What we call America’s pastime has been a passion in Japan since the late 1800s. The rules are largely the same: Three strikes you’re out, four balls is a walk, that sort of thing. But Japanese play to a tie, conduct marathon training sessions prior to each game, bunt runners into scoring position and tip their hats when pitchers hit batters. It’s the atmosphere at the ballpark that really sets the Japanese apart. In Japan, the bleacher bums are wild, filling the stadium with the pulse of bass drums, the slapping of plastic megaphones and the squeal of trumpets blowing renditions of “Anchors Away,” “Popeye the Sailorman” and the “Mickey Mouse Club Anthem.” The Japanese call these royal rooters the oendan, an organized cheering group, spurred on by whistle-blowing, flag waving, drum-beating cheerleaders. For the salaryman, the ballpark is the place to blow off steam. After several drinks, the reserved office worker becomes a screaming siren of sarcasm and scorn. The cheering never stops. Even when the game is over, the diehard fans are reluctant to leave. Many will remain standing on their seats, still chanting over the whine of gas-powered blowers herding trash from around the bleachers.
The higher priced seats offer a better view but not as much fun.
The food at stadium is a mix. From sushi to udon, to squid on a stick, Japan’s favorite ballpark fare is a far cry from peanuts and Cracker Jack. But fear not: At the modern stadiums such as Tokyo’s Big Egg and the Seibu Dome, fans can also stuff themselves with KFC and Domino’s Pizza. For beer, you don’t even have to stand up. Beer girls roam the stands with small kegs strapped to their backs to serve you a draft on the spot.
Of the 12 Japanese professional teams, six are homebased in the Tokyo area. The Nippon Ham Fighters and very popular Yomiuri Giants occupy the Tokyo Dome. The Yakult Swallows play in rustic Jingu Stadium, the Yokohama Bay Stars play a baseball’s throw away from Chinatown, and the Chiba Lotte Marines play near Disneyland. Each team can have three foreign players on their big league roster at a time, and some have major league experience. Harry Thompson. Photo by Michelle Nexon, March 2014.
Seibu Lions Stadium
The closest ballpark to Yokota is the Seibu Dome, about a 30-minute car trip out the East Gate. The Yujo Community Center has maps. Tickets range from about ¥1600 for outfield bleachers (¥600 for kids) to ¥3200 for infield reserved seats. The cheapest infield tickets are ¥2000 with advance purchase, and ¥1000 for kids. The regular season runs from April through mid-October. Then comes the Climax Series and Japan Series, culminating in mid-November. The helpful folks at the Yujo desk get help you get advance tickets three days before an event. Or buy tickets the day of the game at the Dome.
Tips for catching a Seibu Lions game
•If you buy a ticket at the stadium, you’ll be asked if you want to sit on the side of the Lions or the visitors. The home side is louder, more crowded and more fun. If you’re a big party, you might want to sit on the visitors’s side, where you’ll more likely find seats together.
• As you walk into the stadium, a stadium employee may hand you a small piece of paper. If your number is drawn during the game, you will receive a prize. About three winning numbers at a time are flashed on the large screen over the scoreboard at different times between innings.
• If you have a Reserved Seat ticket, your seat location will be printed on a line on the lower right of your ticket: 1) the block of seats (A=lower, B=upper), 2) the aisle, 3) the row, and 4) the seat number itself.
• Parking is limited and costs about ¥1100. You might want to take the train. It’s about an hour, with several transfers. Check Hyperdia for your options. Or better yet, take your bikes. The Seibu Dome is only 5 miles from the East Gate, although you do have to climb a hill.
•Games are only called because of heavy rain. Games can end with tie scores due to the 11PM deadline for games to end.
DIRECTIONS TO SEIBU DOME PARKING LOT D: Set your odometer to 0km as you exit the East Gate to the left. Turn right at the first light (0.2km) by the 7-11. Continue straight down this narrow road to the four-way intersection at 1.3km. Turn left. Keep going, past Aeon Mall on the right. Continue across Shin Ome Kaido. (It is signposted Route 5, but so is old Ome Kaido, which you’ll also soon cross.) Stay on this road through five lights. The road winds and climbs a hill. You’ll pass a large onsen on the left at 3.7km. Keep going. At the top of the hill you will see a blue sign pointing to the left for Lake Saimyo. Turn left there. Go downhill, past a small parking area for a temple, until you see a sign on the right with a large “P” and a somewhat smaller “D.” GPS: 35.7715, 139.4150. Edie Leavengood, Joe Harb. Updated 2011.
Baseball at the Tokyo Dome
Tokyo Dome or the “Big Egg” is the home of two teams, the Yomiuri Giants of the Central League and the Nippon Ham Fighters of the Pacific League. Seat prices for Giants games range from ¥l,000 to ¥4,900, for Nippon Ham Fighters, from ¥l,100 to ¥4,200. Giants night games start at 6pm and day games at 1pm. Nippon Ham day games start at 1pm and night games at 6:15. For ticket availability, call 03-3811-2111.
DIRECTIONS TO THE TOKYO DOME: Go to Fussa Station and purchase a ticket to Suidobashi. Take the train from Track 2 and if necessary transfer at Tachikawa for a train to Tokyo (Tracks 4 and 5). Get off at Shinjuku. Transfer to a Sobu Line train from Track 9 to Suidobashi. It’s the 7th station after Shinjuku.