Words by Charly Draper
Photos by Jeff Wigg
I have a confession. I lived in Japan for 1 year, 10 months and 6 days before I watched a baseball game. So much for learning about the culture. I attended tea ceremony, I pulled a kyuudou bow, I watched fireworks in a yukata and ate more sushi and okonomiyaki than one person should eat in a lifetime. Yet I had never attended that ultimate Japanese pastime – the baseball game.
But on the 9th of June, that all changed. The lovely AJET team organised an outing to watch the Hiroshima Carps play the Fukuoka Hawks. The turnout was huge. 62 of us gaijin came out to drink beer and cheer on the Carps.
The game itself was enjoyable, I was assured. Unfortunately, despite a valiant effort in the last two innings, the Carps lost 7-3. This is a common occurrence because Mazda doesn’t put as much money into the team as other sponsors invest in theirs. The Carps often train up new players; then the players get poached by teams who can pay better. However, if any reason for failure is going to engender support within the prefecture, it seems to be this one. The people of Hiroshima are passionate Carps supporters, arriving week after week to cheer them on at the Mazda Zoom Zoom stadium.
Before I went to watch, I knew the Japanese were crazy about baseball, but I didn’t get it. Entering the stadium, I got it. The atmosphere was like a festival and even the range of food put the chips and pies of New Zealand sports events to shame (Perhaps our favourite was the guy in front of us eating a cucumber on a stick!). Children too young to walk were wheeled in in pushchairs, or carried on their fathers’ shoulders, dressed in the ubiquitous Carps shirt. Having just bought one I appreciated the price of those things and I had to ponder how many Carps shirts you would need for one growing child – do they come in sets of ten different sizes, to cover infant to ten-year old?
Once the game started, young women walked around with beer keg backpacks, so you could refill your drink without even interrupting your… err… watching the game. In our ‘gaijin section’ there was a continual debate regarding whether Japanese baseball was boring or enjoyable to watch, but I didn’t hear anyone complain about having a boring day! If you were less game-inclined, there was plenty of beer and conversation, while our seats gave an excellent view of all the action on the field, whether that action was the Carps being thoroughly beaten by the Hawks or the half time entertainment of the mascots leading the crowd in a cheer.
My personal highlight was something you may have seen on Facebook. At a signal, everyone inflated balloons in their team colour and waved them around. Then, on a second signal, they were all released to shoot around the stadium until they ran out of puff and drifted back down onto the crowd. Being a Carps virgin, I was lucky a friend knew the plan and shared her balloons. You don’t want to miss out on this one!
Although I don’t make a habit of watching sport, I was impressed by the carnival atmosphere at the Carps game. Unlike many other sports (I’m thinking of English soccer fans with this one!), the atmosphere was overwhelmingly positive. Everyone was there to enjoy themselves – eating, drinking and making merry. We all know how much the Japanese love festivals and the Carps games seem to have acquired a similar role. It’s no wonder children grow up loving their prefectural team and baseball in general.
So if you have yet to experience baseball in Japan, grab a friend and head down to the Mazda Zoom Zoom stadium. I guarantee you’ll have a great time – just don’t forget your balloons!