Take Me Out to the Ball Game – in Japan

Byron Tau wrote a great piece in today’s Wall Street Journal about watching a baseball game in Japan.

Baseball is my favorite of the big 4 professional sports, probably because it’s the one I played the most as a kid (not well, however).

It sounds like they take their baseball quite seriously in Japan. Just read Tau’s opening paragraph:

The fight songs began before the first pitch and never let up. Each time a player approached the plate, thousands of fans packed into the oendan, or outfield cheering section, burst into a different song, all while watching every pitch, every swing of the bat and every routine ground ball with rapt attention.

That sounds like the kind of game I’d like to be at.

Tau notes that baseball is Japan’s most popular spectator sport—edging out homegrown sports like sumo and Western imports like soccer, and that the country’s high school baseball tournament practically grinds the nation to a halt each summer.

He also notes that visitors, even those who don’t speak the language, can take in a baseball game with surprising ease. There’s even typical American stadium food, along with some local options, such as fried dough with octopus (no thank you…).

If you go to Meiji Jingu Stadium to se Tokyo Yakult Swallows, it is recommended that you bring an umbrella, not only because rain often pelts Tokyo during the summer but so that you can participate in the fans’ signature umbrella dance. Every time the Swallows score a run, the crowds sing “Tokyo Ondo” while dancing with their umbrellas. The umbrella dance is also part of the seventh inning stretch.

If you are planning to go see a game, and now I really want to, Tau offers the following advice:

The outfield cheering sections, or oendan, are for die-hard fans. They are divided by team to keep rival fan squads apart. Every stadium has a section for the home team and the visiting team. Foreigners are tolerated in the oendan, but avoid rooting for any team except the one your seatmates support—it’s not only gauche but an usher might ask you to move to a different section. For a more relaxed vibe, get seats elsewhere in the stadium.

I’d want to get the full experience, so I’d opt for seats with the die-hard fans, and I’d gladly join those around me in the cheering.

I just hope they don’t mind if I sneak in some Cracker Jacks and sing Take Me Out to the Ball Game during the seventh inning stretch, or as they call it in Japan, the Lucky 7.

Play ball! Or as they say in Japan, 試合開始

photos from the Wall Street Journal, by Tobias Hutzler