Monday, November 3, 2014

Tokyo: Japanese Baseball

Imported in the mid-1800's to Japan, baseball is one of the country's most popular sports. The Japanese professional league, Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), has twelve teams, divided into two divisions, each representing (or co-representing) a major metropolis, a region, or, in the case of Hokkaido, an entire island. The rules are essentially the same as in the U.S., but for the avid observer, the NPB differs in many details. Apparently, for example, a regulation baseball and a regulation-sized NPB field are smaller than their MLB counterparts. Being generally apathetic about baseball and only a bandwagon Red Sox fan, I never would have noticed. 

Meiji Jingu Stadium from our seats at the first game we attended. Giants won.
Some of the less technical differences are, for me at least, more memorable:

Each Japanese baseball team is owned and/or sponsored by a corporation and each team's name includes the name of its corporate owner/sponsor followed by the mascot name. Imagine if you will... the Pittsburgh Heinz Pirates or the New York JPMorgan Chase Yankees. (For illustrative purposes only - I know these companies are not the owners of these MLB teams.) Adding a corporate name is, in my opinion, tacky and confusing. For a newbie it requires more effort than it should to figure out what really matters: where a team is from. I don't care what corporate interest bought your uniform. I want to know in which cities I can see a game and what the best rivalries are!

Also, a number of the NPB mascots rival NESCAC's decidedly non-intimidating roster, including: 
  • Nippon Ham Fighters - sounds like a vegetarian's dream team!
  • Orix Buffaloes - as unlikely a mascot as a camel, an elephant or a lord jeff
  • Hiroshima Toyo Carp - an oily freshwater fish
The two Tokyo-based teams are the Tokyo Yakult Swallows and the Yomiuri Giants. The Giants are owned by the media conglomerate Yomiuri Group and are considered the Yankees of the NPB. This is, as best I can tell, because they win a lot, have more non-local/bandwagon fans than any other team and are the subject of much ire and more than a little controversy. (My inner Boston bandwagon fan types furiously, indignantly.) The Swallows are more like the Mets - chances are you aren't rooting fo them unless you're a local. If the Giants are "Japan's team," then the Swallows are Tokyo's team. 

We have been to two Giants-Swallows match-ups at Meiji Jingu Stadium, the Swallows's home field, and saw one victory for each team. Each time we sat on the home team/Swallows side, and I cout I could sum up the experience of being a Swallows fan for an evening any better than an article I read in Men's Journal did, so I won't try to: 

"The non-stop cheering, syncopated noisemaking, and drunken trumpet bleating when the home team is batting make you wonder what the hell kind of game we're watching [...]. Join the fun by buying a tiny umbrella at the stadium. You'll see. Fans break into "Tokyo Ondo," a lovely festival song, for every run scored and the seventh inning stretch. It's a song full of nostalgia, but the rowdier version starts off with a chant telling Yomiuri to go @#$% themselves, sometimes even if Yomiuri isn't the opponent. Beautiful, traditional culture."
Courtesy of Men's Journal 

Go, Go, Swallows!

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