A few days after I arrived in Tokyo a friend from New York happened to swing through Tokyo as well. Two years ago I missed him and his wife in Paris by a few hours and a year ago I saw them in Buenos Aires, so naturally we now joke that we only see each other overseas. This time around J’s wife was skipping Japan to head directly to Hong Kong because of her work schedule so J was in Tokyo for a few days by himself.
On the very top of his list of things to do in Japan was going to a baseball game. I’d always heard about how fun Japanese baseball games were; of course there is no difference in how the game is played but what’s interesting is the way the fans cheer on their favorite teams. As well as taking in the game, surely there would be some Japanese snacks and cold beers to go with this outing. What could be more fun than spending a sunny afternoon with a good friend who was making his first trip to Japan?
Easier said than done though… J told me getting tickets to a baseball game proved to be rather difficult and confusing (couldn’t purchase them online or in person at convenient stores in Tokyo). Luckily I had a local friend/huge baseball fan who told me what I could do. He said Tokyo Giants games (played at the world’s largest roofed stadium, Tokyo Dome) sell out quickly and maybe you can go in person to the stadium to try your luck. But if you wanted to see the Tokyo Swallows at Meiji Jingu on the other hand, that wasn’t too difficult at all. He guaranteed that if you just turn up at the stadium on the day of the game (especially on Sundays), you were good to go. So that’s what we did.
He was totally right. We walked right up about 30 minutes before the game and within 5 minutes we had two tickets in hand. And they were great seats (the tix were ¥3,800 a piece, ~$40 USD).
J and I are very much used to having metal detectors, bag checks, and all kinds of security hurdles when attending a sports game in New York, so we pleasantly surprised to waltz right into the stadium. Not only that, the ushers presented large paper cups, opened our cans of beer, and poured them out for us as well. We’d seen other people carry in bags of goodies so we went to a nearby convenient store and stocked up on beer and snacks to take with us. When the ushers opened the first two cans of beer we thought we were in trouble, thinking that they weren’t going to allow us to take the rest in with us. But it turned out that they were just being nice!
Our outside beers came and went rather quickly so we flagged down the Yebisu beer girl to get another round. She knelt down in front of us and used the portable keg that she carried on her back to give us a cold draft beer. I learned this later from a different friend but Meiji Jingu Stadium is one of the few places (they have them at Tokyo Dome as well) where you can see these girls at work. Read more about them here. Only in Japan!?
The home team, Tokyo Yakult Swallows was playing the Yokohama Bay Stars on this sunny Sunday. We sat on the Swallows side but it sounded as if the Bay Star fans were much louder and better organized. They had a brass band that played enthusiastically and the fans had some great cheers and songs as well. The Swallows fans, on the other hand, seemed rather subdued. They didn’t have any noise makers or a band. What they did have, however, were small plastic umbrellas. Fortunately for J and me, we got to see them all stand up and use those little umbrellas a few times because there were three back to back home runs by the Swallows during the second inning!
From what I understand, the Swallows are to the Tokyo Giants the way the New York Mets are to the Yankees, i.e. they are usually the underdogs/ less flashier team. J said that as a lifelong Mets fan, it felt right to be cheering for the Swallows…
J made an interesting observation about the fans, noting that they were all polite and considerate. When the Bay Stars’ fans were singing or cheering, the Swallows fans kept quiet. The same was true when things were the other way around. Oh. So. Japanese…
No, J and I didn’t drink on an empty stomach. Yes, we tried all kinds of Japanese snacks. We had おでん oden (fish cakes stewed in soy based dashi- first time for J and he liked it), dried するめ surume (squid), rice rolls with たらこわさび tarako wasabi (salted roe and wasabi), たこ焼き takoyaki (octopus balls) with bonito shavings and mayonnaise.
Everything tasted great, especially with cold beer. It also helped that the weather was phenomenal and our home team kicked Yokohama Bay Stars’ butt! The final score: 10 – 6.
On the way out, J bought a little something to commemorate his first Japanese baseball game.
This game also marked the start of our mini Japanese beer tour. More on where J & I continued our beer powered fun in Tokyo tomorrow.
Japanese beers tried at the game: Kirin Green Label, Asahi Super Dry Black, and Yebisu Premium