The Hiroshima Carp and Slyly, Their Mascot

Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium Hiroshima (MAZDA Zoom-Zoom スタジアム広島), home of the Hiroshima Carp

by Dan Moeller

After having read an anthropological piece on Japanese baseball, I was especially excited to attend my first Hiroshima Carp game. I met with a lot of agreeable points in the essay. The fans cheer in strange, yet respectful ways. They only cheer when their own team is at bat. No one yells at the refs. No one mocks or harasses the other players. At my first game, there was what seemed like a college marching band helping to lead cheers. The cheers were very structured and everyone chants together. There is the common “kattobase” chant which roughly translates to “Let ‘er rip!”, a seventh inning fight song, and a few others.

When I think of baseball games in America, the first thing I think of is sitting in the nosebleed section of the old Veterans Stadium, munching on some dollar dogs and anxiously waiting for an impossible homer with my Little League baseball glove. The next thing that comes to mind is lying in the infield watching Fourth of July fireworks. And, of course, I could never forget the Phillie Phanatic blowing his toy tongue in my face for my birthday. A furry kiss from the Phanatic!

The Phillie Phanatic is a green, lovable trickster who woos the crowd with his antics; whether it be having fake arguments with the umpires, warming up in the bullpen, trying to arrest a Mets player, or riding his ATV over a New York Yankees dummy in front of their dugout. I especially enjoyed his recent Lady Gaga impersonation (OK, maybe I just spent an hour or so watching Phanatic videos on youtube).

The Phillie Phanatic in the flesh cloth (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

He’s definitely an odd character, being a fictional animal dressed in a Phillies baseball shirt, high socks, oversized shoes, and no pants. He’s got a kooky family; he’s award winning; and he has appeared in some hilarious Sportcenter commercials. He is said to have a resemblance to the Orlando Magic’s “Stuff” mascot, but after watching the roller-skating Stuff get slingshot off a ramp to slam dunk for a halftime show I don’t really see the resemblance.

So, back to my first experience at the Mazda Stadium in Hiroshima, or, officially, the Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium Hiroshima (MAZDA Zoom-Zoom スタジアム広島). Really. My first impression of the actual stadium was “Wow, I guess a lot of people ride their bike to the game” (after walking the elevated path to the stadium overlooking a Walmart Supercenter-sized bike lot). Next, I was horrified that inflated food and drink prices are another part of American baseball culture that has reached Japan. After that, I became disgruntled over the fact that shirts, hats, posters, and sleeping people held nearly all the seats in the unreserved section, while my girlfriend and I reached Lewis and Clark heights to find a substandard spot on cold pavements steps.

As for the aforementioned cultural differences (and shocking likenesses) I thought, “Hey, this is Japan and I will get used to it.” But, there was one hurdle which most definitely took me by surprise: seeing Hiroshima’s Phanatic doppelganger, “Slyly.” My thought process went something like this: “That’s…that’s the…they ripped off the Philly Phanatic!” I felt like exposing this to the world, but had no outlet beside a possible cell phone snapshot from across the ballpark.

The Hiroshima Carp mascot, and Phanatic look-alike, Slyly (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

This Slyly is a festive character, standing about the height of the Phanatic, same shape, similar oversized shoes, similar team jersey with no pants, a shaggy coat of fur, Phanatic-like party whistle tongue that playfully extends from his Phanatic-like mouth. The only real difference is that, while the Phillie Phanatic is green, Slyly is blue. Oh, the desecration, the nerve, the absurdity of impersonating my team’s mascot! It’s laughable considering:

Sly adj.

1. Clever or cunning, especially in the practice of deceit.

2. Stealthy or surreptitious

“They slyly stole our idea” is what I was thinking. I got over it pretty quick, though, complacent with my “Don’t Forget Ogata” poster, but I imagine a lot of hardcore Philadelphia fans would raise more than a ruckus over a less grievous offense. Interestingly, the two mascots, the Phanatic and Slyly, were actually produced by the same company, Harrison/Erickson, in connection with Jim Henson of “The Muppets” and “Sesame Street” fame. Does that make it ok? Hmm.

Why doesn’t Slyly live up to the Phanatic standards?

1. He has a Mohawk-ish mullet that sags down his neck.
2. His budget is much, much smaller.
3. He rides a Segway (giggle).
4. He is only 15 years old (the Phanatic…33).
4. The guy inside is a foreigner who copies the Phanatic’s moves.

It’s true, the costume-wearer is actually a Philadelphia native who has more than a bit of experience in the field. Stateside, he has performed as various mascots, not to mention being a former Phillies Phanstormer (one of the guys that helps load the hotdog- and t-shirt-shooting guns). He has admitted to “borrowing” from the Phillie Phanatic, which is quite evident from his act.

The Phanatic has some fun with visiting New York Mets players (Photo credit: shrubfan5)

The Slyly role does have some of its own culture, though. It has become a tradition to use an American for the job, and for each retiring Slyly to find his replacement. Also, the Carp management decided the Slyly performer’s identity should remain a secret (although many Japanese realized his foreignness after his faux pas of dancing through the national anthem).

So, all criticism aside, I like the idea that the Carp mascot is being performed by someone with training in my hometown. It makes me feel fuzzy inside and brings to mind some sentences involving “intercultural,” “global,” “barrier-crossing,” etc, etc. One step at a time, such a foreign and playful character might be loosening up some of the rigidity that plagues Japan.

Slyly works to energize the crowd at a Carp game (Photo credit: dhchen)

It brings to mind the Carp’s recent slogan “We’re Gonna Win!” It sounds like something ripped right from the Philadelphia Flyers, or even the EA Sports “Get in the game!” Another thing the Carp has shared with the Phillies (up until the 2008 World Series) is that they’ve been a losing team on a loooong streak. In fact, the Carp haven’t peaked above 3rd in the pennant race since 1991. There are only 6 teams in the Central League, right? Ganbatte ne!

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