Cheering for the Yokohama Bay Stars


He's a big fan, even as a little kid

I’m not particularly a huge sports fan and yet still going to a baseball game in Japan was very, very high on my list for our trip this past April. Sports represent a way to interact with the locals where language doesn’t matter and in Japan that’s especially useful given that language was a big problem. And so, on the evening of our first full day in Japan, the four of us piled on to a train and headed 30 minutes north from Kamakura to Yokohama to watch the Bay Stars take the field.

We had seats out in the bleachers, near the band and some of the more enthusiastic fans. This is the band who, along with a cheer leader and a few other die hard fans, travels to all the games every season. It is unclear how they afford to do so or if they have real jobs, but being a dedicated fan seems to be hard work.

Cheer leader, not to be confused with the girls running around on the field
Cheer leader, not to be confused with the girls running around on the field

Player introductions had some similarities to those in Yankee Stadium, mostly in that each player has a specific cheer tied to his name and which the fans scream incessantly until acknowledged by the player. In the case of the Bay Stars there are also mascots on the field, a male and female, and at one point during the pre-game festivities the woman knocks the man over and plays him like a Taiko Drum. That was less similar to the pre-game I’m used to.

One mascot plays the other like a Taiko drum as part of the pre-game festivities
One mascot plays the other like a Taiko drum as part of the pre-game festivities

The game play is similar to US baseball, though much slower. They offset that by starting evening games at 6pm but jetlag, slow play and the woeful performance through 7 innings by the home team had us dragging a bit. Fortunately the fans around us kept the energy levels high. Also, we were able to sample the local snacks and even run out across the street to 7-11 for refills on drinks at more reasonable prices. Another interesting difference is that relief pitchers have a sweet ride from the dugout to the mound. I’m a bit surprised MLB hasn’t adopted this as another branding opportunity during the game.

Relief pitchers come in to the came in a sweet ride
Relief pitchers come in to the came in a sweet ride

Some 3+ hours into the game things picked up a bit. Prior to the 7th inning the visiting team has a 7th inning stretch performance, with songs from the band, cheering and the release of hundreds of reasonably phallic balloons up into the air. It cams as something of a surprise but we also quickly realized why we were handed balloons as we entered the stadium earlier that evening. In the middle of the 7th it was our turn to sing, cheer and launch balloons into the sky.

Countdown to the balloon release on the big screen
Countdown to the balloon release on the big screen

The 8th inning brought more excitement because the home team finally started to play some baseball and score a few runs. There were a pair of home runs which tied the game and which led to a cycle of cheers which was amazing. Apparently a home run triggers something by which the cheering goes on loop until something else happens. In this case it meant an extended period of raucous fun from the fans.

All sorts of emotion from the fans. It was incredible!
All sorts of emotion from the fans. It was incredible!

Also, remember how I mentioned above that sports can bring people together and overcome language and social barriers? I 100% believe that’s true and the home runs had us quickly making friends with the fans around us, with high 5s and cheering. Except one guy in our row. He steadfastly refused to partake in the high 5 action. Not because he didn’t understand – he clearly did – but because he wasn’t interested. He was actively avoiding cheering with us. It may have been the most entertaining part of the experience, or maybe that was the Chu-Hi talking, but it was a ton of fun either way.

One of the younger fans in the crowd, very much in to the cheering
One of the younger fans in the crowd, very much in to the cheering

I was very fortunate that @ThePointsJock saw a tweet of mine about wanting to go to a game. He offered to arrange everything for the four of us and his insight and experience made it a spectacularly easy and mildly intoxicating evening. In turns out that a big part of the secret is that, like many other things in Japan, the 7-11 is where the fun begins. By which I mean that’s where you buy the tickets. And snacks. And drinks.

Incredible athleticism in the stands, too, as the beer girls carry kegs on their backs
Incredible athleticism in the stands, too, as the beer girls carry kegs on their backs

I put this at the top of my list for things to do in Japan and while it was not the only amazing part of the trip it absolutely was one of them. Completely worth it and I’d do it again next time.

I also would be remiss to not thank @ThePointsJock again for all his help and being such a generous host. Truly amazing.

More posts from the Japan 2015 Vacation

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

4 Comments

  1. This is amazing! I’ll have to add this to my to do list! Been to Tokyo 3 times and haven’t had the chance to see a game, yet!

  2. I went to a Yomuri Giants Game a few years ago and I’m going to another game next month. The cheering intensity if out of control for just a regular season game.

    Were people bringing outside food even beer into the stadium in Yokohama? This was probably the thing that surprised me the most. As you know, bringing outside food in any sporting event stateside is prohibited.

  3. Sounds like a blast! I’ve enjoyed reading about your trip, and this post was particularly entertaining! I love Japan so need to put baseball at the top of my to do list!

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