My wife made a vow at the start of this year: To visit every Nippon Pro Baseball (NPB) stadium across Japan. We saved our money, made our travel plans, and set out on this journey together. First up, let’s take a look at the stadiums in the Pacific League.
NPB is split into two leagues with six teams each: The Pacific League, and The Central League. For this post, we’ll be looking at the stadiums and teams of the Pacific League, with teams listed in the order they appear on NPB’s official English website. All of this information comes from visits during the 2022 season, where any Covid restrictions were still in place, limiting some of the usual unique activities of fans.
Orix Buffaloes: Kyocera Dome, Osaka
This team’s story seems to be steeped in corporate mergers and acquisitions, resulting in a team that produces good players but no championships, although they did do exceptionally well this year! They started as the Hankyu Braves, founded way back in 1936, making them one of the gandpappies of NPB. Later, they changed their name and look after surveying and ignoring fan votes for the new direction not once, but twice. A real slap in the face, if you ask me! In 2004, they merged with the Kintetsu Buffaloes, formally becoming the Orix Buffaloes.
Also, icon Ichiro Suzuki played for these fellas back in 1995 and 1996. So, yes, they produce some pretty impressive players!
The stadium, however, did not seem to embrace any of this rich history. Other stadiums has entire walls and wings dedicated to their team’s history, but I couldn’t find such a place here. The vibes were a bit eerie, if you ask me. Many of the food stands and shops were shut, entire wings closed off to the public, and a pervading silence muffled any sort of din you would expect to hear at a ball park. We sat in the fan section, and they weren’t exactly the peppiest. It seemed like they were just going through the motions. The atmosphere wasn’t very.. exciting.
What I did love, however, was that one of their players had the viral sea shanty, Wellerman, as his walkup song. Incredible!
Go to this stadium for a more mellow baseball experience and unexpected meme songs.
Avoid this stadium if you are afraid of ghosts, the quiet, or you’re looking for a rowdy time.
Chiba Lotte Marines: ZOZO Marine Stadium, Chiba
The Marines are… fine. They have a good pitching staff but struggled a bit in the 2022 season. Their mascots are fine, but they retired their best mascot in 2021: Nazo No Sakana, or Mysterious Fish. This guy… deserves a post of its own. He’s wild. He evolved. It got weird. Now, he’s gone, remembered fondly for his small stint on the NPB stage.
This is another stadium on the ocean, and while it is an open stadium, you still cannot see the ocean. It does, however, get some really nice sea breezes rolling through. This also means that winds can carry balls in interesting ways, making for some real mental calculus going on in the players’ minds as they try to position themselves to catch those hits.
This stadium, unlike the Jingu Stadium and the Koshien Stadium, is very modern. Under the seats and in the stadium, you have spacious walkways, nice food stalls (they have craft beer!), and even a full retail shop full of Marines gear. One thing I didn’t get to experience too much, due to the over two-hour commute to get here after work, was the festival-like atmosphere outside: Food trucks set up on a makeshift road on the asphalt, benches spread out and plentiful, and lots of open space. That, and they have a bus that’ll take you to the stadium from the local train station for a mere 100 yen, which is more than worth it.
While we were there, the older couple next to us shared some delicious boiled peanuts with us. They were Chiba locals, and Chiba is known for their peanuts, so this was an added layer of friendliness and culture added to our experience. Yum yum!
Go to this stadium for Lotteria hamburgers, craft beer, fun and unpredictable winds, and friendly fans.
Avoid this stadium if you don’t like seagulls, have a peanut allergy, or dislike salty air.
Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles: Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi, Sendai
This place has a special place in my heart, as it was the first stadium we went to at the start of the NPB season! As such, we got these killer fleece blanket/poncho combo gifts for being there opening weekend. That, and the stadium is in Sendai, one of the nicest cities in Japan, so we were definitely off to a strong start.
The stadium is outside, but what got me was that the seating had little tables you could fold up from the armrest, much like in a large university classroom. This sneaky addition was a real game changer, as we could rest our arms on the table, put our warm drinks there, and eat our treats from somewhere other than our laps. Such an elegantly simple solution!
The stadium itself also has a small amusement park attached, Smile Glico Park, complete with a Ferris wheel and carousel. Whenever a home player went up to bat, the center bit of the Ferris wheel would display their number on a circular LED screen, which was a really nice addition. All throughout the game, I was secretly hoping a homerun would be hit that way and one of the Ferris wheel cars would get dinged, but sadly, that didn’t come to pass. One day, maybe, but not that day.
This stadium is also completely cash-free. The company sponsoring the team, Rakuten, has its own rechargeable wireless cash cards, known as Edy, that you can purchase here. Alternatively, you can also use your rail card (IC Card, such as Suica and Pasmo) or a credit card with the RFID chip inside. You can charge at a few stations outside of the stadium, but come prepared so you don’t have to scramble and line up for an Edy card (like we had to).
Go to this stadium for the only stadium where you don’t have to pay extra for a small table or you have someone in your party who wants to watch baseball from a Ferris wheel.
Avoid this stadium if you’re living that cash-only lifestyle, are afraid of bird mascots, or you hate fresh air.
Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks: Fukuoka PayPay Dome, Fukuoka
Do you like mascots? Because Fukuoka certainly does, apparently. The SoftBank Hawks have 9 official mascots, two V-Tubers (Takamine Umi and Aritaka Hina), as well as two mischievous balloons known as Fuu-san a Kobuu-san. They are the victory balloons that used to be released during Japanese baseball games, but aren’t so much anymore due to, you know, Covid.
The stadium is super modern: I would say it rivals Tokyo Dome in being the most modern and well-equipped in all of NPB. They have a large selection of food and drink options from a variety of chains, spanning a pretty decent number of cuisines. The seats are nice, and there’s good visibility around the field. The stadium is next to the ocean, but it is domed shut, so it’s not open and salty like Oracle Park in San Francisco. When we sat in the fan section, a nice die-hard and his wife spoke with us in English a bit, making us feel pretty welcomed! I’m really glad he reached out because not many people would!
Outside the stadium, you can also find an official MLB Cafe! The only other one I was aware of was in Ebisu, so it was quite a treat to see this one. They have nice food and a good array of drinks and you can watch the game there if you weren’t lucky enough to get tickets! While we were there and waiting for the Hawks game to start, they were playing the Angels game from the USA, so we got to watch Ohtani pitch while we ate our lunch!
Go to this stadium for a car that rises from the bleachers, raining streamers, and very creamy ice cream.
Avoid this stadium if you’re not willing to travel the distance to get there, don’t like being next to the ocean, or if you don’t like balloons with eyelashes.
Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters: Sapporo Dome, Sapporo
Common mistake to clear up here: They aren’t the Ham Fighters. The team does not engage in any sort of porcine combat, nor are they themselves pigs with boxing gloves on, looking to rumble. The company that sponsors the team is Nippon Ham. They make pork products, such as ham slices, cutlets, and the like. The team is the Fighters, meaning a group well-versed in the ways of combat. Thus, they are the Nippon Ham Fighters. Just had to clear that up before we begin.
The Ham Fighters had a lot of their thunder this season dominated by their new manager, Big Boss. There was Big Boss fever: Big Boss foam hands, Big Boss swag, and that time he entered the field on a hoverbike. His real name is Tsuyoshi Shinjo, and has retired the Big Boss monicker for the coming 2023 season and perhaps for good reason: The Ham Fighters came in dead last in the division this season. It was rough-going for the Ham Fighters.
Their stadium was pretty nice, all things considered. Yes, there were ham sandwiches and snacks you could eat, just to get that out of the way. Their marketing and fan engagement was really nice: I think they were one of the more aggressively marketed teams in NPB this season.
They also had their cheerleaders do a fox dance in honor of their fox mascot, Frep. They used the song What Does the Fox Say from Ylvis, who actually made an appearance at the end of the season to perform the song live while the cheerleaders danced along!
Wait, the stadium? Yeah, it’s a nice dome.
Go to this stadium for everything that isn’t the stadium: between-inning shows, fan interaction, and fun times.
Avoid this stadium if you are weirded out by furries or like watching a team win consistently.
Saitama Seibu Lions: Belluna Dome, Tokorozawa
Something that stands out about the Belluna Dome is that, yes, it does have a dome, but that dome isn’t entirely enclosed. See, where there would normally be walls, it is completely open, making it covered but not enclosed. This is the only NPB stadium in Japan with this setup, letting it stand apart.
Since there are no walls per se, the field is actually depressed into the earth, with the seats slowly rising to meet ground level. The seats are very comfy, too: We were technically back in the “nosebleed” section, but the chairs were padded and nice. Since the field is depressed and there aren’t any super-high seats, there is no such thing as a bad seat in this stadium. There simply isn’t: The field is clear and easy to see no matter where you end up. Truly a marvel of modern engineering!
All around the outside of the stadium is a park-like atmosphere: Food stalls and patches of grass circle the perimeter, complete with a small playground for children to burn some energy while their parents continue to enjoy the game on TVs in the area.
Another fun fact about this team is that their mascot, Leo, was created by the legendary anime man himself, Osamu Tezuka. The design is based on the adult version of Kimba the White Lion, although Wikipedia has an unverified claim that he’s designed after Kimba’s father. Regardless, Leo made his debut in 1978 and has hung on ever since.
Go to this stadium for great seats with nice views, a relaxing atmosphere, and classic anime mascots.
Avoid this stadium if the idea of being inside while feeling like you’re outside is unsettling.
And there we have it! Have you been to any of these stadiums? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!