When a friend asked about fun, uniquely Japanese things to enjoy on a brief visit to Sendai, I recommended going to a baseball game. Most Americans would likely find this a weird suggestion. Surely sumo or onsen or one of a dozen different uniquely Japanese things would be preferable to watching 2 teams you don't know play a sport you don't particularly care about, right?
But baseball in Japan, or at least baseball in Sendai, is weird in some of the best possible ways, and the only way to really appreciate it is to go to a game. In other areas of Japan, the fan base may be bigger and the fans may be more passionate, but the Sendai baseball experience has a charm all its own.
Getting to the stadium is fairly easy. Take the Senseki line to Miyaginohara station. Then follow the maroon clad crowd. The path is mostly just straight down a slightly curved road. Kobo stadium, formerly Kleenex Stadium, will appear on your left.
This September 2016 game was my first since the change over from Kleenex stadium and I did notice some excellent remodeling in the cheaper seating areas. Also new to me was the team shop, located in a fairly large flat building next to the stadium. Out front, a number of food and drink stalls were set up to help early arrivals to the stadium relax before the big game. There is even a sitting area with tables where you can relax before the game. If the game happens to be sold out (which is rare up here, but possible), some lucky would-be patrons can even watch the game from here on the big screens that overlook the tables.
It is recommended to buy a drink at one of these places or at the convenience store across the street from the stadium as each person is allowed to bring in one beverage, provided it is in a (burnable/plastic) disposable cup. Got a PET bottle or can? No problem! Disposable cups, straws and lids can be found at tables near the entrances to the seating areas and are hard to miss. Other food and beverages are available inside the stadium. After you have your drinks and refreshments, it can still be challenging to get to your seat. If lost, please ask a yellow-hatted guide, like this guy.
Yes, he is standing on a box. He is also out of the way and waiting to help anyone who needs it. I presume his ushering services are being paid for by Yellow Hat, the automotive repair company.
Our little group included a three-year-old, who did not require a ticket. Unfortunately, that meant there was no seat for her in the cramped little area that we had tickets for. After a frustrating inning, we decided to move back to some open seats at the very back of our section, the back two rows of which were completely vacant. This was the best possible outcome as we enjoyed the game much more thoroughly, even as my daughter dragged me to the bathroom at least 4 times per inning and rarely actually urinated.
Behold! The girl who cried "Peepee!"
The most fun parts of a Japanese baseball game as I've seen it are songs and balloons. Unfortunately my phone did not record the songs well, but each batter is encouraged by the fan and booster-club rendition of a folk-style song dedicated to the player themselves. Some sound like complex Japanese narratives of struggle and the spirit of the samurai. Others like this one recorded by a youtuber named Leo Somera, merely cheer a foreign player on with "Let's go, let's go, Jose!"
Most other songs are more complex, but the beat is easy to follow. This is why it is good to buy the souvenir bat-shaped noise makers and sit in the cheap seats, with all the other singers and clappers. Unfortunately, I miscalculated when buying our tickets and we wound up in a slightly nicer section, but with less colorful neighbors. That said, the refreshment vendors did come around regularly.
See the girl in the pink and blue hat? Yeah! Her! She's a vendor, as the uniform would confirm. Each brand has its own uniform colors (Suntory, Kirin, CocaCola, etc.) and can be spotted fairly easily when you know what colors to look for.
A word of caution: read first! When you spot a vendor, watch them carefully and read the beverage they are bringing around, especially in spring. In summer, the worst you would likely get is a brand of beer you might not prefer or a coke instead. In colder months, a few of the vendors offer hot whiskey, which I was unaware of until April of 2013. Out of guilt for having drawn the vendor over, I bought the beverage but being 4 months pregnant, could not drink it. My brother insists it was terrible.
Another thing that the vendors bring around, and a highlight of the experience, is balloons. These come in packs of 4, either red or white. The red balloons are released during the seventh inning stretch after a rendition of the Rakuten Eagles fight song.
If the eagles happen to win, the white balloons are used at the end of the game to celebrate. As the final plays of the ninth inning unfold, many fans start preparing for the great release of white balloons, which I unfortunately failed to capture in video form.
If you're in Sendai during baseball season, join us for a fun night with the Rakuten Eagles!