I will readily admit that the reason for my Japanese vacation is completely and utterly insane.
I went to Japan to watch the Hiroshima Toyo Carp play baseball.
At some point it occurred to me that I haven’t been to a baseball game in awhile and that there’s little prospect of me being able to see a game stateside at any point this year. While I could have, for example, booked a trip to Chicago, my mind wandered freely and I recalled that there is professional baseball in Japan.
Of all the possible teams to cheer and support, Hiroshima won because I’m also a nuclear tourist. This led, Friday, to a huge measure of dissonance: after spending several hours wandering the Peace Memorial Park and absorbing the single most famous, defining event in the city’s history, and feeling the subsequent emotional flatness, I found myself cheering for the Carp.
This is not the first time that I’ve had to deal with this measure of dissonance: living in Weimar, I maintained an upbeat attitude despite looking out my window and seeing the memorial for the victims of Buchenwald. One also needs to be able to maintain some level of distance when regularly passing by the Topographies of Terror, Checkpoint Charlie, or, for that matter, the Pentagon.
So much history has happened in these places that if one were to dwell on the history that has been, one would not be able to cope with the future.
While in Hiroshima, I attended three games – all three games were against the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, and the Carp won two out of three. I only stayed through the competition of the last game because the first game was extraordinarily slow – and I started to fade. The second game I left at the top of the 9th when the Carp were way behind – and because I had post-baseball game plans.
I won’t really say much about the individual games. Overall, there appear to be a few minor variations on the rules versus American baseball (particularly with regard to balks, but I don’t actually know this for a fact).
However, what’s interesting is the experience of going to a Carp baseball game – there was so much to take in and absorb that there is little possibility that I can cover everything that was interesting.
Naturally the first challenge for me was reading my tickets – I couldn’t. The only thing that I could identify on each one of my three tickets was the date. Everything else was Greek to me. Or Japanese, as was the case.
I’d ordered the tickets in advance from JapanBallTickets.com, which is a service provided by an American expat living in Japan. That saved me the hassle of buying the tickets after getting there and actually resulted in me having excellent seats for two of the three games. The other game merely had pretty darned good ticket. Actually, I would have rated the ticket as pretty rootin’ tootin’ darned good save for the fact that four Americans were seated directly in front of me – and, in particular, the man directly in front of me was one of those Americans abroad who made me cringe: Overly visible, talking at the top of his lungs, and shouting things in English at the Japanese-speaking home plate umpire from his seat along the third base side, section 14, row 29, seat L231.
A few background notes on getting to the game: one is allowed to bring in outside food and outside beverages. The walk from the train station to the Mazda Zoom Zoom Stadium featured any number of shops selling meals that one could bring into the stadium, along with the usual suspects of t-shirts and other novelties.
Then, as one got close to the area where they “searched” your bags, there was a place where, if you had beverages in metal or plastic bottles, you could pour your drink into a provided cup. Yes, you read that right: the team provided fans paper cups that you could pour your beer into.
After passing through the bag search (I never brought a bag with me, I decided to travel light and use my shitty camera for the games), tickets were taken and you were on the concourse, where you could buy, just like in America, food. Unlike American ballparks (at least how I remember there), there were a wide variety of choices to be had: hot dogs, noddle soups, fried fish, chicken, shaved ice, and a number of things I could not readily identify.
Foolishly the first day I bought a hot dog and a beer. I made, in one single order, two mistakes. Firstly, hot dogs are disgusting. But I’ve known that for several years. I had no reason to think that Japanese hot dogs would be any better than those served up in the United States. I am now clearly a bratwurst person.
Secondly, carrying beer is awkward and it’s much more convenient to get the beer delivered to you, at your seat, by one of the seemingly endless Beer Girls (or infrequent Beer Boys) who wander around with several liters of beer on their back and a tap with which to fill cups.
After realizing the omnipresence of wandering beer salespersons, I made it a personal policy to only buy beer from Beer Boys – which meant that I could only buy a beer once every few innings – better for both my bladder and my liver that way – although on Saturday it was so incredibly hot that the beer vendors were selling out of beer before they got to my seat in the 30th row – they would arrive in each section, walk to the bottom of the stairs, turn around bow to the sections in front of them, then wave their hands as they walked up – most of the girls and boys selling beer wore knee pads – and after you got their attention, they would kneel down, fill the cup, and then take 700¥, before standing up again and seeking out their next customer.
Further, unlike in the United States, beer was sold right through the end of the game – no unreasonable, arbitrary early cut-off point. Also, other than one lone vendor, the only thing sold in the seats was beer. The other lone vendor was selling some kind of beverage as well, but I didn’t see what it was.
With the beer situation sorted, the food was easier to deal with – Friday was the awful hot dog – then, Saturday, I only ate shaved ice – I’d eaten a late lunch and wasn’t hungry. Sunday I decided to eat at the ballpark—which involved, since I speak no Japanese, guessing what I was ordering. One of the stands had what appeared to be fried chicken nuggets – at least that’s what I judged the photo to look like. Wrong: I’d ordered vaguely spicy potato wedges.
Then, I wandered a bit further and found a shop selling noodle soups. I decided to try one for 750¥. Based on the photo, and what I saw people carrying away, I thought I would be getting a hot bowl of noddle soup – but, no, I managed to order a cold noodle soup. It came with slices of pork, scallions, a couple shrimp, half a hardboiled egg, and something red. I slurped it, using chopsticks, like a local.
Once you’ve finished consuming there is, of course, recycling: the recycling station I examined had 9 sorting options: a drain for leftover liquids, places to stack cups and bowls—by size and shape, as well as a separate container for your chopsticks. I did notice that in the post-game exit frenzy, most people did remove their trash from the seating area and bring it to the recycling points, although at that point, there were people holding large bags, not asking you to sort your trash specifically, but rather just toss it and go. I would guess that these items were sorted later.
In all three of my seats I tended to be in a quasi-middle ground between fans of the Hiroshima Toyo Carp and fans supporting the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. The fans in Japan have lots of things to do – out in right field at Mazda Zoom Zoom Stadium was the fan cheering section – more like cheerleaders as all Carp fans responded to the banging of their drums and their loud chanting. Fans bring with them an incredible assortment of cheering articles – small shirts/scarves to hold up when a particular player is at bat, as well as plastic-mini-bats that are chained together and then banged together in appropriate rhythmic fashion.
In short, the game is loud – and not just when the Carp were at bat, because Swallow fans follow their team – above the third base side, near left field, was the visitor’s cheerleading section. In my case, I was unfortunately close to this section because I can still hear, in my head, the trumpet blown by the visitor’s small band. It was, at least to me, a charmless, uninteresting, wail, interrupted by the beat of the drum. The Swallow fans had one extremely strange tradition—every time the Swallows scored, the fans would pull out miniature plastic umbrellas and move them around to a well choreographed seated dance: umbrellas up to the left, down, around, spun, etc. Unfortunately they had too many opportunities to do this umbrella dance.
As with American games, there was entertainment of sorts during breaks – I understood none of the announcements, but they constantly ran cameras on the fans, singling out individual ones who would be waving wildly for the camera – in that sense the Japanese seem no different from Americans in thinking that being on the Jumbotron is cool.
My favorite moment of the Carp games was the seventh inning stretch – no, there was no “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” – there was, instead, the team fight song followed by… uh… I really do not have any way to describe it that doesn’t sound strange, if not obscene. Shortly before the seventh inning stretch, the fans start inflating these balloons. To be frank they look like penises. Or maybe like condoms. Bright red phalluses. Then, after waving the phalluses around during the fight song, they let them go: the base of the balloon is actually a regulator of some kind that controls the speed with which the air can escape – the balloons fly into the air, now looking more like sperm, sputter around, making a whistling sound, and then fall to the ground.
Random Other things to note:
-There’s a gym located in the right field – it’s cardio equipment faces the field, and it was quite busy during the games (except Sunday evening, when, apparently, it closes early).
-The team’s mascot is Slyly, which looks a lot like the Phillie Phanatic, for good reason. The same firm created both. Apparently, there is no creativity in the creativity business.
-I ended up buying two Carp souvenirs: After melting whilst walking to the stadium Saturday evening and soaking the small towels I had carried with me, I picked up a bright red Carp towel, which served the dual purposes of helping me wipe away sweat and showing my support for my favorite Japanese baseball team. The other was a set of the spermy balloons.