Go Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters!!
13.08.2016 - 15.08.2016 80 °F
I enjoy baseball and had some hopes of getting to a game in Japan, but with so much else to do, it looked like it would be a challenge to find a game that I could accommodate in my rapidly diminishing days in Japan. I did go over to the Sapporo Dome, where the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters play and talked to the ticket clerks about options. It turns out that it would be possible for me to get to a game and still return to Tokyo a day in advance of departure, so I grabbed a ticket. I had planned to spend a few days in Akita and Sakata and points north and the only way I could make a game was to travel from Kushiro in far northern Hokkaido during the day to make a 6PM start at Sapporo the same day.
I bravely decided this would work, and made travel plans accordingly. So I headed north, to Akita and Sakata, which I covered in the previous post. I then headed on to Kushiro, trying to get some flavor of far northern Japan. I had hoped to get to Wakkani, which is the true northern extreme of Japan where there are a lot of Ainu (the native peoples of northern Japan, genetically and culturally related to native peoples up to the Bering Strait and down into Alaska and beyond) but is was impossible to get a train ticket up there, and lodging was scarce as well.
Kushiro was pretty fun. I took a tourist train while I was there and despite the rain took a walk to an overlook.
I had hoped to see some Japanese cranes but apparently you need to book a bus from the train station to do so, and I missed that detail.
The most fun thing to do in Kushiro was to visit the MOO (stands for 'Marine our Oasis') which includes a pleasant indoor garden atrium and a variety of food shops. Outside the main building is a long line of seafood stalls. You purchase tickets from a vendor at one end and then use the tickets to buy seafood from the various stalls.
After making your selection, you cook your food 'rotobayaki' style - over hardwood coals. I sat next to a nice couple and we shared a few words of English and some squid. My meal is below as well - shrimp, salmon, oysters, eggplant, asparagus other veggies.
After dinner, I wandered out front and came across a place with 3 Pokestops - Pokemon Go had only been released about the day we arrived in Japan, so it was in its explosive growth phase during our stay. All of the people you see in this photo are playing! (How do I know this? Level 21, dude!).
I then ran across one of the most amusing items I saw in my entire stay -
I guess if you win you could take your prize outside and cook it up for dinner!
The next morning I took the train to Sapporo to get to the ball park. Fortunately, I arrived early enough to check in at my hotel and get rid of my luggage (although almost all Japanese train stations have luggage lockers). I headed out to the Sapporo Dome, built for the winter Olympics.
There was a familiar set of bouncy-things and other entertainment outside the stadium as the rather large crowd arrived. I was about an hour early and lots of people were already there.
The first interesting difference I observed is that you are free to bring your own food and drink into the stadium, and many folks made a picnic of it. The only restriction is that you have to transfer your beer or soda to a cup.
There is plenty of food in a bun or on a stick available at stands inside, of course.
Japanese baseball is a very lively event. They have a whole bunch of mascots and cheerleaders (and for some reason, Shaun the Sheep was there as well) who work the crowd throughout the game.
The also have a whole lot of groundskeepers, snack sellers and even t-shirt cannons!
The starting pitcher for the Fighters was Anthony Bass who, earlier in his career, played for the Fort Wayne Tincaps in the Midwest League. I may have seen him play against the Lugnuts!
Perhaps the most interesting difference in the game was the cheering. There was a large section in left field that cheered and beat drums continuously whenever the Fighters were at bat. (There was a smaller section in right that did the same thing for the visitors, so the din was continuous). In addition, they had zillions of signs and even had individually composed songs for the regular team players. Here's a taste of the cheering.
As the game progressed, we reached the 7th inning stretch with the Fighters down by 2 runs. No 'take me out to the ball game' here - instead, the fans were give huge blue balloons which they inflated and then let fly around the stadium. (They did the same thing with white balloons at the end of the game...).
Then the highlight of the game for me. A towering fly ball headed my way. It landed some distance away but then fortuitously bounced to a guy across the aisle from me. I had been watching him during the game - he was definitely a superfan. He had his own set of laminated display cards for each player (I believe all of them were autographed as well!) which he pulled from a canvas bag as they came to the plate. I asked to take a picture of him with the baseball he caught, and he insisted that I take it! We tried to chat a bit and he showed me his collection of some 30 autographed baseballs, so I didn't feel I was depriving him and it gave me a chance for a cool selfie in my Lugunts hat!
The Fighters pulled the game out in the bottom of the 9th with a 3 run rally. I was fortunate enough to be able to get an action shot of Brandon Laird, another former Major Leaguer, getting the game-winning hit.
On the way out, I gave the ball to a young boy who was absolutely stunned at this weird Westerner (I did not see any others in the stadium) dressed in a Fighters t-shirt offering it to him. He and his dad were most grateful which made me feel good. Despite that pleasurable event, I actually felt a bit more like these two guys and was glad to be able to get back to my hotel to prepare for my homeward journey.
I have one more kind of off-topic post to do, but this pretty much ends my journal of my journey to Japan. I had an absolutely fabulous time. I met some very nice folks, saw tons of amazing things (many more than I have covered here), ate great food and got to spend time with my son.
I am living proof that you can go to Japan armed with essentially no Japanese but with a positive attitude, and do pretty much anything you want to do. Thanks for your patience and attention.