On a recent trip to Asia, I had a 20-hour layover in Tokyo. After booking the ticket, I decided to check to see if there was a baseball game that day and was happy to find the Yomiyuri Giants (the Yankees of Japan) had a home game at Tokyo Dome against the Tokyo Yakult Swallows.
Flying in to Haneda, rather than Narita, made the opportunity all the more possible, because Haneda (the city airport) provides much easier access to the downtown area by city train or monorail. Having a large part of the day to kill after listening to the end of the Cubs win against the Pirates in the airport terminal, I made my way into the city at about 8:00 AM.
Getting around by train is very easy. The stops are all written in Kanji and English, with stop announcements also made in English. Being a Saturday morning, the trains were also not at all crowded. If you want an experience, take a train through Tokyo during a business day rush hour. Be sure to rub on the ARRID Extra Dry.
Arriving in the Akihabara area at about 9:00 AM, I basically Mr. Magooed it around town for the next six hours. With all the side streets and alleys to navigate, and thanks to it being a safe city with plenty of places with Wi-Fi access to regain my bearings with Google Maps, I never felt lost or out of place.
Mind you, there is a train stop right at Tokyo Dome City, but that would be for the necessary quick return trip. I wanted to take some time to not be in a hurry. This isn’t a tourism site, so I will skip the report on Akihabara except to advise if you are of vertical affinity, as am I, prepare to duck a lot.
So on to the Nippon Professional Baseball League experience.
First off, buying tickets for a game there is no different from buying them here. I was able to select my seats from the Yomiyuri Giants website and buy my ticket with a major credit card. Rather than having the tickets mailed, you can print them at the kiosk outside the stadium. You can also print them at most 7-11 stores in the city. Be sure to have the card you used to buy them.
As for ticket prices, they are quite comparable to US games. Tickets range from 1700 Yen to 7200 Yen ($14 to $16). My ticket in left field was 2200 Yen (about $18).
Get there early and explore
Tokyo Dome is located in Tokyo City, pretty comparable to Navy Pier. It’s a tourist and locals attraction with kids parks, shops, the Japan Baseball Hall of Fame, western-style restaurants and a roller coaster. You don’t put a roller coaster outside a ballpark with me getting there three hours before first pitch and expect me not to ride it.
The other thing you see around the park three hours before game time? Thousands of Giants fans. Not hundreds. Thousands. It’s not the party atmosphere like you see around Wrigley pre-game either. There’s hardly any drinking (saw maybe one or two people walking with beer), loud thumping music, jar heads or some dude panhandling in a goat costume (other costumes come later).
Most are standing in long, winding lines waiting to enter one of the many gates that circle Tokyo Dome. Others sit like pigeons in a park, barely saying a word, most in silence. It didn’t click yet, but in hindsight it was my first indication these cats are here to watch baseball and are serious about their game.
Donning my Cubs alternate blue batting practice jersey, I navigated the crowds, just experiencing things. Not many people looked at the tall white fella in the non-Giants jersey, but those who did looked not as much at me, but at the jersey, and the look wasn’t friendly. Not in any way threatening; just not friendly. I guess it was because it wasn’t a Giants jersey.
About 90 minutes before first pitch, I made my way in to Tokyo Dome. I figured it would be cool to see the place from the inside, until I went inside. If you were ever to the old Metrodome, it’s pretty much that. Narrow, bland concourses with small concession stands here and there and a few souvenir stands. Nothing too exciting.
Concessions are about the same prices as major league parks, but cheaper than Wrigley, and offer a lot of local fare. Facing a 45-minute train ride to the airport that night, I didn’t want to be too daring with the noodles or sushi and opted for some kind of sausage on a stick.
The seats are definitely not made for the carriages of expats, and there were not arm rests between seats in my section, so prepare to get up close and personal with your neighbors. You should also NOT bring anything in the park you don’t need. There just isn’t room for bags or coats in your seats. There are, however, plenty of coin lockers outside the park, so make use of them. They run 500 Yen or 800 Yen and only accept 100 Yen coins, so bring correct change.
To say the fans are into their team or the game is an understatement. As the videos below demonstrate, the atmosphere is less like a baseball game and more like a European soccer game. Chants and songs will start with a couple people somewhere, and within moments, the entire outfield section is chanting or singing along, horns blowing, hollow tubes banging together.
Almost like the sound of surf hitting the sand, one moment the waves are crashing and the next, the tide pulls back and things are calm. It comes from out of nowhere and then dissipates, only to return again.
It was during one of those calm moments I decide to let out a chant of my own and pull the, “Let’s go, Cubbies! (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap).
Eerie, nonresponsive silence, only to be replaced seconds later by a lot of conversation behind me. I had no idea what those folks were saying, because my Spanish isn’t what it used to be, but I am certain it was something about some other American’s breach of etiquette.
Maybe it wasn’t me. Perhaps it was that I was sitting in the section next to the one reserved for the visiting Swallows fans. That’s right. Much like a college game, there is a whole section for the visiting team, where those fans do their own songs and chants, horns and hollow tunes a clacking.
I sat right on the edge of the section, where Swallows fans bled a few seats into enemy territory.
With all the chanting and cheering, aside from a few glares at the guy next to me who was a wee bit over the top with his yells and tube clacks, there was no animosity.
For the most part, it seems, aside from interaction between people who came together, there really isn’t much, if any interaction aside from the group songs and chants. There’s a locked-in feel to it. Nothing like the bleachers at Wrigley, where perhaps a third of the people or more aren’t paying attention to the game at a given time.
I will never complain about Clark again
Rewind quickly to about 20 minutes before first pitch. The players were done with their pre-game workouts and drills, so I took a quick bathroom break. When I returned to my seat five minutes later, I saw something I’ve never seen before. Dozens of mascots of all ranges, species and (lack of) super power had stormed the field and were wandering, seemingly dazed and confused, around the infield and outfield. Balancing the scales of this the drunken invasion were cheerleaders doing a routine on the infield.
I was sure I ate a bad mushroom at lunch, but as the crowd reacted with glee (at which of the bumps, spins, frolics or fall-downs, I am still unsure), I forced my brain to realize it was not hallucinating. This was real, and it was happening.
I’ll be back
Going on 45 minutes of sleep on an overnight flight and facing another overnight flight, I couldn’t stay for the entire game. The train system is easy, but falling asleep and missing my connecting train (and subsequent flight) didn’t appeal to me.
I wish I could have stayed for the entire game. I would have loved to see how the fans responded to a win or loss and what else the game had to offer, both in play on the field or further confusing on-field entertainment.
I’m not sure when my travels will bring me back to Japan, but you can bet when they do, I will be certain to go to another Nippon Professional Baseball game.
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