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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 XV: Someone’s Got To Be The Worst [II]
Oct 22nd, 2009 by Dan

How awesome would it be to see this guy outside your window during a flight?

How awesome would it be to see this guy outside your window during a flight?

After a fun few days in Sapporo, it was finally time to head back to Tokyo. We were officially on the home stretch of the trip with only three teams left to see. I was starting to see the end of the trip in my sights and, I’ve got to admit, it was depressing to think that all the fun would be done so soon, but I was also ready to get back home to my own apartment.

The first thing I did that morning when packing was promptly break one of the sake glasses I got as a souvenir. Damn.

Since I had discovered that the walk from Sapporo Station to the hotel was pathetically short, I opted out of a taxi and walked to the station. Along the way I ran into the most evil-looking bird I’d ever seen. I’m sure it could sense how afraid of its evil I was, because it allowed me to get really close with my camera without even budging.

Hes tough to intimidate. Must be from the 9th Ward.

He's tough to intimidate. Must be from the 9th Ward.

The rest of the walk was uneventful as was the trip to the airport. Once I got into the airport, the language barrier became an issue as I had gone up to baggage claim without first checking in and getting a ticket. It’s a bizarre process, but it’s required, so I was sent to the check-in queue and then back to the luggage queue.

I also learned that Sapporo’s airport is way more vigilant than Kansai International. Security pulled me aside to empty out my very full carry on bag. I was confused until the security officer managed to get out the phrase “dining set” and I remembered that I had stuffed some ANA utensils (a knife and spoon) into my bag. He also checked that the water bottle I was carrying on board was sealed and water. What this amounts to is that the staff at Kansai allowed me to travel with a dinner knife and a bottle of water without investigating. That’s some crack security work there guys. Reminds me of Seinfeld’s bit about airport security in the pre-terrorist attack days.

While I hunted for food in the morning, I noticed a model of the Pokemon-themed ANA planes that were in service out here in Japan.

The cutest way to get from A to B.

The cutest way to get from A to B.

I’d heard about this line of ANA planes before, but I’d never seen one in the flesh, much less been on one. tim rogers made references to them being used mostly for domestic flights and, lo and behold, here was a model of one for domestic flights. Boy, wouldn’t it be cool if I got to fly on one of these…

I totally got to fly on one of these.

I totally got to fly on one of these.

So, what’s the difference between a Pokemon ANA plane and a normal ANA plane? Not a whole lot. The seat covers that are used in every ANA plane are now Pokemon themed…

Cuteness overload.

Cuteness overload.

…And the drinks come in Pokemon-themed cups.

Orange Juice! I choose you!

Orange Juice! I choose you!

The flight attendants were all dressed in their normal uniforms and there wasn’t any special Pokemon entertainment on board, so it’s really just an aesthetic thing (and a half-assed one at that). Still, I flew on one of the famous Pokemon planes and I think that’s pretty neat.

I just noticed that the jet turbines have pokeballs on them. Thats awesome.

I just noticed that the jet turbines have pokeballs on them. That's awesome.

Nintendo’s missing out on a huge opportunity here. Could you imagine how much business they could drum up if they offered exclusive Pokemon downloads on these planes? They’d make ANA a racket and have to officially sell their souls, but still…think about it.

We took a taxi to our favorite place to stay, the Tokyo Garden Palace Hotel, and, after putting my stuff down, I rendezvoused with Susan to catch a pre-game dinner before she left for America. Susan and I stopped in a Chinese restaurant and had a nice dinner as we shared our stories about what we’d been doing since the tour split up. I had to run to the game after that, since I was running late, but it was totally worth it and I’ll have to be sure to see Susan and Marc the next time I’m in NYC.

I see what youre doing here Tokyo, but you dont need the New. Youre not New Tokyo...

I see what you're doing here Tokyo, but you don't need the "New." You're not New Tokyo...

By the time I managed to make my way through the Tokyo railway system and get to Yokohama Stadium, it was already the third inning and Yokohama had struck first. The Swallows were down by two, which made me very happy, and the BayStars could very well shut down the Swallows for the entire trip for me (I don’t count the tie as a win, so the Swallows were 0-2-1 in games I’d attended). Things were looking up, even though I was late!

An outside scoreboard had me jumping for joy as I entered the ballpark. Surely this last place team couldnt botch a small lead...

An outside scoreboard had me jumping for joy as I entered the ballpark. Surely this last place team couldn't botch a small lead...

The outside of Yokohama Stadium is pretty plain and it’s nestled within a city block, like most of the stadiums in Tokyo. Perhaps it’s because I was late to the game, but it was also pretty empty outside the ballpark, a major contrast with most other stadiums that feature food stalls and merchandise outside the gates. The interior hallways were pretty bare and empty, kind of like the ones at Meiji Jingu, where the Swallows play.

I spotted the BayStars mascot taking pictures with kids in the hallways.

I spotted the BayStars mascot taking pictures with kids in the hallways.

Since I was already late, I decided that I would look around for a jersey before I took a seat. It was proving to be pretty difficult, since the stands all seemed to only offer a polo shirt-type thing that wasn’t the full button down. What kind of bush league stadium doesn’t sell their team’s official jerseys? I thought to myself as I wandered around the various stalls. Then I noticed something in one of the publicity photographs/posters on the wall and the full horror of the situation began to become clear: those abominations were the jerseys.

Now, there will be a post about the jerseys coming soon, but I won’t be giving much away to say that this one was the worst of the pack. I almost considered not buying it.

The interior is probably as nice as your typical AAA American stadium. For some reason, all of the seats within the stadium are orange or blue, but the uniforms are blue and white and all of the seats are that molded, rough, hard plastic that you might expect to see in an outdoor setting, but haven’t seen in a baseball stadium in ages.

The seats were pretty uncomfortable. The row we sat in even moreso.

The seats were pretty uncomfortable. The row we sat in even moreso.

Worse still, the row we sat in was right at the front of the second bank of seats. Instead of having a bar or something to separate us from the walkway, we had nothing. If I stretched my legs at the wrong time, I was liable to kick a poor beer girl right in the face. Standing up to cheer for big plays was almost impossible thanks to the diminished leg room and lack of forward stability. The endless torrent of beer girls and fans made it almost impossible to see the plate or concentrate on the field. On the plus side, our increased visibility got us on the jumbotron (Did I remember to mention that I was on the jumbotron at Koshien too? I’m pretty sure I forgot).

Thats right, I was on that very screen, but not at the moment of this photograph.

That's right, I was on that very screen, but not at the moment of this photograph.

If I had to go and give the BayStars just one compliment, I’d say that their cheerleading squad stands out as the most attractive of the bunch I’d seen and the only one that had similar cheering maneuvers to American squads. Then again, I drank more beer this game than any other because the stadium, game, and team were so atrocious, so take my opinions with a grain of salt.

Bieru Goggorus?

Bieru Goggorus?

They also had this weird black bear with “TBS” written across a t-shirt he was wearing. I have no idea what he was there for, but I like him a lot more than their usual mascots. He’s the one who should be going on the road.

My assessment seems to be right about some of these cheerleaders...I mean, what a strange bear thing, huh?

My assessment seems to be right about some of these cheerleaders...I mean, what a strange bear thing, huh?

There was a ballgame that night too, wasn’t there? The BayStars put two up, and then checked out for the rest of the game. Not able to let me be happy with their failure, the Swallows went and scored six, which, for those of you keeping score, means they won. Since the Tigers were knocked out of the Climax Series by the Swallows by one game, I’m going to blame Yokohama for screwing this up for them. Way to go, chuckleheads.

He probably struck out...man this team sucks.

He probably struck out...man this team sucks.

Really, how much this team sucks makes a lot of sense when you stop to think about it. Starting with the name, the BayStars, you start to get the feeling that they have no idea what a good team name might be. It turns out that the former name for the team was the Yokohama Whales, but whaling restrictions and a believed curse put upon the team by dead whales (their parent company makes a lot of money from whale products) caused them to change the name…to the BayStars. It’s bad enough that the team name makes no sense, but then they go and make their mascot a couple of human bodies with star-shaped heads. It’s dumb.

They really are the dumbest mascots Ive ever seen.

They really are the dumbest mascots I've ever seen.

Feeling dejected by the loss, I headed home to sleep and re-energize after the early morning I had in Sapporo. As I drifted off to sleep, only one thought crossed my mind: What in the world was that black bear?

You cant go wrong with dreams about strange bears and cheerleaders. Too bad the Stars were there too.

You can't go wrong with dreams about strange bears and cheerleaders. Too bad the Stars were there too.

ONE SECOND! Totally forgot about this awesome Engrish:

It makes sense as a sentence in English, but it mostly doesnt.

It makes sense as a sentence in English, but it mostly doesn't.

Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part IX: It’s A Small World [II]
Oct 5th, 2009 by Dan

Good riddance! I mean...Ill miss you!

Good riddance! I mean...I'll miss you!

The day opened with some sadness. David, who had already missed a week’s worth of school, had to finally head home. In fact, most of the tour was going home unless they paid to go to Tokyo Disney Sea or had other plans in Japan to attend to and once that was done, we’d be down to eight, including myself, who were going on to see the rest of the teams of Japan.

My morning was dominated by a briefing for the rest of the tour, since Bob and Mayumi would not be accompanying the final eight on the rest of the tour. After we were fully briefed on the intricacies and tricky finer points of the trip, it was time for me to head back to the room and help Dave prepare to go home.

After seeing David off and wondering how the rest of the tour would be when pared down to so few, I decided to grab some chow for lunch at a Go! Go! Curry! we spotted the day before after karaoke. I’ve never mentioned it on the blog before, but Go! Go! Curry! is one of the few Japanese curry shop branches in the States and the only one I know of on the east coast (there’s a location in New York City) and I’ve had curry there once, so I was eager to compare.

The gorilla on the signage is the logo for Go! Go! Curry!

The gorilla on the signage is the logo for Go! Go! Curry!

Just like the GGC in America, the restaurant was decorated with Yankees paraphernalia, mostly centered around Hideki Matsui (his player number is 55, the Japanese word for 5 is go, you do the rest). Just like the curry place at Meiji Jingu, GGC had one of those sweet curry ordering machines, so I put in an order of tonkatsu curry (CURRY! The official food of Dan’s JapanBall trip to Japan!) and scarfed it down before heading back to the hotel.

Go! Go! Matsui!

Go! Go! Matsui!

Once I’d returned to the lobby, I ran into Leon, who I learned hurt his leg at some point earlier on the trip. Although he paid money to go to Tokyo Disney Sea, he realized that he wouldn’t be able to manage wandering around a theme park and being on his feet all day, so he offered me his ticket for free. Since I didn’t really have anything on the agenda besides running errands, uploading pictures, and writing, I took him up on his offer and…had to check out and check back in, since no longer needed a double. After I did that, it was off to Tokyo Disney Sea!

Its Mickey Mouse! TOKYO DISNEY SEA!

It's Mickey Mouse! TOKYO DISNEY SEA!

…but first we must digress into an educational treatise on the Japanese rail system.

On this blog I have lauded the Japanese rail system for its punctuality, ubiquity, and general usefulness. It’s time to scale back on the praise parade. You see, the Japanese rail system is marred by what I’m calling overcomplexity.

Let me illustrate my point with a look at the New York City subway system. Within NYC there exists the MTA that runs the subways, the buses in the city, and the regional rail lines that all lead to the city. One entity runs all of this. Subway fare is not transferable to regional rail tickets nor is it transferable to bus fare, but the same subway card will allow you to ride any subway in New York City. Best of all, your trips are all a flat rate. You can swipe the card once and ride the train all the way to the furthest reaches of the city and it would cost the same as taking the subway one stop over. It’s simple, assuming you can decipher the railway maps which are, admittedly complicated, and the stops don’t help to indicate which way the train is going.

On that last point, the Japanese trains seem to be pulling ahead. They clearly indicate, based on platform, what the next stop is and all the trains have easy-to-understand railway maps that clearly express what stops the train will be making. It’s all downhill from there.

I’ve already mentioned that certain teams have their own rail lines that lead to their respective ballparks, but I don’t think that fully captures the extent of how confusing Tokyo’s rail system can get. When you include the Greater Tokyo area, you’ve got a total of 30 operators (realistically only about four or so within Tokyo itself) each with their own set of rail lines that have stops peppered throughout Japan. Compare this with the one operator in NYC and it starts to make sense just how confusing this can get. By our hotel there is a stop for the Tokyo Metro and a stop for the JR Railway. These are two, ostensibly competing, companies each operating their own lines that sometimes stop in the exact same stations throughout Tokyo. Lucky for us, the largest provider is the East Japan Railway Company, known in the vernacular as JR, and we picked up JR rail passes that allowed us, as tourists, unlimited access to all railways (and even that ferry in Miyajima!) and shinkansen that they operated throughout Japan, but it still presents needless complication in getting around the city. On the day that Dave and I went to the Square Enix store, we rode trains run by three different companies. Each time we switched, we had to buy completely new tickets from non-standard machines.

While we’re on the subject of tickets, as I’ve mentioned before, the Japanese rail system works something like the DC Metro in that you’re required to pay for how far you went on the train. That’s no problem on maps that feature English to let you know what the Kanji translates to, but some are far enough out of the way or not considered touristy-enough to not offer any English guidance at all before buying a fare. It can get confusing and difficult rather quickly.

As I’ve mentioned before, Japan is a small enough country, geographic area-wise, that there is a uniformity in the train paradigm that covers the entire island. Every rail system, no matter where it is, operates along these lines.

With that, we’re ready to dive back into our Disney narrative.

Since I was completely on my own when I was at the ballpark, I took some video and recorded some commentary within the video that I may or may not repeat within the text. Enjoy!

After making my way through the unbelievably large Tokyo Station to get to the train that would take me to Tokyo Disney Sea (hereafter called TDS), I finally arrived at the proper station and was greeted by Disney music and the kind of perfectly-crafted space that Disney is so famous for producing for its theme parks. To my right was the route to Tokyo Disney and to the left was TDS, or so it seemed. I wandered around lost for ten minutes, eventually entering the stores they had conveniently set up to trap tourists, until I realized that I had to take a shuttle to TDS, just like in Walt Disney World.

The Tokyo Disney monorail. Notice the brilliant attention to detail, down to the Mickey Mouse-shaped windows.

The Tokyo Disney monorail. Notice the brilliant attention to detail, down to the Mickey Mouse-shaped windows.

I was quickly thrown for a loop when it seemed that Western designers had failed to properly accommodate their Eastern patrons. By now I had become accustomed to the British-minded pedestrian patterns of Japan (which reflect their driving patterns). Since I should be on the left, the escalator I want to take is, nine times out of ten, on the left. At TDS, I was struck with confusion when I saw that the up escalator was on the right. It seemed that Disney’s attention to detail overlooked this small fact, but that’s ok, I had a monorail to catch.

On the way to TDS...after I loop through Disneyland

On the way to TDS...after I loop through Disneyland

I arrived at the station, it was time to board, except for one obstruction. Remember what I said earlier?

Every rail system, no matter where it is, operates along these lines.

I wasn’t kidding. The Tokyo Disney Resort Shuttle requires passengers to buy a ticket to board. Not only that, but despite the fact that the train travels in one direction and the fee is flat no matter where you go (¥250 per trip, which, if you’ve done your math right, means I’m out another ¥500), you have to insert your ticket at the entrance and at the exit, just like every other train in Japan. This is beyond asinine and stupid. This is the kind of nickel and dime-ing that I would expect in America. This is Tokyo Disney, a park built by Americans in Japan.

My ire over having to pay to ride the tram to TDS was softened by the amazing thoughtfulness of the train itself. The handholds were shaped like Mickey Mouse heads. I would hear about how great these were from Nora and Jill for the rest of the time they were on the tour.

This is the Disney touch that makes people go nuts for this stuff.

This is the Disney touch that makes people go nuts for this stuff.

As you’ve seen in a previous picture, the windows were mouse-shaped too.

Seeing the world through Mickey Mouse-tinted glasses.

Seeing the world through Mickey Mouse-tinted glasses.

I rode the train, which only went one direction (I can’t complain about this enough) for two stops to get to TDS, which would have only been one stop going the other way. Come on Disney, I paid ¥250 for this ticket! Make it go where I want!

While on the train (and immediately after disembarking) I began to notice that, despite it being early September, it was clearly Halloween season at TDS. Some of the Japanese, who go everywhere fully equipped, were carrying whole bags of Disney paraphernalia to put on before entering the park. Mouse ears, Daisy costumes, even Disney-themed face masks were in full force before I entered the park. I suddenly remembered that I knew that Jack Skellington and The Nightmare Before Christmas were super popular out here in Japan. It was only natural that the park would be making a big deal about Halloween.

TDS is centered around exploration, most notably exploration at sea, but not exclusively, which is why it’s not, as I presumed, a water park. The opening area is Mediterranean-themed and tries to reference Venice, Italy in its architecture, which would reinforce the Sea part of TDS, but, as we’ll see later, there’s an Arabian/Agrabah/Aladdin-themed area, which is the exact opposite of the sea, so go adventure!

Early on in the park I came across a strange sight: a group of three gaijin (“foreigner”) performers putting on a show. They all spoke heavily accented Japanese and seemed to be making a point of doing so and acting ridiculous. It wasn’t offensive or anything, it was just strange to see Americans (or Europeans or Australians, I don’t really know) putting on a show here in Japan in TDS in Japanese. Sorry I didn’t tape more.

Right near the performers I spotted a McDuck Department Store, so I had to enter (I LOVE Duck Tales). I was not at all prepared for what I saw inside.

A portrait of Scrooge inside his store.

A portrait of Scrooge inside his store.

The place was packed to the gills with people and all the shelves seemed to feature only one character. Upon closer examination, all of those characters were one I didn’t even recognize. I picked one up to investigate and saw that it was Duffy the Disney Bear.

A smaller, keychainable version of Duffy The Disney Bear.

A smaller, keychainable version of Duffy The Disney Bear.

Never heard of Duffy? Neither had I. A cursory Internet investigation turned up evidence that this little fellow was a failed experiment in Walt Disney World as The Disney Bear in 2004ish (in that he failed to catch on), so they rebranded him as Duffy the Disney Bear, a teddy bear given to Mickey by Minnie to keep him company when out to sea. My investigation also points to him debuting sometime in 2006. Each month they release new clothes for the bear and the Japanese have “gotta catch ’em all!“, so they flock to the Duffy-dedicated store to get the latest fashions.

I’m not kidding when I say these were flying off the shelves. Employees streamed out of back rooms every five to ten minutes to restock the rapidly depleting shelves. They were that popular. You think the line for Mickey is long? The line for Duffy is supposedly the longest at TDS.

My clever excuse to make use of this picture I took of Mickey and a random family.

My clever excuse to make use of this picture I took of Mickey and a random family.

Since I’m part of the problem (really because I have a friend whose last name is Duffy), I found myself queuing to buy the above-pictured mini-Duffy in one of the four long queues that wrapped around the middle of the shop. As I stood in line I quickly realized that I stood in the wrong line. The couple in front of me had baskets full of mini-Duffys, arms full of regular-sized Duffys, and another basket filled with this month’s outfit, a pumpkin costume for the bear. This was going to be a long wait. When all was said and done, the couple in front of me (older folks, mind you) had spent ¥68700 on Duffy merchandise. To put that in American perspective, that couple spent, based on today’s exchange rate (which is close to the one I got in Japan), $767. It boggles the mind.

Youre making a killing on these bears, McDuck.

You're making a killing on these bears, McDuck.

I continued exploring the park and saw that they transitioned from Venice to a more American riverboat feel. In that area was another character more popular in Japan than the states, Stitch. A good choice to express that Halloween vibe they love so much, Stitch is the character most commonly seen, outside of Mickey and Minnie, on baseball team merchandise outside of the Disney area. From the riverboat area, we transition to a Cape Cod-type area.

Youve gotta use spellcheck before you engrave these things...Also, the shot heard down the road? Really?

You've gotta use spellcheck before you engrave these things...Also, the "shot heard down the road"? Really? I'll assume it's a joke since the year is wrong too.

As I traveled through the Cape Cod area, I noticed something that, if it ever existed in Disney, certainly hasn’t in years. Smoking areas. If you recall (if I’ve mentioned it), it’s illegal to smoke while walking around Tokyo and other areas. You’re now confined to smoking areas until they further marginalize smokers like in America.

In Cape Cod I started to notice some of the subtler differences, like the menu. I’m pretty sure I’m wrong about what I think sets are in the video, because when I’ve seen sets in contexts after TDS, it was used to denote a combo meal. (BONUS: There’s a Duffy portrait near the dessert menu)

The Cape Cod area also had some shows, but I quickly moved on to some of the other areas and left the lighthouses behind.

Is this in America or is it in Japan?

Is this in America or is it in Japan?

It was time to encounter my first ride. Now, I’ll have to admit, I wasn’t expecting the grand roller coasters of Universal Studios or anything, but this seemed to be a bit tame, even by Disney standards.

To be totally honest, I didn’t really ride anything at TDS partly because nothing called out to me and partly because I was there by myself. For those who would be interested in riding stuff, rest assured that Fast Passes do exist in Japan too!

Fast Pass, not just for America any more.

Fast Pass, not just for America any more.

Along the way I saw a Mexican/South American area where they had an Indiana Jones stage show (like in MGM) and eventually reached the aforementioned Aladdin-themed Agrabah area. I knew I was there because there was a curry popcorn stand right outside.

It might not sound appetizing, but, trust me, it smelled delicious.

It might not sound appetizing, but, trust me, it smelled delicious.

The Agrabah area was pretty cool. It had shows and shops that sold Disney-themed curry.

What more could you ask for?

What more could you ask for?

They also piped in some Arabic-themed music from Aladdin.

The next area was called Mysterious Island and it had a very steampunk feel to it, probably inspired by 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and the Disney Atlantis movie. It was the coolest looking area of the park (to an engineering-type like myself) and I’m pretty sure that their 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (under repair that day) was the very same one that was nixed from Walt Disney World back in 1994.

Nemos lost sub.

Nemo's lost sub.

Despite a lack of evidence on Wikipedia (hardly the most exhaustive search option available) to confirm my supposition, I’m almost sure that this is true of at least some of the parts from the ride, if not all of them.

With that I had explored most of the park and seen what I wanted to see. It was time to head out, but not before going to the major gift shop where I spotted tons of souvenirs catering exclusively to the Japanese crowd among the more traditional stuff. The collectors of Japan would love all the pins and stamps that are often limited editions. The hypochondriac or infirmed would love the character-themed face masks.

If you can name all the characters represented here, youre a bigger Disney fan that I am.

If you can name all the characters represented here, you're a bigger Disney fan that I am.

I was skeptical of what TDS would offer me before I showed up, but I was pleasantly surprised. The park exudes that Disney aesthetic that the company does so well and I found myself charmed by the park despite the hardened heart I carried in. Perhaps I’d visit with friends one day and give it a real chance.

After that it was back to the Tokyo Dome to try and get some better shots of the building that I missed on the first day and then to Akihabara to catch up on some souvenir and personal shopping.

The Tokyo Dome exterior with the roller coaster partially visible.

The Tokyo Dome exterior with the roller coaster partially visible.

I returned to the hotel, grabbed a quiet, solo dinner at a nearby convenience store (instant noodles), and turned in for the night. The laundry that I spent way too much money to get done by the hotel staff was in my room. An episode of Naruto Shippuden came on, reminding me that Dave was gone for the rest of my trip.

It seems that Duffy and Domo-kun are rather disinterested in the show.

It seems that Duffy and Domo-kun are rather disinterested in the show.

It was time to repack and get ready to embark on the rest of the journey without my travel companion. I had a good time traveling with Dave and it was already a bummer not to have him with me as I wandered around Tokyo and the rest of Japan.

Dave (2 September 2009 - 9 September 2009)

Dave (2 September 2009 - 10 September 2009). We'll Never Forget.

Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part VIII: Tokyo Drift [II]
Oct 5th, 2009 by Dan

The famous and super-busy scramble crosswalk at Shibuya.

The famous and super-busy scramble crosswalk at Shibuya.

Here we are on the last (full) day of the Main Tour. It would be the last day that Dave and I were together in Japan, so we decided to hit up all our Tokyo loose ends. That mostly meant wandering around getting the last of our souvenirs and checking out some of the famous districts within Tokyo.

Our first mission of the day was to head to the NHK building, home of Domo-kun. Other tourgoers told us that the building was in Shibuya, so we hopped aboard the subway and arrived at Shibuya Station, only the fourth-busiest station in Japan with 2.4 million passengers a day, and made our way outside to witness something we hadn’t seen before: a crowded Tokyo. At each end of the scramble crosswalk you can see above, there was a full compliment of tourists and businessmen going about their business throughout Shibuya. Finally, I thought, I’ll have some pictures to prove that Tokyo isn’t the ghost town that Eric thinks it is.

These horns are pretty famous. Ive seen them in videogames.

These horns are pretty famous. I've seen them in videogames.

The NHK building wasn’t as close as we were led to believe, but as we wandered around we ran into some cool storefronts, like the one below.

The second most elaborate entrance to a Disney Store that Ive ever seen.

The second most elaborate entrance to a Disney Store that I've ever seen.

After a long walk, we finally saw the NHK building in the distance. Our morning’s journey would finally come to a close and we’d experience the awesomeness that is Domo-kun!

I dont know what the other NHK mascots name is, but Domo is the only important one.

I don't know what the other NHK mascot's name is, but Domo is the only important one.

It turns out that Domo-kun and the NHK gift shop cater almost exclusively to small children in Japan. All that walking and our hilarious attempts to try and bridge the language barrier to get to what we were seeking was for naught. I still love Domo, but this was a seriously disappointing start to the morning.

What Dan doesnt know is that the smile on his face will be wiped off immediately after entering the gift shop and finding no cool Domo-kun merch.

What Dan doesn't know is that the smile on his face will be wiped off immediately after entering the gift shop and finding no cool Domo-kun merch.

Seriously…why can I buy cooler Domo-kun merchandise on the American Amazon.com page than in the NHK’s very own gift shop?

They lure you in with the giant Domo, but its ultimately a disappointment to anyone over seven-years-old.

They lure you in with the giant Domo, but it's ultimately a disappointment to anyone over seven-years-old.

From the NHK building’s remote location in Shibuya, Dave and I wandered in search of a rail line to get back to the hotel and look up the location of our next hopeful spot, the Square Enix store. We wandered for another half hour or so and even came across a large contingent of teenage girls dressed like goth rockers queuing up outside a concert hall.

The concert hall in question. [Not pictured: hundreds of goth rocker teenage girls]

The concert hall in question. (Not pictured: hundreds of goth rocker teenage girls)

At some point we came across the shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife, the Meiji Jingu. The shine was in a huge park, so David and I gave up on getting to the shrine (we had things to do!) and hightailed it to the nearest Metro station, which turned out to be Harajuku.

The most extreme fashion we saw at Harajuku. I assume it gets better on Sundays when school and work are out.

The most extreme fashion we saw at Harajuku. I assume it gets better on Sundays when school and work are out.

Unfortunately, it was a Tuesday afternoon, so the people who might have been here dressed up in bizarre fashions were all in class or working or just plain not here. That didn’t stop us from wandering around a bit and spotting the essential commandments of Harajuku.

I dont want to know what smorking is, but touting sounds even scarier.

I don't want to know what smorking is, but touting sounds even scarier since its picture does not match its definition in the slightest.

At this point we realized we had no idea where the Square Enix store was (turns out we were looking in the wrong part of Tokyo), so we decided to pop back to the room to do some research and then head back out again. Back to Shibuya we went!

Above Davids head is the famous Shibuya 109 (BONUS: It looks like a taxi cab is about to drive into Daves ear).

Above David's head is the famous Shibuya 109 (BONUS: It looks like a taxi cab is about to drive into Dave's ear).

When we got back to Shibuya station we finally spotted a landmark we were desperately searching for, the statue of Hachikō. If you don’t know the story, Hachikō was the dog of a professor who took the train from Shibuya every day. Hachikō saw his master off every morning from his front door and met him at the station every evening when he got back from the University. One day, his master suffered a stroke and died at the university, but poor Hachikō could not know such things, for he was a dog. He went back to his master’s house repeatedly after being given away, but eventually realized that the professor was never coming back home. After that, Hachikō returned every evening at the appointed time to Shibuya station to search for his master for ten straight years until he died. He became a hero and a symbol of loyalty and affection for the Japanese and a statue was erected of him at the station where he awaited his master throughout the years.

Dave posing with the cutest, most loyal dog in Japan.

Dave posing with the cutest, most loyal dog in Japan.

Quick research in the room showed us that we never found the Square Enix store because it was in Shinjuku, not Shibuya. We quickly set out again now that our maps were recalibrated. Since we only had time for that stop and little else before we had to be at the ballpark, this would be our last stop for the day. Lucky for us, it wasn’t that hard to find the Squeenix store, although we did manage to end up on the wrong side of the road and had to walk quite a ways before we found a crosswalk.

A picture of Lightening from the upcoming FF XIII. I thnk Daves in the picture too.

A picture of Lightening from the upcoming FF XIII. I thnk Dave's in the picture too.

The Square Enix store sits in a nondescript part of Shinjuku. There are no other stores immediately surrounding it, it has a fairly bland facade (the picture of Lightening and the logo above the shop are the only really standout things aside from the merch in the windows), and it is closed on Thursdays (a fact I would later regret not remembering), but the interior store is definitely cool, if not too small. Since Squeenix’s biggest recent release was Dragon Quest IX, a full half of the store was dedicated to DQ merchandise ranging from slime t-shirts and hats to figurines of iconic DQ monsters (including slimes) and Dragon Quest-themed DS accessories. Also available were plush figures from DQ and Final Fantasy, various Kingdom Hearts and Snoopy (random, I know) related merchandise, KH clothing, and even a section containing soundtracks from their various game franchises. It’s the back room that features the most iconic piece of art within the store.

I dont even want to think about all the uncontrollable fangirls who have licked the floor above Sephiroths face.

I don't even want to think about all the uncontrollable fangirls who have licked the floor above Sephiroth's face.

A just-under-life-size Sephiroth lies encased within the “lifestream” in the back room that contains various pieces of overpriced Square Enix action figures and themed jewelry. Ever wanted a key chain in the shape of a keyblade? It’s here for ¥2000. A replica of the same pendant Squall wears throughout Final Fantasy VIII? Yours for a much less reasonable ¥19000. You can even buy ridiculously overpriced “materia” (read: marble on a chain) for ¥12000.

Beyond this point there be baseball talk.

Beyond this point there be baseball talk.

Our mission accomplished, Dave and walked to the further (and free with our rail pass) JR station about 15 minutes away to head over to Meiji Jingu Stadium, home of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. As Tokyo’s “second team,” the Swallows get about as much respect in Tokyo as the Mets do in New York City. While the Giants play in a nice dome in the heart of Tokyo that even has an amusement park associated with it, the Swallows play in a smaller, open-air ballpark owned by the Meiji Shrine.

One of the gates to Meiji Jingu Stadium

One of the gates to Meiji Jingu Stadium. I forgot to mention in the article, but Dave went to the hotel to work on some homework at about this time.

The hallways within the stadium are narrow and dingy, but the food options are pretty neat. Dave and I ate at a curry place earlier in the day that featured a novel way to order your food. Instead of placing the order with a waitress and having her relay it to the chef, patrons simply select their meal based on text and a picture on what looks like a soda machine, put the money in, and give the ticket that comes out to the chef.

Put money in and tickets for curry come out!

Put money in and tickets for curry come out!

Some of the food in the ballpark was like that and some was your typical ballpark fare, hotdogs, the occasional hamburger, and bento boxes.

I didnt think about it before, but this box of katsu was served at room temperature, which I dont find ideal for eating fried pork.

I didn't think about it before, but this box of katsu was served at room temperature, which I don't find ideal for eating fried pork.

It took me until this ballpark to realize it, but it’s a very Japanese feature in most ballparks, even non-domes, to only have real dirt in the area immediately surrounding the bases and on the mound. The base paths and the rest of the infield is all artificial turf. Even more bizarre is that even outdoor stadiums like Meiji Jingu have artificial turf in their outfield too instead of real grass. It blows my mind, considering how much baseball players absolutely hate playing on artificial turf, that they’d do something so ridiculous in an outdoor ballpark.

Its hard to tell, but if you look closely you can see that the dirt around second base is differently colored than the artificial turf made to look like dirt surrounding it. The grass is fake too.

It's hard to tell, but if you look closely you can see that the dirt around second base is differently colored than the artificial turf made to look like dirt surrounding it. The grass is fake too.

Other than my gripes about the field, Meiji Jingu Stadium is a decent ballpark with a pretty fervent fanbase. The Swallows have a unique tradition of raising umbrellas during their 7th inning stretch and whenever the team scores a run. Hearsay from the tour tells me that it’s a subtle jab at the Giants as a way of saying, “We don’t need a dome, we’ve got umbrellas.” If that’s true, it’s a little weak, but I might be saying that because I developed a strong anti-Swallows sentiment at this game.

Its not a bad ballpark at all once you get over the fake dirt.

It's not a bad ballpark at all once you get over the fake dirt.

My dislike for the Swallows stems from a few arbitrary reasons, but, really, since I’m not from Japan, my feelings about these teams can only come from arbitrary decisions made right on the spot. How else can you explain me becoming a Hiroshima Carp fan?

Reason #1:

At about this point on the tour, I realized that my schedule had me seeing the Swallows four times on this tour!

Domo-kun shares my feeling about the Swallows.

Domo-kun shares my feeling about the Swallows.

Reason #2:

One of the tourgoers, Ken, loves the Swallows (and the Lions). For some (evil) reason, this made me want to root against them. It’s thanks to him that I realized that the Swallows played on fake dirt and grass too.

These player intro slides were the only awesome thing about the Swallows.

These player intro slides were the only awesome thing about the Swallows.

Reason #3:

The most important reason. They were playing my beloved Hiroshima Carp that day.

My favorite NPB player, Akihiro Higashide, hit his 1000th hit against the Carp the same night I was there! This is him accepting a bouquet in honor of the achievement.

My favorite NPB player, Akihiro Higashide, hit his 1000th hit against the Carp the same night I was there! This is him accepting a bouquet in honor of the achievement.

The game turned out better than I could have hoped. Hiroshima creamed the Swallows, winning 9-0 and netting Akihiro Higashide’s 1000th hit just for us. It was a pretty special moment in a great game that I had a good time at.

The always cool Bob Bavasi striking a pose above the dry-eyed Leon.

The always cool Bob Bavasi striking a pose above the dry-eyed Leon.

After I got back to the hotel room, I grabbed Dave and we went out for karaoke again.

Dave making what Im sure he thinks is a cool face for the picture.

Dave making what I'm sure he thinks is a cool face for the picture.

I’d say the highlight of the night was the performance of “Love Shack” by the B-52s.

After a hard night of partying, it was finally time to hit the sack and say goodbye to Dave and most of the tour.

Domo-kun had a little too much to drink.

Domo-kun had a little too much to drink.

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