Fans provide insight on good, bad of Japanese baseball

by Wayne Graczyk

Two readers checked in with responses to the June 10 column to state what they like and do not like about Japanese baseball.

Rob Dorsey of Silver Spring, Maryland, has attended games in Japan and listed four things he favors and a couple he does not appreciate about the game as played by the Central and Pacific Leaguers.

What Dorsey likes best about Japanese baseball is the oendan — the organized cheering groups who take up sections in the bleachers.

He wrote, “I think it’s cool the way there are cheering sections for each team at each game. That’s something we don’t have at major league games. Even though I have no idea what they are saying, some of the cheers are catchy.

“Also, it’s interesting they cheer with the same frequency and intensity, no matter what the score or inning. This seems to be another case of the Japanese sense of duty. If you take on the duty of cheering, then you should perform it dutifully, no matter what.”

Curiously, Takeshi Shimazaki of Tokyo says the oendan is what he dislikes the most.

“I’ve been to several major league stadiums in the U.S. and find the atmosphere to be much more enjoyable than at Japanese ballparks. The oendan are too noisy and, when one team’s supporters stop cheering, the other team’s fans start up, so it is never quiet. They give me a headache.

“I think it is good to have the fans backing their respective teams, and they can make some noise — up to a point. But the Japanese oendan are too loud and, by about the seventh inning of a game when the cheering should be more intensified, I have had enough,” said Shimazaki.

Several years ago, while he was still playing for the Yomiuri Giants, pitcher Masumi Kuwata asked his team’s oendan to voluntarily tone down the noise during one game to see what it would be like. The fans cheered using their voices only; no drums, trumpets, tambourines, clappers, megaphones or other such sound-makers. It was strange, to say the least.

Like them or not, however, the oendan will be with us as long as baseball is played in Japan. As Dorsey said, it is the Japanese nature and sense of duty that keeps them going.

Dorsey also listed the beer girls as his second most likable thing about Japanese baseball, although he says he does not drink at the stadiums.

“Being a male, I like the young, cute beer girls, even though I never order beer at games,” he said.

Indeed most foreigners, male and female, get a kick out of the girls roaming the stands selling brewskies in highlight pen-colored outfits with the tanks of suds on their backs and nozzle to squirt the beer at the ready.

A few years ago, an American woman who visited Japan and attended a game at Tokyo Dome wrote to ask if she could buy one of the beer girl outfits, including cap, shirt, shorts, knee socks and the tank, to use as her Halloween costume. The answer was no.

Dorsey also said he likes the fact fans can go anywhere in the stands without exiting.

“Most of the Japanese stadiums I’ve seen seem to be this way. It’s kind of convenient to be able to walk from the top row to the row next to the field without having to exit the stands and re-enter on another level,” he wrote.

Not sure what he means here, unless he’s talking about pre-game batting practice when spectators are allowed to go down near the field. During the games, fans are required to show their ticket stubs to enter certain sections of the stands. You can’t buy a cheaper ticket and then sit anywhere you like in the ballpark.

Finally on Dorsey’s list of “likes” is the fact playoff rules in Japan give a real advantage to higher seeded teams. Yeah, like the home-field advantage for every game during the two stages of each league’s Climax Series.

What he does not like about Japanese baseball is artificial turf, but who does?

Certainly not the players and their knees.

“I think baseball should be played outside on natural grass,” he said. “Half of the Japanese stadiums are domes, and even some of the non-domes (such as Jingu Stadium in Tokyo, home of the Yakult Swallows) have artificial turf.

“That is one thing MLB has on Japan; only one non-retractable dome (Tampa Bay) and only two stadiums with artificial turf,” Dorsey noted.

His other negative about Japanese baseball is a lack of display of names in English during broadcasts. “When I watch Japanese games (for example, on Justin.TV), it is difficult to tell who is batting, because the name captions are in Japanese, and the camera shots of the batter usually do not show the name on the back of the jersey,” he complains.

About all I can say here is this is Japanese baseball, and the telecasts, whether on TV or online, are going to be geared to the Japanese fans. During the 1980s and through 1992, several TV stations in Japan aired games in English during the bilingual era which came and went.

As late as last season, American resident-in-Japan Bill Bickard called play-by-play in English for the BS-11 channel on a select number of Pacific League games, but there is no word so far of any games to be carried in English this year.

Our thanks to Rob Dorsey and Takeshi Shimazaki for weighing in with their thoughts on what is good and not so good about Japanese baseball.


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