People visit Japan for a number of reasons. The country is full of breathtaking sights, historic landmarks, mouth-watering food, and so much more. But before you complete your itinerary, consider adding a Japanese baseball game to your plans.
Baseball History in Japan
Baseball was introduced in Japan in the early 1870s and has grown to be the most popular sport in the country. The Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) is composed of the country’s top-level teams and is split into two leagues: the Central League and the Pacific League.
Each league is comprised of six teams each for a total of twelve teams. They play games starting from late March to early April and compete for a spot in Japan Series at the end of the baseball season in October or November.
Baseball in Japan is so popular that even high school level baseball garners the attention of the country. Every year, top high school teams participate in two competitions at Koshien Stadium which are known throughout Japan as “Spring Koshien” and “Summer Koshien.” Some of NPB’s top players—as well as a few Japanese MLB players—gained attention by playing at these Koshien competitions.
Like with the MLB in the US, Japanese teams play with 25 players per game. While the team’s roster can have up to 70 players, only 28 players make up the team’s “first squad” and managers select three of those players to keep out of every game.
MLB fans will notice that NPB teams play in smaller fields and there’s a slight difference when it comes to the strike zone. But one major difference how NPB games can end in a tie. A regular game of baseball is played up to nine innings, and extra innings are allowed if the score is tied. The NPB, however, has a rule where games can only go up to the 12th inning (15 in the playoffs). It is possible for games to end where no one is announced as the winner.
Cheer with the Ouendan
One of the most impressive reasons to watch a game in Japan is to experience the way fans cheer for their teams. Every team has a cheering squad known as ouendan that leads fans in synchronized cheers or songs during games. Depending on the teams playing, there are even specific chants and moves that fans know by heart to use when their teams score.
Even more impressive is the fact that these cheers don’t just fade away halfway through the game. Fans can keep the cheering loud and alive all the way to the last inning of the game. Experiencing the ouendan is one of the best reasons to watch a game in Japan. It’s a way for Japanese baseball fans to see just how dedicated people are to their teams.
Eating and Drinking at Games
Eating at a baseball game has become a ubiquitous experience for stadium-going fans all over the world. In the US, many major baseball parks even have specialty dishes only available in those parks during the season. While hotdogs, popcorn, and peanuts are common in American parks, Japanese baseball fans indulge in local favorites and more.
Hotdogs make their standard baseball game appearance, but fans watching in Japan have a few more additional toppings to choose from. For example, anyone in Tokyo for a Yomiuri Giants game can grab a Tokyo Dome Dog: a hotdog topped with sliced pork and onions then drizzled with BBQ sauce.
Fans who love Japanese food can grab a bowl of curry rice or katsudon for a heartier meal or choose from a variety of bento boxes on sale in the stadium. Snacks like takoyaki and fried squid are also available during games.
A long game might leave some people thirsty for a cold beverage. Luckily, Japanese stadiums have beer girls who walk around to sell beer to fans. They’re easily identifiable in the crowd with the team uniforms they wear and beer kegs strapped on their backs. There’s no need to leave your seat and miss out on a second of the game to grab a pint.
Ticket purchases for games can be done through convenience stores or at the stadiums on game day but ticket machines are only in Japanese. It’s best to do it early as they sell out pretty quickly. Some teams, like the Yomiuri Giants, have tickets available for sale on their site in English.
Be sure to check out NPB’s website for game schedules so you can plan accordingly.
If you’re not able to get tickets to a game, don’t worry as there are other ways to experience Japan’s baseball culture. Grab a ticket for Koshien Stadium Museum through KKday and learn more about Japan’s unofficial national sport.