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Super Ichiban Travel Blog W Jersey Special [II]
Nov 13th, 2009 by Dan

The pride of my trip to Japan no doubt has to be the 12 jersey collection I brought home with me. Here is a quick rundown of each of the jerseys, a little background behind each, and what I think of it. I’m gonna cover them in the order that I got them, so that puts the Giants jersey a little later, even though that was the first game I went to.

Jersey #1 – Orix Buffaloes

The genesis of the Jersey Project began on a ridiculously sunny day outside Skymark Stadium. As you may or may not remember, I collect fitted, official baseball caps at each of the MLB stadiums I go to, so I was looking for something similar to collect at the Japanese parks. Unfortunately, neither of the two teams I’d seen had fitted caps. I had initially ruled out jerseys in the states because I knew how expensive they ran, but then I noticed that the Buffaloes jerseys they had for sale in their outdoor stalls were only ¥3500 (about $40 at the exchange rate I suffered). That was only $10 more than I was used to spending on caps in America!

My first NPB jersey!

My first NPB jersey!

It’s a pretty nice jersey and after I tossed it on in the ballpark I was certain that I’d made a good souvenir choice. The B’s on the front and the Orix patch on the left are both legitimate, sewn on patches. It’s a pretty sharp color scheme too. The white contrasts very nicely with the dark blue and the red/yellow trim around the sleeves and patches looks pretty good. All that said, it’s still kind of a generic jersey. There’s no team name, no city name, no prominent company name. I like it, but the other, more creative jerseys just look better.

Rank: 8 of 12. Solid, but just too generic.

Jersey #2 – Hiroshima Toyo Carp

Hiroshima is a city that’s really dear to my heart. Of all the places I visited in Japan, it left the most lasting effect on me, both from the team spirit and the indomitable spirit of the people who rebuilt the city with vigor. Beyond all that, the team’s most prominent color is red and, to quote Andy Bernard, my blood runs Big Red. Housed in Mazda Stadium, a brand new ballpark with all the amenities, the Carp had one of the more robust team stores filled to the brim with red from boxer shorts (complete with catcher signs over the crotch) to the all-important jerseys and caps.

One of my favorite jerseys.

One of my favorite jerseys.

This time the jersey fetched a heftier fee, ringing up at around ¥5500, if I remember right, with the premium version selling for ¥6500. Concerned with saving money, I’m pretty sure I went with the cheaper edition of the jersey, which is kind of a shame now that I think about it. I’m not sure if the more expensive one actually had sewn on names (or even if the real jerseys do), but the names on the jersey are printed on and it lacks the ridges on the premium jersey. Despite all of that, the Carp jersey gets extra points from me for being red, quite fetching to look at, distinctly Japanese with Hiroshima printed across the front, and it features my favorite Japanese ballplayer, Akihiro Higashide.

This guy hit his 1000th hit with me in the stadium watching. I love this guy.

This guy hit his 1000th hit with me in the stadium watching. I love this guy.

With all of these things going for it (and it being the jersey of my favorite team), one would expect it to top the bill, but I have to take some points away for its cheaper design and printed text. If it weren’t for those things, it would definitely rate higher.

Rank: 3 of 12. Ok, it doesn’t rank all that low, but still, it’s not #1!

Jersey #3 – Saitama Seibu Lions

You all remember how this jersey believes lions, right?

Makes me laugh every time...

Makes me laugh every time...

There’s one thing that the brand-conscious among you will notice right away upon viewing a picture of the jersey. I’ll give you a second to check it out…

Kind of plain, but made with nice material. Whats up with the armpits though?

Kind of plain, but made with nice material. What's up with the armpits though?

That’s right, the Lions are sponsored by none other than Nike, no doubt a deal that was penned (if it wasn’t already in place) following their victory in the Japan Series last year and, wouldn’t you know it, a brand-name jersey costs a lot more than the regular Joe editions pushed by the other teams. Already not a fan of the Lions because they play in the Pacific League in a strange quasi-dome, here I had to pay something like ¥7200 for this jersey. My little quest was starting to get quite expensive and I wasn’t happy about it.

Beyond that, there’s nothing really wrong with the jersey. It’s got a solid, old-school baseball look, but there’s not much to it beyond that. Grey is a terribly bland color (I suppose I could have bought white, but those were even plainer. There weren’t even blue highlights, if I remember correctly. The Saitama patch on the right arm and the Lions-ball-grasped-in-a-paw patch are both pretty generic looking too. The best feature is the “i believe lions,” but you can’t see that if the jersey is buttoned up or even in normal wear. All of that pales in comparison to the bizarre underarm of the jersey. For some godforsaken reason, the jersey does not have full armpits. Instead there are these vents, I guess to help get air to the underarm. I always wear an undershirt, but with these little vents exposing my armpits to the world, this jersey kind of forces the point.

Rank: 7 of 12. What’s up with the armpits on this thing?

Jersey #4 – Tokyo Yakult Swallows

By the time I showed up at Meiji Jingu for the Swallows game, I’d already seen the team play once. Counting that day, I was to see them play three more games. If you’ve been reading the blog, you know that I’m not a fan of this team, but they’ve actually got one of the nicer jerseys that I picked up.

That top red button really sells it for me.

That top red button really sells it for me.

The Swallows have a jersey that’s just different enough from the MLB sets that it really sells the whole “Hey, we play baseball in Japan, not America” thing. From the red accents on the side (can you tell I love red?) to the great patches on both the arms and above the team name, to the coup de grace, the red top button, it’s just a well-designed jersey. I don’t have the other buttons done, but they’re white, not red, which would normally annoy someone so obsessed with symmetry and patterns, but I love it in this case. It’s like the rising sun sits right at the top of the jersey. Best of all, the jersey returned to a more reasonable price. I don’t remember how much I paid for it, but it was definitely between ¥4000 and ¥5000. I still can’t believe how much I paid for a Lions jersey that doesn’t even have a marketable player’s name on the back.

Rank: 5 of 12. It’s the Rising Sun on my jersey!

Jersey #5 – Yomiuri Giants

The Yankees of Japan. What team do I hate (fourth) most in the states? Which jersey do I loathe from my collection?

This one hurt to buy.

This one hurt to buy.

I’ll admit, this is a jersey I hate for completely non-aesthetic reasons. Aside from being rather plain, I am a fan of the orange and black on the jersey. Beyond that, there is one major reason why I hate this jersey. Make that 12000 reasons. That’s right, I had to pay ¥12000 to get this thing. Why?

1. They’re the Giants. The most popular team in Japan
2. It’s another name brand. Adidas

I dont even know who this guy is...but he does have a great number.

I don't even know who this guy is...but he does have a great number.

Since I didn’t know that I was collecting jerseys on this trip when we saw the Giants the first night, this one comes from the day Dave left and I went to Tokyo Disney Sea. I will say that I saw the jerseys in the store that night and thought they were far too expensive, but here I was, stuck buying the premium jersey. Why? I hear you ask. It’s because there are no non-premium jerseys. Pay less than ¥12000 and you can get a t-shirt that looks like a jersey, but you will never get a jersey. I bit the bullet and bought the thing, but I still get mad thinking about it.

Rank: 11 of 12. Sure, I’m being petty, but it’s my list and my criteria.

Jersey #6 – Fukuoka Softbank Hawks

After paying so much for my Giants jersey, prices became mostly trivial, so my dislike of the Hawks jersey comes not from paying between ¥6000 and ¥7000 for the thing, but more from an aesthetic dislike.

White jersey with yellow armbands. Way to break the creativity bank guys...

White jersey with yellow armbands. Way to break the creativity bank guys...

Uninspired and lazy is what I think when I see this jersey. The most creative part of it is the goofy-looking Hawk mascot on the right sleeve and we all know how I feel about that bird and his kin. Two yellow stripes? That’s the best you can come up with?

Worse, the Hawks are thinking of changing their jersey next year to be more like the BayStars. Just you wait until I get to that abomination…

Rank: 9 of 12. Stupid mascot and yellow bands.

Jersey #7 – Chunichi Dragons

It’s probably time to call me inconsistent, but I rather like the Dragons jersey. Maybe it’s the old-school look with the linked ‘C’ and ‘D’ or maybe it’s the delicious shade of blue that the team uses (it’s the closest to Cubs blue that I saw in Japan and I love me some Cubs blue), but I really like it.

Its all about letter design.

It's all about letter design.

The player is pretty forgettable, but they don’t really sell Fukudome jerseys in the stadium anymore. I hear he’s a veteran who’s been playing a long time and he had a decent game, but he didn’t call out to me like Higashide or Toritani.

Araki is getting close to the end of his career, but I love his number and the fact that he plays second base.

Araki is getting close to the end of his career, but I love his number and the fact that he plays second base.

Beyond that, I like the wedge-shaped highlights on the sleeves and up the sides, but it’s a shame that the jersey doesn’t really have any patches.

Rank: 6 of 12. A solid effort, but the ones above it either have more sentimental value or sharper designs..

Jersey #8 – Hanshin Tigers

This is a jersey done right. Everything about it just exudes tight design. Pinstripes are a staple of baseball while the black and yellow interact fantastically everywhere they’re paired together.

Sharp.

Sharp.

Even the textures are nice on this sucker, with everything sewn on and a ridged surface, it’s also really nice to feel. Check out that fierce Tiger patch. Scary.

Toritani! My second favorite Japanese baseball player.

Toritani! My second favorite Japanese baseball player.

I almost unintentionally ended up falling in love with numbers and players that were part of the middle infield. While I’ve got a few pitchers thrown in there (and a first baseman), I’m pretty sure most of the jerseys I own with names belong to the middle infield. If that’s not supported by the data, then my favorite ones do, so can it. Takeshi Toritani is a fine shortstop and he was a clutch performer in the games that I saw.

Rank: 2 of 12. The highest ranked “traditional” jersey, this guy just gets it in all the right places. Pinstripes, black accents, yellow trim, and a badass tiger.

Jersey #9 – Hokkaidō Nippon-Ham Fighters

Back-to-back superstar jerseys. The Nippon-Ham I bought has everything going for it that you’d want in a Japanese jersey. How’s about a quick peek before we go over all the highlights.

Worth it just to see the faces as they read Nippon-Ham

Worth it just to see the faces as they read Nippon-Ham

Sure, Fighters jerseys fetch about ¥9000, but you really get what you pay for in this case. When the Fighters moved to Sapporo (they used to play in Tokyo and share the Dome with the Giants) they totally revamped their image and went with this completely non-traditional look. The most glaring difference is the left sleeve. Beyond the nifty, sewn-on patch, it’s an entirely different color from the rest of the jersey (this is the case for the home, away, and interleague versions of the jersey too). That bold accent, coupled with the hilarious Nippon-Ham adorning the front already seal the deal on this being my favorite jersey, but the best part is the player I got.

I was so close to seeing Darvish pitch...

I was so close to seeing Darvish pitch...

Yu Darvish is a superstar. No other pitcher in Japan approaches how great this guy is right now. He was hurt for most of the season, but he even came out to pitch in Game 2 of the Japan Series while hurt. Instead of pitching to his usual velocity, the guy just relied on curveballs and other tricky pitches and still only gave up two runs on one home run. The guy’s a stud on the mound. I really hope he comes to pitch in the states one day.

Rank: 1 of 12. Darvish + the off-color arm = win

Jersey #10 – Yokohama Baystars

From first to absolute worst. I don’t even know where to start with this guy…

Worst. Jersey. Ever.

Worst. Jersey. Ever.

Oh wait, how about the fact that its NOT EVEN A JERSEY! The traditional jersey has buttons. There are no buttons on this jersey. Everything on it is printed, even the cheesy stars on the shoulders that, I kid you not, I did not notice until two minutes before I wrote this sentence. Everything about this jersey screams forgettable.

Is he any good? Who would know on this team.

Is he any good? Who would know on this team.

At the very least Uchikawa is pretty good. He led the league in 2008 in batting average, but, beyond that, I couldn’t care less. He plays for a garbage team.

Rank 12 of 12. I’m so glad I only had to pay ¥4000 for this thing. It’s not even a jersey!

Jersey #10 – Chiba Lotte Marines

When I first saw these jerseys I thought they looked kind of cool. The different colors and zig-zag of the sleeves look kind of cool from far away, but something about this jersey soured me to the idea not long after I got it.

What kind of a jersey sponsor is The Hartford?

What kind of a jersey sponsor is The Hartford?

When you look closely at the jersey, the most bizarre thing pops out at you. They prominently display the logo of The Hartford. An investment firm on a baseball jersey? Just doesn’t feel right.

I think I have more corner infielders than middle. Oh well, I still like the middle fielders more.

I think I have more corner infielders than middle. Oh well, I still like the middle fielders more.

I know I’m being nitpicky here, but I don’t really like the design they chose for the numbers on the jersey. I also don’t like that it cost me ¥11000 and it doesn’t fit all that well.

Rank: 10 of 12. I can’t explain precisely why I don’t like it, but it’s not that great.

Jersey #12 – Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles

I was really pulling for the Eagles to make it to the Japan series this year. After seeing them battle back and beat the Hawks with a grand slam and watching Masahiro Tanaka turn in a stellar pitching performance, the team became my favorite in the Pacific League.

Check out the wings on the team name!

Check out the wings on the team name!

Beyond that, just look at what they did with a fairly simple jersey design. There are no fancy patches or color swatches, but they did do something neat with the logo on the jersey. Instead of going with the regal, refined look, they put freaking wings on the thing. It’s sweet.

Tanaka - my second favorite Japanese pitcher.

Tanaka - my second favorite Japanese pitcher.

The plentiful red is always appreciated and so is Tanaka’s name. A fine jersey and one of the better teams I saw on the trip.

Rank: 4 of 12. Wingtips! On the name!

What do you think of the designs? Would you arrange them differently?

Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part XIX: Epilogue [II]
Nov 6th, 2009 by Dan

No Game Overview today, we’re gonna finish this up since I didn’t get to it today (World Series business)

And so it came to pass that I went to Japan, saw some baseball, and came back home with a greater appreciation and understanding of Japan. If you remember the first entry in this series, I outlined a set of questions that I wanted to try and address while I was out there. Here’s what I found along the way:

1. What do they do during the 7th inning stretch out here?

I’ve addressed this myself in a previous article, but there are slightly different customs in the 7th for a Japanese baseball team. As recently as last year, there was a tradition of firing off a stream of balloons that make a streaming noise. It’s a really striking and cool sight, at least in video, but I didn’t get to see it in person.

Sadly, the tradition seems to have ended this year thanks to H1N1. When you’ve got a whole stadium full of person-filled balloons flying around, launching spittle everywhere, I guess you can forgive them for changing their mind about this tradition this year. I can only hope that it will return when the flu concerns start to disappear, but it’s also possible this great tradition is gone forever.

2. What kinds of crazy foods do they serve at the concession stands?

Yet another question that I’ve done my best to highlight as many times as I could in each entry. Each stadium had food ranging from typical American food, like hamburgers and hot dogs, to more typical Japanese food like takoyaki, miscellaneous bento, and curry. I’d say it was the highlight of the trip really, especially that seafood pizza I got in Fukuoka at the Hawks game.

3. Just how rowdy do the fans get during games?

Given the more typically restrained culture in Japan and the insistence on not bothering others (combined with the supposed American boisterous, wild behavior), I thought that Japanese games would be more restrained, controlled, and structured. I was half right on that.

The Japanese are plenty loud in baseball games, but in a very structured way, like I thought. Each team’s fans cheer for their own hitters with specific cheers for each batter, but, beyond that, they keep quiet and definitely don’t really boo the other team at all.

There’s only one rare exception: drunk fans. Since beer flows throughout almost the entire game, some fans drink without restraint and end up screaming randomly, but it’s rare. Very unlike a passionate fanbase.

4. How different is it to fly internationally on a Japanese carrier compared to a domestic carrier?

There was another article almost completely about this, but the differences are subtle and distinctly Japanese. I hoped that we might have more space on the plane, but the space was tighter, due to a smaller average size for Japanese people. Other than that, the expectations I had were all spot on. The food was way better, the service was more polite and more attentive, and, overall, I had a much better time of the flight than I’ve had on domestic carriers.

5. Do cities outside Tokyo get crazy during game releases? At least one major game franchise (Pokémon) will have an iteration released while I’m out, but I won’t be in Tokyo when it comes out.

I was a day off from catching this release and it didn’t seem all that wild out in the area, but within all the stores, the game was sold out and impossible to find anywhere other than a Pokémon Center.

6. How rock and roll do the Japanese get? If I can, I’m going to try and make it into a show somewhere.

Didn’t make it to any shows. I’ve got no opinion on this.

7. Is the fashion at Harajuku as crazy as everyone says it is?

Another shame, I was in Harajuku on a school day and during work/school hours too. I hear Sunday’s the big Harajuku day, but I didn’t see much.

8. Sumo. Great sport or greatest sport?

I’m torn on this one. Sumo is a great thing to see and experience, but I’m a little bummed at how long it takes for a match to happen. Just as soon as we’re ready to finally start, it’s done. It’s great to see and all, but I think that it might be better to just watch the highlights reel the way they do it at times on ESPN 2.

9. Is Akihabara still the mecca of electronics that it once was?

I don’t know why I end up inflating expectations on this sort of thing, but I always figured Akihabara for some kind of wild, Neo Tokyo, super-exaggerated, sprawling, mega-techno city. Instead Akihabara spans, at most, 6 blocks by 3 or 4 blocks filled with curry, music stores, movie stores, anime shops, video games, and straight-up electronics shops.

Was it ever bigger? I have no idea, but it doesn’t quite feel like the one-stop shop that it should be and it feels a lot less epic than people made it seem.

10. How much cool stuff can I find in a used game store?

Lots of cool stuff. From arcades with vintage games to the most obscure Famicom or any other random Japanese system you’ve never even heard of. The best thing I ever got were those great Mario noise keychains. Good stuff.

I wish I bought me a Dragon Quest slime too.

11. Is Coco Curry House Ichinbanya still amazing?

YES! So good. Oh man was it great. I need to go back out there or buy some curry mix and get it shipped in.

12. How long can Dave and I sing in a karaoke box before we’re kicked out to salvage what’s left of the clientele’s hearing?

Two nights, but, to be fair, we did travel from Hiroshima back to Tokyo to avoid the karaoke police. It was definitely fun.

13. Do I have the nerve to go to a public bath?

Turns out I don’t, but I also didn’t really go looking for them. It’s also possible that I wouldn’t have been admitted since there can be some anti-foreigner sentiment in those types of establishments.

14. Is the Japanese train system as punctual and efficient as advertised?

While it has its share of idiosyncrasies, the train system runs punctual to a ‘T’. Not only do they show up precisely when they say they will, but they almost never miss their arrival time. The only time a train was even remotely late was the shinkansen to Fukuoka. Even then it was only 10 minutes and I’d bet that the Amtrak never keeps it that punctual.

15. What’s the strangest item I can find in a vending machine?

Turns out nothing too bizarre for the States. Soda and the occasional alcohol or cigarette machine. Even those suckers are harder to buy from nowadays thanks to a crackdown on youth consumption of both.

Capsule machines are kind of a different story, I guess, but they’re mostly anime, video game, or sports team merchandise. Nothing like the famous women’s underwear stories.

16. Are Japanese arcades really dying?

Well, I saw a few, but it’s not so easy to tell what’s going on with arcades when you’re looking at them in Akihabara. I do know that I didn’t see all the fighting game cabinets that I thought I would, but they seemed to be doing ok when I saw them. I didn’t get enough exposure to the arcades to have an informed opinion.

Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part XI: “That’s my wife. You no touch.” [II]
Oct 8th, 2009 by Dan

Folks, from here on out, the SITB (that’s Super Ichiban Travel Blog for the uninitiated) will be shifted to a Tuesday/Thursday(/maybe Saturday) schedule (there are really only nine or so posts left, including this one) so that the blog can return to its regularly scheduled programming on MWF. The MLB playoffs have started and here I am still talking about my time in Japan. I need to be covering this! You’ll recall that I wrote daily posts about the playoffs last year. Neither the Marlins nor the Rays made it this year, but that won’t necessarily keep me from adding in extra coverage as I see fit.

You ever find yourself thinking, If only I had my own city...? Mine is in Fukuoka

You ever find yourself thinking, "If only I had my own city..."?

Fukuoka seems like a neat city with tons to do, but we were on a schedule and the place is just too remote for us to make a hub, so off to Kyoto we went.

Cue travel montage.

We rode past Mazda Stadium (Home of the Carp) on our way to Kyoto.

We rode past Mazda Stadium (Home of the Carp) on our way to Kyoto.

It’s a short montage. I only took two pictures and they were both of Mazda Stadium, so I’ll spare you the other one.

I lied.

I lied.

There really was no need for that, it’s clearly an inferior picture, but, oh well, it’s done and I can’t take it back.

We rode past Mazda Stadium (Home of the Carp) on our way to Kyoto.

I'll put the better one back up again.

Ok, the travel montage is actually over now. We arrived in Kyoto, but this time we were staying in a different hotel from before. For some reason, Kyoto has two hotels named APA Kyoto whose only difference is an address. We were at the one located further from the rail station, behind some side streets, and across a path in which several of the folks in our tour were almost killed by bicyclists. The only cool part was that I had to pass a Bic Camera on my way to the train station and you bet that I was going to go in and look for good import games for my region-free systems.

A Bic Camera employee demoing Wii Sports outside the store.

A Bic Camera employee demoing Wii Sports outside the store.

Having skipped breakfast that day, I was looking for a quick pick-me-up once we returned to the station that would tide me over until I got to the ballpark for lunch. At a shop on the platform (almost every major platform has food kiosks that carry snacks and newspapers), I noticed a box of something I saw in Metal Gear Solid 3: CalorieMate.

Exhibit A.

Exhibit A.

I honestly had no idea what exactly CalorieMate was, I just knew that it restored Snake’s health meter all the way when consumed, so it couldn’t be all that bad for you, could it? When I researched it a little later on, I found out that the stuff is produced by a pharmaceutical company and that it’s meant to be an energy bar type food. The one I got was a biscuit-type that tasted of lemon, so I was totally ok with it. My favorite part about it was the disclaimer on the box that said something like “Caution: To ensure freshness, please eat your CalorieMate as soon as possible after opening the package.” As I crunched on the bar, I imagined all the strange chemical reactions going on in my body that might be going on or what would happen if you left it out in the open (EXPLOSION!), but in general it wasn’t that bad and I even had one again on the tour.

Not Pictured: Hours later ambulances rushed to the scene to save Dan after his stomach exploded. When asked what could have happened, his travel companions said He exposed the CalorieMate to five minutes worth of oxygen, what did he think would happen?

Not Pictured: Hours later ambulances rushed to the scene to save Dan after his stomach exploded. When asked what could have happened, his travel companions said "He exposed the CalorieMate to five minutes worth of oxygen, what did he think would happen?"

Once we got to Nagoya we had to make our way to the Nagoya Dome, so it was time to board local public transportation. Like any other major city in Japan, Nagoya has a subway system that can be used to easily get around. Its subway also housed the first sign of the fabled “Women-Only” cars I’d heard about before, but had yet to see.

The first time I tried to take this picture, Alexs umbrella was out of focus and in the frame looking like a rather sinister black, phallic object. I think this is the better choice.

The first time I tried to take this picture, Alex's umbrella was out of focus and in the frame looking like a rather sinister black, phallic object. I think this is the better choice.

If you’ve never heard of female-only cars, they’re a result of sexual assault (read: groping) becoming far too common on the ridiculously crowded trains of Japan. Since some of the ones committing assault (read: assholes and perverts) could plausibly claim that it was the crowdedness and bumpiness of the ride, not their evil actions, Japan fought back with women-only trains.

We were all set to make our way to the nearest metro stop and get off right by the stadium, when a conductor popped out and told us this train had reached the end of its line. In retrospect, I’m sure that we could have waited for the next train, but instead we got off and started the long walk to the dome. It wasn’t all that bad, we got a chance to see a little more of Nagoya on the way to the ballpark, but it was a gloomy, semi-rainy day, which put quite a damper on the fun of sightseeing.

Remember all those slime toys and Snoopy toys I mentioned at the Square Enix store? Now you know who buys them: this random van owner in Nagoya.

Remember all those slime toys and Snoopy toys I mentioned at the Square Enix store? Now you know who buys them: this random van owner in Nagoya.

After some walking and following of kids in Dragons gear, we eventually reached the Nagoya Dome, home of the Chunichi Dragons.

Home of the Chunichi Dragons! I wonder why that older Japanese guy is dressed like a bellhop/limo driver and standing outside the stadium.

Home of the Chunichi Dragons! I wonder why that older Japanese guy is dressed like a bellhop/limo driver and standing outside the stadium.

Most of you don’t know this, but, coming into Japan, my favorite NPB team was the Chunichi Dragons. This started back when all they hype about Kosuke Fukudome awakened in me an interest in Japanese baseball. When I investigated his home team, I found a squad that played by National League rules (a plus), wore a nice, blue color (always a plus for me…I can’t resist a girl in Cubbie or Dodger blue), and had a Dragon as a mascot. How could you go wrong with that? Of course, actually being in Japan taught me that the Carp were just waiting for me to show up and adopt them for my own, but the Dragons are easily my second favorite team now. (the Nippon-Ham Fighters claimed third).

The mascots of the Chunichi Dragons! Theres the pink dragon, the blue dragon, and...the koala?

The mascots of the Chunichi Dragons! There's the pink dragon, the blue dragon, and...the koala?

The stadium facade was pretty neat in places, allowing you to see the people inside eating and also offering neat, artistic takes on the Dragon theme.

A big, blue, Japanese-style dragon. If you look in the left corner youll spot...

A big, blue, Japanese-style dragon. If you look in the left corner you'll spot...

...mini Chunichi-style dragons atop the building near the old-style dragon.

...mini Chunichi-style dragons atop the building near the old-style dragon.

When I got into the field, I noticed something that seemed to be a bit dangerous. The Nagoya Dome doesn’t feature a real warning track. Instead, they’ve got a line that you’d better hope you see on the field, because there is no texture change.

The left half of the Nagoya Dome. Note that there is no real warning track

The left half of the Nagoya Dome. Note that there is no real warning track

The opponent for the night, the (aren’t you tired of them by now too?) Tokyo Yakult Swallows. Based on what I said above, who did you think I was rooting for?

Nothing like a nice afternoon game. Too bad it was both rainy and in a dome.

Nothing like a nice afternoon game. Too bad it was both rainy and in a dome.

Early on during the game I went out in search of food and found a neat takoyaki set that also included fries, chicken sticks, and a drink. I don’t totally remember, but I think 9/10 of the purchase stemmed from the fact that they put the fries over the drink so it looks like you’re drinking fries.

French Fry soda. Yum.

French Fry soda. Yum.

The best part of the Nagoya Dome (aside from the close, 4-2 game that was full of excitement), were the people I interacted with. On my trek around the stadium for my usual jersey acquisition, I steeled myself for the usual attempts at broken Japanese and pantomime to try and get a feel for the available sizes. As I struggled with my Japanese, the clerk all of a sudden burst out with perfect English. It was a shock to hear such great English from an unexpected source. We quickly resolved the size issue and I left with one of my favorite jerseys of the trip in hand.

My second encounter was more of a group thing. Ken, one of the guys on the group, can speak rudimentary Japanese, so he tries to talk to as many people around us in a stadium as possible. Noticing a rather large crowd of rowdy, excited people behind us, he started talking to them. It turned out that they were all bankers out for some post-shift socializing. It was from this group that the line in my title was gleamed from. One of the guys, enjoying conversation with us was telling us about the group. He indicated where the boss was and that they were bankers before going and saying “That’s my wife. You no touch,” to Ken. It was wildly hilarious, but also probably pretty serious underneath the levity of the situation. BONUS: I later looked up at the Boss and noticed that he was at the top of the group and he had a woman in each arm. Maybe sexual harassment ends with the workday here in Japan?

Our favorite group of bankers. Stripes, the aforementioned wife, is the one posing in the photo with her thundersticks.

Our favorite group of bankers. Stripes, the aforementioned wife, is the one posing in the photo with her thundersticks.

The last of the great experiences came from a young, maybe six or seven-year-old girl. Every time a Dragon run was scored or a Swallow struck out, she would run down to us gaijin and high five as much of us as she could. It was absolutely adorable.

Not adorable at all. Kind of creepy, really.

Not adorable at all. Kind of creepy, really.

As we were leaving the ballpark (GO DRAGONS! 4-2 ), I kept on the lookout for Kosuke Fukudome jerseys. His fame would surely keep fans wearing his clothing. In fact, I wore a Cubs shirt with his name written in Japanese specifically for the purpose of interacting with fellow Fukudome fans. My vigilance was rewarded when we found a small boy wearing a shirt and I snapped a quick shot. The young boy and his mother were both impressed by my shirt and wished us a happy trip.

Sorry about the blurry shot, the lighting was terrible.

Sorry about the blurry shot, the lighting was terrible.

The trip back was uneventful (aside from Ken nearly killing an old woman he ran headfirst into) and I made it back to the hotel without incident after a lengthy Shinkansen ride back. Some of the group had peeled off to find an ex-pat sports bar, but I wasn’t interested in hanging out with Americans and eating American food, plus I wasn’t feeling too well (bad takoyaki batch). Awaiting this fatigued traveler was a nifty little treat from the hotel staff. A little something to say “Welcome Home.”

It was a nice gesture. Too bad the room was even smaller than the last one.

It was a nice gesture. Too bad the room was even smaller than the last one.

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.

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