Folks, from here on out, the SITB (that’s Super Ichiban Travel Blog for the uninitiated) will be shifted to a Tuesday/Thursday(/maybe Saturday) schedule (there are really only nine or so posts left, including this one) so that the blog can return to its regularly scheduled programming on MWF. The MLB playoffs have started and here I am still talking about my time in Japan. I need to be covering this! You’ll recall that I wrote daily posts about the playoffs last year. Neither the Marlins nor the Rays made it this year, but that won’t necessarily keep me from adding in extra coverage as I see fit.
You ever find yourself thinking, "If only I had my own city..."?
Fukuoka seems like a neat city with tons to do, but we were on a schedule and the place is just too remote for us to make a hub, so off to Kyoto we went.
Cue travel montage.
We rode past Mazda Stadium (Home of the Carp) on our way to Kyoto.
It’s a short montage. I only took two pictures and they were both of Mazda Stadium, so I’ll spare you the other one.
There really was no need for that, it’s clearly an inferior picture, but, oh well, it’s done and I can’t take it back.
I'll put the better one back up again.
Ok, the travel montage is actually over now. We arrived in Kyoto, but this time we were staying in a different hotel from before. For some reason, Kyoto has two hotels named APA Kyoto whose only difference is an address. We were at the one located further from the rail station, behind some side streets, and across a path in which several of the folks in our tour were almost killed by bicyclists. The only cool part was that I had to pass a Bic Camera on my way to the train station and you bet that I was going to go in and look for good import games for my region-free systems.
A Bic Camera employee demoing Wii Sports outside the store.
Having skipped breakfast that day, I was looking for a quick pick-me-up once we returned to the station that would tide me over until I got to the ballpark for lunch. At a shop on the platform (almost every major platform has food kiosks that carry snacks and newspapers), I noticed a box of something I saw in Metal Gear Solid 3: CalorieMate.
I honestly had no idea what exactly CalorieMate was, I just knew that it restored Snake’s health meter all the way when consumed, so it couldn’t be all that bad for you, could it? When I researched it a little later on, I found out that the stuff is produced by a pharmaceutical company and that it’s meant to be an energy bar type food. The one I got was a biscuit-type that tasted of lemon, so I was totally ok with it. My favorite part about it was the disclaimer on the box that said something like “Caution: To ensure freshness, please eat your CalorieMate as soon as possible after opening the package.” As I crunched on the bar, I imagined all the strange chemical reactions going on in my body that might be going on or what would happen if you left it out in the open (EXPLOSION!), but in general it wasn’t that bad and I even had one again on the tour.
Not Pictured: Hours later ambulances rushed to the scene to save Dan after his stomach exploded. When asked what could have happened, his travel companions said "He exposed the CalorieMate to five minutes worth of oxygen, what did he think would happen?"
Once we got to Nagoya we had to make our way to the Nagoya Dome, so it was time to board local public transportation. Like any other major city in Japan, Nagoya has a subway system that can be used to easily get around. Its subway also housed the first sign of the fabled “Women-Only” cars I’d heard about before, but had yet to see.
The first time I tried to take this picture, Alex's umbrella was out of focus and in the frame looking like a rather sinister black, phallic object. I think this is the better choice.
If you’ve never heard of female-only cars, they’re a result of sexual assault (read: groping) becoming far too common on the ridiculously crowded trains of Japan. Since some of the ones committing assault (read: assholes and perverts) could plausibly claim that it was the crowdedness and bumpiness of the ride, not their evil actions, Japan fought back with women-only trains.
We were all set to make our way to the nearest metro stop and get off right by the stadium, when a conductor popped out and told us this train had reached the end of its line. In retrospect, I’m sure that we could have waited for the next train, but instead we got off and started the long walk to the dome. It wasn’t all that bad, we got a chance to see a little more of Nagoya on the way to the ballpark, but it was a gloomy, semi-rainy day, which put quite a damper on the fun of sightseeing.
Remember all those slime toys and Snoopy toys I mentioned at the Square Enix store? Now you know who buys them: this random van owner in Nagoya.
After some walking and following of kids in Dragons gear, we eventually reached the Nagoya Dome, home of the Chunichi Dragons.
Home of the Chunichi Dragons! I wonder why that older Japanese guy is dressed like a bellhop/limo driver and standing outside the stadium.
Most of you don’t know this, but, coming into Japan, my favorite NPB team was the Chunichi Dragons. This started back when all they hype about Kosuke Fukudome awakened in me an interest in Japanese baseball. When I investigated his home team, I found a squad that played by National League rules (a plus), wore a nice, blue color (always a plus for me…I can’t resist a girl in Cubbie or Dodger blue), and had a Dragon as a mascot. How could you go wrong with that? Of course, actually being in Japan taught me that the Carp were just waiting for me to show up and adopt them for my own, but the Dragons are easily my second favorite team now. (the Nippon-Ham Fighters claimed third).
The mascots of the Chunichi Dragons! There's the pink dragon, the blue dragon, and...the koala?
The stadium facade was pretty neat in places, allowing you to see the people inside eating and also offering neat, artistic takes on the Dragon theme.
A big, blue, Japanese-style dragon. If you look in the left corner you'll spot...
...mini Chunichi-style dragons atop the building near the old-style dragon.
When I got into the field, I noticed something that seemed to be a bit dangerous. The Nagoya Dome doesn’t feature a real warning track. Instead, they’ve got a line that you’d better hope you see on the field, because there is no texture change.
The left half of the Nagoya Dome. Note that there is no real warning track
The opponent for the night, the (aren’t you tired of them by now too?) Tokyo Yakult Swallows. Based on what I said above, who did you think I was rooting for?
Nothing like a nice afternoon game. Too bad it was both rainy and in a dome.
Early on during the game I went out in search of food and found a neat takoyaki set that also included fries, chicken sticks, and a drink. I don’t totally remember, but I think 9/10 of the purchase stemmed from the fact that they put the fries over the drink so it looks like you’re drinking fries.
French Fry soda. Yum.
The best part of the Nagoya Dome (aside from the close, 4-2 game that was full of excitement), were the people I interacted with. On my trek around the stadium for my usual jersey acquisition, I steeled myself for the usual attempts at broken Japanese and pantomime to try and get a feel for the available sizes. As I struggled with my Japanese, the clerk all of a sudden burst out with perfect English. It was a shock to hear such great English from an unexpected source. We quickly resolved the size issue and I left with one of my favorite jerseys of the trip in hand.
My second encounter was more of a group thing. Ken, one of the guys on the group, can speak rudimentary Japanese, so he tries to talk to as many people around us in a stadium as possible. Noticing a rather large crowd of rowdy, excited people behind us, he started talking to them. It turned out that they were all bankers out for some post-shift socializing. It was from this group that the line in my title was gleamed from. One of the guys, enjoying conversation with us was telling us about the group. He indicated where the boss was and that they were bankers before going and saying “That’s my wife. You no touch,” to Ken. It was wildly hilarious, but also probably pretty serious underneath the levity of the situation. BONUS: I later looked up at the Boss and noticed that he was at the top of the group and he had a woman in each arm. Maybe sexual harassment ends with the workday here in Japan?
Our favorite group of bankers. Stripes, the aforementioned wife, is the one posing in the photo with her thundersticks.
The last of the great experiences came from a young, maybe six or seven-year-old girl. Every time a Dragon run was scored or a Swallow struck out, she would run down to us gaijin and high five as much of us as she could. It was absolutely adorable.
Not adorable at all. Kind of creepy, really.
As we were leaving the ballpark (GO DRAGONS! 4-2 ), I kept on the lookout for Kosuke Fukudome jerseys. His fame would surely keep fans wearing his clothing. In fact, I wore a Cubs shirt with his name written in Japanese specifically for the purpose of interacting with fellow Fukudome fans. My vigilance was rewarded when we found a small boy wearing a shirt and I snapped a quick shot. The young boy and his mother were both impressed by my shirt and wished us a happy trip.
Sorry about the blurry shot, the lighting was terrible.
The trip back was uneventful (aside from Ken nearly killing an old woman he ran headfirst into) and I made it back to the hotel without incident after a lengthy Shinkansen ride back. Some of the group had peeled off to find an ex-pat sports bar, but I wasn’t interested in hanging out with Americans and eating American food, plus I wasn’t feeling too well (bad takoyaki batch). Awaiting this fatigued traveler was a nifty little treat from the hotel staff. A little something to say “Welcome Home.”
It was a nice gesture. Too bad the room was even smaller than the last one.