Armed with sun block and a soft cooler of Asahi brews, I settled into a seat behind home plate to watch the Hiroshima Toyo Carp play some ball.
It was July 6 and the Carp were taking on the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, a team nearly as bad as the Carp, who’ve lost more than half their games this year. This was one game the Carp had a chance to win. And given the Japanese people’s deep devotion to baseball, especially in Hiroshima, I figured this was one experience I shouldn’t miss while I’m in Japan.
Scanning the players, I was hit with a vague sense of de ja vu. I’m from Ohio and the Carp have the same red uniforms and “C” logo as the Cincinnati Reds back home. Ironically, they are also big losers like the Reds — not that Hiroshima residents love them any less for it.
I thought perhaps part of the Carp’s problem is that the team is named after a big, icky fish. It’s not exactly a creature that conjures images of a vicious fighter.
But it turns out that in Japanese culture, the carp is a symbol of strength and perseverance — rather fitting for a team that formed five years after the atomic bomb obliterated the city.
To the team’s credit, I didn’t see some poor sap dressed in a fat fish costume rallying the fans. The mascot is not actually a carp. It’s a furry blue dinosaur named Slyly. He was much more cuddly than a carp.
Slyly did a good job of pumping up the crowd and leading everyone through a rendition of YMCA to keep spirits high.
When the cheers roared through Shimin stadium, it was impossible not to get swept up in the team spirit. Shimin stadium is the smallest professional baseball stadium in Japan, which is probably why it sees more home runs than any other stadium. That makes for some exciting games. Even seated at the back of the first deck, I felt really close to the players on the field.
Having heard stories about notoriously aggressive Carp fans, I half expected to see hordes of crazed, beer-soaked Japanese waging peanut wars on other fans and heckling visiting players to tears.
There was none of that, though they did go a bit crazy when the Carp scored, leaping from their seats, pumping their fists and crying “Bonzai!”
The most action was definitely in the outfield seats. Those fans were the liveliest, always participating in coordinated cheers with standing and sitting and chanting of players’ names.
It was a little sad not to hear “Take me out to the ball game.” I did, however, hear the Chicken Dance song and that obnoxious Black Eyed Peas song, “Lady Lumps.” I was really hoping to hear the Japanese sing along to that one, given their trouble with L sounds, but no such luck.
My favorite part of the game was the seventh inning stretch. That’s when the crowd sang a traditional fight song. Everyone blew up long, pink, rather phallic balloons and waved them around during the song. At the end, they let go and the balloons went spiraling up into the sky before raining back down on the crowd.
In the end, the Carp lost 5-3, so I believe I had the true Carp experience. It was a good one.
The Home Stretch
This is the last year the beloved Hiroshima Toyo Carp are playing in Shimin stadium downtown, across the street from the A-Bomb Dome. A new bigger and better stadium, slated to open next spring, is being built near Hiroshima Station.
Time is winding down on the baseball season. So if you want to see the Carp play in the old stadium before it meets the mighty wrecking ball, don’t delay! The last home game will be Sept. 28 against the Tokyo Yakult Swallows.
You can find their game schedule at http://www.carp.co.jp/schedule/index.html. Home games are highlighted in pink.
Tickets prices start at 1500 yen and go up depending on where you want to sit and what extras you buy with the ticket (nomihodai seats — all-you-can-drink — run 4500 yen).
Tickets can be purchased at a number of places, including the Carp Web site, JR stations and convenience stores. Of course, they can also be purchased at the stadium. A word to the wise, though: if you want to sit in the liveliest cheering section in the outfield, buy your tickets in advance.