Saturday, 7 April 2012

Take Me Out To The Ball Game

As Jules and I continued to discover, the influence of American culture on modern Japanese society is everywhere. This is particularly evident with their love of baseball, which is the most popular summer sport in Japan. The people here follow the major leagues in (both Japan and US) with a passion and on the weekends scores of children can be seen pitching a ball or swinging a bat in local parks of Osaka. You might think that this infatuation with the American game evolved during the recovery years following World War Two…not so! In fact baseball in Japan dates back to the 1870’s and the two countries even competed in a competitive ‘All Star Series’ during the 1930’s. Today, Nippon Baseball is second biggest professional baseball league in the world, which continues to attract huge crowds, major sponsorships and in turn a significant number of US players. Each game is widely telecast and baseball stars are idolized here as much as they are in America.

Not having actually seen a baseball game here, we were prompted by the visit of a friend from Australia to visit the Osaka Dome to watch a trial game for the upcoming season. Both of our local teams, The Hanshin Tigers and The Orix Buffaloes, were playing each other in a ‘friendly’, but the match-up would be a good indicator for the season ahead and of course local pride was at stake. So while it rained steadily outside, we sat down in the heated undercover stadium, in our perfectly positioned seats to watch the big game unfold.

Being a pre-season competition many of the stands remained empty, which is in contrast the usual sellouts that regularly occur in the height of the season. Despite the somewhat smaller crowd, the ‘die hard’ fans were certainly there in force to enthusiastically encourage their team and to welcome in the new season. Wearing the mandatory team hat and shirt, they came to the game complete with banners, trumpets, drums and mini plastic baseball bats, which they would regularly bang together in practiced unison. Their enthusiastic barracking for their team was relentless and reinforced what I had previously heard about them being some of the most passionate fans in the world. We had adopted the Hanshin Tigers as our team for the day and in between watching the various activities in the crowd, we cheered and clapped along with our fellow fans through every hit and every out. In the midst of the excitement on the field, we couldn’t help but notice a number of people blowing up large, elongated balloons. The numbers continued to grow until by the end of the sixth innings it seemed like every second person was holding a coloured balloon in anticipation that something was going to happen. Suddenly as the players changed positions on the field and following a co-ordinated big screen countdown they were released screaming into the air followed by howls of laughter and smiles all around. It was indicative of the happy mood within the stadium where the result of the game didn’t appear to matter. A day at the baseball in Japan was clearly a fun day for the whole family, no matter what your age might be. For the record the Tigers went down to the Buffaloes on the day 5 – 9, but the result at this stage of the season was quite irrelevant. As they say in the classics…‘Baseball was the winner’ and we all walked away happier for the experience.

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