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Scores That Matter For 31 March 2010 [WMQ]
Mar 31st, 2010 by Dan

I really love that dude's pants

Two straight wins at Mazda Stadium by the Tigers. When will the Carp stop the bleeding?!

31 March

Hanshin Tigers (6) at Hiroshima Carp (4). The Carp are now 1-4-0 and in last place.
Rakuten Golden Eagles (13) at Chiba Lotte Marines (4). The Eagles are now 2-5-0 and in fifth place.

The bats seem to have awakened for Rakuten.

Hiroshima gets closer, but still lags behind Hanshin.

The Scores That Matter For 30 March 2010 [WMQ]
Mar 30th, 2010 by Dan

They're off to a poor start, but hopefully they'll start to bounce back soon

This is a new idea I had to help me better track the records of the teams that I follow. Check it out weekdays if you care about the Marlins, Rays, Carp, Golden Eagles, Nationals, or Orioles.

Since Japanese games are played 13 hours ahead and that can get pretty confusing, I’ll just post the scores on the day they happened in GMT -5

30 March

Hanshin Tigers (6) at Hiroshima Carp (3). The Carp are now 1-3-0 and in last place.
Rakuten Golden Eagles (1) at Chiba Lotte Marines (6). The Eagles are now 1-5-0 and in last place.

EDIT: Didn’t realize that the Eagles game was still ongoing when I first posted this. Unfortunately, the Eagles still lost.

Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part XVII: In Which Our Hero Casually Greets Professional Players [II]
Oct 29th, 2009 by Dan

Thats the second largest autographed baseball Ive ever seen!

That's the second largest autographed baseball I've ever seen!

The last full day of the trip! Even though I was ready to go home, it still felt like I had unresolved business out in Japan. I wanted to go home and be back in my apartment and not traveling, but I also wanted to stay and watch more Japanese baseball and chow down on more curry.

After an early morning check-out from the Tokyo Garden Palace and a short taxi to the train station, we made our way deep into the station’s bowels, down several storeys on our way to the station that housed the shinkansen bound for Sendai. Along the way I got my last taste of onigiri, only this time it finally looked like it normally did in the cartoons.

Finally, onigiri that lived up to the expectations and stereotypes I held.

Finally, onigiri that lived up to the expectations and stereotypes I held.

Deep in the cavernous depths of the station, the stations were so tall that I saw my first double-decker trains. The Poke-craze continued down there too as I saw whole trains decorated with Pokemon characters.

A summer travel-themed Pokemon train.

A summer travel-themed Pokemon train.

The train ride to Sendai was rather uneventful. Once again I failed at napping, but I did get more Devil Survivor time in and achieved another of the six or so endings of the game, but this is all boring, so let’s fast forward. Sendai is one of the major cities of the Northern part of Japan, but we didn’t really have much time to explore. Our train arrived in what seemed like the heart of the city and we left the station to go to our hotel, a grueling 300 meters away. We were too early to check-in, but our bags remained while we all spread out to explore and I set out to get Min a gift.

Pictrued: What I should have got Min. Not pictured: The book of piano music that I actually did get him.

Pictrued: What I should have got Min. Not pictured: The book of piano music that I actually did get him.

If you saw the spoiler above, you already know what I got Min. Thinking that I might see something cool in there and looking to kill time, I stepped into a music shop to see what kind of stock they had. Since an instrument was totally out of the question, I was about to head out of the shop when I noticed a huge shelf of music books. Inspiration struck and I remembered that Min is a pretty good piano player who plays both on a keyboard in his room and on a grand in a Hopkins practice room. Shelf browsing produced a book containing a “greatest hits” piano selection from the Final Fantasy series.

Unrelated: This public sink does everything. Soap dispenses from the left, water from the right, and holding your hands over the inside (closest to the handwasher) activates a hand dryer.

Unrelated: This public sink does everything. Soap dispenses from the left, water from the right, and holding your hands over the inside (closest to the handwasher) activates a hand dryer.

My next task was to find a replacement sake cup for the one I broke. Lucky for me, there was another Seibu Loft right next to the train station. After exploring the building with the music shop and seeing a convenience store and an anime/manga store, I went back to the station to explore the Seibu Loft, hoping that they would have the sake cup, unlike the one in Tokyo. Lucky for me, they not only had the same set, but an even better looking one. I decided to keep the more spartan one whose glass I replaced and get a new set for a gift.

I did see a ridiculous timepiece at the Seibu Loft that I have to share here:

When retro goes too far.

When retro goes too far.

Another welcome surprise in Sendai was spotting some Eagles-themed vending machines. Like the Carp in Hiroshima, the Fighters in Hokkaido, and the Hawks out in Fukuoka, the Eagles are pretty much the only team in their region, allowing them to spread out and create an identity for the team, unlike the over-congestion of teams in the Tokyo area. This sight started to turn me to the Eagles, but for the time being I was still wearing my Marines jersey and looking to root for Chiba that night.

Looks like the lame crushed penny machines are on this side of the Pacific too...

Looks like the lame crushed penny machines are on this side of the Pacific too...

Lunch that day was pretty cool too. I ordered a dish that was the “kitchen sink” of this omelet restaurant. It was complete with shrimp, crab croquettes, hamburger steak, a tempura shrimp, and the Japanese-style omelet that has rice nestled inside the egg.

Rice inside omelets...strange, but delicious.

Rice inside omelets...strange, but delicious.

Once enough time had elapsed, it was time to check-in and then hop on the train toward Kleenex Stadium.Miyagi. As I waited for my bags to be retrieved from the back room, I noticed a steady stream of surprisingly Marines-themed dress coming out of the elevators. It suddenly dawned on me that we were staying in the same hotel as the Chiba Lotte Marines. These were the players coming down to the lobby to head over to the stadium to prep for the game!

Instead of freaking out, I decided that I would play it cool. When one player walked by, I pointed at my jersey and then at him and nodded to show my support. Since I’d received my bags by then, I shot out a smooth ganbare as I passed by him. When the elevator discharged another Marines player, I said the same and headed upstairs to my room.

After dropping some stuff off and settling in, we met again downstairs to take the train to the JR station. Like other teams in good fan regions, the stadium station, nicknamed Baseball Station, was chock-full of Eagles decals, colors, and spirit. My kind of station.

The Baseball Station in Sendai has a lot of Eagles pride.

The Baseball Station in Sendai has a lot of Eagles pride.

Kleenex Stadium Miyagi has a pretty unfortunate name thanks to the evils of corporate name sponsorship, but it’s actually a really nice ballpark. Since the team is so new (started in 2005, I think), the stadium is filled with open hallways, bright colors, and a modern look.

Its unfortunate that thinking about this place makes me think of blowing my nose.

It's unfortunate that thinking about this place makes me think of blowing my nose.

Outside the ballpark they had a stage with live music being played and a bunch of food stalls and games for kids. Also present were these go-karts that had the names of the mascots written on them…but there was something strange about the naming convention.

Clutch...

Clutch...

...Clutchina...

...Clutchina...

...and...Mr. Carrasco...? Where did he come from?

...and...Mr. Carrasco...? Where did he come from?

Since the Eagles were having a great year (they ended up finishing in second place), they were also advertising for the Climax Series and selling merchandise, but they chose a different phrase from the Lions and Hawks.

Its super different. Now it says Go *TO* Climax

It's super different. Now it says "Go *TO* Climax"

The other great thing about the stadium was that all the employees were dressed like Gordon’s fishermen.

They make fishsticks in between innings.

They make fishsticks in between innings.

Before the game, I picked up a Masahiro Tanaka jersey, one of the two real ace pitchers for the Golden Eagles. When I noticed that he would be taking the mound for the game that night, I decided to switch allegiances and throw on my Tanaka jersey that night. It turned out to be a good choice for me, since the Eagles won 9-5 and I found myself drawn to the team, allowing them to become my Pacific League team.

Batting Practice at Kleenex Stadium Miyagi

Batting Practice at Kleenex Stadium Miyagi

The only real downside of the Golden Eagles is that they suffer from too many mascots. Aside from Clutch, Clutchina, and Mr. Carrasco, there were two walking cacti, a hawk-man with wings and talons, and three gnomes. Too many mascots…

You can see tons of the mascots in the distance.

You can see tons of the mascots in the distance.

Another great thing was this group of drunk salarymen whose boss had way too much to drink. All game long (that he was there for), he was yelling and rooting for Todd Linden, no matter who was up. It was hilarious and the crowd around him started to join in and scream about Linden too.

The outfield and the scoreboard.

The outfield and the scoreboard.

The game was fun, but the most hilarious part was when I got back to the hotel. Right when I arrived, staff was setting up spaces for people to wait for the players to arrive, but I quickly noticed that all of the fans awaiting the players in the hotel were young ladies. I got to walk past a bunch of groupies who cared nothing about me on my way up to my room. Another crazy early morning was ahead of me. The last day…

Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part XVI: Unstoppable Force, Meet Immovable Object [II]
Oct 27th, 2009 by Dan

When you’re on a 2.5 week trip, it hardly seems like it’s ever going to end, but it was my last day in Tokyo and it felt pretty surreal. It would be my last chance to tie up all my loose ends, so I headed out to get my final souvenirs and replace that stupid sake cup that I broke.

The plan was to go over to the Square Enix store to grab a CD for Min, the Tokyo Seibu Loft to try and replace the sake cup, somewhere to find another bag because my suitcase was now too full to travel, the Tokyo Dome to get Fighters jerseys for Eric, and maybe a CD shop to look for a live Persona music DVD/CD.

It would be a busy Thursday as I worked to get everything done and have enough time to see the sumo tournament I had tickets to and catch the ballgame that night. It doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but it involves a lot of train switching and walking and nothing really opens until 1000 or 1100.

They text just as much as we do out in Japan, if not more.

They text just as much as we do out in Japan, if not more.

To make a long story short, my day was met mostly with adversity. The first two or three stores I went to didn’t have travel bags. As I mentioned in a previous post, the Square Enix store was closed because it was Thursday, so the long trip out there was a waste of time too. The only real highlights were being able to get Eric and Danielle’s jerseys, the Persona DVD/CD (and a few other soundtracks), and my final CoCo curry lunch of the trip. All the running around the city got me back to the hotel with barely enough time to get to sumo (only an hour and a half left of matches that day) and a guarantee that I’d be late to the stadium in Chiba.

Frustrated, I finally reached the station by the sumo venue. How did I know it was the right one?, I hear you ask.

Lucky guess, I suppose.

Lucky guess, I suppose.

Sumo has a religious context to it too, a first for any sporting event I’ve ever seen. Because of that and probably the national germophobia, I was required to purify my hands at the gate after entering with hand sanitizer. It was strange, but I also got a sweet sumo fan out of it, so I couldn’t really complain.

Exhibit A: Sweet sumo fan.

Exhibit A: Sweet sumo fan.

A nice usher lady took me to my seat in the arena and I saw some great bouts. There’s a lot of starting and stopping in sumo that I really didn’t understand, so each match takes a really long time. Rather than explain it, I took a video of the match:

There are so many videos because of the limit in how long an upload can be on Flickr.

Once I’d had my fill of watching the most awesome wrestling style on the planet, I decided to head on over to Chiba Marine Stadium. Before I got too far, I noticed barricades being set up for spectators to wait and watch the departing sumo wrestlers. A steady stream of those already done with the day’s matches flowed out of the stadium and excited fans waited for a chance to take a picture.

Leaving the arena for the night.

Leaving the arena for the night.

One older lady walked right up to a sumo wrestler, but he brushed her off. As I was walking toward the station I noticed a much younger, very good-looking lady stop to talk to the same sumo and he gladly stopped to chat with her. It’s comforting to know that sumo wrestlers are men just the same.

They may have the mass of three men, but they still have the brain of one.

They may have the mass of three men, but they still have the brain of one.

By the time my train and taxi made it to Chiba Marine Stadium, it was already dark out and the game was just getting started. I bought my jersey, but not before almost going insane listening to the Marines fight song on endless loop, and made my way to the seats.

Your usual fake grass outdoor ballpark. At least the dirt is real here.

Your usual fake grass outdoor ballpark. At least the dirt is real here.

The Marines are one of the few Japanese teams managed by an American, Bobby Valentine, in this case, and, contrary to what you might think, the fans of the team totally love Valentine. Despite the fan adoration, the team did not renew his contract in Chiba, so it was his last year managing the team. Fan response was vehemently against letting Valentine go, so much so that the cheer section carries a large Bobby Valentine flag with them to every game. Still, the team is looking to go in other directions, so they’ve even ignored the fan petitions and pleas to keep Valentine. With his dismissal, the lone, remaining American manager is Marty Brown, who was fired from the Carp this season, but will go on to manage the Eagles next year.

An early shot of the scoreboard.

An early shot of the scoreboard.

Since Ken was there and, if you recall, he loves the Lions, I was actively rooting for the Marines, even though we were seated within the Lions section. I was lucky this game, because it was one of the few where the home team prevailed, with the Marines eventually winning 6-3, bucking the home team loss trend of the trip once again.

The last out for the Lions walks dejectedly off of the field. Reminds me of the episode Good Grief in Arrested Development.

The last out for the Lions walks dejectedly off of the field. Reminds me of the episode "Good Grief" in Arrested Development.

Chiba Marine Stadium was nothing really to write home about. The decoration was mostly spartan and kind of reminded me of late 80s stadiums in the States. Most of the atmosphere comes from the ōendan. If you remember from that Buffaloes game, those guys go nuts all game long, waving their flag and jumping up and down to their fight song. They really get into it and make it lots of fun.

Yet another shot of the field

Yet another shot of the field

Another game marked off, we now had only one left and only one more full day. Since we had to catch a very early shinkansen, I had yet another boring night as I packed up what I could and turned in for the night. To Tohoku and Sendai tomorrow!

Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part X: Boredom on the Orient Express [II]
Oct 7th, 2009 by Dan

Todays post brought to you by Coca-Cola (Not really! Please dont sue me!)

Today's post brought to you by Coca-Cola (Not really! Please don't sue me!)

Ok, so I’m being a little dramatic in the title, but with David gone and most of the day occupied by riding bullet trains across Japan, the day was definitely on the dull side.

The thrilling remains of a lunch eaten on an exciting train ride to Fukuoka.

The thrilling remains of a lunch eaten on an exciting train ride to Fukuoka.

Most of the train ride was spent playing Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor, an SRPG whose setting is within the JR Yamanote line of Tokyo. The coolest part of the ride was the fact that we had to take an underwater tunnel to get to Fukuoka, since it is on Kyūshū, one of the four major islands of Japan. There was one other major event that occurred: the bullet train, shining example of punctuality, was ten minutes late to Fukuoka. So jarring was this tardiness that I almost got off at the wrong stop anyway because we it was time, we had to be there. I’m sure it’s not the first time the Shinkansen has been late, but it was the first (and last) time any train anywhere in Japan was late when I was there.

Station, taxi, hotel. Hoo boy…the Tokyo Garden Palace, The Official JapanBall Tokyo Hotel of Choice, had a decent-sized single that they put me in. This hotel, the Fukuoka Garden Palace, put me in a hotel room single smaller than the smallest single dorm room. Funny thing is, this wouldn’t be the smallest hotel room, by any means, that I’d stay in on the trip. That title goes to the room in Kyoto, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

My spacious room in Fukuoka.

My spacious room in Fukuoka.

Most of the group decided to head to the local Hard Rock Cafe, but I opted not to go because I was doing my best to avoid as much Western food as I could while I was out in Japan. Beyond that, I’m not even a fan of the HRC when I am in the states thanks to its overpriced, mediocre food. Instead I hung out in the room and watched tv/uploaded pictures for a bit before catching a cab to the the Fukuoka Yahoo! Japan Dome.

This idol was on tv giving a concert. I think she sings a lot of anime songs, because she sang the theme songs from Neon Genesis Evangelion, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Pokemon, Sailor Moon, and many others.

This idol was on tv giving a concert. I think she's famous from anime, because she sang the theme songs from Neon Genesis Evangelion, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Pokemon, Sailor Moon, and many others in her set. I have no idea who she is

The taxi dropped me off near the stadium, but it was far too early to start to get to my seat, so I decided to investigate the nearby “Hawks Town.”

Nothing like team branding to get people in a shopping mood!

Nothing like team branding to get people in a shopping mood!

The shopping mall wasn’t too huge and it contained the usual Japanese staples: clothing stores, restaurants, an arcade, and a toy store. Looking to kill some time, I entered the Toys R Us and was reminded that Pokemon is still king in this country.

Pokemon and Doraemon, that is.

Pokemon and Doraemon, that is.

The toy store had its share of toys from other anime and video game series, but Pokemon dominated the list by far. Whether it was the arcade machines near the door, the figurines, the plush toys, or the other merchandise, Pikachu and his pals were the most represented in the store. I also found a great, kind of creepy looking Woody mask.

Its both awesome and kind of creepy the way those empty eyes seem to stare into your very soul.

It's both awesome and kind of creepy the way those empty eyes seem to stare into your very soul.

After successfully killing the aforementioned time, I decided to make my way to the stadium to take some photos and complete by jersey-buying ritual. Corporate name sponsorship is nothing new to baseball. From Tropicana Field to LandShark Stadium and Citi Field, there are tons of examples of MLB ballparks with corporate sponsors. Even Japan has its share of them, so I initially thought nothing of the fact that the Hawks played in a Yahoo!-branded ballpark, assuming that the corporate representation would be fairly standard when compared to other stadiums. Note the foreshadowing…

Not to mention that Yahoo! is kind of a dying brand out here in America. I have a feeling this ballpark may change names soon.

Not to mention that Yahoo! is an increasingly irrelevant brand out here in America. I have a feeling this ballpark may change names soon.

I kind of liked Hawks Town and the surrounding area because it seemed to show team spirit. The escalator up to the ballpark was specially painted to show pictures of the mascots, which was also pretty cool. I started to notice a problem when I saw a sign showing what you couldn’t bring into the stadium.

Is it just me or does it look like the final picture is saying No burgers with cigarettes inside!

Is it just me or does it look like the final picture is saying "No burgers with cigarettes inside!"

It’s not immediately obvious from the picture, but I was concerned about the number of mascots populating the bottom of the sign. Wow, I thought, there sure do seem to be a lot of them. Most of the ballparks had multiple mascots, but I’d say the average count was three. The Giants had four space bunnies (mom, dad, two kids), the Swallows had three (dad, boy, and girl), the Buffaloes, Tigers, and Marines had two each, and the Carp had one on-field and one for merchandise (the Phanatic knockoff is the former and the young boy is the latter). Represented in this picture were six Hawks. I realized why when I got up to the stands set up outside the ballpark: merchandising.

Gotta collect all the mascots!

Gotta collect all the mascots!

Say you’re a team located in a country that trends toward owning complete collections of things. Say you’re a team that wants to make money. Why not have a ton of mascots so that, while some will only collect the ones they like, plenty will try and complete the whole set. Release limited editions with different costumes or even uniforms and you’ve earned yourself quite a bit of cash. It’s brilliant marketing.

Also brilliant marketing.

Also brilliant marketing.

You already know about my hatred for domed stadiums, so I won’t retread old ground, but the Yahoo! Dome’s youth works toward correcting some of those problems. Unlike other domes in Japan, the Yahoo! Dome has a retractable roof, so fair weather can be enjoyed when it’s there while too hot days and rain can be bypassed. There was an ever-present threat of rain that day, so the dome remained tortuously closed that night, bringing my Games in Dome count up to 2.5 (the Seibu Dome counts for half).

Another result of the domes youth is newer, corporate food stalls.

Another result of the dome's youth is newer, corporate food stalls.

As I made my way to my seat, the full stadium greeted me in all its ad-filled glory. Aside from the batter’s eye, there was not one spot missed by the clever ad-space leasing crew.

Not a bad field, for a dome, buy why bother with artificial turf when youve got a retractable roof?

Not a bad field, for a dome, buy why bother with artificial turf when you've got a retractable roof?

The upper sections of the stadium were filled with luxury boxes, something that was lacking in most of the smaller or older stadiums I’d been to on the trip before today.

Someone needed to tell the Yahoo! folks that theres such a thing as too much luxury.

Someone needed to tell the Yahoo! folks that there's such a thing as too much luxury.

There’s no escape from the advertising, even the armrests were adspace.

Down to the armrests you can find ads in the Yahoo! Dome.

Down to the armrests you can find ads in the Yahoo! Dome.

Worse than that was that between at bats the jumbotron even showed a commercial for whatever product they were hocking that day. There is no peace in Fukuoka Yahoo! Japan Dome to enjoy the game of baseball without an ad screaming at you.

Even the free fan they gave me was advertising a new piece of software.

Even the free fan they gave me was advertising a new piece of software.

There are two things which I will always associate with the Yahoo! Dome: ads and this guy.

If you couldnt tell, this guy is the white dude in the photo.

If you couldn't tell, "this guy" is the white dude in the photo.

I’m not quite sure if he’s a major part of every game or if he only comes out a few times, but this guy will always be the unofficial mascot of the Hawks. He knows Japanese well enough to speak it in a lame, cheesy, game show announcer voice and he appears in video segments before the game and during most of the between inning video segments. I’m not kidding when I say he’s as corny as they come. There’s just something about him that screams inauthentic, but it seems like the Hawks and the fans are totally into it.

Let’s talk about the actual game. There was yet another rare instance of the Japanese national anthem being played. That’s only the second occurrence in six games and all of them were in Pacific League games.

In six games weve only heard this twice. A far cry from the USA.

In six games we've only heard this twice. A far cry from the USA.

Another thing I noticed were the elaborate team introductions. Beyond just the usual name and number, they go and put up height, weight, hometown, and handedness. It’s nothing beyond what you’d get on a typical baseball card, but it’s more than I’d seen before on the trip, so I thought I’d snap a shot.

All thats missing is Likes: Long walks on the beach

All that's missing is "Likes: Long walks on the beach"

This game also marked the first time I’d seen something kind of interesting for the kids. Instead of having the typical player introduction, a mascot and a kid went out to every position on the field (That’s nine mascots, up from the six I mentioned early. That’s right, there’s some sort of grandfather hawk and an uncle hawk and something else). The cool part is that each of these kids is there when a player comes out on the field. I would have killed to be out on the field before a baseball game to meet a ballplayer as a kid. Hell, I’d kill to do it now!

Here we have some green, old Hawk mascot. Its like theyre just making up Hawk variants.

Here we have some green, old Hawk mascot. It's like they're just making up Hawk variants.

The game itself was a solid affair. It was close for most of the game, but the Hawks were ahead 3-1 by the time the game entered the ninth inning. Some teams would give up, but they’re not the Golden Eagles. Thanks to a pitiful performance by their closer, the Eagles were able to knock in six runs in the ninth, four of which came from a grand slam. For the rest of the trip, my fellow tourgoers and I would remark that a team was not yet safe in the ninth until it had passed beyond Grand Slam Range.

If only she knew what kind of heartbreak was awaiting her that night.

If only she knew what kind of heartbreak was awaiting her that night.

As a quick aside, at the ballgame I ate something I’d never had before and would absolutely love to have again. Tell me, would you trust a pizza from a place called Strawberry Cones?

Everyone knows that Strawberry Cones is synonymous with pizza!

Everyone knows that Strawberry Cones is synonymous with pizza!

I saw the stand and almost dismissed it off hand for being Western food in Japan, but then I saw a picture of one of the pizzas they offered, and I knew I had to try it. Only one problem, the guy in front of me got the last one. The only thing left to do was pray for symmetry and walk around the stadium searching for another stall.

The pizza in question. Yes, those are shrimp, calamari, and other miscellaneous seafoods.

The pizza in question. Yes, those are shrimp, calamari, and other miscellaneous seafoods.

I know what you’re thinking. “Seafood pizza? Come on Dan, that can’t be good…can it?”

Yes. Yes it can.

Yes. Yes it can.

And that was all she wrote for the Hawks and Fukuoka. We took a cab back to the hotel and got set to head back to Kyoto the next day. It would be our home base as we went to see games in Nagoya (the Dragons) and Nishinomiya (the Tigers). I’ll close with a picture of the hat of my favorite vendor at the Yahoo! Dome.

Its blurry, but its the best I got. This is the hat of a takoyaki vendor at the Yahoo! Dome.

It's blurry, but it's the best I got. This is the hat of a takoyaki vendor at the Yahoo! Dome.

Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part IV: In Which Our Heroes Depart Tokyo for Kyoto [II]
Sep 10th, 2009 by Dan

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.

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