As a Briton, there are many things of which I feel, on behalf of my nation, ashamed. There is the brutal imperialistic march across the globe; there is our Boer war invention of the concentration camp; and then there is Simon Cowell, perhaps worst of all.
However, there is one thing that we can, as a nation, be proud of, and that is sport. We have invented or standardized some of the greatest sports – football, rugby, tennis, cricket (you may scoff, but cricket is an elegant game enjoyed by an estimated 1.2 billion people around the globe) – taught the world how to play, and then allowed everyone to regularly beat us at them.
Not only have our favorite sports taken off, but even our games played by posh girls in private schools seem to be popular, particularly in the former colonies across the Atlantic.
Yes, you yanks seem to love our girly games. From netball, daintily tossing a ball through a hoop, to the epitome of lah-di-dah girliness that is hockey. Yet it is rounders, a game for those girls with particularly low levels of sporting ability, simply striking a ball with a bat before running ‘round’ four bases to score, that has been so taken to your collective hearts that it has become your national sport. However, at some point in history, bored of calling a one-nation competition a “World Series”, you managed to locate the two or three remaining countries that couldn’t get the hang of football – sporting powerhouses like Canada, Cuba and Venezuela – and forced the game upon them.
So, where am I going with this wanderingly pointless diatribe, you wonder? Well, Japan is one of those countries that you have conned into believing that baseball is a worthy use of free time and, despite not being overly enamored with the ‘sport’, as a journalist specializing in Japanese culture, when a friend told me that they had a free ticket to see the Chunichi Dragons, Nagoya’s baseball team, I reluctantly agreed to go along for the experience.
We arrived at Nagoya Dome a little after three on a balmy Saturday afternoon, a little late, and Nagoya’s opponents, the Hiroshima Carps, were already in bat. Finding our seats, I quickly noticed that, as I sat watching the game, no one else was bothering with it. The away supporters, clad in red, waving banners, banging drums, were watching. But my fellow Dragons were busy ordering beers, chatting and eating miso kushi katsu. As I started to wonder whether the game had really begun, in unison, the Carps fans fell silent and the Chunichi supporters got to their feet. The Dragons were at the plate.
All of a sudden, there was a frisson in the air. Songs were being sung, and everyone was banging miniature plastic bats together to the beat of the orchestrated chants. If felt like something could happen, at any moment. And just then… nothing did. The Dragons had three outs and everyone sat down to continue their conversation or eat a sausage on a stick. The Carps resumed their song.
This continued in much the same vein for some time, the Chunichi and Hiroshima supporters taking turns to either cheer on their teams or order beer from the surprisingly strong young girls wandering the stands with immense barrels of booze on their backs. As an English football supporter, this all seemed very odd to me. I am used to games where there is as much of a battle in the stands – usually vocally, sometimes physically – between opposing supporters, as there is between the teams on the pitch; when one set of fans sing, the other sings louder. The air buzzes with boisterous excitement.
Yes, this all seemed very polite to me. But then, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe the chants were vicious, biting comments on the opposition players, and my limited knowledge of Japanese was too poor to pick this up. I asked my friend, what are they singing? Score a home run Hernandez. What about now? Make a hit Oshima. Do they ever sing nasty things about the opposition? Like what? Well, for example, in football we sing about David Beckham’s wife taking it up the arse, or Ronaldo being a pedophile. Why? For fun. Hmmm, that doesn’t sound like fun, or very nice for that matter, she replied. We agreed to disagree.
While the game itself continued in tedium, I eventually began to enjoy myself. Maybe it was the banging together of the plastic bats I had acquired, maybe it was the jovial conversation with the supporters who offered me food and their homemade banners to wave, or maybe it was the several beers I had drunk throughout the game. Either way, I had barely noticed the Carps take a 1-0 lead. In fact the only thing I had noticed was the cheerleaders taking to the pitch wearing yukata, and the flipping exploits of the club mascot Doara. (I am still yet to understand why a team called Dragons has a blue koala as a mascot, when surely the obvious mascot would be, well, a dragon. But when it comes to the mysteries of Japan’s cutesy mascotry, I have given up on asking questions).
Then, suddenly, at the top of the eighth inning (I had watched the ‘classic’ Tom Selleck movie Mr. Baseball as research, and thankfully some of the terminology had rubbed off), Hiroshima took a 3-0 lead. Rather than being disheartened, this stirred more life into the Nagoyan fans. Plastic bats were hammered harder, chants were louder, and suddenly, suddenly Oshima scored and it was 3-1.
In the final inning, Hiroshima could not score, so it was bottom of the ninth. We were screaming ourselves horse, the banging of plastic bats was so hard our hands hurt, even the girls carrying the beer stopped to gaze with hope, with expectation, with prayer. And then it happened….
First one. Then two. And finally three!
Three outs, and that’s a ball game.
Disappointed we all headed to the tunnel leaving the Carps to bask in their glory. The Dragons had lost and we were on our way home. While the game itself could not exactly be considered electric, the atmosphere was convivial and entertaining, and with no one being called a pedophile or questions being raised over what uses players’ wives have for their rectal passages, it makes for a really nice, family day out. With beer. Lots of beer.
While Mark Twain had it that golf is a good walk spoiled, I have come to the conclusion that baseball is a pleasant accompaniment to a nice afternoon’s piss up.
Oh, golf. That’s one of ours too. You’re welcome.
The Nagoya Dome is a ten minute walk from Nagoya Domemae Yada station on the Meijo line, or a twenty minute walk from JR Ozone (yeah, if you are fuggin slow – ed).
Tickets can be bought at Lawson (with L-code [44 + 3 figure date]), or at Circle K, Ticket Pia or SunKus (P-code 591-090). Tickets are also sold on match day at the Nagoya Dome Ticket Booths near Gates 1 and 8 from 10:00 until the end of the fifth inning. Infield tickets cost between ¥2500-¥5800, and outfield seats amongst the singing sections from ¥1500-¥1800, with children admitted for ¥500.
If your Japanese is up to scratch, you can get further information at the Dragons’ website at www.dragons.jp
You can find schedule information in English at bis.npb.or.jp/eng/teams/calendar_d_08.html