We’re not huge sports fans, but I had been told that seeing a baseball game at Tokyo Dome was a highly recommended experience on any Japan itinerary. So, we booked tickets to see Tokyo’s Yomiuri Giants in action at the Tokyo Dome.
Japanese baseball is exactly like the American version. It is believed that its popularity stretches way back to the 1870s when American expats introduced it to Japan, and there has been a professional Japanese league since the 1920s. There are now two professional leagues – the Central League (which Yomiuri Giants are a part of) and the Pacific League. Teams are owned by companies and/or individuals, which is quite different to the way Australian sporting teams (such as AFL teams) are owned/funded.
The Yomiuri Giants are based in Bunkyo in Tokyo and play their home games at the Tokyo Dome. The team is owned by the media conglomerate Yomiuru Group. It is sometimes referred to as the Tokyo Giants, but that name is not generally used within Japan.
The game we booked tickets for was between the Yomiuri Giants and Hiroshima Toyo Carp, a team based in Hiroshima and majority-owned by the Matsuda family (descendants of the Mazda founder). The Mazda company also owns a share of that team.
More than 60 baseball games are played each year at Tokyo Dome, which was Japan’s first domed stadium when it opened in 1988. It is an air-supported dome (the air pressure inside the stadium is slightly higher that that of the outside air, which keeps the dome membrane ‘inflated’). The stadium seats 55,000 people.
As we were staying relatively nearby at Hotel Chinzanso, we just took a taxi to the Tokyo Dome, and were dropped off right outside. The girls had been hopeful that there would be time to have a go on the Thunder Dolphin roller coaster at the entertainment and amusement park facility located within Tokyo Dome City. However, the ride had just closed when we got there. (I was *really* disappointed about that…)
Had we wanted to use public transport to get to the Dome, there is a nearby subway stop (Korakuen on the Marunouchi line) and a JR station two blocks away (JR Suidobashi Station).
In the streets surrounding the Dome and in the forecourt are a number of street vendors selling a variety of foods, drinks and merchandise for the game. We made a stop at one of the Giant’s merchandise stalls. After perusing the crowd flooding into the stadium, we worked out that the done thing is to wear a towel over your shoulders in the team colours. So we purchased some shoulder towels. Lots of people had clapping sticks and horns. You could also buy caps, t-shirts, seat cushions etc.
Then we had to find the right gate for entry. We had printed out our tickets at home, and while they were in Japanese, the words (gate) and (aisle) were on the tickets next to the numbers 40 and 6. So we found gate 40 to enter the stadium itself.
Entry is via revolving doors (to maintain the air pressure) and once inside, there was a security check of any bags. You are allowed to bring in cameras, food and drinks with you (even alcoholic drinks) but not in glass containers. If you bring in beer or soft drinks in cans, attendant offers you disposable cups and you have to open them and pour the contents into those cups.
There’s a number of food concessions within the stadium concourse. We were planning to have dinner after the game so we just bought some popcorn to snack on during the game. However, once we found our aisle and seats, the most interesting part of the pre-game for us, was watching the crowd around us unpack their foodstuffs. Many people had brought in food in bento boxes or other small containers, and it was interesting to watch the ritual that went on as food was offered to and accepted by their companions.
The seating is relatively steep. We were up in block E22 which was high up behind the home plate (is that what it’s called?). There’s not a lot of legroom, and if people further along the row come late, everyone needs to stand and reshuffle to allow them through to their seats.
We were given the promotional fan and what appeared to be a program on entry (it’s all in Japanese, as you would expect). The back page of the program was filled with a players list for the Giants, and it was interesting to count up the photos – 69 in total. That seems to be a lot of players to have on the payroll for a game which requires only nine players at a time! While their names and details were all in Japanese, I was able to establish that the youngest on the list was born in 1995 and the oldest in 1975. They weigh between 66 kg and 109 kg, and are between 168cm and 198 cm tall.
Each of the teams had a cheering section in the stands behind the field (i.e. the back right and left sides of the diamond if you’re looking from the home plate. These areas led the cheering, chanting and singing, and it appeared to be highly organised as to which team’s supporters got to cheer when. While these areas seemed to lead the cheering, the rest of the crowd followed.
The noise inside the stadium was indescribable. It’s a combination of drums beating, sticks clapping, singing, chanting. It’s a very different type of noise from what you would hear at an Australian footy game.
The game itself was not exactly edge-of-the-seat stuff. There were no home runs scored at all for most of the game. In fact, the first home run wasn’t scored until the 8th innings, with another two in the 9th. The final score was Yomiuri Giants 2, Hiroshima Carp 1. I’m not sure if such low scores are normal in a baseball game?
This short YouTube video from One World Sports TV shows the highlights of the actual game we saw.
Despite the low-scoring game, there was plenty to keep us entertained. As we looked across the crowd we spotted a veritable army of cute girls climbing the steep stairs like mountain goats, but loaded up with barrels on their backs. These barrels were mostly filled with beer, and had a hose and trigger attachment which allowed the girls to swiftly shoot a serve of beer into one of the plastic cups attached to their holster in return for 800 Yen. They never seemed to stop moving, darting from one section of the seating to the next. I couldn’t help thinking that these girls were the true athletes that night.
Plus, on the ground there were cheerleaders at certain points in the game, and a clutch of cavorting mascots called the Giabbits, who are giant orange rabbits.
The recommendation to go see a game at the Tokyo Dome was a good one. You don’t have to be a baseball fan (or even a sports fan at all for that matter) to appreciate the spectacle and fanaticism of the Japanese baseball crowd.
The detailsWhen: the baseball season begins around the end of March and goes to the end of September, with a championship season in October
English language website: www.giants.jp
Time: Most games are played in the evening with some weekend afternoon games
Tickets: I bought our tickets on-line through e-tix. Anne from Pretraveller has written a great post about how to book Yomiuri Giants tickets for the Tokyo Dome (click the link to go to the post)
Price: Our tickets right up high in the stands were 2,300 Yen each
Does the idea of seeing a baseball game appeal to you?