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The pride of my trip to Japan no doubt has to be the 12 jersey collection I brought home with me. Here is a quick rundown of each of the jerseys, a little background behind each, and what I think of it. I’m gonna cover them in the order that I got them, so that puts the Giants jersey a little later, even though that was the first game I went to.
Jersey #1 – Orix Buffaloes
The genesis of the Jersey Project began on a ridiculously sunny day outside Skymark Stadium. As you may or may not remember, I collect fitted, official baseball caps at each of the MLB stadiums I go to, so I was looking for something similar to collect at the Japanese parks. Unfortunately, neither of the two teams I’d seen had fitted caps. I had initially ruled out jerseys in the states because I knew how expensive they ran, but then I noticed that the Buffaloes jerseys they had for sale in their outdoor stalls were only ¥3500 (about $40 at the exchange rate I suffered). That was only $10 more than I was used to spending on caps in America!
My first NPB jersey!
It’s a pretty nice jersey and after I tossed it on in the ballpark I was certain that I’d made a good souvenir choice. The B’s on the front and the Orix patch on the left are both legitimate, sewn on patches. It’s a pretty sharp color scheme too. The white contrasts very nicely with the dark blue and the red/yellow trim around the sleeves and patches looks pretty good. All that said, it’s still kind of a generic jersey. There’s no team name, no city name, no prominent company name. I like it, but the other, more creative jerseys just look better.
Rank: 8 of 12. Solid, but just too generic.
Jersey #2 – Hiroshima Toyo Carp
Hiroshima is a city that’s really dear to my heart. Of all the places I visited in Japan, it left the most lasting effect on me, both from the team spirit and the indomitable spirit of the people who rebuilt the city with vigor. Beyond all that, the team’s most prominent color is red and, to quote Andy Bernard, my blood runs Big Red. Housed in Mazda Stadium, a brand new ballpark with all the amenities, the Carp had one of the more robust team stores filled to the brim with red from boxer shorts (complete with catcher signs over the crotch) to the all-important jerseys and caps.
One of my favorite jerseys.
This time the jersey fetched a heftier fee, ringing up at around ¥5500, if I remember right, with the premium version selling for ¥6500. Concerned with saving money, I’m pretty sure I went with the cheaper edition of the jersey, which is kind of a shame now that I think about it. I’m not sure if the more expensive one actually had sewn on names (or even if the real jerseys do), but the names on the jersey are printed on and it lacks the ridges on the premium jersey. Despite all of that, the Carp jersey gets extra points from me for being red, quite fetching to look at, distinctly Japanese with Hiroshima printed across the front, and it features my favorite Japanese ballplayer, Akihiro Higashide.
This guy hit his 1000th hit with me in the stadium watching. I love this guy.
With all of these things going for it (and it being the jersey of my favorite team), one would expect it to top the bill, but I have to take some points away for its cheaper design and printed text. If it weren’t for those things, it would definitely rate higher.
Rank: 3 of 12. Ok, it doesn’t rank all that low, but still, it’s not #1!
Jersey #3 – Saitama Seibu Lions
You all remember how this jersey believes lions, right?
Makes me laugh every time...
There’s one thing that the brand-conscious among you will notice right away upon viewing a picture of the jersey. I’ll give you a second to check it out…
Kind of plain, but made with nice material. What's up with the armpits though?
That’s right, the Lions are sponsored by none other than Nike, no doubt a deal that was penned (if it wasn’t already in place) following their victory in the Japan Series last year and, wouldn’t you know it, a brand-name jersey costs a lot more than the regular Joe editions pushed by the other teams. Already not a fan of the Lions because they play in the Pacific League in a strange quasi-dome, here I had to pay something like ¥7200 for this jersey. My little quest was starting to get quite expensive and I wasn’t happy about it.
Beyond that, there’s nothing really wrong with the jersey. It’s got a solid, old-school baseball look, but there’s not much to it beyond that. Grey is a terribly bland color (I suppose I could have bought white, but those were even plainer. There weren’t even blue highlights, if I remember correctly. The Saitama patch on the right arm and the Lions-ball-grasped-in-a-paw patch are both pretty generic looking too. The best feature is the “i believe lions,” but you can’t see that if the jersey is buttoned up or even in normal wear. All of that pales in comparison to the bizarre underarm of the jersey. For some godforsaken reason, the jersey does not have full armpits. Instead there are these vents, I guess to help get air to the underarm. I always wear an undershirt, but with these little vents exposing my armpits to the world, this jersey kind of forces the point.
Rank: 7 of 12. What’s up with the armpits on this thing?
Jersey #4 – Tokyo Yakult Swallows
By the time I showed up at Meiji Jingu for the Swallows game, I’d already seen the team play once. Counting that day, I was to see them play three more games. If you’ve been reading the blog, you know that I’m not a fan of this team, but they’ve actually got one of the nicer jerseys that I picked up.
That top red button really sells it for me.
The Swallows have a jersey that’s just different enough from the MLB sets that it really sells the whole “Hey, we play baseball in Japan, not America” thing. From the red accents on the side (can you tell I love red?) to the great patches on both the arms and above the team name, to the coup de grace, the red top button, it’s just a well-designed jersey. I don’t have the other buttons done, but they’re white, not red, which would normally annoy someone so obsessed with symmetry and patterns, but I love it in this case. It’s like the rising sun sits right at the top of the jersey. Best of all, the jersey returned to a more reasonable price. I don’t remember how much I paid for it, but it was definitely between ¥4000 and ¥5000. I still can’t believe how much I paid for a Lions jersey that doesn’t even have a marketable player’s name on the back.
Rank: 5 of 12. It’s the Rising Sun on my jersey!
Jersey #5 – Yomiuri Giants
The Yankees of Japan. What team do I hate (fourth) most in the states? Which jersey do I loathe from my collection?
This one hurt to buy.
I’ll admit, this is a jersey I hate for completely non-aesthetic reasons. Aside from being rather plain, I am a fan of the orange and black on the jersey. Beyond that, there is one major reason why I hate this jersey. Make that 12000 reasons. That’s right, I had to pay ¥12000 to get this thing. Why?
1. They’re the Giants. The most popular team in Japan
2. It’s another name brand. Adidas
I don't even know who this guy is...but he does have a great number.
Since I didn’t know that I was collecting jerseys on this trip when we saw the Giants the first night, this one comes from the day Dave left and I went to Tokyo Disney Sea. I will say that I saw the jerseys in the store that night and thought they were far too expensive, but here I was, stuck buying the premium jersey. Why? I hear you ask. It’s because there are no non-premium jerseys. Pay less than ¥12000 and you can get a t-shirt that looks like a jersey, but you will never get a jersey. I bit the bullet and bought the thing, but I still get mad thinking about it.
Rank: 11 of 12. Sure, I’m being petty, but it’s my list and my criteria.
Jersey #6 – Fukuoka Softbank Hawks
After paying so much for my Giants jersey, prices became mostly trivial, so my dislike of the Hawks jersey comes not from paying between ¥6000 and ¥7000 for the thing, but more from an aesthetic dislike.
White jersey with yellow armbands. Way to break the creativity bank guys...
Uninspired and lazy is what I think when I see this jersey. The most creative part of it is the goofy-looking Hawk mascot on the right sleeve and we all know how I feel about that bird and his kin. Two yellow stripes? That’s the best you can come up with?
Worse, the Hawks are thinking of changing their jersey next year to be more like the BayStars. Just you wait until I get to that abomination…
Rank: 9 of 12. Stupid mascot and yellow bands.
Jersey #7 – Chunichi Dragons
It’s probably time to call me inconsistent, but I rather like the Dragons jersey. Maybe it’s the old-school look with the linked ‘C’ and ‘D’ or maybe it’s the delicious shade of blue that the team uses (it’s the closest to Cubs blue that I saw in Japan and I love me some Cubs blue), but I really like it.
It's all about letter design.
The player is pretty forgettable, but they don’t really sell Fukudome jerseys in the stadium anymore. I hear he’s a veteran who’s been playing a long time and he had a decent game, but he didn’t call out to me like Higashide or Toritani.
Araki is getting close to the end of his career, but I love his number and the fact that he plays second base.
Beyond that, I like the wedge-shaped highlights on the sleeves and up the sides, but it’s a shame that the jersey doesn’t really have any patches.
Rank: 6 of 12. A solid effort, but the ones above it either have more sentimental value or sharper designs..
Jersey #8 – Hanshin Tigers
This is a jersey done right. Everything about it just exudes tight design. Pinstripes are a staple of baseball while the black and yellow interact fantastically everywhere they’re paired together.
Even the textures are nice on this sucker, with everything sewn on and a ridged surface, it’s also really nice to feel. Check out that fierce Tiger patch. Scary.
Toritani! My second favorite Japanese baseball player.
I almost unintentionally ended up falling in love with numbers and players that were part of the middle infield. While I’ve got a few pitchers thrown in there (and a first baseman), I’m pretty sure most of the jerseys I own with names belong to the middle infield. If that’s not supported by the data, then my favorite ones do, so can it. Takeshi Toritani is a fine shortstop and he was a clutch performer in the games that I saw.
Rank: 2 of 12. The highest ranked “traditional” jersey, this guy just gets it in all the right places. Pinstripes, black accents, yellow trim, and a badass tiger.
Jersey #9 – Hokkaidō Nippon-Ham Fighters
Back-to-back superstar jerseys. The Nippon-Ham I bought has everything going for it that you’d want in a Japanese jersey. How’s about a quick peek before we go over all the highlights.
Worth it just to see the faces as they read Nippon-Ham
Sure, Fighters jerseys fetch about ¥9000, but you really get what you pay for in this case. When the Fighters moved to Sapporo (they used to play in Tokyo and share the Dome with the Giants) they totally revamped their image and went with this completely non-traditional look. The most glaring difference is the left sleeve. Beyond the nifty, sewn-on patch, it’s an entirely different color from the rest of the jersey (this is the case for the home, away, and interleague versions of the jersey too). That bold accent, coupled with the hilarious Nippon-Ham adorning the front already seal the deal on this being my favorite jersey, but the best part is the player I got.
I was so close to seeing Darvish pitch...
Yu Darvish is a superstar. No other pitcher in Japan approaches how great this guy is right now. He was hurt for most of the season, but he even came out to pitch in Game 2 of the Japan Series while hurt. Instead of pitching to his usual velocity, the guy just relied on curveballs and other tricky pitches and still only gave up two runs on one home run. The guy’s a stud on the mound. I really hope he comes to pitch in the states one day.
Rank: 1 of 12. Darvish + the off-color arm = win
Jersey #10 – Yokohama Baystars
From first to absolute worst. I don’t even know where to start with this guy…
Worst. Jersey. Ever.
Oh wait, how about the fact that its NOT EVEN A JERSEY! The traditional jersey has buttons. There are no buttons on this jersey. Everything on it is printed, even the cheesy stars on the shoulders that, I kid you not, I did not notice until two minutes before I wrote this sentence. Everything about this jersey screams forgettable.
Is he any good? Who would know on this team.
At the very least Uchikawa is pretty good. He led the league in 2008 in batting average, but, beyond that, I couldn’t care less. He plays for a garbage team.
Rank 12 of 12. I’m so glad I only had to pay ¥4000 for this thing. It’s not even a jersey!
Jersey #10 – Chiba Lotte Marines
When I first saw these jerseys I thought they looked kind of cool. The different colors and zig-zag of the sleeves look kind of cool from far away, but something about this jersey soured me to the idea not long after I got it.
What kind of a jersey sponsor is The Hartford?
When you look closely at the jersey, the most bizarre thing pops out at you. They prominently display the logo of The Hartford. An investment firm on a baseball jersey? Just doesn’t feel right.
I think I have more corner infielders than middle. Oh well, I still like the middle fielders more.
I know I’m being nitpicky here, but I don’t really like the design they chose for the numbers on the jersey. I also don’t like that it cost me ¥11000 and it doesn’t fit all that well.
Rank: 10 of 12. I can’t explain precisely why I don’t like it, but it’s not that great.
Jersey #12 – Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles
I was really pulling for the Eagles to make it to the Japan series this year. After seeing them battle back and beat the Hawks with a grand slam and watching Masahiro Tanaka turn in a stellar pitching performance, the team became my favorite in the Pacific League.
Check out the wings on the team name!
Beyond that, just look at what they did with a fairly simple jersey design. There are no fancy patches or color swatches, but they did do something neat with the logo on the jersey. Instead of going with the regal, refined look, they put freaking wings on the thing. It’s sweet.
Tanaka - my second favorite Japanese pitcher.
The plentiful red is always appreciated and so is Tanaka’s name. A fine jersey and one of the better teams I saw on the trip.
Rank: 4 of 12. Wingtips! On the name!
What do you think of the designs? Would you arrange them differently?
How awesome would it be to see this guy outside your window during a flight?
After a fun few days in Sapporo, it was finally time to head back to Tokyo. We were officially on the home stretch of the trip with only three teams left to see. I was starting to see the end of the trip in my sights and, I’ve got to admit, it was depressing to think that all the fun would be done so soon, but I was also ready to get back home to my own apartment.
The first thing I did that morning when packing was promptly break one of the sake glasses I got as a souvenir. Damn.
Since I had discovered that the walk from Sapporo Station to the hotel was pathetically short, I opted out of a taxi and walked to the station. Along the way I ran into the most evil-looking bird I’d ever seen. I’m sure it could sense how afraid of its evil I was, because it allowed me to get really close with my camera without even budging.
He's tough to intimidate. Must be from the 9th Ward.
The rest of the walk was uneventful as was the trip to the airport. Once I got into the airport, the language barrier became an issue as I had gone up to baggage claim without first checking in and getting a ticket. It’s a bizarre process, but it’s required, so I was sent to the check-in queue and then back to the luggage queue.
I also learned that Sapporo’s airport is way more vigilant than Kansai International. Security pulled me aside to empty out my very full carry on bag. I was confused until the security officer managed to get out the phrase “dining set” and I remembered that I had stuffed some ANA utensils (a knife and spoon) into my bag. He also checked that the water bottle I was carrying on board was sealed and water. What this amounts to is that the staff at Kansai allowed me to travel with a dinner knife and a bottle of water without investigating. That’s some crack security work there guys. Reminds me of Seinfeld’s bit about airport security in the pre-terrorist attack days.
While I hunted for food in the morning, I noticed a model of the Pokemon-themed ANA planes that were in service out here in Japan.
The cutest way to get from A to B.
I’d heard about this line of ANA planes before, but I’d never seen one in the flesh, much less been on one. tim rogers made references to them being used mostly for domestic flights and, lo and behold, here was a model of one for domestic flights. Boy, wouldn’t it be cool if I got to fly on one of these…
I totally got to fly on one of these.
So, what’s the difference between a Pokemon ANA plane and a normal ANA plane? Not a whole lot. The seat covers that are used in every ANA plane are now Pokemon themed…
…And the drinks come in Pokemon-themed cups.
Orange Juice! I choose you!
The flight attendants were all dressed in their normal uniforms and there wasn’t any special Pokemon entertainment on board, so it’s really just an aesthetic thing (and a half-assed one at that). Still, I flew on one of the famous Pokemon planes and I think that’s pretty neat.
I just noticed that the jet turbines have pokeballs on them. That's awesome.
Nintendo’s missing out on a huge opportunity here. Could you imagine how much business they could drum up if they offered exclusive Pokemon downloads on these planes? They’d make ANA a racket and have to officially sell their souls, but still…think about it.
We took a taxi to our favorite place to stay, the Tokyo Garden Palace Hotel, and, after putting my stuff down, I rendezvoused with Susan to catch a pre-game dinner before she left for America. Susan and I stopped in a Chinese restaurant and had a nice dinner as we shared our stories about what we’d been doing since the tour split up. I had to run to the game after that, since I was running late, but it was totally worth it and I’ll have to be sure to see Susan and Marc the next time I’m in NYC.
I see what you're doing here Tokyo, but you don't need the "New." You're not New Tokyo...
By the time I managed to make my way through the Tokyo railway system and get to Yokohama Stadium, it was already the third inning and Yokohama had struck first. The Swallows were down by two, which made me very happy, and the BayStars could very well shut down the Swallows for the entire trip for me (I don’t count the tie as a win, so the Swallows were 0-2-1 in games I’d attended). Things were looking up, even though I was late!
An outside scoreboard had me jumping for joy as I entered the ballpark. Surely this last place team couldn't botch a small lead...
The outside of Yokohama Stadium is pretty plain and it’s nestled within a city block, like most of the stadiums in Tokyo. Perhaps it’s because I was late to the game, but it was also pretty empty outside the ballpark, a major contrast with most other stadiums that feature food stalls and merchandise outside the gates. The interior hallways were pretty bare and empty, kind of like the ones at Meiji Jingu, where the Swallows play.
I spotted the BayStars mascot taking pictures with kids in the hallways.
Since I was already late, I decided that I would look around for a jersey before I took a seat. It was proving to be pretty difficult, since the stands all seemed to only offer a polo shirt-type thing that wasn’t the full button down. What kind of bush league stadium doesn’t sell their team’s official jerseys? I thought to myself as I wandered around the various stalls. Then I noticed something in one of the publicity photographs/posters on the wall and the full horror of the situation began to become clear: those abominations were the jerseys.
Now, there will be a post about the jerseys coming soon, but I won’t be giving much away to say that this one was the worst of the pack. I almost considered not buying it.
The interior is probably as nice as your typical AAA American stadium. For some reason, all of the seats within the stadium are orange or blue, but the uniforms are blue and white and all of the seats are that molded, rough, hard plastic that you might expect to see in an outdoor setting, but haven’t seen in a baseball stadium in ages.
The seats were pretty uncomfortable. The row we sat in even moreso.
Worse still, the row we sat in was right at the front of the second bank of seats. Instead of having a bar or something to separate us from the walkway, we had nothing. If I stretched my legs at the wrong time, I was liable to kick a poor beer girl right in the face. Standing up to cheer for big plays was almost impossible thanks to the diminished leg room and lack of forward stability. The endless torrent of beer girls and fans made it almost impossible to see the plate or concentrate on the field. On the plus side, our increased visibility got us on the jumbotron (Did I remember to mention that I was on the jumbotron at Koshien too? I’m pretty sure I forgot).
That's right, I was on that very screen, but not at the moment of this photograph.
If I had to go and give the BayStars just one compliment, I’d say that their cheerleading squad stands out as the most attractive of the bunch I’d seen and the only one that had similar cheering maneuvers to American squads. Then again, I drank more beer this game than any other because the stadium, game, and team were so atrocious, so take my opinions with a grain of salt.
They also had this weird black bear with “TBS” written across a t-shirt he was wearing. I have no idea what he was there for, but I like him a lot more than their usual mascots. He’s the one who should be going on the road.
My assessment seems to be right about some of these cheerleaders...I mean, what a strange bear thing, huh?
There was a ballgame that night too, wasn’t there? The BayStars put two up, and then checked out for the rest of the game. Not able to let me be happy with their failure, the Swallows went and scored six, which, for those of you keeping score, means they won. Since the Tigers were knocked out of the Climax Series by the Swallows by one game, I’m going to blame Yokohama for screwing this up for them. Way to go, chuckleheads.
He probably struck out...man this team sucks.
Really, how much this team sucks makes a lot of sense when you stop to think about it. Starting with the name, the BayStars, you start to get the feeling that they have no idea what a good team name might be. It turns out that the former name for the team was the Yokohama Whales, but whaling restrictions and a believed curse put upon the team by dead whales (their parent company makes a lot of money from whale products) caused them to change the name…to the BayStars. It’s bad enough that the team name makes no sense, but then they go and make their mascot a couple of human bodies with star-shaped heads. It’s dumb.
They really are the dumbest mascots I've ever seen.
Feeling dejected by the loss, I headed home to sleep and re-energize after the early morning I had in Sapporo. As I drifted off to sleep, only one thought crossed my mind: What in the world was that black bear?
You can't go wrong with dreams about strange bears and cheerleaders. Too bad the Stars were there too.
ONE SECOND! Totally forgot about this awesome Engrish:
It makes sense as a sentence in English, but it mostly doesn't.
This guy is rocking a sick happi. I wish I had one too.
Three days in Sapporo. One to fly in, one to catch a game, and one to fly out. We really only needed two, but the remote location and the unpredictability of flights and baseball game lengths warrant three. It’s a real shame too, because if we had rolled our arrival date into our baseball watching day, we would have seen Yu Darvish pitch.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that not getting to see Darvish pitch was the biggest disappointment I suffered the whole trip. Who wouldn’t want to see one of the best pitchers in the world toss a sweet victory after coming off the disabled list?
Disappointment aside, we had a whole day ahead of us before the game was set to start, so I decided to explore downtown Sapporo.
My usual procedure when I explore a downtown is to first head into any electronics store I can find to start off with something familiar. After seeing the many copies of Japanese MLB Power Pros littering the store shelves around me, I was getting antsy and seriously considering buying a Japanese Wii just to play the games. Thankfully, better judgment prevailed, since spending $250 just to play a $50 game is a little on the extreme side (the Wii also dropped in price by $50 after I left, I would have been super mad for overpaying).
Instead, I decided to go with the easy option and just pick up a copy of Professional Baseball Spirits 6 (or Pro Yakyū Spirits 6, depending on your source) a PS3 NPB baseball game since the PS3 is not region locked like the Wii. I also picked up some Sambomaster music, but that was the extent of my electronics store purchasing.
Maybe it's just me, but I find Japanese electronics stores very intimidating. There are tons of products crammed into small spaces and lots of bright colors (usually red, but blue in this case) advertising things I can't read.
Since I was in Sapporo Station already, I thought I would check out the Sapporo Pokemon Center to see what it was like.
A classy logo for the store. BONUS: Who's that Pokemon?!
It was what you might expect, just wall-to-wall Pokemon paraphernalia meant to lighten your wallets with cute plush Pikachu toys. The cool thing about the store was that, just like how the Nintendo Store in NYC is always stocked with Wiis, the Pokemon Center always has copies of Pokemon games, including the recently released Heart Gold and Soul Silver that were sold out everywhere else in Japan (believe me, I checked). They also had some pretty neat limited edition Nintendo DS consoles for sale that I didn’t buy.
Each Pokemon Center Emblem features Pikachu and two other, unique Pokemon.
My Pokemon curiosity was sated, but it was time to grab a bite to eat. I went upstairs in the shopping center (the interesting thing about all Japanese department stores/shopping centers/malls is that they almost always have restaurants on the top floor) and sat down in a place that advertised English menus. The tonkatsu set I ordered came with rice covered with a sweet, but unpleasant (due to temperature differences) yam layer on top of it and miso soup and it was a pretty good meal.
On a scale of 1-10 I'd rate it pretty good.
At the table with me was a man who spoke some English, so he took the opportunity to talk to me a bit. When I told him that I was in Japan to watch baseball, he brought up that Ichiro had just successfully hit his 200th hit in a season for nine straight seasons. I agreed with him that it was huge news, but I didn’t agree so much with his assurance that it wasn’t a big deal in the states. Sure, it was a MUCH bigger deal for the Japanese to have a player from their country break a longstanding American MLB record, but we didn’t exactly trivialize it, did we? (I guess we kind of did…? Did any of you even know about this before now?)
With hunger no longer an issue, my next task was to shop around and find some more souvenirs. I knew that one of my friends wanted a bento box and another a sake set, so I wandered down into the basement of the building I had just had lunch in and came upon a Seibu Loft store. Bob suggested to me that the best place to find a bento would be a department store, since a specialty store would just overcharge, so I wandered up to the cookware floor and eventually spotted the large bento area.
There were tons to choose from, from small, cute ones with pandas on them to more serious, spartan affairs with dark, muted colors. Many of them even had chopsticks to match their color schemes. I found a simple pastel colored box with matching chopsticks and continued my hunt for the sake set.
Before I found the sake glasses, I came across some sweet chopsticks.
Owning a set of Carp chopsticks would be so awesome, but...
That’s right, NPB-themed chopsticks, a set for every team. My mind rushed as I thought about the gift possibilities. I wanted a set, of course, but would Eric appreciate them? He’s certainly got a ton of chopsticks already and no love for NPB teams…hey, waitaminute! That’s right, each set of chopsticks cost ¥1365 (¥1300 + 5% consumption tax for those of you astute readers who noticed the smaller number on the price tag below the actual price). It was far too much to pay for chopsticks, no matter how cool it would be to have the Carp represented on them. I really have no idea why they’re so expensive, but perhaps the label on the back of the sticks, representing the life cycle of these chopsticks might be an illustration of the reason they’re so expensive.
From the dirt to the hands of the ballplayer, then straight to your hands!
If this cute little cycle on the back of the packaging is meant to be accurate, then these chopsticks come from broken bats used in NPB games. That’s a big if! Beyond that, it’s still a huge ripoff to pay so much for one pair of sticks.
I found a nice sake set, paid for my goods, and wandered around Sapporo for a bit before heading home. On the way home, I noticed a nice park on the right. It seemed to be populated by a bunch of employees on breaks, which looked like an awesome idea. If I had the ability to eat a nice lunch or take a quick break outside my building in a park, I think I’d totally be on top of that.
They've got to enjoy it while they can. Cooler weather was already hitting Sapporo when I was there.
Another neat thing I noticed on the way back was that Sapporo seemed to have more bicycle traffic than any other city I’d seen in Japan. Almost every sidewalk in the city that allowed it was filled with the bicycles of the many employees who rode to work that day. It seemed like most of them were unlocked too, which seemed mighty trusting, but that’s Japan for you, I guess.
After a quick stopover at the hotel, it was time to head out to the Sapporo Dome for the evening’s game. The route was fairly simple: take the subway, switch lines, get off, and follow the crowds to the dome. It was a cakewalk and it would have been a nice walk, if it weren’t for the rain.
Dan and I were in the stop for the Sapporo Dome, but it's still a 10 minute walk to the dome from here.
After getting thoroughly soaked (man am I glad I brought my jacket with me), we eventually saw the Sapporo Dome in the distance. Let’s just say it’s got a rather bizarre façade and leave it at that.
It looks like a UFO or a giant metal space slug or something...
I popped into the gift shop to get myself a Yu Darvish Fighters jersey (I got the gray Away jerseys because they say “Nippon-Ham” on them instead of “Fighters”) and look around. The store also had a great shirt that had some baseball terms written in both English and Japanese in red text on a black shirt. I decided I must have one, so I got one.
The best shot of the field I've got. Lighting in the Sapporo Dome is such that it's difficult to get a good picture that isn't ruined by the super strong lights.
Entering the Dome was much more pleasant than the Tokyo Dome. My ears didn’t pop and the temperature inside was well below the 80s. In fact, it was borderline chilly inside the stadium, but that might have been due to the water evaporating off of my clothing.
One of the stadium's employees.
Since the Sapporo Dome houses more than one sport and team, its concessions and facilities don’t completely reflect the Fighters. There are plenty of signs, but nothing is themed. The place feels a lot like a gigantic airplane hangar that someone decided to play baseball inside. The corridors are unnecessarily huge and sparse, making the place feel cavernous, empty, and dark, but the field itself is very well lit and rather nice despite all the aesthetic issues with its corridors.
Remember how sparse the Fighters cheering section was at that Lions game? This dwarfs it many times over.
If there was one major area that I’d say the Fighters suffer, it’s that the team is too remote. Like the Hawks, they’re the only team on their island, but unlike the Hawks, you can’t get to Sapporo via train. It’s plane or nothing, so when the team travels, it’s much harder for a dedicated cheer section to follow. Conversely, it’s a lot harder for a team to represent its own colors in Sapporo. One would have to wonder how high attendance would be if the Fighters were a Central League team and they played the Tigers. It seems like Tigers fans flood any ballpark that their team is at, but would they go all the way to Sapporo to prove their dedication?
My first time using a set of thunder sticks or spirit sticks or whatever you're supposed to call them.
This game marked the first time I got my hands on thunder sticks (or spirit sticks or whatever you’re supposed to call them), which was a lot of fun. Clapping isn’t difficult, but it does wear on your hands if you’ve got to do it all game. The sticks do a great job of projecting noise and protecting hands, which is probably why they became so popular. I would love for them to catch on in the states, if for no other reason than that I hate seeing people swing towels around like idiots to be like the Steelers fans.
This dude was posing in the stands before the game. I snapped a shot before he (she?) noticed me and threw up a peace sign.
In the end, the Fighters won 5-2 and great fun was had by all. We had a flight to catch in the morning, so I wasn’t really interested in going out and getting crazy, so we went back to the hotel and turned in for the night.
A presser celebrating the Fighters victory.
Your guess is as good as mine.
Boy, it’s gonna be tough to meaningfully fill these next few posts, since this day was mostly filled with travel (and no baseball) and the next is filled with baseball and not a whole lot of sightseeing, but I’ll do my best to make this as interesting as possible.
Already off to a great start, I see.
Since we were staying in Kyoto, our flight to Sapporo was based out of Kansai International Airport instead of Tokyo Narita. I’d flown through Kansai once before on my last trip to Japan, so it was nice to see the relatively uncrowded airport yet again. Our merry band of adventurers all queued up for the domestic flight and got to experience the differences between flying in the US and flying in Japan.
Foremost among those differences is the separate check-in and baggage handling sections. In the states, if you’re checking a bag, you can get your ticket at the baggage handling counter when you put the bag in. Out in Japan, you have to get your ticket first before queuing for the baggage check counters. I did not know this, but a combination of looking sad and confused and not understanding Japanese allowed me to just get my boarding pass and check in my bag as I was used to.
Speaking of checking in bags, unlike American airports, the baggage scanning is done directly in front of the passenger. Right before getting to the counter, the passenger puts his bag through a machine and security tapes the zippers down.
After that, you’re free to do what you want until the plane begins to board. The security lines don’t tend to be all that long (especially at Kansai), so I browsed some shops before heading to my gate. Not finding anything good or any food that especially called out to me, I headed to security.
Security has some cool Japanese quirks to it that make things go a bit smoother. Instead of showing your ticket to a security officer, you put the bitstream printed on the ticket up against the optical sensor, which prints out a receipt, for some reason. Your bags go through the machine, like normal, with the computers separate and, at least on domestic flights, you’re allowed to carry liquids on. If the bottle is unopened, there’s no need for concern. If it is, they have some simple tests (either through weight or a chemical test) to verify its potability and you’re allowed to take it into the terminal.
Another, HUGE, plus: you don’t have to take off your shoes for security. Hallelujah.
As a strange aside, one of my favorite things about Kansai International is that it has very spongy, springy people movers. Walking across them is tons of fun.
One uneventful, short flight later and I was landing in Sapporo. Looking out the window as we descended, I noticed that Hokkaido definitely looks “northern,” whatever that means. It also seemed way less populated than the Tokyo area, which makes tons of sense.
A train to Sapporo station later, we were boarding a taxi to get to our hotel. Sapporo looked no different from any other city I’d seen in Japan, except that its buildings weren’t quite so tall. It also looked more like a winter area, a qualification I make based on intangibles like vegetation and, possibly, the drab weather and cool breeze sweeping the city.
Along the (short) way to our hotel, Ken was reading a map to see where we were and Dan and I (that’s right, another Dan) were in the back seat chilling out. As Ken navigated the map, he noted “Aha, we’ll be stopping at the Eighth Ward.”
Dan quipped, “That’s great, because you don’t want to stray into Ninth Ward territory, those guys are rough.”
From then on, the Ninth Ward became a mythical, gang-filled section of Sapporo that Dan and I continuously referred to for the rest of the trip as a running gag. It’s really not that funny when you read it, but we were absolutely entertained by it until we went home.
I’m pretty sure that the whole numbered ward thing refers to districts or streets in Sapporo, but I find our definition funnier.
Our cab arrived at the Sapporo Garden Palace (by this point Dan and I were convinced that “Garden Palace” was Japanese for “hotel” because of how many we stayed at) and we were greeted by doors that heavily reminded me of that part in The Phantom Menace where Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon Jinn are fighting Darth Maul on Naboo.
Just look at the picture and stop calling me a nerd for all the Star Wars references.
Upon checking in, I was given the largest key I’ve ever seen outside of a movie based in the Dark Ages. Seriously, this thing was huge.
I bet I could knock you out just by throwing it at your head.
It was also used, as is the case in some Asian hotels, to save energy. Once I walked into my hotel room, there was a slot on the wall for me to put the key in. When the key was in place, a circuit was completed and the lights, air conditioning, and power outlets were all activated for use by the guest. It’s both brilliant and obnoxious, since I could not charge my various batteried gadgets while I was out of the room, but at least I wasn’t wasting electricity in some way.
A plan was hatched to grab dinner in Old Ramen Alley that night, so the six of us went out to explore the city in search of old ramen. Along the way, we passed one of the great landmarks of Sapporo, the Sapporo TV Tower. We marveled at how very…tiny it seemed. It was not a very imposing structure in the cityscape, since its height was dwarfed by several buildings in the downtown. Ken assured us that this wasn’t always the case, but it was rather anti-climactic.
The tower is a decent landmark, assuming you are in the narrow stretches of the city that can actually see it.
Eventually we came upon an entrance to the underground and what we thought would be the subway entrance. What we did find was even cooler.
Sapporo is a pretty northern city. To give you context, it’s on the same parallel as the border between North and South Dakota and it also intersects Oregon. They hold a snow festival here every year where they display ice sculptures. It can get pretty cold (Wikipedia says they get 248 inches of snow every year)
Sapporo’s answer, underground tunnels that traverse most of the city. You can get to most subway stations inside the much warmer, heated underground and many stores have connecting tunnels in their basements. It’s all very cool for getting around in the winter and I wish we had this up on campus when I used to be in school.
We eventually boarded the right subway and that was fairly uneventful aside from seeing a funny ad.
Japanese basketball?! What will they thing of next? Japanese baseba-...oh...
We got off the train, got back aboveground, and took a few seconds for me to shoot a picture of the reason I knew that Sapporo was a city before heading toward the Ramen district.
Anyone else craving a cold one right about now?
Old Ramen Alley is a pretty neat part of Sapporo. It’s a narrow…alley…filled with ramen shops…There’s also a New Ramen Alley somewhere in Sapporo, but we never got a chance to check and see if it had an ironic title.
Old Ramen Alley. I bet it would be tough to traverse during the busy lunch rush.
You’ve gotta wonder how so many ramen shops could thrive in such a confined space, but the answer, according to Ken, is that each serves a slightly different variant. The one we were headed to had crab ramen available, which was pretty exciting to me.
The shop was a pretty tiny place with room for about, at the most, 15 people. Since we were the only customers there when we got there, we spread out in the restaurant.
From front left to right: Stacy, Alex, Ken, the top of Greg's head, and Dan
There was no doubt on my mind what I wanted, but we had to wait a bit before the crab ramen was done. We entertained ourselves by inventing commentary for the sumo match up on the tv.
Is that a white woman right in the front row of that match? I think sumo is one sport where I can appreciate being reasonably far from the "amazing" views offered in the front row.
The crab ramen came out.
Is your mouth watering too?
You can bet that I loved every bite!
One of the bites that I loved.
It was perfectly cooked crab with a full, tasty broth enhanced with corn and other vegetables. Up to that point, I’d yet to have ramen that convinced me it was worth gushing over. This pushed me way over the edge.
Not much else happened that night. Dan and I wandered around Sapporo for a bit and checked out a Yodobashi Camera before eventually walking back to the hotel from Sapporo Station and confirming that a taxi was absolutely unnecessary for getting to the station. There was baseball tomorrow and we were excited for it!
One last thing worth mentioning. On our way to the ramen place, we came across this dude driving down the street and hollering at some girl.
I wonder if there are drivers in Japan who insist upon buying American cars instead of domestic vehicles.
I was shocked to not only see an American car in Japan, but one that was so old and with the steering wheel on the American side. All I’ve gotta say is that this guy’s got cool taste in cars.
The greatest sign I've ever seen anywhere in the world.
This was one of the days I was most looking forward to on the trip. The Hanshin Tigers may not have the raw popularity of the Yomiuri Giants, but they’ve definitely got the most rabid fanbase in the entire country. Beyond that, Koshien Stadium is said to be the “soul of Japanese baseball,” most likely because, beyond the already crazy Tigers that play there, everything from college games to the high school championships are housed within Koshien. It’s a storied stadium most often compared to Wrigley Field or Fenway Park here in the States.
A statue-type thing in the open-air vendor area outside of Koshien.
We’re not ready to get too far into that yet, I’ve still got a little bit of Kyoto to cover before we got on the train to head for Nishinomiya. My morning was mostly occupied with wandering around the Kyoto station area to check some stuff out. I started out with going to the local Bic Camera to check out the games in stock. It turns out that quite a few others had the same idea, as there was a queue outside the shop just before the shop opened at 1000 that morning.
Maybe they're trying to get some shopping in before the work day starts?
Out of curiosity, I asked about the availability of the new Pokemon games that had come out the day before. They were predictably completely sold out. Browsing the shelves, I found a copy of a game I’ve been wanting to import since I played Elite Beat Agents, Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan. The sequel was nowhere to be found, but I definitely picked up the game to play during my downtime on the tour.
Not Ouendan, but the Japanese boxart of the game I played the most in Japan, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor. The US boxart is near identical, the only difference is the placement of the title to accomodate the ESRB rating.
My need to browse video games now sated, I headed into The Cube to take a look around and grab breakfast. I spotted a Mister Donut, one of the more famous donut shops in Japan, and I decided that I would break my Western food boycott for the morning to sample this Japanese take on an American staple. Boy was I surprised when I spotted the donut you see below this text. Not only did the Japanese understand that donuts should be tasty and sweet, but here they were, out-American-ing the Americans with their chocolate donut, topped with powdered sugar, and filled with cream.
Just looking at that picture has probably raised your blood sugar to dangerous levels.
After taking about a week off of my life just by eating that donut, I decided to climb back up to the top of The Cube to see what it’s like in the daylight and snap some shots for David.
A different sight in the daylight, this is The Cube. There are folks gathering for a concert that will begin in an hour or two.
At the top was the familiar Happy Terrace, which looks completely different without the ambient light and lovers seated at the benches.
Sorry folks, no creepy "happy" picture of me this time. I didn't have someone else to hold the camera.
Still, it’s a completely relaxing rooftop to hang out on and I could see myself taking lunch breaks up there.
It's very peaceful.
Dave and I were excited about the prospect of taking pictures of the Kyoto skyline from the top of The Cube, but it turns out that the Kyoto skyline isn’t really that interesting (to me).
Thanks to my amazing photographic skills, you also get to see my ghostly reflection in the glass as a bonus.
After that it was about time to start taking trains to head to Nishinomiya, so I made my way down to the platform and eventually hopped on a local line. It was reassuring to see the number of Tigers fans increase the closer we got to Koshien, especially since some of them have very elaborately decorated clothing.
An example of an extremely customized jersey. The name, number, and other patches on his jersey were all hand-sewn (or ironed) on. Not content with what he already has, he seems to be shopping for more patches.
We eventually reached Nishinomiya and swapped onto the Hanshin train line that conveniently (and coincidentally!) ran to Koshien where we were immediately greeted by a sea of yellow and black jerseys and merchandise, both on display and on the tons of fans in the area. I don’t think I saw a single Baystars fan in the area. I made my way around and eventually bought a Takashi Toritani jersey and an awesome super deformed patch to eventually iron or sew on at home.
The area just outside the subway platform is lined with stalls selling all kinds of Tigers gear.
One of the most interesting things about Koshien Stadium is that there is a shrine just next door. Even more interesting is that this shrine seems to cater to baseball-related prayers.
A baseball-themed statue housed within the shrine.
For those unfamiliar with Shinto traditions (as I am), worshippers are able to go to shrines, purchase ema, wooden plaques for prayers and wishes, and pin them to the prayer/wish board. I’m oversimplifying, but that’s the basic idea (you can learn more from the wiki link I put up earlier or through your own research).
Most of the ema for sale at this shrine are baseball and/or Tigers-related.
I’ve been told that many of these boards are prayers for the Tigers to succeed. I think that’s way cool.
I don't think I can spot a single non-baseball-related ema.
If there’s one thing I absolutely love about Tigers fans, its those loose, flowing pants they love to wear. They’re typically yellow, white with pinstripes, or black, and they also typically feature pictures of Tigers or sewn on patches. The Tigers definitely have my favorite fans in all of Japan.
It's a long-distance shot, but you can see a few pairs of Tigers pants in this shot.
While it’s not totally unheard of to see a rival mascot at a ballpark (see the Buffaloes game for reference), I don’t think I’ve ever seen the rival mascots posing for pictures around the rabid fans of the home squad.
I'm hoping that I missed the part where they all boo him and throw fruit at him.
Worse still, I saw the opposing mascots hanging out together!
Now here's a couple of Benedict Arnolds. Shameful.
For all their rabid love for the team, the Tigers haven’t won a Japan Series or really come all that close (aside from a loss in the 2003 Japan Series) since their only win in 1985 thanks to the Curse of the Colonel! :cue scary music:
This is the scariest picture of the Colonel I've ever seen.
There are a few American fast food franchises that have made it big in Japan and Kentucky Fried Chicken is one of the bigger ones. While locations in America have all but abandoned the Colonel statue as a fixture of their stores, just about every KFC I’ve ever seen in Japan has themselves a statue of the famous Colonel Sanders, sometimes dressed up for whatever location he’s occupying.
One such Colonel Sanders, lightly decorated in Lions garb.
The story goes like this: After finally winning their first Japan Series (the Tigers were founded in 1935) in 1985, the fans, already rabid without a reason to celebrate, went absolutely crazy to celebrate the victory. As the mob made its way to Ebisubashi Bridge, they began a pretty cool ritual where they called out a player’s name and a member of the mob who looked like him would jump into the canal the bridge spanned. Unfortunately for the Tigers, not one of the Japanese fans looked like one of the key components to their championship team, Randy Bass. Since all gaijin look alike anyway and, more importantly, the Colonel had a beard, one rabid fan grabbed a Sanders statue from a local KFC and tossed it into the canal in place of an actual person. Little did he know that this casual disregard for the property of a KFC would anger the spirit of Colonel Harland Sanders, cursing the team to failure until the day they finally recovered the statue.
You know, he doesn't seem all that much like a vindictive evil spirit to me.
As I said earlier, the team has really only come close to even approaching a Japan Series title once in 24 years, with most of the other seasons ending in last or near-last place. The moral of the story, never anger the spirit of a chicken-loving Southern gentleman.
You can dress him up in your team's colors all you want, but that won't guarantee he'll come around.
There is hope for Tigers fans who actually believe in curses. Just this year, on 10 March, the upper-body of the cursed Colonel statue was located while completing a beautification project on the Dōtonbori River. The right hand and the lower-body were located the next day, but his glasses and left hand remain at large. What does this mean for Tigers fans hoping for a return to glory after 24 years? So far, nothing. Despite a weak start to the season, the Tigers were in serious contention for the Climax Series up until their last game with the Swallows. Unfortunately, the Swallows were able to knock the Tigers out of the playoffs, but perhaps next year the curse will be lifted and the Tigers can once again win a series.
After spending 24 years in the drink, this Colonel statue looks surprisingly...who am I kidding, it looks disgusting.
Koshien Stadium is, thankfully, one of three ballparks with actual grass growing in them (Skymark and Mazda are the other two) and it features an all-dirt infield that it seems like they over-water before the game.
You can tell it's real because it's patchy. Don't they have groundskeepers to take care of that?
The fans at Koshien are definitely dominant and so rabid, but I was legitimately shocked at how tiny the cheer section that was allotted to the Baystars was. Unlike other ballparks which give whole sections of the outfield, these guys were relegated to a small section. I don’t know if this is just because the Baystars are a marginal team or if this is a legitimate action by the Tigers. If it’s the latter, it just seems contrary to the Japanese culture of polite fairness.
The most pathetic (in size) cheer section we saw on the trip. The flag is being waved by a random Baystars fan in a clsoer section.
That night’s game featured some solid, National League-style baseball with low scoring and plenty of small ball. The final score was 2-1 and the ever-famous Japanese closer, Kyuji Fujikawa, came out to finish the game.
Getting to see a legendary pitcher close out a game is always a plus.
One post-game celebration later, we were on our way back to Kyoto!…Except that the trains were furiously backed up thanks to all the post-game traffic. Our eight-man crew braved the line for about a half hour before even getting down to the platform. The train ride was fairly uneventful, but I was told by Ken that the gaggle of women on the train to Kyoto to go out that night were not interested in me because I “wasn’t tall enough.” I hate to set these girls up for disappointment, but I’m pretty sure that I’m well over the average height for the entire country. Them’s the breaks, I guess.
After we arrived in Kyoto, we all headed back to our rooms. The next day would be spent flying to Sapporo, so we had to get our rest to be up in time catch the proper trains and make our flight. It was also the final day that Jill and Nora would be on the tour, since they had to get back to their jobs at the university they worked at. Our group was down to six, but we were definitely going strong. Only four games to go.
Can they finally break the curse and win the Japan Series this year? Nope. Maybe next year.