Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Field of Carps

Kazuhiro gave me a call today. “You want to go to a baseball game?”
Now I have seen tons more Japanese baseball games than MLB games. Yes, the players might be faster, speedier, and stronger (and more pumped with steroids) in the major leagues. But all baseball fans should visit a Japanese baseball game to experience a true baseball atmosphere. So I went off to see my favorite team, the Hiroshima Carp battle the Yomiuri Giants, a Tokyo-based team akin to the Yankees of Japan.

About the name, "carp". In Japan, the carp is a symbol of perseverance as a fish that is always fighting to go upstream. But when I was a college student in Minnesota, I found out that the carp was a symbol of junk fish, much like how people in Hawaii view tilapia in the dirty Ala Wai canal. So Americans from the mainland must snicker when they hear the team name is the“Carp”.

Now I love Japanese baseball more than MLB baseball in America. Most of the good Japanese players have left for the Major Leagues, and there are complaints that Japanese baseball is too boring. I beg to differ. First of all, you are not held hostage to expensive and bland stadium food like in America. No, you can bring in food from outside the stadium. So we bought some quality bento from a department store, and, of course, our own beer. And then we constantly heard organized cheering. Each team has its own organized cheering section, and it adds atmosphere to the game. Trumpets would blare, and all would clap with their clappers in unison. Fans would wave gigantic flags, and cheer the name of the person at bat. Fans would also stand in unison, this section stands up and chants, and then that section stands up and chants. For every hit or strikeout or similar fine play, they would do a chant to congratulate the player.

I also heard trumpets recycling long-forgotten American music from the 1970s. I kept hearing trumpets and fans chanting in Japanese to the Village People’s “Go West,” and even the opening line of 1970s disco classic Jigsaw’s “Sky High.” You know the one that goes, “Blown…(blown blown blown)…rooound like the wind”. Like I said, the Japanese keep alive traditions long discarded in the U.S. The stadium did play a clip from “My Sharona” and Queen’s “We will Rock You” to add some atmosphere to the games. Kazuhiro told me that the Giants rooting section played and sang along to “Go West” because it was the favorite song of one of the Giants players.

As usual, the Japanese fans love costumed creatures. “Slyly” is the name of the Hiroshima Carp mascot and looks like a mutant variety of the Philadelphia Phillies mascot. If it were up to me, I would create a giant carp costume, and have the mascot be a batting carp. Still, Slyly proved to be very popular. Kids eagerly ran up to Slyly and young office women giggled as they pulled out their cell phone cameras to pose with him/her/it. The Carp have also adopted an American idea – have a dog deliver the balls to the umpire. Mickey, the “baseball dog” wasn’t here today, but a stadium announcement said the dates when the golden retriever would be in the stadium. According to the TV news, he even has his own baseball card. And you see that..ahem...sausage shaped balloon in the picture. Well in the 7th inning (lucky seven) the fans blow up these balloons and release them all at once.

Now it is said that sports is a reflection of society. For example, in Europe and in America, fights break out between opposing fans. In the U.S., you need to have security guards everywhere. Here in Japan, there seemed to be an unwritten rule. Giants fan could root when their team is at bat. I heard no boos from the Carp side. Then the Carp fans would root when their team was at bat. I heard no catcalls or snide comments from the audience (then again, Hiroshima fans could be well behaved but I noted the same behavior in Tokyo).Here is a picture of a whole section of salarymen in the stands with their suits taken off. So why do we Americans wonder when our youth get into fights and such. Hello, but do we adults not encourage booing from the student section at games? In Japan, if you don’t like the other team, you remain SILENT. Booing is just too low class.

And I noticed that the fans behaved themselves perfectly. I saw almost no policemen and the security guards were reed-thin college students. It would probably take four of those guards to hold back a drunken blalah in Hawaii. And yet, no problems when the Giants fans kept chanting and cheering, even after the game was over. European and American fans would consider this to be rubbing it in. And then the fans cleaned up after themselves, and carried their trash out to the main trashcan by the exit. On the way out, we saw the bus with the Giants players stop in front of us. A whole crowd of Carps fans, some wearing Carp shirts, pulled out their cell phone cameras and started taking pictures of the Giants players. Talk about team loyalty.

And yes, it was humidly hot. So humid that I was soaked with sweat when I returned home.

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