23 April 2018
No. 44, Steven Moya, swaggered up to the plate. At nearly 6’5″, he towered over his teammates. He eyed the pitcher, and brought the bat up into position. His pristine white uniform was marred by a brown smear of dirt on one thigh from an earlier slide to second. Was he going to hit it home this time? Or would he strike out on another crazy fly ball? It was anybody’s guess. The giant, Puerto Rican right fielder was nothing if not fun to watch.
The Chunichi Dragons fans in the stands surrounding me knew this, and excitedly sang the chant that was being shown on the giant TV screen above the outfield. Most of it was in Japanese, but I joined in for:
La la la la
La la la la la la
Go for victory
Let’s go, Moya!
I am not a sports person. I have been known to be bored to tears during baseball games, even big ones like the World Series. So what was I doing here, at a baseball game in Japan, singing chants?
Baseball is a big deal here in Japan, so when my friend suggested we go to a game I agreed. I figured it would be an interesting cultural experience, and that we’d watch a little baseball but mostly eat food and drink beer.
I was wrong.
Kanazawa, where we live, has no professional team, so Saturday night we took the highway bus down to Nagoya. Those readers that know me or have been following this blog for a while will remember that I used to live in Nagoya, for the first few months of my life in Japan. You will also remember that I didn’t like it very much, but the Chunichi Dragons (Nagoya’s home team) were playing the Hiroshima Carp, a team with notoriously passionate and crazy fans, so it looked like it would be a fun game.
Nagoya, however, surprised me. Late Saturday night we went to Fushimi Bar, a wine bar where I had spent many nights before and who’s owner, Kayo, had become a friend of mine. It’s a cozy little spot with great wines, and Kayo and her friendly patrons welcomed us, and later that night took us to a hidden shochu bar where the bald proprietor made his own umeshu (Japanese plum wine) and fruit-infused liquors.
Sunday before the game, we stopped by Nagoya Castle to stroll the grounds and view the exhibits. I had been to Nagoya Castle before, and in my memory the grounds had been average and the exhibits dull. Perhaps my mind had played tricks on me, because the gardens we explored were lush and verdant and the displays of samurai armor, katana swords, and castle history were fascinating. It goes to show how your state of mind and company affect your experience.
The game started at 14:00, so before too long it was time to make our way to Nagoya Dome. The minute we stepped out of the subway, we joined a long stream of fans, clad in blue for the Dragons and red for the Carp. It seemed that everyone but us was decked out in jerseys and caps, with coordinated sweat towels and lanyards hanging around their necks. It was a very festive environment.
We passed through security, which in itself was interesting. Our bags were lightly glanced over. and then there was a plastic cup station. At Nagoya Dome, feel free to bring your own beer, but there is no glass or cans allowed inside, so be prepared to pour it out into a provided plastic cup. I can’t imagine that being allowed at an American game.
Once we finally entered the stadium, my jaw dropped. Surrounding us was sea of bright lights and colors, the green and warm brown of the field and baseball diamond, and solid blocks of red and blue in their respective halves of the seats. And our seats were so close to the field!
We took our seats and settled in for the game. Naturally, the first thing we needed was a beer. Well, at a Japanese game you are covered. Where at games in the US there are stadium employees hawking cotton candy and ice cream in the stands, in Japan there are beer girls. Clad in the various beer brand uniforms, with matching visor and winning smile, beer girls (and boys) will walk down to the front of their section, take a little bow to thank you for allowing them to serve you, and then raise their hand as they dart throughout the stands to take care of thirsty patrons. Strapped to their backs are draft beer backpacks, which was pretty much the most genius thing I’d ever seen.
American baseball games are generally quiet affairs. The crowd watches players step up to bat, hear the “thwack” of the ball, and then make noise in reaction to what happens. Japanese games are far noisier. The cheering sections include drums, horns and giant flags for the different teams, and every player has a different chant or theme song that is emblazoned across the giant TV screen so that the fans can sing along, beating small plastic bats in time. When a good or disappointing play happens, the hum becomes a roar of triumph or a collective moan. The 7th inning stretch is a full-on performance, including the anthems of both teams, and a show by the cheerleaders and mascots of the home team.
The Chunichi Dragons have a pretty strange mascot, Doala, a blue koala. Doala’s shining moment comes during the 7th inning show when he does a series of cartwheels, culminating in a back flip – that he sometimes doesn’t land properly. The day we watched, Doala missed, landing on an over-sized furry blue ear instead of his feet. He crouched on the ground in shame, as the rows of cheerleaders walked away dismissively. I’ve seen a lot of weird shit in Japan, and this definitely was one such moment.
What I didn’t expect was that I would get so swept up that I would actually watch the game. The rules of baseball have always been a little elusive to me, but my friend explained and I started to catch on. The excitement and passion of the crowd surely helped. I had thought we would watch a little baseball and eat and drink a lot; instead, we watched a lot of baseball and only had one beer and a few breaded chicken skewers (no Dodger dogs here!). When the Dragons won, we were among the hoards of fans who jumped to their feet and whooped and cheered in excitement. Transfixed, we didn’t leave, but stayed through the ending celebration that included interviews with a few star players and a final performance of the cheerleaders, shaking along to “Dancing Queen” under rainbow lights.
Finally, it was time to make our way to the station and eat some proper food before our train back that evening. I had been correct. Watching a baseball game in Japan had been an interesting cultural experience – and one that I had fully immersed myself in. Now, if someone were to ask who my favorite baseball player is, I have an answer.
Steven Moya, No. 44, right fielder for the Chunichi Dragons.