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Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part XIV: The One Where We Miss Darvish [II]
Oct 20th, 2009 by Dan

This guy is rocking a sick happi. I wish I had one too.

This guy is rocking a sick happi. I wish I had one too.

Three days in Sapporo. One to fly in, one to catch a game, and one to fly out. We really only needed two, but the remote location and the unpredictability of flights and baseball game lengths warrant three. It’s a real shame too, because if we had rolled our arrival date into our baseball watching day, we would have seen Yu Darvish pitch.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that not getting to see Darvish pitch was the biggest disappointment I suffered the whole trip. Who wouldn’t want to see one of the best pitchers in the world toss a sweet victory after coming off the disabled list?

Disappointment aside, we had a whole day ahead of us before the game was set to start, so I decided to explore downtown Sapporo.

My usual procedure when I explore a downtown is to first head into any electronics store I can find to start off with something familiar. After seeing the many copies of Japanese MLB Power Pros littering the store shelves around me, I was getting antsy and seriously considering buying a Japanese Wii just to play the games. Thankfully, better judgment prevailed, since spending $250 just to play a $50 game is a little on the extreme side (the Wii also dropped in price by $50 after I left, I would have been super mad for overpaying).

Instead, I decided to go with the easy option and just pick up a copy of Professional Baseball Spirits 6 (or Pro Yakyū Spirits 6, depending on your source) a PS3 NPB baseball game since the PS3 is not region locked like the Wii. I also picked up some Sambomaster music, but that was the extent of my electronics store purchasing.

Maybe its just me, but I find Japanese electronics stores very intimidating. There are tons of products crammed into small spaces and lots of bright colors (usually red, but blue in this case) advertising things I cant read.

Maybe it's just me, but I find Japanese electronics stores very intimidating. There are tons of products crammed into small spaces and lots of bright colors (usually red, but blue in this case) advertising things I can't read.

Since I was in Sapporo Station already, I thought I would check out the Sapporo Pokemon Center to see what it was like.

A classy logo for the store. BONUS: Whos that Pokemon?!

A classy logo for the store. BONUS: Who's that Pokemon?!

It was what you might expect, just wall-to-wall Pokemon paraphernalia meant to lighten your wallets with cute plush Pikachu toys. The cool thing about the store was that, just like how the Nintendo Store in NYC is always stocked with Wiis, the Pokemon Center always has copies of Pokemon games, including the recently released Heart Gold and Soul Silver that were sold out everywhere else in Japan (believe me, I checked). They also had some pretty neat limited edition Nintendo DS consoles for sale that I didn’t buy.

Each Pokemon Center Emblem features Pikachu and two other, unique Pokemon.

Each Pokemon Center Emblem features Pikachu and two other, unique Pokemon.

My Pokemon curiosity was sated, but it was time to grab a bite to eat. I went upstairs in the shopping center (the interesting thing about all Japanese department stores/shopping centers/malls is that they almost always have restaurants on the top floor) and sat down in a place that advertised English menus. The tonkatsu set I ordered came with rice covered with a sweet, but unpleasant (due to temperature differences) yam layer on top of it and miso soup and it was a pretty good meal.

On a scale of 1-10 Id rate it pretty good.

On a scale of 1-10 I'd rate it pretty good.

At the table with me was a man who spoke some English, so he took the opportunity to talk to me a bit. When I told him that I was in Japan to watch baseball, he brought up that Ichiro had just successfully hit his 200th hit in a season for nine straight seasons. I agreed with him that it was huge news, but I didn’t agree so much with his assurance that it wasn’t a big deal in the states. Sure, it was a MUCH bigger deal for the Japanese to have a player from their country break a longstanding American MLB record, but we didn’t exactly trivialize it, did we? (I guess we kind of did…? Did any of you even know about this before now?)

With hunger no longer an issue, my next task was to shop around and find some more souvenirs. I knew that one of my friends wanted a bento box and another a sake set, so I wandered down into the basement of the building I had just had lunch in and came upon a Seibu Loft store. Bob suggested to me that the best place to find a bento would be a department store, since a specialty store would just overcharge, so I wandered up to the cookware floor and eventually spotted the large bento area.

There were tons to choose from, from small, cute ones with pandas on them to more serious, spartan affairs with dark, muted colors. Many of them even had chopsticks to match their color schemes. I found a simple pastel colored box with matching chopsticks and continued my hunt for the sake set.

Before I found the sake glasses, I came across some sweet chopsticks.

Owning a set of Carp chopsticks would be so awesome, but...

Owning a set of Carp chopsticks would be so awesome, but...

That’s right, NPB-themed chopsticks, a set for every team. My mind rushed as I thought about the gift possibilities. I wanted a set, of course, but would Eric appreciate them? He’s certainly got a ton of chopsticks already and no love for NPB teams…hey, waitaminute! That’s right, each set of chopsticks cost ¥1365 (¥1300 + 5% consumption tax for those of you astute readers who noticed the smaller number on the price tag below the actual price). It was far too much to pay for chopsticks, no matter how cool it would be to have the Carp represented on them. I really have no idea why they’re so expensive, but perhaps the label on the back of the sticks, representing the life cycle of these chopsticks might be an illustration of the reason they’re so expensive.

From the dirt to the hands of the ballplayer, then straight to your hands!

From the dirt to the hands of the ballplayer, then straight to your hands!

If this cute little cycle on the back of the packaging is meant to be accurate, then these chopsticks come from broken bats used in NPB games. That’s a big if! Beyond that, it’s still a huge ripoff to pay so much for one pair of sticks.

I found a nice sake set, paid for my goods, and wandered around Sapporo for a bit before heading home. On the way home, I noticed a nice park on the right. It seemed to be populated by a bunch of employees on breaks, which looked like an awesome idea. If I had the ability to eat a nice lunch or take a quick break outside my building in a park, I think I’d totally be on top of that.

Theyve got to enjoy it while they can. Cooler weather was already hitting Sapporo when I was there.

They've got to enjoy it while they can. Cooler weather was already hitting Sapporo when I was there.

Another neat thing I noticed on the way back was that Sapporo seemed to have more bicycle traffic than any other city I’d seen in Japan. Almost every sidewalk in the city that allowed it was filled with the bicycles of the many employees who rode to work that day. It seemed like most of them were unlocked too, which seemed mighty trusting, but that’s Japan for you, I guess.

After a quick stopover at the hotel, it was time to head out to the Sapporo Dome for the evening’s game. The route was fairly simple: take the subway, switch lines, get off, and follow the crowds to the dome. It was a cakewalk and it would have been a nice walk, if it weren’t for the rain.

Dan and I were in the stop for the Sapporo Dome, but its still a 10 minute walk to the dome from here.

Dan and I were in the stop for the Sapporo Dome, but it's still a 10 minute walk to the dome from here.

After getting thoroughly soaked (man am I glad I brought my jacket with me), we eventually saw the Sapporo Dome in the distance. Let’s just say it’s got a rather bizarre façade and leave it at that.

It looks like a UFO or a giant metal space slug or something...

It looks like a UFO or a giant metal space slug or something...

I popped into the gift shop to get myself a Yu Darvish Fighters jersey (I got the gray Away jerseys because they say “Nippon-Ham” on them instead of “Fighters”) and look around. The store also had a great shirt that had some baseball terms written in both English and Japanese in red text on a black shirt. I decided I must have one, so I got one.

The best shot of the field Ive got. Lighting in the Sapporo Dome is such that its difficult to get a good picture that isnt ruined by the super strong lights.

The best shot of the field I've got. Lighting in the Sapporo Dome is such that it's difficult to get a good picture that isn't ruined by the super strong lights.

Entering the Dome was much more pleasant than the Tokyo Dome. My ears didn’t pop and the temperature inside was well below the 80s. In fact, it was borderline chilly inside the stadium, but that might have been due to the water evaporating off of my clothing.

One of the stadiums employees.

One of the stadium's employees.

Since the Sapporo Dome houses more than one sport and team, its concessions and facilities don’t completely reflect the Fighters. There are plenty of signs, but nothing is themed. The place feels a lot like a gigantic airplane hangar that someone decided to play baseball inside. The corridors are unnecessarily huge and sparse, making the place feel cavernous, empty, and dark, but the field itself is very well lit and rather nice despite all the aesthetic issues with its corridors.

Remember how sparse the Fighters cheering section was at that Lions game? This dwarfs it many times over.

Remember how sparse the Fighters cheering section was at that Lions game? This dwarfs it many times over.

If there was one major area that I’d say the Fighters suffer, it’s that the team is too remote. Like the Hawks, they’re the only team on their island, but unlike the Hawks, you can’t get to Sapporo via train. It’s plane or nothing, so when the team travels, it’s much harder for a dedicated cheer section to follow. Conversely, it’s a lot harder for a team to represent its own colors in Sapporo. One would have to wonder how high attendance would be if the Fighters were a Central League team and they played the Tigers. It seems like Tigers fans flood any ballpark that their team is at, but would they go all the way to Sapporo to prove their dedication?

My first time using a set of thunder sticks or spirit sticks or whatever youre supposed to call them.

My first time using a set of thunder sticks or spirit sticks or whatever you're supposed to call them.

This game marked the first time I got my hands on thunder sticks (or spirit sticks or whatever you’re supposed to call them), which was a lot of fun. Clapping isn’t difficult, but it does wear on your hands if you’ve got to do it all game. The sticks do a great job of projecting noise and protecting hands, which is probably why they became so popular. I would love for them to catch on in the states, if for no other reason than that I hate seeing people swing towels around like idiots to be like the Steelers fans.

This dude was posing in the stands before the game. I snapped a shot before he (she?) noticed me and threw up a peace sign.

This dude was posing in the stands before the game. I snapped a shot before he (she?) noticed me and threw up a peace sign.

In the end, the Fighters won 5-2 and great fun was had by all. We had a flight to catch in the morning, so I wasn’t really interested in going out and getting crazy, so we went back to the hotel and turned in for the night.

A presser celebrating the Fighters victory.

A presser celebrating the Fighters victory.

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