I’m not a big sports guy, but I do enjoy watching live events with friends, so the possibility of me enjoying sports is not so far off. I’ve had some good experiences with live sports in the past (Exhibit A, Exhibit B), so when a friend asked if I wanted to see a Yomiuri Giants baseball game down at the Tokyo Dome, I decided it would be a wonderful experience and a crash-course in how the Japanese do baseball.
First, some things that make a Japanese baseball game uniquely Japanese.
There are cheering sections for fans that are designated by special seat covers and signage warning fans from opposing teams to steer clear. Each section usually has a section leader who begins the cheers, and they cheer often: Cheers of encouragement, cheers for singles, doubles, home runs, outs, you name it, there’s a crowd response. It may have been a language barrier, but not once did I see booing or putting down of the other team. The cheers are mainly for lifting the spirits of your team. Cheering sections usually have a few flag bearers who wave them enthusiastically during the game, and sometimes even a small horn section that plays team songs and chants for the crowd to sing along with. Most everyone stands through the game, but when the other team comes up to bat, they politely sit down and allow the other team’s cheer section to do their thing. It’s all so civil in its protocol.
The second big thing would be the beer girls. My friend knew about them, and told me that all American baseball fans know about beer girls at Japanese games. I’d never heard of them, but here’s the long and short of it: the stadiums hire cute girls to carry mini kegs on their backs and patrol up and down the stairs, on the lookout for any thirsty fans wishing to drink a cold draft beer. When they serve, they typically take a knee. By the end of their shift (they stop selling beer before the start of the final inning), all the girls had bruised, sometimes bloody, knees. They were also pretty out of breath; I’m sure it’s not easy lugging around that big keg by themselves multiple times across that massive stadium!
The game itself went pretty well; there were a few scores earned in the first inning, but then everything slowed down until the 7th and 8th, when the Giants took a huge lead, only to blow it in the 9th by giving up a home run to the visiting Baystars. Yokohama ended up winning by one, leaving the Giants in defeat. One thing I noticed is that no one really left the game early; most everyone stuck it out until the end. I know most Americans would split around the 7th inning to beat traffic and get home. I’m not sure if the game was particularly tense or if this was normal, but the entire stadium pretty much stayed to the bitter end. I really enjoyed our super-close seats, but did not enjoy most of the safety precautions: There was this green netting obscuring our view despite the fact we were in the second row. There were some seats on the field without protection, but the price for those, I can only imagine, are quite steep. They gave out warnings and held up signs warning fans about flying balls, and whenever one did soar over the net, a small airhorn-like blast went off to warn the fans.
It was nice to experience the game and I hope to visit the Saitama stadium to see the local Seibu Lions play one day in the future.