nondescript place and headed back to the room after resolving to return in the morning to capture that view.

Ive transcended happy and landed fimly in scary territory here.
I've transcended happy and landed fimly in scary territory here.

Another day was over. It was time to rest up for tomorrow.


13 responses to “Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part IV: In Which Our Heroes Depart Tokyo for Kyoto [II]”

  1. Eric Mesa Avatar

    Awesome! Why were they playing in an alternative stadium? was the official one being fixed? Or was it a chance for people in the middle of nowhere to catch a game? I love the idea that hope is faster than light – it’s quite a poetic notion. And probably also like VLSI in circuit design, a case of them thinking they had the fastest train when they named it light and then technology going even faster than they thought it could. Maybe…

    (bad joke) At first I thought the net was there to keep the luggage from escaping. (/bad joke)

    Last night they showed a rerun of Jeopardy and I got the question right when they said, this was originally the capital of Japan. Kyoto!

    Ok, I saw the “cuba lible” and I was very puzzled. I know the Japanese (and perhaps other asians as well) are famous for pronouncing their ‘r’ as an ‘l’. Hence the racist punchline, “would you like some flied lice”. But, that’s just a pronunciation problem. Like how Americans say “amarilo” when it’s “amareeyo”. And maybe, but I could wrong here, “toke-yo” vs “to-kee-yo”. But we still spell it the same. So I would expect them to spell it Cuba Libre, even if they mispronounce it Cuba Lible. Very, very odd.

    Finally, I have just one thing to say about Dave’s opening photo – “why you no gangsta?”

    1. Dan Avatar

      In 2004 the Orix Bluewave of Kobe merged with the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes of Osaka to make one team: the Orix Buffaloes. Since they split the fans, they decided to split the home field game time as well. The baseball teams are owned by corporations out here, so I guess it’s not too far-fetched to wrap one’s mind around a merger.

      I’m not entirely sure, but I think you’re right about the trains. I’d need to do more research, but I think that the Nozomi is a relatively new line.

      I don’t think you really got it right if you said that. The correct answer is “What is Kyoto?”

      RE: Cuba Lible: It’s a case where they’re starting from katakana, a Japanese script meant to phonetically pronounce foreign words, and trying to guess the English from there. A little research would show that it should be Cuba LIbre. Using the katakana and translating to English would yield an ambiguous sound there, since they don’t differentiate between ‘l’ and ‘r’ like how Spanish speakers aren’t supposed to pronounce ‘v’ and ‘b’ differently.

      1. Eric Mesa Avatar

        Ah, that explanation brings a lot of clarity to the stadium situation.

  2. Eric Mesa Avatar

    Whoa! I didn’t know the extra photos and videos were coming that fast!

    1. Dan Avatar

      Ask and ye shall receive.

      Plus, Dave’s gone so he’s not hogging the net so much.

  3. Eric Mesa Avatar

    -I love that Tuffies is Mr Buffaloes. Not Mr Buffalo.

    -The first video the singing and chanting is crazy. It’s too bad the resolution wasn’t high enough the make the guys out.

    -Strange mascots. Cool, approachable, kids won’t get scared – but odd that it’s not a Buffalo.

    -that 7th inning stretch video was neat. On the one hand it was pretty catchy. I can see it being stuck in my head all day. (Thanks!) Also, cheerleaders! But it seems kinda weird w/o “Take me out to the ballgame.”

    -Susan knew the Marines fight song? Or was singing along to the lyrics? Displayed on the board?

    -Scary last photo

    -Finally, Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. ( )

    1. Dan Avatar

      That was my fault for starting from such a zoomed out point. I’ll try again in Chiba and see if I can’t get that to be clearer.

      Susan doesn’t know the song, but she can kind of read katakana, so she was able to sing along with the lyrics on the board.

  4. Eric Mesa Avatar

    Oh, I had a weird brain moment there. Why did I write:

    “Or was singing along to the lyrics? Displayed on the board?”

    when I meant

    “Or was she singing along to the lyrics displayed on the board?”

  5. Eric Mesa Avatar

    Oh, I forgot to ask – are you getting many hits to the blog based on the Japan trip?

    1. Dan Avatar

      Not yet, I don’t think.

  6. Min Avatar

    I wonder if the Japaneses folks around you while you’re talking pictures are all like “Man.. why do these Americans take such boring pictures.”

    1. Dan Avatar

      Are you saying my pictures are boring?

      Just kidding, yeah, I wonder, but then again, I’ve seen how they take pictures when they’re tourists, so they probably approve.

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