I had three goals for Japan. 1. Yomiuri Giants game. 2. Dawn visit to the world's greatest fish market. 3. A Bathing Ape. I left batting .666.
The Giants were on the road the week that we made it to Tokyo. But Japan's historic baseball madness ensured that its capitol wouldn't be stuck with merely one baseball club. So we headed to Jingu Stadium our second night in town to watch the Tokyo Yakult Swallows take on the Yokohama Bay Stars, who I think were favored. The scene outside the park, 30 minutes before first pitch:
One mistake I didn't know I was making: I bought us tickets along the third-base line. We quickly learned that was the visitors' fans section. Not that we were invested, but it felt uncharitable to Tokyo to spend all our time amongst the Yokohama supporters. And the culture of stadium fandom is a lot more like soccer than American baseball: there are customized chants for individual players when they step into the box or make impressive plays; lots of team-flag waving at important moments; and lots of cheap noisemakers to cheer on the club.
For instance: witness the passion play of an early-inning at bat by Yokohama's Norihiro Nakamura. I filmed him because a couple people seated in our section were wearing his 99 jersey. From his stats, he seems like a pretty-good journeyman whose best seasons are behind him, but he's got his diehards.
You can get a hot dog or a burger at Jingu -- just wind your way through the catacombs of the ancient stadium; follow the exposed water pipes painted pale, dusky blue like in a New York public school -- but that seemed like a waste. This was my ballpark dinner:
Thick-ass noodles, topped with seaweed, spring onions and Paulie-in-prison-thin garlic slices. They're not really swimming in a broth -- more like a generous portion of salty, piping hot sauce applied from a squeeze bottle. It was hot as hell that day, and this wasn't exactly a light meal, even with that portion size.
That's a keg she's wearing on her back.
Yokohama jumped out to an early lead, playing an unselfish style of ball: hit-and-runs, bunting dudes into scoring position, sacrifices. But once the Swallows saw Yokohama's pitcher, they adjusted into belting extra-base hits and a homer, gaining the advantage in the fifth or the sixth and never surrendering it. The basepaths look significantly smaller than in the American majors, but the Swallows clearly learned from the American League.
This little dude was bitter over Yokohama's inability to hold its early lead. When he wasn't playing with his mom's phone -- and we saw lots of those white flip phones in Tokyo, FYI, while I expected everyone to be an Apple customer -- he howled and ran through the stands, daring grown men to get out of his way.
I can't really remember if there's a proper seventh-inning stretch, but there's a pretty amazing fan cheer exercise, lead from the field:
Why can't I remember? Because there's no beer cutoff like in American ballparks, and beer is very cheap.
Still to come: the Tokyo fishmarket. And a video I illicitly filmed in the Harajuku holdfast of A Bathing Ape.