Tension mounts before MLB hits Tokyo Dome

by Tomoko Otake

It was business as usual Friday afternoon at Tokyo Dome — high school boys checking out baseball memorabilia at a store, mother-toddler pairs munching away at a fast food joint near the stadium gates.

When there is no game on, Tokyo Dome is as tranquil and sleepy as any public park on a weekday.

But tension is definitely mounting ahead of the Major League Baseball season-opener, which takes place in Tokyo next week and features a full cast of star players, including Hideki Matsui of the New York Yankees.

Tokyo Dome Corp., which will co-organize the season-opening series between the Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil Rays on Tuesday and Wednesday, is expected to host 55,000 fans on each of these days.

For four days starting Sunday, when exhibition games between U.S. and Japanese baseball teams are scheduled, the company will double the number of security guards used for normal Giants games, company spokesman Masanobu Shoji said.

He wouldn’t reveal how many guards this will involve due to security concerns.

In addition to routine bag checks, the stadium will set up metal detectors and perform body searches on all visitors, Shoji said, adding that visitors are asked to refrain from bringing in bags 30 cm or longer.

The manager of a hamburger/hot dog restaurant near the gates said he will order restaurant staff to take extra precautions when dealing with items that are left behind.

“We can’t get rid of trash bins (as we operate a fast-food restaurant),” he said. “But we will make sure they are regularly cleaned and checked for dubious objects.”

Japan has already stepped up security, especially at train stations, after it was learned March 18 that an al-Qaeda-linked organization issued a statement hinting the next target after Madrid might be Japan.

Rail and subway companies have sealed trash bins at stations. They are calling on passengers to stay away from suspicious objects.