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Koshien July 17, 2011

Posted by ayasawada in Japan, Travel, Video.
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Koshien

Among my many ambitions is to visit the hallowed ground of Koshien Stadium in Osaka, home of arguably Japan’s most famous baseball team: the Hanshin Tigers. I finally achieved this last month.

I can’t really say I’m a baseball fan. It’s not shown in the UK so I don’t really understand the rules, yet alone the complicated stats and tricks that make it fascinating. My real reason for visiting is what it represents: a dream, or rather the goal of a dream. Every year, Koshien hosts the finals of Japan’s National High School Baseball Championship, and it’s that dream is immortalised in numerous baseball manga and anime, not least the works of Mitsuru Adachi. Having become a fan of Adachi-sensei in the last few years through Touch and Cross Game, a trip to Koshien represents a pilgrimage of sorts to me.

Luckily, I have friends in Osaka and they kindly looked into the schedule of games and sorted out tickets for us. My friend Colm is a teacher in the region and one of his students is a die-hard Tigers fan. It was this man, Noboru, who was our guide to all things baseball and all things Tigers. He even gave us replica shirts and noise-makers to decorate ourselves with for the night. Never underestimate Japanese hospitality – they will always go above and beyond for their guests.

Newly made Tigers fans!

Koshien lies in Kansai’s Nishinomiya district, between Osaka and Kobe. It’s a roughly 20 minute journey on the private Hanshin line from Umeda station in central Osaka (Hanshin are, of course, the main sponsors the Tigers. It’s fitting – though I’m not sure how comfortable I am with it – that you’re forced to use their line to get to the stadium).

It was rush hour on a Monday and as the train rattled along, it gradually filled up with more an more fans. Tigers fans are known for being nuts – the one time they won the national championship in 1985, fans jumped into Osaka’s Dotombori river. What I liked was the range of people – fathers and sons, boyfriends and girlfriends, and plenty of young men with Tigers merchandise plastered head to toe. Some were wearing that Japanese stereotypical ‘yanki robe’ labelled, of course, with huge Tigers logos. Of course, much of this is similar to big sporting events in many countries, but there’s something about the Japanese capacity for fanaticism that makes it extra special.

Arriving at Koshien

Information board

We arrived at the stadium at around 5.30pm and the place was already awash with fans anticipating the 6pm start. I’d thought this seemed pretty early, but since baseball games take around 3-4 hours, it made sense. The atmosphere was lively and with plenty of noise, but none of the general drunken chanting you get before English football games. Maybe that’s just us.

Wall of fame

Murton

Murton: an American in Japan.

Tigers mascots

Why no photo love for the girl mascot?

Tigers couples photowall

Well, why not?

There was plenty to people-watch around the ground – mascots, photowalls, mothers carefully decking out their sons in the latest Tigers merch and Yanki girls hanging out, having a smoke.

Yankis

Tigers Shop

We made a brief stop at the club shop. The merchandise had everything you’d expect – souvenir baseballs, replica shirts, flags, caps, tiger ears for the girls. But as always the Japanese never miss a merchandising opportunity. Noboru showed us the ‘pink jersey’ that sells (extremely well) to the ladies. I also spotted a limited edition Figma Urusei YatsuraXHanshin Tigers figure – Lum and Ten, of course, famously wear tiger-striped clothes. They never miss a trick, those Japanese.

Urusei Yatsura X Hanshin Tigers Figma

Then it was time to go in. First amazing thing about Japanese stadium hospitality: you can bring your own beer into the ground. You’re not allowed to take the cans in of course, but rather than confiscate it like they do at English live events, they give you plastic cups to pour it in. Not only that, they pour it for you. O.o

Bring your own beer, we'll pour it for you.

There’s nothing quite like stepping out to the field of a famous stadium for the first time. I can’t really describe the magic, so here’s a video and audio recording.

Koshien crowd

Second amazing thing about Japanese stadium hospitality: they serve you drinks and snacks right to your seat. And not just that – draft beer. Brought to you by cute Japanese girls in adorable pink outfits, carrying beer barrels on their backs.

Koshien beer girl

As the crowds took their seats they had a little pre-game warm up where some young kids took part in a pitching competition. The kids then had the ‘honour’ of competing in a dance competition led by the Tigers mascots. I’m pretty sure stories (and later, video) of such participation has been ritually used to embarrass teenagers for the last two decades.

Kids dance contest

The atmosphere was fabulous – good-natured but incredibly boisterous. This got even more pronounced when the game proper started, the stadium using its announcers, screen animations and scrolling advertising tickers to say who who was up to bat. Reacting to this, a band and cheerleaders with white gloves and whistles directed the chants as we all joined in with our own whistles, noisemakers and beer-powered voices.

Cheerleaders

I could have sat in my seat happily for the next three hours, screaming and receiving beer, chips and ice cream from the various vendors. But beer hastened nature’s call. As I wandered down to the toilets I found even more hospitable delights – hawker stands dispensing tumblers of teriyaki on sticks and other grilled meat, and the smoking rooms. You can’t smoke in the stands, but they do provide you specialist rooms with TVs so you don’t miss any of the action.

Smoking room

Following the sixth inning, Koshien has the tradition of letting off a bunch of streamer balloons. Most stadiums only do this when their team wins, but Tigers fans are weird… I mean, special. It’s fun, but the phallic nature of the streamers makes the sight akin to watching hundreds of condoms go flying into the night.

I really enjoyed myself and by the end of the night I’d vaguely got to grips with the rules of baseball. Sadly, the Tigers currently suck and languish near the bottom of the Central League, despite going close to the championship last season. This is probably a product, Noboru told us, of their ageing squad (which, unfortunately, also happens to have one of the highest wage-bills in the league). They were trashed 6-1 on the night, losing to local rivals the Osaka Orix Buffaloes. Thankfully, this game wasn’t a league game, so at least it didn’t worsen their position. Only local pride lost then :P

Despite the loss, there was no moaning, no frustration, no protest through violence. Everyone still had a good time and went singing into the night. As I sat in the ground, imagining scenes from numerous baseball manga, I thought: this really is a place of dreams.

Well-wishing for Japan

If you’d like to see more photos from Koshien, there’s plenty in my Flickr set.

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Comments»

1. Japan trip 2011 « Canned Memory - August 14, 2011

[…] EVAH) in Dotombori with an old English friend. We took in the baseball at KOSHIEN(!!) (details in this post) but not before he’d shown us the delights of Osaka’s famous Don Quixote and […]


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