By Chris Greenaway
It has been said that in Japanese sports there is sumo and baseball, then there is everything else. During the 2005 Japan Series between the Chiba Lotte Marines and the Hanshin Tigers, it sure looked that way, even in Tokyo.
Baseball in Japan dates back to the Meiji Restoration of 1868 when Japan began modernizing itself and adopting Western ideas in everything from clothing to commerse to sport. Various Americans brought the game to Japan in the early 20th century but the professional game didn’t begin to take shape until 1934 when the club that is now known as the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants, were formed. That same year a barnstorming American All-Star team led by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig came through Japan solidifying the game’s popularity as well as increasing the demand for a professional league. Two years later, there were seven teams in Japan and the Japan Pro-Baseball league (JPBL) was formed. The league has been through a lot of twists, turns and teams in the ensuing 70 years but the biggest came in 1950 when two leagues were formed out of the then 10 teams. The Central and Pacific Leagues were formed and the winners of the regular season league titles, (or the Pennant if you will,) would play off for the Nippon Series championship. While more playoff rounds have been added, the Nippon Series between the CL and PL exists to this day.
While many of you may be firmiliar with present day stars like Hideki Matsui, Hideo Nomo and of course, Ichiro Suzuki, there have been many great Japanese baseball stars. Names like Isao Harimoto, Katsuky Nomura, Shigeo Nagashima and the incomparable Sadaharu Oh are every bit as legendary in Japan as Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson or Nolan Ryan are in America. Japan has also seen some great foreign born stars such as Randy Bass, Cecil Fielder and Tuffy Rhodes light it up over the years.
In the Tokyo area it is a literally a smorgasbord of places to choose from and teams to cheer for with so many in the metropolitan area:
The most famous non American baseball team on Earth is the Giants and they play in the Tokyo Dome, aka the “Big Egg”. The Tokyo Dome is easy to access being just 3 stops from Ikebukuro on the Marunouchi Subway Line. You can also access the Dome on the JR Sobu Line. When you go up the stairs to the main platform, (facing the Dome City amusement park,) you will find a box office that is open during regular business hours and they have schedules for the Giants and other baseball games during the course of the year. The Tokyo Dome also offers stadium tours and houses the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame. For more info, check out the official website.
The other team located in Tokyo is the Yakult Swallows, who play in the same league as their rivals at the Dome. The Swallows play in the second oldest ballpark in Japan, Meiji Jingu Stadium. You can access the stadium even easier than the Tokyo Dome as well. When taking the Ginza Subway Line, you get off at Gaienmae Station. When taking the Sobu line your stop is Shinanmachi Station. There is a lot to do sporting wise as the stadium is part of a massive sporting complex that includes soccer and rugby fields, tennis courts and other attractions for the sporting minded.
If the Yomiuri Giants are the New York Yankees of Japanese baseball, the Seibu Lions, are Japan’s answer to the St. Louis Cardinals, (the winningest team in National League history.) The Lions, aside from wearing the coolest uniforms in the league, play at the Seibu Dome. To get to the SDome, take the Seibu Shinjuku Line from Shinjuku Station to Tokorozawa Station. After that, look for a platform leading to Seibu Kyujo-mae Station and get on the next train. (Expect to see people win powder blue Lions caps, that should be your first clue that it is the right train.)
The reigning Nippon Series Champions are the Chiba Lotte Marines. Since the return of manager Bobby Valentine a couple of years ago, the Marines have seen more success than at any other time in Orions/Marines history. This has made the “M’s” a very hot ticket in the Tokyo/Chiba area so plan ahead if you want to see them. To get to Chiba Marine Stadium, take the Keiyo Line from Tokyo Station to Kaihin Makuhari Station. Then take the west exit and on your left you will find an info booth that will help you and/or provide you with an access map. Another way to get there is to take the Sobu Line from Akihabara to Makuhari Hongo Station. Then get out at the south (or west) exit, then take the number 1 bus to Chiba Marine Stadium.
Ticket prices have a wide range but expect to pay more to see baseball than hockey, volleyball or even sumo. The range seems to be 3000-10,000 yen with Giants’ tickets being by far the most expensive.
Baseball is Japan’s most popular spectator sport and it’s most expensive but with the noise makers everywhere, umbrellas after home runs, big flags everywhere, fight songs, there is nothing like seeing America’s National Pastime played in the Land of the Rising Sun!
Until next time, Fight-O… OH!