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. Next up, let’s take a look at the stadiums in the Central 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 Central 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.
Tokyo Yakult Swallows: Jingu Stadium, Shinjuku
This, along with the Koshien Stadium, is one of the OG baseball stadiums in all of Japan. The history here oozes from the walls: They have most of their food offerings in trucks outside because the inside is a bit claustrophobic, given it was built in 1926. The infrastructure is fine: The night we went there was a full moon creeping across the sky, there was a gentle breeze to cool us down from the heat of the day, and the game was absolutely bonkers: The visiting team, the Carp, scored 12 runs in a single inning, and the Swallows responded with an inning with 8 runs. It was one of the most insane games I think I’ve ever seen.
All stadiums have special ways fans can celebrate good things happening with their teams. Usually, fans will hold up towels with player numbers and cheers written on them to encourage their favorite players. At Jingu Stadium, the Swallows sell these tiny iridescent umbrellas. When a run is scored, everyone opens their umbrellas, does a small umbrella dance (consisting mainly up pumping the umbrella up and down while open), finishing with a spin. It is a beautiful sight that can catch you off-guard with how nice it looks if you’re not expecting it.
The mascot is a bit of a legend as well. Tsubakuro is a swallow with a colorful history. First, he has beef with the mascots of the Orix Buffaloes. One of the most famous pictures of Tsubakuro is him holding a T-shirt gun at the mascots (which they hilariously call a bazooka. You can actually buy a shirt with Tsubakuro wielding his bazooka at the stadium). He also often exercises his “free agency” and looks for a new contract with any team that will take him at the end of the season. His agent, the Chunichi Dragons mascot, Doala, will travel with him in an official capacity. Tsubakuro got his last contract with the Swallows in 2021 for 50,000 yen (about $500) and a lifetime supply of Yakult drinkable yogurt.
The prices for tickets here seem pretty low as well. They have special pairs of seats with tables that run for only about 6000-7000 yen per ticket. Our tickets were maybe two rows behind these seats and we paid about 1000 yen more, so check the special seats! You might find a better price if they are available.
Go to this stadium for reasonably-priced special seats, mascot hijinks, and a sea of iridescent shimmer every time the home team scores.
Avoid this stadium if you are afraid of rainy weather, dislike neon green, or don’t want to deal with commuting through Tokyo to get here.
Hanshin Tigers: Hanshin Koshien Stadium, Nishinomiya
The Tigers are wild, for many reasons. First, they have some of the most elaborate, die-hard fans in the league, which is saying a lot, because they are notoriously bad. Why? Well, because one fateful day in 1985, the Tigers came first in their league for the first time in 21 years. The fans went wild, gathering in Dotonbori in nearby Osaka to celebrate. For reasons unknown, a fan with a passing resemblance to each player jumped into the disgusting, likely highly-polluted canal of Dotonbori. But one player didn’t have a doppelganger: Foreigner Randy Bass. Someone had a brilliant idea, to throw a statue of Colonel Sanders from a nearby KFC into the canal instead. They fought the staff and hurled the poor colonel into the river. Since then, it’s been all downhill for the Tigers. Thus, the Curse of the Colonel. Their mishaps and the fate of the Colonel have been chronicled elsewhere (I may do a writeup in the future), but for now, that’s the background you need.
It’s also interesting that their outdoor stadium also hosts the twice-a-year Koshein tournament, which is the high school baseball equivalent of the World Series in Japan. High school baseball is a huge deal out here, and the Koshien is widely known and watched. Walking through those hallowed grounds was a fantastic experience considering it was built in 1924, before even the Jingu Stadium in Tokyo. You get a real sense of history there.
That being said, it’s an older stadium. The walkways where vendors are is very claustrophobic, and not for the tall among us. The stalls are small and embedded in the walls of the stadium. The food is standard Japanese fare, consisting mainly of bento, curry, and small izakaya-style finger foods. This was also the only stadium where I couldn’t get my small helmet with ice cream inside. I was crushed. Why would you not have the small helmets? My experience wasn’t helped by the fact it was raining on and off, delaying the game twice and bringing in ungodly humidity to make the summer heat even worse.
Go to this stadium for the history, the amazing fan scene, and the beautiful vines growing outside.
Avoid this stadium if you don’t like the elements, are a bit claustrophobic, or you’re trying to get a small helmet from every NPB stadium.
Yomiuri Giants: Tokyo Dome, Bunkyo
The Giants feel a lot like the Yankees or the Dodgers in MLB: Big stadium, lots of flash, tons of fans absorbed due to proximity, and another team in a separate division just across down the street.
I have a lot of great memories here: I saw my first NPB game here, I got to see the opening day for MLB hosted here, and I got to see their amazing baseball hall of fame museum as well. The area is just spectacular, a miniature theme park in its own right, with a plethora of creature comforts. And Shake Shack: One of the few places in Japan where you can get a cold root beer with your burger.
The stadium is massive: It’s also pressurized, so when you leave, if you don’t go out of the revolving doors, you get sucked out and absolutely blasted by wind. Some say this is a negative, I, however, find it highly entertaining every time I go.
This stadium has also gone completely cashless in recent years, so bring your IC card or credit card, because you won’t be able to pay cash. There are charging machines for IC cards in the stadium, and they do accept nearly every IC card made in Japan, but I found them a bit finicky about charging if the brand of your card didn’t match the brand of the charging machine. Might have been user error on my part, but it did make things a bit more complicated for me.
Go to this stadium for the awesome surrounding amenities, the Hall of Fame, or a massive stadium experience.
Avoid this stadium if you don’t want to root for one of the most popular teams in NPB for fear of looking like a bandwagoner.
Hiroshima Toyo Carp: MAZDA Zoom-Zoom Stadium Hiroshima, Hiroshima
There are many things you can say about the Carp, one of them being that they inspire confidence. They’re one of the most consistently strong teams in either league, and they have a lot of fun at their home stadium.
This stadium is actually a replacement for their old Municipal stadium, which opened in 1957 and was located behind the Atomic Bomb Dome and across the street from the Hiroshima Museum of Art. A few placards and monuments now stand vigil over the former site, the stadium having closed its doors forever in 2010 to make way for the new Zoom Zoom stadium, which is now located just up the street from Hiroshima station.
The new stadium is considered “retro modern,” which means it has old charm but modern convenience. I’m not going to lie: The stadium itself is just alright. What you go to this stadium for are the fans and the fanfare. The Toyo Carp have this amazing chant of “GUTS GUTS GUTS,” while they play their mascot, Carp Boy, on the big screen with fire in his eyes, sharp teeth bared, slamming the every-loving stuffing out of a baseball. The player intros this year were super playful and entertaining, and gosh darnit, it was probably the most fun I had at a stadium ever. The atmosphere here is just great all-around and you can’t go wrong watching a game here.
Go to this stadium for the atmosphere, the fun, and the charm.
Avoid this stadium if you hate fun or instinctively recoil at the term “retro modern.”
Chunichi Dragons: Vantelin Dome Nagoya, Nagoya
OK, the Dragons had a lot going against them this season: They had the worst record in the league, finished last, and their mascot looks like a terrible MS Paint drawing from the 90s. But we must show them respect, as they were one of the first five NPB teams to be established in the 1930s.
I should also elaborate on the mascot situation: Their official mascot character is Doala, a koala/dragon hybrid. Why a koala? Well, Sydney, Australia is a sister city, and the zoo in Nagoya was the first in Japan to get koalas in 1984. The actual dragon in the logo, Shaolon, has been around much longer. He’s the MS Paint guy. Watching him on the field, however, is pretty enjoyable: He has long floppy feet so he does this odd kick-shuffle to get himself around the field. I find him endearing, all things considered.
As it is an inside stadium under a dome, it is more modern and comfortable. The seats are fine and the food offerings are nice as well. We went during Women’s weekend, which all NPB teams do at different points during the season. The cool thing here is that if you are a lady, you get a FREE jersey, usually with pink and blue (because… lady colors, I guess?). My wife ended up getting two jerseys throughout the season, so check the team’s web pages to see when they have it and get a ticket then. The quality of the jerseys is top-notch, too!
Go to this stadium for a more modern setting with modern comforts or if you like rooting for a true underdog.
Avoid this stadium if you’re looking for something with a bit more personality or very passionate fans to pump up the energy. The Hanshin Tigers, like the Dragons, are usually pretty bad but their fans are pretty amazing, so you should go there if you want people rooting for an underdog with all their heart.
Yokohama DeNA Baystars: Yokohama Stadium, Yokohama
This was one of the first stadiums I visited in Japan, but interestingly, the last stadium I was able to visit during this season. The team started as more of a club/amateur team in the 1930s before stepping into the majors in 1950 as the Taiyo Whales. Taiyo, you see, was a major whaling company back in the day, which caused and continues to cause absolutely no problems for Japan. Interestingly, they changed to the Robins for a short while, before going back to the Whales, and then finally giving the whole thing up in 1993 when Taiyo changed its name to Maruha and the Whales became the BayStars. Later, in 2011, game company DeNA bought the franchise, so they morphed into their current form: The DeNA BayStars!
It’s outside, a short walk, train ride, or bus ride from the center of Yokohama. It’s very modern and has lots of lovely places to eat and shop at the stadium. The stadium stores here are some of the best in Japan; this team really knows how to market and make merchandise for their team! This is on full display with their hamster mascot, DB Starman. You say “hamster” like “hamu-stah” in Japanese, so the “stah” on the end sounds a bit like “star,” which Japanese also pronounce as “stah” (a much more British pronunciation, to be sure). This plays into the BayStars and the fact that the little fella has a star on his face. Adorable!
Go to this stadium for cute mascots, great gifts, and its amazing location next to just about everything in Yokohama.
Avoid this stadium if you don’t enjoy the occasional boat horn blaring from the harbor, or if you’re agoraphobic.
And there we have it! Have you been to any of these stadiums? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!