SIDEBAR
»
S
I
D
E
B
A
R
«
Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part XVII: In Which Our Hero Casually Greets Professional Players [II]
Oct 29th, 2009 by Dan

Thats the second largest autographed baseball Ive ever seen!

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

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

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

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

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

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

A summer travel-themed Pokemon train.

A summer travel-themed Pokemon train.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When retro goes too far.

When retro goes too far.

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

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

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

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

Rice inside omelets...strange, but delicious.

Rice inside omelets...strange, but delicious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clutch...

Clutch...

...Clutchina...

...Clutchina...

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

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

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

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

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

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

They make fishsticks in between innings.

They make fishsticks in between innings.

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

Batting Practice at Kleenex Stadium Miyagi

Batting Practice at Kleenex Stadium Miyagi

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

You can see tons of the mascots in the distance.

You can see tons of the mascots in the distance.

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

The outfield and the scoreboard.

The outfield and the scoreboard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lucky guess, I suppose.

Lucky guess, I suppose.

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

Exhibit A: Sweet sumo fan.

Exhibit A: Sweet sumo fan.

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

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

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

Leaving the arena for the night.

Leaving the arena for the night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An early shot of the scoreboard.

An early shot of the scoreboard.

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

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

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

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

Yet another shot of the field

Yet another shot of the field

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

Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part 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.

Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part VII: i believe lions [II]
Oct 1st, 2009 by Dan

i believe lions was printed on the interior of the Lions jersey I bought.

"i believe lions" was printed on the interior of the Lions jersey I bought.

After an intense and draining day, it was finally time to get back to Tokyo for the last leg of the main tour and to catch some more baseball action!

It’s hard not to love Hiroshima and the Chūgoku region in general. Nowhere else in Japan did I see such devotion to a baseball team as I did in Chūgoku. Convenience stores in both the smallest regional stations and the largest Shinkansen stations sell Hiroshima Carp tea, Hiroshima Carp trinkets, and even Hiroshima Carp onigiri.

I bought Hiroshima Carp-themed food as often as possible. Gotta support my favorite team!

I bought Hiroshima Carp-themed food as often as possible. Gotta support my favorite team!

The city had to pull itself out of extreme tragedy and I don’t think you can fault a place whose mayor personally sends a letter of protest in response to every single nuclear test that its known about since the city was reestablished. Tokyo has excitement, Kyoto has history, but Hiroshima seems to have a lot of heart and I dig that.

Unfortunately, Hiroshima is far from Tokyo, so most of our day was eaten up by a bullet train back.

When asked why he slept all the way back, Dave responded There was no action.

When asked why he slept through the whole train ride, Dave responded, "There was no action."

Have I mentioned that all shinkansen have snack carts that sell bentos, snacks, and drinks throughout the trip or that they’re punctual to a fault? Other than that, there’s not much to say. We got back to Tokyo, put our stuff down, had a bite to eat, and then began our journey to the Seibu Dome to see the Saitama Seibu Lions play.

I don’t know if I’ve talked about this before, but the most fundamental difference between Japanese baseball teams and American teams has got to be the corporate ownership. Sure, there are teams in America who have corporate shareholders or who are fully owned by a company, but I think that the culture is geared more toward a single owner, like George Steinbrenner, for example, rather than huge companies.

If you hadn’t guessed, it’s the opposite in Japan. The naming convention for most teams goes City/Area Name of Origin, Company Name, Team Name. So, in the case of the Lions, you have the city they’re in, Saitama, the company that runs them, Seibu, and the team name, Lions. It’s kind of complicated and it’s interesting that in most cases (the Carp excluded), the city gets left out and gets marginal billing. If you’ve heard of the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, chances are you didn’t even know they were in Hokkaido, just that they were owned by Nippon-Ham (which consequently meant they had a funny name).

Why do I mention this? Well, as I’ve mentioned before, it was really seeming like none of the teams had any identity in their hometown. Sure, there was Tokyo Dome City for the Giants, but the area not immediately surrounding the stadium had almost no reference to the fact that the Giants played there.

All that changed when I noticed a lone sign in the train station on the way to the Seibu Dome.

Its not anywhere near as dirty as it sounds.

It's not anywhere near as dirty as it sounds.

Finally! A poster representing the team we were going to see! Cryptic, bizarre, and slightly sexual message notwithstanding (explanation to follow), here was evidence that someone in Saitama loved the Lions.

The illusion came crashing down when I remembered one key fact: I was about to board a train on the Seibu line. While they’re certainly not the only team to own a private rail line that stopped at its stadium, Seibu was cheating, at least in terms of what I was looking for. Of course the company that owns the baseball team is going to advertise its team on the train that will eventually lead to its stadium. So, again, unlike Hiroshima, this was not a region that clearly adored its team, with decent reason, I suppose. Tokyo is a complicated city to love a team in, considering that there are four teams within a reasonable distance to root for (and most root for the Giants).

Now to address the poster. The playoff series in Japan is called the Climax Series. It makes sense when you think of the definition of climax, but it’s one of those things that you’d never see in the states without eliciting laughter (like when they tried to bring Calpis (read it aloud) to the states). The Climax Series is also unique in that, unlike the way it’s done in the states, it has only three teams competing in each league. The first place team gets a bye while the second and third slog it out in a best of 3. The next stage is a best of seven, but the first place team starts off with one win to reward their excellent play in the regular season. After that they play the Japan Series, which is the Japanese version of the World Series (also best of seven, but with no advantages).

On the Seibu line, we met some fellow baseball fans en route to the park. One of the fans was so devoted to the Lions that she had her toenails painted blue to show her support. The other girl was a closet Fighters fan who loved Yu Darvish, but explained that he just came off the DL, so he wouldn’t be pitching in that night’s game.

Save it for the athletic center!

Save it for the athletic center!

Much like Skymark Stadium, the Seibu Dome stop was immediately adjacent to the Seibu Dome (how about that?), but the area was better decorated to reference the team with shops, stands, and blue Christmas lights.

The Seibu Dome...or is it?

The Seibu Dome...or is it?

Dave and I wandered the area, taking in the sights, and I picked up a nice Lions jersey. While the quality was great, it turns out that the team is sponsored by Nike, meaning the jersey was a bit pricier than I had hoped. Another strange aspect of the jersey (beyond the “i believe lions” printed on the inside of the button flap) was that the armpits had “holes.” Maybe they were intended to allow better air circulation, but they’re just confusing and uncomfortable and it means you must wear an undershirt with the jersey, unless you want hair poking out of your underarms.

The Lions recognize good talent when they see it. Dave and I were immediately drafted onto the roster when we arrived.

The Lions recognize good talent when they see it. Dave and I were immediately drafted onto the roster when we arrived.

If you were paying attention to the captions, you’ll notice that I implied that the Seibu Dome was not actually a dome, and that’s with good reason. Instead of the hermetically-sealed, ears-pop-when-you-enter style dome that I experienced in Tokyo, this “dome” was simply a covering that went over the field. It was more like an umbrella than a dome. The stadium was open-air, more or less, aside from the non-retractable roof. This creates an interesting effect, according to a fellow tourgoer who lives on Yakota AFB and has adopted the Lions as his team, where the climate control performs terribly. On cold days, it’s unbearably cold while the real scorchers just feel even hotter underneath the canopy.

If you look closely, you can see the outside!

If you look closely, you can see the outside!

The Seibu Dome is a bizarre stadium construction, without a doubt. It feels more like a college ballpark or something you’d watch a dolphin show at Sea World in than a real baseball stadium, but that makes more sense when some context about the team is made clearer. Up until the Lions got 50 M$ (I believe (lions) that’s the figure) for posting Daisuke Matsuzaka to the Boston Red Sox, the teams financial situation had been relatively dire. It’s only natural that the ballpark be so strange when it was open air at first (no doubt cost considerations went into that) and that it not be converted to a real dome when the canopy was deemed necessary. That’s really part of the charm of baseball, when you think about it. The game is played with a standard set of rules in considerably non-standard locations.

Posing for a shot with Dave.

Posing for a shot with Dave.

Frequent readers know I really don’t like dome baseball, but the Dome brings the best of both worlds, to the degree that one can have such a thing, by doing neither very well. I’d still prefer the pure, unhindered air on my face, but it definitely wasn’t as bad as the Tokyo Dome, so I can’t complain too much.

Hanging with the Colonel.

Hanging with the Colonel.

The start of the game heralded in something I’d yet to see in three Japanese baseball games, the Japanese national anthem. Jet lag may have prevented me from noticing at the first ballgame, but I quickly caught on to the fact that there didn’t seem to be a requirement to play the anthem before the game in these parts. I learned that the Japanese have a short national anthem too and that they seem to have different people come out and sing at each game, just like the ballparks in the states.

They may not play their national anthem, but they do have cheerleaders and beer girls.

They may not play their national anthem, but they do have cheerleaders and beer girls.

Much like Skymark Stadium, the Seibu Dome seemed to be pretty empty, which was strange considering that, unlike the Buffaloes, the Lions were in serious contention for the Climax Series. I’ll chalk the low attendance up to it being a Tuesday and leave it at that for now. Another interesting note is that their mascot resembles a grown up Kimba.

This is a cookie, but if you colored it all white, it would look more like the mascot who looks like Kimba.

This is a cookie, but if you colored it all white, it would look more like the mascot who looks like Kimba.

The reduced numbers didn’t prevent the Lions from displaying the same team pride and some of the raucous behavior I witnessed at the Carp game. Perhaps it’s due to alcohol, but there seemed to be an increasing number of fans who were more into it than others. Fans who yelled out things at players that weren’t synced up with cheers. It’s quite easy to drink too much at an American ballgame, but when you consider that the drinks keep flowing in Japan, even beyond the 7th inning (or two hours), you see that it’s easy to get that much wilder after your latest beer in the 9th.

A shot of me enjoying a fine drink at the Seibu Dome.

A shot of me enjoying a fine drink at the Seibu Dome.

Also worth noting, the drink selection is not limited to beer. Most ballparks also have some serious hard alcohol being vended alongside the beer. At our first game in the Tokyo Dome, Mayumi and a guest bought some umeshu, plum wine, there’s plenty of soju, another rice alcohol from Korea, and I even got my hands on a delicious whiskey sour-type drink at the Lions game that packed quite a punch.

We made fast friends with this couple. She gave us a banner as a gift.

We made fast friends with this couple. She gave us a banner as a gift.

I don’t really have any new observations about the game itself, but it was notable in that it was the first home team victory we had on the tour so far. Thanks to that victory, we also got to see something that they definitely don’t do in the states, the on-field interview. The players of the game are usually rounded up and interviewed on the big screen for the fans that remain. Following the interview and a quick photo shoot, the players throw balls into the stands for the fans and head into the locker room.

Impromtu field press conference.

Impromtu field press conference.

Pose for the cameras!

Pose for the cameras!

Another unique feature of the Seibu Dome is that they allow the fans to run the bases and toss the ball around the field after the game.

Fans celebrating on the field.

Fans celebrating on the field.

After we got our fill, we headed back to the hotel. It was the penultimate full day in Japan and David and I were ready to get our fill of Tokyo before he had to go home.

The area just outside the stadium at night.

The area just outside the stadium at night.

»  Substance:WordPress   »  Style:Ahren Ahimsa