Early in the process of planning our trip to Japan, Staci and I knew we wanted to go see a baseball game. I’ve loved baseball my entire life, and Staci and I have enjoyed regularly attending Padres games here in San Diego. We started researching the Japanese professional baseball league (Nippon Professional Baseball, or NPB) and we learned about the different teams, cities, stadiums and the season schedule. We were trying to understand what games would be happening where while we were visiting.
Our first choice was to see the Softbank Hawks of Fukuoka. The Hawks were the only team we really were familiar with, as our Japanese college friends are from Fukuoka. Unfortunately their schedule didn’t align with our itinerary. We soon found out that our schedule aligned with the storied Hanshin Tigers based out of Osaka. We researched buying tickets and found it is very complicated to purchase from overseas. Luckily, we came across japanballtickets.com and received excellent service helping us line up a game! Michael made attending a Japanese baseball game as a foreigner really easy with straightforward communication and instructions. Our tickets were waiting for us at our first hotel in Tokyo when we arrived, which was a really nice touch.
Arriving at the Game
Once game day arrived, we made our way on the subway towards the Kyocera dome. (Interesting aside, the Hanshin Tigers home stadium is the outdoor Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya just west of Osaka. However, due to scheduling, this particular game occurred at the Kyocera dome in central Osaka which is also shared by the Orix Buffaloes.)
We arrived about 1.5 hours before the game and many fans were arriving early as well. First we followed the crowds into the team store, which was accessible before scanning into the stadium with your ticket. After buying some memorabilia we proceeded to the entrance and to our seats. We had lower level seats on the third base side, and the view of the field was good!
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Since this was the Tigers opening day game, there were some theatrics beforehand. Upon entering they handed out glow sticks to shine during a performance by a pop duo as they dimmed the lights. After the (literal) song and dance, they introduced more guests of honor before beginning the game.
I grabbed us some food and then the game got underway. The most immediately notable thing was how polite and orderly all the fans were. All the Tigers fans in the stands politely clapped and ooh’d and ah’d as the visiting team’s roster was announced. This was followed by the uproarious trumpets, drums and chanting of the away team section as their team came up to bat. The away fans were all seated in a pre-defined section together, loudly cheering on their batters (which reminded me of Premier League matches in England). Once the home team came up to bat, the home team fans came to life, mashing plastic bats together in rhythm with their own cheering section leading them in chants supporting each player.
One of the things the Hanshin Tigers are known for is releasing noise-making balloons in the 7th inning. However, since this game didn’t take place at their home stadium, fans were prepared with spirit towels that had drawings of the balloons on them. They waved these during the 7th inning instead.
The game was an exciting one in the end as the Hanshin Tigers got the win 6-3 over the Yokohama Baystars. The starting pitcher Aoyagi went over 5 innings with 7 strikeouts and the star shortstop Obata was 3 for 4 with 2 RBIs and a few great defensive plays!
Good to Know
Bag limits and items allowed in the stadium are really strict in the US, and we’ve been burned before by these policies. So I was committed to only bringing a wallet and nothing else. However, when we arrived, it was clear that things are very different in Japan. People had backpacks, purses and bags to carry all their gear and swag.
Speaking of swag: the team shop was absolutely filled with fans prior to the game. Many fans had brightly colored towels with specific player names on them that they would all hold up as that player came up to bat. I was surprised at how relatively affordable the player jerseys (with stitched-on lettering) were in the team store compared to MLB team stores.
We enjoyed a few beverages throughout the game thanks to the amazing beer waitresses running around the stands with small insulated keg backpacks! They would refill beer cups at your seat; the prices were half of what you pay at American ball parks. I purchased a chili dog and fries, but we noticed there were people with ramen, curries etc. Fans were very orderly and did not get up and down constantly during the game. They would only get up between innings.
Overall, we had a great first experience with Japanese baseball. Baseball is such an old sport steeped in so many traditions. It was really special to experience another version of these traditions that have been so familiar to me throughout my life.
Guest post written by Doug Jackson. All photos by Doug and Staci Jackson for The Voyageer, unless noted.