If there is anything that catches the Japanese’ interest more than food its baseball, or “yakyu” as they affectionately call it. Interest isn’t even concentrated to the male population as I observed when thanks to free tickets, I watched a Softbank Hawks game in the Yahoo! Dome. Probably 50% of the fans were female and maybe 30% of the fans were kids. Baseball is indeed the national obessession throughout the entire Japanese demographic. The Japanese are the worlds best players after all, if you base it on the World Baseball Classic which Japan has dominated since its inception. In Japanese TV, American Major League games are broadcasted in favor of the noontime news when a team with a Japanese player is playing.
The Japan counterpart of Major League Baseball is Nippon Professional Baseball, so simply Pro-Yakyu. In Fukuoka, the home team Softbank Hawks are enjoying a remarkable season so attendance in their games has been rising. (I’m curious if Softbank mobile phones enjoy higher sales in Fukuoka because of the Hawks.
The game is pretty much similar to its American Major League counterparts but the fans can’t be more different. In Japan, dedicated fans have a drums and horn section that never stops playing from the beginning to the end of the game. Expect the sound to ring in your head for hours after the game. Probably best to head to the nearest karaoke club after the game to get rid of the last song syndrome (LSS).
During the 7th inning stretch, fans of the opposing team take turns singing their teams song, then release self-blown balloons into the air. This in itself is as entertaining as the game itself (at least for a non-basebal fan like me). (Update: The Softbank Hawks have recently stopped this 7th inning activity to prevent the spread of Swine Flu)
Also interesting were the beer boys and girls. They carry draft beer backpacks, walk up and down the stadium shouting “____ biiru, ikaga desu ka?” (How about some ____ beer?). There are Asahi beer boys and girls, and Kirin boys and girls. Didn’t see other brands. You can tell which beer they are serving through their colorful uniforms that you can see a mile away. My wife tells me that these kids are usually college student-athletes who could use the extra cash and the extra training from walking up and down those long stairs.
To catch a Softbank Hawks game, head on over to Hawk’s Town in Momochi. The nearest subway stop is Tojinmachi (唐人町). Exit in the direction of the Korean Consulate-General and the Chinese Consulate-General and follow the hordes walking to Yahoo! Dome. Its about a 5 minute walk from the station. After the game, don’t forget to shake hands with Michael Jackson. He is there somewhere lurking around the dome!