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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 X: Boredom on the Orient Express [II]
Oct 7th, 2009 by Dan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My spacious room in Fukuoka.

My spacious room in Fukuoka.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pokemon and Doraemon, that is.

Pokemon and Doraemon, that is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gotta collect all the mascots!

Gotta collect all the mascots!

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

Also brilliant marketing.

Also brilliant marketing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All thats missing is Likes: Long walks on the beach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone knows that Strawberry Cones is synonymous with pizza!

Everyone knows that Strawberry Cones is synonymous with pizza!

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

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

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

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

Yes. Yes it can.

Yes. Yes it can.

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

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

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

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