by Francois, staff writer of japan-guide.com
2008/05/08 - Baseball Game
Golden Week is the biggest holiday in Japan, consisting of three consecutive days off. This year, thanks to one of those days regrettably coinciding with a Saturday, it amounted to a paltry four days instead of the usual five. Nonetheless, I took the opportunity to go down to the Chugoku region for a bit. While there, I finally got around to doing something that I planned to do many occasions but always ended up putting off; catching a Japanese baseball game.
I had known for sometime of baseball's immense popularity in Japan, and though no avid fan, knew of Japanese exports to the MLB like Matsui, Ichiro, and Matsuzaka. When the first World Baseball Classic took place in 2006, I figured Japan would be a solid team, but I was quite shocked when they ended up beating Cuba in the final. After having been to a game now, and seeing first hand the energy of the fans, I am no longer surprised; baseball is a veritable Japanese passion.
When I had envisioned watching a game in Japan, I figured it would be either of Tokyo's Yomiuri Giants or Osaka and Kobe's Hanshin Tigers (the team is located, and shared, between the two major cities). Both the Giants and the Tigers are storied teams of typical baseball lore.
Like the New York Yankee's, Tokyo's Yomiuri Giants are the perennial favourites, flush with cash, and kind of hated by everyone else. The Tigers on the other hand, with a rabidly devoted fanbase and a reputation as hard-luck underdogs, are often compared to the Boston Red Sox. In fact, whereas the Sox had to contend the the Curse of the Bambino, the Tigers are plagued by the specter of KFC's Colonel Saunders (explained here). Contrary to my expectations though, my first baseball game in Japan was with neither the Giants nor the Tigers; it was with the Carp.
On a couple days' stop in Hiroshima, noticing that the Yokohama's team was in town, I decided to get tickets and catch the Sunday game. Hiroshima's home team goes by the rather unintimidating name "Carp". With the season just beginning, I was expecting a rather calm but enjoyable day at the park. I couldn't have been more mistaken.
As soon as I walked in the stadium I heard horns and drums rallying the fans. In the picture above you can see the Carp devoted being led in one of their many songs. One of the things I appreciated the most, and which surely contributes to the festive atmosphere, was the fact that alcohol and food can be brought into the stadium. In my experience, it usually costs more than the ticket for a couple drinks and a hot dog, so I welcomed the change.
I was immediately impressed by both the friendliness and liveliness of the Hiroshima crowd. A sea of Carp hats and jerseys, they followed each play attentively. A small section of Yokohama supporters could be picked out as a blotch of blue in the otherwise sea of red. For the 7th inning stretch, balloons were passed around and everyone joined in the singing of the Carp theme, of which I was only able to catch the chorus (ca-pu, ca-pu, ca-pu Hiroshima, Hi-ro-shi-ma ca-pu). After the song the balloons were released, flying through the air and filling the sky, like a giant mass of the namesake fish.
The energy at the game was contagious, and I quickly became a convert to the Carp cause, which, unfortunately, also seemed like a lost cause; the Carp were trailing Yokohama's BayStars 6-2 in the bottom of the 8th. Then somehow, batter after batter put wood on ball and got on base. I then witnessed perhaps the best comeback I'd ever seen, as the Carp scored 6 runs to take the lead by two. The crowd was utterly ecstatic, and the energy incredible. As a first baseball game in Japan, it couldn't have been any better.