I once read that 'Cricket is an Indian game that just happened to be invented in England', and judging by Japan's passion for baseball, it may be fair to say that 'Baseball is a Japanese game that just happened to be invented in the United States'.
Baseball was introduced in the 1870's as American missionaries founded western-style schools all across the country as part of the Meiji government's modernization policy (interestingly, while baseball became Japan's #1 sport, Christianity has long hovered around only 1% of the Japanese population, so the missionaries were successful, just not in the way they probably wanted). High school baseball in Japan is as big a deal as high school American football in Texas, with the yearly national championship tournament in Osaka being one of the major events of the spring. Internationally, Japan has done quite well, with two World Baseball Classic championships (baseball's World Cup). They'll even be bringing baseball back to the Olympics after a 12-year hiatus for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games, and I can't help but imagine it was partly due to the host nation. In the United States, Japanese exports such as Yu Darvish and Ichiro Suzuki have become huge stars on American teams (the latter is practically a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame after he retires). All this to say, the Japanese are quite good at baseball, and for American tourists in particular the chance to see a professional Japanese baseball game shouldn't be overlooked. Below are 3 easily-accesible stadiums in the Tokyo/ Yokohama metro area.
Meiji Jingu Stadium
Opened in 1926, this old-timer isn't just a piece of Japanese baseball history, it also has a bit of American baseball history: Babe Ruth once played here during a tour of Japan in 1934 with a team of American All-Stars. An ultra-nationalist group was so enraged that a foreign team had been allowed to play on the 'sacred' grounds that they attempted to assassinate a high-raking politician as revenge (The 1930's weren't Japan's best years). Meiji Jingu is the home field of the Tokyo Swallows, perennial underdogs in their crosstown rivalry with the juggernaut Tokyo Giants. Located between Shinjuku and Harajuku, Meiji Jingu Stadium is accessible by taking the Ginza Subway Line to the Gaien-Mae stop, or the Chuo train line to the Shinanomachi stop. Be sure to pick up a small umbrella from one of the official goods shops around the stadium, it's a Swallows fan tradition to open these, wave them around, and sing the team's fight song after scoring a run.
Opened in 1988, Tokyo Dome is the home of the team often called 'Japan's New York Yankees': the Tokyo Giants. Owned by the world's largest newspaper company, the Giants have never had issues with money or publicity. You can find their fans all over the country and their trophy case is crammed full of Japan Series championships. The Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame is even built into their stadium. Definitely a 'Love them or hate them' team. If you try to attend a weekend game, make sure to show up early if you don't have reservations, because they have a LOT of fans. The Dome itself may have been futuristic in the 1980's, but it's not terribly impressive in the 2010's (there's a reason American baseball teams have been abandoning domes as fast as they can). Admittedly, I'm a Swallows fan, so my opinion of anything Giants-related may not be entirely unbiased. In any event, there is a sizable amusement park surrounding Tokyo Dome, so you have other entertainment options in the immediate area. Tokyo Dome is accessible by taking the Chuo train line or the Toei Mita Subway Line to the Suidobashi stop.
Home field of the Yokohama BayStars, Yokohama Stadium is situated adjacent to Yokohama Chinatown, a 15 minute walk from the waterfront, and surrounded by skyscrapers, giving it a cool urban feel and the best location of the 3 stadiums listed. Particularly notable is the large red 'YMCA' sign visible over the left field bleachers. The Stadium is accessible by taking the Negishi Line, Yokohama Line, or Yokohama Municipal Subway Blue Line to Kannai Station. Kannai Station itself is always covered in BayStars decorations, even during the off-season, most notably the large BayStars batting helmets mounted above the entrances.
Various Tips And Miscellany
- If you can, ALWAYS get outfield seats- these are the fun ones! Japanese rooting sections are quite different from what you might see in an American ballpark. The fan club will bring in its own drums and other instruments, and particularly loud fans will be chosen to lead the various cheers (they have a unique cheer for every player on the team!). All of this is organized by the fans themselves, they're not paid employees, just pure enthusiasts. The home team's fan club will be in the right field bleachers, while the visiting fan club will be in the left field bleachers. The more expensive infield seats full of respectable salarymen are dreadfully dull by comparison.
- Apparently green beans and orange juice are considered stadium foods in Japan. This may be why I've seen so few overweight Japanese people...
- Speaking of concessions, the vendors in the stands are almost always pretty young women in skirts. Pretty devious, Japan, pretty devious.
- This may be sacrilege to American baseball fans, but Japanese baseball has official, pompom waving cheerleaders who perform between innings.
- Japanese pro games have a maximum length of 12 innings or 3 hours 30 minutes, as a power-saving measure (those stadium lights use lots of electricity). Playoff games get exceptions to these rules. Any regular season games that end in ties are made up at the end of the season if it affects the playoffs.
- You'll need to take public transport to access these stadiums. There is -quite literally- no parking at all around them.
- You can bring in your own food from outside these stadiums, which is unthinkable in American ballparks but I'm not complaining!
- Tokyo Swallows tickets can be ordered in English through the Harajuku Tourist Information Center. The English version of the Tokyo Giants website has a built-in ticket ordering feature. You'll need a knowledge of Japanese to reserve Yokohama BayStars tickets, as they have no English-language ticket services.
- Maybe it's just Japanese politeness, but visiting teams are allowed to sell their own souvenirs in the stadium as well.
-Robert Whiting's book You Gotta Have Wa! is the best single source for more information on Japanese baseball.
- Go Go Swallows!