Japan, Me and Sport = Fun!

Essay by cyberbash February 2006

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Home Runs, Hot Dogs, Sushi and Sumo

An Outsider's Guide to Japanese Sports

I consider myself a big sports fan. I pore over the daily sports page, watch SportsCenter religiously, and follow each L.A. Dodgers baseball game as if a win is a chalk closer to the World Series and a loss is just a long trip back on the bus. So it was fitting that, through sports, I had my first introduction to Japanese culture. After only ten days in Japan, a country that can hold on to its past with ancient temples and traditions, yet blast forward with technology, it was my experience in the stands that brought me to a closer understanding of the culture. At my first Japanese baseball game, on a Friday night at the elaborate Tokyo Dome in the heart of the city, the Tokyo Ham Fighters were losing big to the visiting Blue Waves - and I was losing my misconception that all baseball fans are alike.

In the first inning, the lead-off batter punched a foul ball down into the stands. In the States, if a foul ball comes anywhere within 50 yards of the crowd, the whole section lunges like determined bachelorettes vying for a wedding bouquet. In Japan, you only get the foul ball if it comes right to you. So when a foul ball was hit to an empty seat, the surrounding fans just watched as it bounced around and came to a stop. Eventually, a curious youngster would finally pick it up or the usher would retrieve it minutes later. None of the fans dared to leave their seats and get the ball, politeness taking precedence over fandom.

At the end of the seventh inning, a Japanese girl appeared with sashimi and beer on hand for the final...