Baseball at the Tokyo Dome: I finally see the Giants play!

 I had been past it several times. Some of my photos in other posts show the bubble peaking over the trees, or hiding in the corner. I had been "kind of" inside once before, when I visited the Japan Baseball Hall of Fame. But until August of last year, I hadn't seen a game at the Tokyo Dome. Why is this so noteworthy? Well, it's probably the most-visited stadium as far as foreigners go. It's certainly the home of the most popular, most wealthy team in Japan - the Yomiuri Giants are the Yankees of Japan, after all. It also might be the closest stadium to my apartment.

But going to places closest to you usually ends up being the least-important thing on your mind. After all, the stadium is so close - you can just go next weekend, right? That turned into next month, and then next year... Well, I finally made it to a game.
 The dome is fairly cool, especially compared to outside. I can only imagine how high the air conditioning bill is in a place like this. It wasn't cold, but I was comfortable. I wasn't able to wander around at the game, due to the location of my ticket and the crowds. The picture above is the view from my seat.
 The right field line. It's a large stadium, as you'd expect for the most popular team in Japan.
 The left field line. Seats down at the field level must be really really expensive. During batting practice, they had had a screen protecting those seats from balls. But they removed it before the game started.
 A nice panorama of the stadium.
  Here's a better view of the infield and backstop area, for those of you into that, in sort of a lazy panorama.

The game itself wasn't outstanding. The Giants lost the game, as their pitcher (Sugano) didn't have his stuff; the Dragons ended up hitting four home runs in the game - two off Sugano. In fact, Sugano had seven earned runs in 2.1 innings of work.

There were more than 44,000 fans in attendance, but the Dragons got on top very early and the Giants never really had a chance. Fans didn't get into the game like they probably would have if the score had stayed close.

Being on the top level, I felt like I was removed from the good stuff in the stadium, and I didn't really get a good feel for food selection, souvenirs, and other amenities at the park. However, the Hall of Fame is outside (I recommend visiting before the game - I don't know about in-and-out privileges, and I don't know why you'd want to spend most of the game in a separate museum). The Giants advertise a team museum which turns out to be just a small display in the basement.
 AKB48, the biggest pop idol girl group in Japan, has an association with the Giants. This display shows some of the girls, autographs, and some Giants equipment.
 The entire team (I assume) has autographed balls in this display.
 Nearby, the numbers retired by the Giants each have plaques detailing the player's accomplishments.
 The Giants have retired six numbers in all...
 Here is Shigeo Nagashima. A real nice commemorative box set was issued for him this year.
And finally, the most famous Japanese player: Sadaharu Oh. Does he belong in the (US) Baseball Hall of Fame?

Most foreign tourists who want to watch baseball in Japan will go to a Giants game. Know that it is very crowded, and tickets can sell out very early, especially for Sunday games. Access is pretty simple, with multiple train stations on multiple lines surrounding the stadium. There's also a baseball-themed restaurant, amusement park, shopping mall, and Koishikawa Korakuen garden nearby, so making an afternoon or full day of the area is certainly possible.

Due to the air conditioning and dome, seeing a game here eliminates possibilities of rain-outs and discomfort due to extreme temperatures (and Tokyo gets really hot and muggy in the summer). But for a slightly more intimate experience, you can also see the Swallows in Tokyo, or head to nearby Yokohama, Saitama, or Chiba for their teams. (Yokohama has a lot of touristy things as well; Saitama and Chiba are a bit out of the way.)

A Japan Women's Baseball League Primer - My First Game in Sendai

 Yesterday, I posted about going to a Golden Eagles game, but there are (at least) two large baseball stadiums in Sendai. The second stadium is more suited to an independent, semi-pro, minor league or college team, but certainly with a large draw. This is the view from outside the right field fence.
 JWBL has a league of four teams with homes based on regions of Japan (more on this later). The teams essentially barnstorm around the country, although they play several games in the Tokyo area. Actually, they play two-day tournaments - the first day, two games are played; the losers of those games face each other the next day for the third place finish, then the winner play for the series championship. Each team has a win-loss record for all the games it plays as well as a tournament victory record. Of course, there are several tournaments over the course of the year, and the two best teams at the end of the year face off for the yearly championship. Overall, this yearly series is called the Tiara Cup.
 There are also All-Star games, where two teams combine into one and face off against the best players from the other two teams. The all-star games are the Victoria Series. Plus, at the end of the year is a tournament called the Japan Cup. Overall, the league's format is a little confusing but at this point in its life it's all about providing exciting games.
 I arrived a little later than I had hoped, so I missed a little bit of the first game. They play seven innings here, and the rules are essentially the same as regular baseball.
This actual stadium is at Sendai Shindenhigashi Comprehensive Playground. There's an indoor pool, skate park, track, and more here. It's nothing special, but it was still a nice place to catch a game. It's about 10 minutes from the nearest station.
 The games are fun. It's what you'd expect from a women's baseball league - there are some players who can drive the ball well but there's a lot of small ball. My ticket (about $20) included both games' general admission. There is a small cheer section for each team and some fans follow a certain team, but most attendees are there just to see the game.

Food is pretty limited. At the Sendai event, there was a crepe cart and some other food from a cart, as well as drinks (including beer). You could probably bring your own too, though I'd advise bringing it from downtown Sendai. There isn't much selection on the way, though there is a major cross street on the walk from the station which could still have a 7-Eleven or other convenience store.

As for souvenirs, if you can navigate the Japanese website you'll see everything they have for sale - essentially team goods and an annual program/yearbook. I'd like to get a hat and jersey... There's also a custom baseball card printer on-site - you can get cards made of yourself which you then trade with the players after the game. That's something I have to do next year.
 At the end of each game, they do a hero and manager interview, similar to the NPB. Games are broadcast on YouTube, so there's a reason for the video camera.
 And each team has their own mascot. I managed to capture two of them on this visit. I have to be more observant this year...
 Have you ever seen a baseball team dance? Before the hero interview, after the game, the winning team does a dance. I think it's the same dance for each team, or it's very similar. Some players aren't very good at dancing...
 Anyway, the interviews run just like NPB interviews. Afterwards, the heroes toss a couple game-used baseballs into the stands. By the way, this seems to be the only way to get game balls, because the ushers come around and collect foul balls during the game. I'd really like to get a game ball for my collection, and yes, I'm willing to pay for it!
 I attended the championship game, so I was able to see the trophy ceremony. All four teams line up.
 The blue team is South Dione. The Japan Cup, the end-of-the-year playoff series, was won by Dione. A Dione seems to be an angel; their blue mascot has angel wings on her head. Originally, South Dione was Hyogo Swing Smileys, formed in 2010.
 West Flora is the red team. They are the only team with "girly" colors in their uniform (some pink in the hat). Their mascot is the pink flower above. They were originally the Kyoto Astro Dreams, from 2010.
 The team with black sleeves and Astros colors is the East Astraia. The strange orange mascot is theirs, which based on the team name is probably a sun. Astraia was a new team formed in 2013.
 Finally, North Reia has light blue uniforms, but a green mascot that looks somewhat like a four-leaf clover. The team was created in 2012 as the Osaka Brabee Honeys.

During Victoria Series games, West and South become All West Japan, and North and East become All East Japan.
Flora won this tournament, beating Reia on the first day, 2-0, and Astraia 3-0 in the final. Reia beat Dione 9-5 for third place.

Through 2012, the league was called the Girls Professional Baseball League, but became JWBL in 2013 with the new format.

I'm a little disappointed in myself, because I had planned to go to more games last year, but I only made it to two dates. In 2014, I expect to go to a few more events. I'd like to get my own cards made to trade with the players and hopefully collect some autographs too! They haven't announced their schedule yet, but as long as they play in the Tokyo area while I'm in town, I'll be sure to catch a few games.

Send Me to Sendai - a Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles Game

 In sharp contrast to the Dragons game I posted about yesterday, a visit to Kleenex Stadium Miyagi is nothing to blow your nose at. (Hah. Sorry. I couldn't resist.)
 Sendai - and Tohoku - loves the Eagles, and the experience starts at the nearest train station (Miyaginohara Station) which has lots of Eagles ads inside and a baseball hat above the entrance. From there it's a five minute walk past a park. Alternately, you can walk from Sendai Station, which takes about 20 minutes and is quite boring. Note that Sendai itself is probably the quietest NPB city, with very little to do at night.
 The stadium was damaged by the 2011 earthquake but reopened early in the season. It looks really good now! I should note the stadium was originally built in 1950, and was the home of the Lotte Orions (now the Marines) in the 1970s. It underwent a lot of renovations before the Eagles moved in, and now looks brand new.
 I arrived later than I had wanted so I couldn't even try to walk around the stadium. But the seats were packed and fans were totally into the game.
 The stadium shows its age when you look at the seating bowl style - obviously expanded in stages, it features the horrible flat-horizontal wedge behind the dugout.
 A similar wedge is out in right field.
 The outfield seating was probably added most recently, and there's a gigantic scoreboard in center field.
 All the different seating styles gives the stadium character, though. After going to the game, I became an Eagles fan.
 I had a pretty good view from my left field seat, and there are lots of food choices around the stadium. There is a KFC right next to the left field entrance for those looking for something familiar, and a little closer to home plate there are many more choices. You can even find the local specialty, gyutan (cow tongue), though I didn't try it this time.
You can actually leave the stadium and enjoy the game outside in a picnic area. Many of the food stands, souvenir shops, and entertainment options are in this area outside home plate, and this is a stadium where you should arrive a few hours before game time to explore all the options and try the different food choices. With the ability to enjoy the game outside of the stadium, and the small capacity, on days when the crowds are smaller (weekdays, for example) it might be a bit tough to get into the game with the crowd.

I'd like to return for another game, arriving early enough before game time to enjoy strolling around the grounds, and giving myself a tour of the stadium. It's not a perfect stadium, but it has character and I think it is the smallest home stadium in Japan.

Nagoya Dome: A Baseball Game with the Chunichi Dragons

 Nagoya is often overlooked as a tourist destination. I don't blame people, actually - the sightseeing hotspots here are just a little less hot than, say, Tokyo, Kyoto, and Sapporo. But for Japanese baseball fans, it's a required stop on a tour of the country. Nagoya Dome is a 10 minute walk from the nearest subway station (via a covered raised walkway), which itself is 20 minutes from Nagoya Station. The raised path gives a good view of the stadium as you approach, though.
 Arriving early enough, I was able to see the Dragons' cheerleading team performing on a stage before the game. I guess they sign autographs too? Cheerleaders here are pretty popular. They have their own card sets, after all - five large sets in the past three years, plus some singles in a few other team issues.
 There are a few things to do and see around the stadium, mainly if you're a kid. You can climb inside this bounce house, for example.
 But, I'm here for a game. Upon entering the stadium, I saw this small display on trading cards. Nothing really special, but a nice touch nonetheless.
 The stadium is pretty typical and symmetrical. I could have probably taken a picture of half the stadium and just made a mirror image for the other.
 The seats are pretty far back from the field and are well protected by that large screen.
 While these pictures were taken well before game time, the seats didn't fill up too much until the game started.
 From left field.
 Unfortunately, my visit was fairly unmemorable. The stadium is extremely average, despite being built in 1997, when American stadiums were undergoing a style renaissance (Turner Field, Jacobs Field, Camden Yards, etc). The Dragons do the same things every other team does. There wasn't any standout food.
 The empty seats slowly filled in as the game went. This is the view from my seat. There were over 32,000 fans at the game, somehow, but the stadium holds about 40,000.
Before the game, the Dragons cheer team led a group of girls in a dance, along with the mascots. This happens at some other stadiums too. Overall, the game was fun, but in such a large stadium with nothing really special as a draw, I'm not too interested in returning for another.

That said, Nagoya itself has a few draws for me, most importantly as the home of my favorite amusement park in Japan, Nagashima Spaland. And should the schedule permit, I would spend an evening back here for more baseball. As I mentioned earlier, the stadium is 10 minutes on foot from Nagoya Dome-mae Yada Station. There is a museum on the third floor, which I missed, as well as a full-service restaurant court that seems to be pretty popular.

For those visiting the stadium, arriving a few hours early would allow you to enjoy the walk to the stadium (there are some displays along the walkway) and browse the shopping mall next to the Dome; enter the stadium as soon as the gates open - two hours before game time - if you plan on eating at one of the full-service restaurants.