Baseball in Japan: Yakult Swallows and Meiji Jingu Stadium

 Welcome to Meiji Jingu Stadium, the second-oldest baseball stadium in Japan. It saw its first game in 1926, and is one of only a few stadiums left standing where Babe Ruth played. He played here in 1934 as part of an all-star tour. The stadium hosts the Yakult Swallows and is also used for several college games.
 The field is artificial turf and the dimensions are pretty standard and symmetrical - 101 meters to left and right fields, and 120 meters to center. It's located near Shinjuku, though it's far enough away that you don't see any of Shinjuku's high rises from the seats.
 Despite being from before World War II, it has a 1960s-1970s feel, since it has been expanded and renovated several times.
 There's a single-level seating bowl all the way around the field, though you can't exactly get from the seats behind the plate to the outfield. And I'm not entirely sure you can walk from left field to right field. If you buy unreserved (outfield) seats as I did, you'll have to leave the stadium and go back in the correct entrance. Being a foreigner, it seems I was excused for not knowing. I suppose I could have stayed and sat in the nicer seats if I wanted.
 Behind home plate is the "second floor" though it doesn't hang over the main bowl. This is the only shaded part of the stands and might be a good place to be if you are attending a day game. Also note the black poles along the front row. It seems the obstructive chain fence is gone but a netting is still in place and obstructs the view a little bit. Sitting up high is the best chance to get a foul ball and avoid the obstruction. This photo was taken around row 25.
 The concourse is narrow and food choices are very limited. Most people bring their own food and drinks to the game here - you should too. Getting around was never difficult for me, because before the game most people weren't at the stadium and once the game starts everyone remains in their seats.
 I didn't realize how artificial the turf really looks until I saw this picture.
 I went to a Monday night game so crowds were fairly light. Weeknights are the best time to go if you want space, but you miss out on the "show" when there are less people in attendance. As you can see from this shot, I perched myself near the line in right field. Home team fans sit on the first base side, while visiting fans sit on the third base side. For some teams, the visiting fans take up only a small part of the outfield; when teams like the Tigers come to town the third base side will have a whole bunch of Hanshin fans.
As with the other NPB teams, Swallows fans sing a fight song ("Tokyo Ondo") at the seventh inning stretch. But unlike the Carp and Hawks before, the Swallows fans bring out little umbrellas and thrust them up and down. The fans also do this when the Swallows score a run.

The stadium is unique and not without its problems. Mainly, I'd like more food choices. There was some selection out in the outfield, but nothing really appealed to me on this visit. There was a small souvenir store in the left field corner under the outfield stands and I picked up a couple neat items. It would also be nice to be able to walk around the entire stadium, but what are you going to do? As I mentioned, most people do bring their own food and you should too. Bentos are easily found if coming via the Ginza line. The stadium is a few minutes walk from Gaienmae Station (there are other nearby stations for other lines as well), and the sidewalks are surprisingly narrow for such a big sporting complex (several 1964 Olympics venues are located here including the main Olympic stadium with the Olympic museum)

The clubhouse and training field are not in the stadium itself, so players have to walk through the crowds in uniform to get to the field. Note that autographs are usually not obtained this way, but it seems that people have success at the field itself before the games. Unless you're sitting in the outfield, plan on getting any souvenirs before you enter the gates. I don't remember any souvenir shops inside the rest of the seating bowl and the tables outside the stadium could be gone when you leave. Even if you're sitting in the outfield, buy anything you want outside, as the souvenirs inside the stadium are different.

Due to its age and history, Meiji Jingu Stadium is a must-visit for any baseball fan in Japan. Even if you can't catch the Swallows, be on the lookout for college or high school games, where tickets should be cheaper and access even easier.

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