When my husband and I were planning our honeymoon trip to Tokyo, one of the top things we wanted to do was checkout a baseball game. I have to credit Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations Osaka episode for the idea, but I must say it was our absolute favorite thing we did during our three short, but very packed, days in Tokyo.
So how exactly did Japan put their stamp on America’s pastime?
To the average spectator (us), the game itself was the same, even all of the baseball terms were in English, which surprised us. However, there are differences in strategy, player demeanor, player contracts, etc that we didn’t notice from the stands.
But that wasn’t important to us. We want to share the overall experience of the game.
Here’s our take on how American and Japanese baseball stack up against each other after we attended the evening game between the Yomiuri Giants and the Yokohama DeNA BayStars at the Tokyo Dome.
So who do we think does baseball better? Let’s break it down by category:
In America, beer vendors are typically guys that make their rounds through the stands pouring beer from cans they hold on large trays strapped around their necks.
Japan is the master of efficiency and making things “kawaii” (cute/adorable). They managed to do both with beer sales at games.
They strapped giant backpacks, or essentially small kegs, to the backs of good looking women dressed in short shorts and shirts with the logo of the beer she’s selling.
It was hysterical because they went up and down the aisles smiling and waving both hands to look cute, but not saying a word…so Japanese. This is in STARK contrast from the booming voice of American beer guys yelling, “Beer here! Get your beer! Ice cold <insert Bud or Miller product>!”
It’s pretty genius, especially considering a lot of spectators are businessmen, still in their suits from work. I mean, who would they rather buy beer from – an old, loud man or a cute, little beer girl?
Winner – Tie
I can’t deny the efficiency and taste from the keg backpacks in Japan. It keeps the beer colder than cans and they can serve way more people before going to get a fill up. I would expect nothing less from Japan. They also had a much bigger variety of beer compared to the typical two or three options in the stands in the States, which was another bonus.
However, I think the girls would get kind of annoying after a while. It was a novelty for my first game, but I must say, I’m partial to my big, loud beer guys serving me. They have way more personality than the girls who don’t speak. Just strap a beer backpack to the American beer vendors and they’d have the best of both worlds!
One of the best things about being at a game is the fan interaction with the team. I love cheering teams on…my inner-cheerleader can’t help but make an appearance at games. Players feed off the energy of the crowd, so I think it’s an important part of the ballpark experience.
In the States, it’s typical to cheer for your team, but that generally involves cheering against the opposing team. Sometimes with, let’s say, strong words.
In Japan, they have a specific cheering section in the bleacher seats, not only for the home team, but also the opposing team. Furthermore, fans have a cheer for every single player. The cheering section stands the entire time their team is at bat and yells those player-specific chants over and over until the team’s at bat is done.
They also don’t cheer against the other team. Ever. Japan is one of the most polite countries in the world, so this makes sense and was rather refreshing.
The cheering section is complimented by drums, trumpets, and giant flags they wave throughout the game, especially if their team makes a favorable play.
We specifically got seats in the cheering section to experience this first-hand and we LOVED it! It didn’t take long to catch on to the chants for each player. The people sitting next to us gave us big smiles, and an occasional chuckle, when we started cheering with them. It was adorable.
Winner – Japan
The fans, even those not in the cheering section, were cheering along the whole time, not just when it got exciting like in the US. They were very involved in the game vs. socializing which is the main focus for a lot of American fans…or maybe I’ve just gotten too accustomed to Wrigley Field 🙂
In the US, each team usually has a mascot that runs around the field, sometimes hops around the stands, and dance to music throughout the game.
Japan takes mascots to a whole new level. The game we were at had FIVE mascots AND a full dance team. They did a huge performance before the game started that was fairly impressive. They also did a couple short numbers throughout the game.
Winner – Japan
Mascots don’t do much for me, but having the dance team along with multiple mascots definitely upped the entertainment factor at the Japanese game.
American baseball games usually involve a few raffles – typically one for better seats sponsored by some company and the beloved scoreboard contest where you pick a car/sausage/who-knows-what to win a race. That usually doesn’t get you anything other than maybe a coupon for a free burger or something from a fast food restaurant, if you’re lucky.
Japan prints out full programs and hands them to everyone as you enter the stadium. At some point during the game, they flashed a picture up on the scoreboard. We saw everyone get out their programs and flip to a specific page.
Lo and behold the picture in my program matched what was on the scoreboard!
The young girls sitting next to me got SO excited! I had no idea what this meant, but I saw a bunch of people running up the stairs towards the concourse. I asked what to do and used charades (i.e. point at the picture and shrugged with my shoulders and hands in the international sign for I don’t get it). They quickly pointed up the stairs, so I followed the crowd.
My big prize was a small towel; about the size of a washcloth, in the shape of a jersey for the home team. This is what everyone was so excited about?! I gladly accepted my winning prize and took it back to my seat. The girls were still ecstatic about it. It was really funny.
A lot of fans had towels they spun around in the air when their team was at bat, so I joined them spinning with my new itsy-bitsy jersey-shaped towel, which the girls thought was absolutely hysterical. They laughed, of course, covering their mouths.
Winner – Japan
Although my prize wasn’t all that impressive to me, I couldn’t help be pumped about it due to the girls’ infectious enthusiasm. I’ll take that over a free burger any day.
7th INNING STRETCH
A quintessential American baseball tradition is singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the middle of the 7th inning. Everyone stands up, sings the song together, sometimes with arms around each other, and usually making the motions during the line, For it’s one, two, three strikes, you’re out! It’s one of my favorite parts of the game.
Winner – US
I suppose this song may not translate very well, but they did replace it with a “Lucky Seven” song during the 7th inning. Not quite the same though.
One of the most shocking things for Jan and I was that the game was tied in the 9th inning, but they didn’t go into extra innings to settle the score! Everyone just left. We were confused for a bit until it was very obvious the players weren’t coming out for more. The game was over.
Winner – US
I guess the Japanese are ok with a tie, at least in the regular season, but that would never happen in America. We need a winner.
The stadium the game was at in Tokyo was an indoors, which was very different for me. I liked that even though it was rainy outside, it was bright and dry inside, but it did lack the overall feel of being in a ballpark. It was very clean, as one would expect of anything in Japan, but I kind of missed the grittiness and character of some, especially older, American ballparks. It just seemed a bit sterile.
Winner – US
As much as it sucks to watch a game in the rain and/or 45˚ F weather, which most fans in Cleveland or Chicago experience in the early spring, late fall, or sometimes even in the summer, it’s a part of the experience.
Unfortunately, we didn’t eat anything at the game because we filled up on the best ramen of our lives right before that. A decision we definitely do not regret, although we wish we were hungrier to try some of the Japanese food in the stadium. They offered a wide variety of mostly Japanese food such as bento boxes and yakitori sticks as well as some typical American options.
Winner – Tie
We can’t fairly judge this category since we did not try the food, but I wanted to include the category since it’s an integral to a day at the ballpark. Based on reading some other articles, it looks like the food is nothing that’s going to make your skirt flip up, but neither does food at an American stadium.
I think it’s really the atmosphere that makes a hot dog taste better than it really is anyway! Plus, each ballpark is different, so it’s hard to
- Japan Wins – Fans, Mascots, Contests
- US Wins – 7th Inning Stretch, Scoring, Atmosphere
- Ties – Beer, Food
If you base the decision purely on the scores above, it’s a tie straight down the middle. I swear I did not plan that. However, the tie-breaker is the ever elusive Overall Experience factor.
It really comes down to this question: Would we prefer to go to a game in the US or Japan more?
Although we thoroughly enjoyed our ballpark experience in Japan, we can’t deny our roots and years of watching games in the US. Jersey-shaped towel prizes and girls with mini kegs on their backs can’t trump nostalgia…
OVERALL WINNER – ‘MERICA!