Before we came to Japan, we did hours of extensive research on the history, culture, and customs of our new homeland...
Wait, I meant to say that we SHOULD have. Our preparation for this experience was actually pretty minimal, but after watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, there was one thing we knew we wanted to do while we were here. It wasn't touring ancient Buddhist temples or searching for our inner "wa," but rather getting a hot dog and screaming our lungs out at a boisterous Japanese baseball game.
Last night all our dreams came true.
The Great Migration
Since so many people rightly take advantage of Japan's clean and efficient public transportation system, we joined the throng of thousands headed out for Friday night at the baseball park. Truthfully, it feels less like being herded like cattle as it does being two sardines in a massive school of fish. If you've seen the movie Finding Nemo, one of my personal favorites, it's just like the school of fish that point Dori and Marlin toward the EAC. The crowd moves sensitively and quickly because everyone pays such close attention to the people around them. We all turn sideways and shuffle carefully if someone stops to our left. We waddle like penguins when things get tight, moving our feet a couple inches at a time through a bottleneck of human bodies clambering up and down narrow underground staircases. It's fantastic.
***Editor's note: Rachael completely disagrees with the last statement. :)
Getting Grub for the Game
One distinct advantage of attending a game here compared to American baseball is that you can bring your own food and drinks to the game. This saves both money and the despair of buying a hot dog while your team's all star hits a home run without you.
Along the 500 meter route from the train station to the stadium are probably fifty temporary food stands set up to make the process simple and easy. You can buy a whole array of cheap Japanese food staples without much effort at all and continue on your way to the stadium. We picked up edamame (bean pods), gyoza (pan fried dumplings), fried spring rolls, yakisoba (fried noodles with pork and ginger), and a few beers. Also, we noticed tons of people buying long balloons in pairs, so my instincts told me to pick up a couple of those too. More on this later.
Here's the funniest part of our food experience: while you are allowed to bring all those things into the park, you cannot bring in the actual cans of beer. Stationed at the entrance gates are designated beer pour-er-outer-guys. They carefully open each bottled or canned beverage and pour it into designated stadium cups (no charge). We got a kick out of this, and I do have to say that their pouring skills were pretty fantastic.
The Japanese Basubaru Experience
When I go to a baseball game at home, I love getting the cheapest seats possible so I can splurge on stadium food. This is partly because I go more for the atmosphere of being out at the ballpark than I do out of any need to see a bunch of dudes in tight pants hitting a ball with a stick. Don't get me wrong, I love baseball and played it for several years. But when it comes to going to a game, I love shelling dozens of peanuts, gorging myself on over-sized hot dogs and washing it all down with a cold beer in the midst of a rambunctious group of like-minded people. For that kind of experience, the cheapest seats in the ballpark are usually the best.
In South America, I loved going to soccer games and being a part of the passionate mass of jumping, screaming, singing, even crying fanatics who live their lives from game to game. This is often the opposite of the more idle spectators at American sports games, although we certainly have our share of shirtless crazies with war-painted faces and trash barrels for pants.
Last night, I found Japanese baseball fans to be an ideal, happy medium. They cheer loudly and constantly with trumpets, drums, whistles, and team songs when their team is up to bat. But they don't scream, boo, or do much of anything when the opposing team is up.
Around the time of the customary 7th inning stretch, everyone around us began blowing up odd-looking balloons. The crowd sang yet another team song and simultaneously released their balloons into the sky. Each balloon has a little plastic whistle for a mouthpiece, so the sight and sound of hundreds of these balloons shooting up made us feel like we were at a New Year's Eve Party.