The World Baseball Classic – Japanese Style!

Before the game, they played the Japanese National Anthem as well as the one from the Netherlands.

Before the game, they played the Japanese National Anthem as well as the one from the Netherlands.

The World Baseball Classic (WBC) is in full swing!  Sometimes described as the “World Cup of Baseball” the WBC is a double-elimination tournament played by the major league teams of countries around the world.  It was played in 2006 and 2009, and then, due to dropping baseball from the Olympics, the organizers determined that it would be played every four years, hence the 2013 tournament.

Japan was the winner of both the 2006 and 2009 classics, and is doing well in its bracket this year as well.  However, they did struggle a little against the Netherlands, and they still have a number of semifinal matches to go in San Francisco next week and the week after.  Their arch-rival, Cuba, was surprisingly defeated by the Netherlands in a win-or-go-home match over last weekend.

The Japan National Team played its games at the Tokyo Dome, and we had the opportunity to attend a game.  I have written extensively about baseball in the past, so you don’t really need to see photos again of the cute beer girls circulating through the stands or hear how the Japanese cheer in unison, not individually.  However, there are a few items of interest that are different.  Some of them are because it’s the Tokyo Dome and not Jingu Stadium, where normally see the Yakult Swallows play and some things are different because it’s the WBC, not a regular season game.

As we entered the Dome, there was staff on hand giving each person a sandwich bag. Every single person through the door had to put their cell phone into the baggie and have it out as they walked in past security or submitted to a white-glove bag check.  Why a plastic bag?  I’m not sure.  It seemed to be necessary for the phones to be seen as we went in, but I’m unclear on why.

Twice during the game there was an important announcement:  “ATTENTION PLEASE: IN CASE OF AN EARTHQUAKE PLEASE DO NOT PANIC AND RUN. THE TOKYO DOME IS BUILT TO WITHSTAND EARTHQUAKES AND YOU WILL BE SAFE.”  Somehow it didn’t make me feel all that safe – it put the idea of an earthquake while in a crowded place into my head where it wasn’t a thought before.  I am 100% certain that if there had been a quake, the Japanese people would have waited and sat still. The foreigners would have run for the door.

Unlike at the regular season Japanese ball games, there was  an American-style 7th inning stretch, complete with the song “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” sung by the announcer. He was a good sport, if not a great vocalist.  It was nostalgic.  Not too many Japanese knew the words to sing, however, and they weren’t displayed on the big screen, so it was up to the foreigners to belt it out as loudly as possible!

Here’s a photo of the fantastic scotches, bourbons, sakes and other upscale drinks available at a regular food stand.  In the US, the good stuff is reserved for the club level!

baseball scotch

And here’s a photo of stadium food being eaten by businessmen in black suits with chopsticks. Uniformity is crucial.  Not everyone looked like that, of course, but businessmen are identifiable.  Stadium food with chopsticks never fails to crack me up.  They have chicken nuggets and fries, and I’m sure I could probably find a  hotdog-like item if I worked at it, but in general Japanese stadium food is eaten with chopsticks.

baseball chopsticks

And last but not least, there’s the cleanup.  Someone on our row spilled some beer and magically a Tokyo Dome staff member appeared with paper towels and a trash bag, not leaving until everything was clean and dry.  When it was clear that the family behind us left for good after the 5th inning, another staff member appeared with a big bag and picked up their trash, wiping down the seats carefully as well.  Can you see that happening at Camden Yards or Fenway Park?

baseball cleanup

All in all it was a great night out at the ballgame!  We will be watching in the next few weeks to see who wins the title.  This game was not an elimination game, but rather a game to see who would get a number one and who would get a number two seed in the semifinal matches in the U.S. next week.  But I’m sure that the fans in San Francisco, no matter which game they’re watching, won’t have an experience precisely like mine.


Baseball in Tokyo – Japanese Style!

Baseball in Japan is similar to baseball in the U.S. if you’re only discussing the game itself. The strike zone is slightly smaller, games can end in ties, and even for a playoff game, the maximum number of innings is twelve. But for the fans, the experience is vastly different.

Last week, a whole group of friends went to see the Yakult Swallows play against the Yokohama Baystars.  We have been Swallows fans since moving to Tokyo for no particular reason other than the fact that they play their games not far from our house and they’re always the underdog – we love rooting for the underdog.  Yakult, I have to mention, is a drink company in Japan.  Corporations are allowed to sponsor teams – as evidenced by the likes of the Yomiuri Giants – a media company, or the Softbank Hawks – a cellphone company.  There aren’t monopolies in the cities either – the teams are all clustered in big cities like Tokyo, Yokohama, Fukuoka or Osaka.

The Swallows play at a huge stadium in Jingumae – near the Meiji Shrine.

The food at the stadium is vastly different.  There is Kentucky Fried Chicken there now, but that is new.  There are all kinds of Japanese options from various noodle dishes to a plate full of tiny sausages as a nod to the American hotdog, which is not readily available.  The other option, which we employ, is bringing in food.  We can bring in whatever we want – which is a much less expensive choice.  The kids – and what kids don’t – all wanted ice cream.  A guy was walking around in the stands with a box strapped on labeled with the Baskin Robbins sign.  I assumed it was going to be little cups of ice cream. But nope – in true Japanese, innovative fashion, a cone of ice cream was packed tightly in a plastic casing.  The flavors were vanilla, chocolate, green tea, pop-rock, and a few other oddities.  For more than one child, however, the ice cream fell off the cone and we had to get a new one.  It’s not that easy for kids to handle these items.

I love the way the beer works at the stadium.  It’s all separated by brand. There are a few types of beer that have the hawkers with bottles or cans.  But most of the vendors – most often young girls – walk around the stadium dressed in cutesy little uniforms with kegs strapped to their backs.  Highly efficient!  Less waste!

Cheering is in a category of its own with Japanese baseball.  There is no private, individual shouting.  All cheers are group cheers.  There are proscribed cheers for each player as he comes up to bat.  There are cheers for the homeruns, cheers for the hits, and even cheers for the outs.  When a player rounds home plate, and successfully scores, everyone in the stands raises a mini umbrella (which has nothing to do with the weather!) and moves it up and down, side to side in unison while singing.  It is quite a sight!  The whole thing personifies the Japanese emphasis on the collective rather than the individual.

Our tickets are always in the outfield with a good view of everything – and not too expensive – just over $20 per seat.  It’s a great way to have a family outing – and do something multi-cultural yet related to American culture too.