The day started in the Keihan Universal City, a hotel in the Universal Studios vicinity, where we had spent the previous day. It was fun, but less fun than DisneySea, and I did not bring the camera to the park so I didn’t document that day, but you can see and read more about in Lena’s blog here and here.
We had big plans for this day though, so we didn’t come to Osaka totally on a whim or to visit Universal grounds exclusively. That would be totally insane, and we’re just half way there. Remember Atsuko? She’s the one that invited us to come and for a very special reason. A Hanshin Tigers baseball game.
As you might know, baseball is the number one sport in Japan — it’s very popular and played everywhere by all kinds of people and ages. You see young students carrying their baseball gear in the morning, and you see old guys getting together at the end of the day for a softball game. It started as part of their fascination with American culture, but they truly own it, it’s part of their social and cultural fabric, and it’s everywhere.
Inside the station where we met with Atsuko and James, as is tradition, we got a bento box for each, as well as Tigers’ branded balloons and bats, and to the stadium we went.
The game itself couldn’t be a more epic battle if we tried: Tokyo’s Yomiuri Giants vs Osaka’s own Hanshin Tigers, right there in the famous Koshien Stadium. Everywhere we looked all we saw was fancy black and yellow jerseys, giant plastic bats, full on attires being worn by men and women alike, excited kids walking around in groups wearing every available accessory to support their team. Lena’s cap was nothing compared to this.
When we got inside it was quiet for a sport event (at least compared to what we’re used to) the the energy was undeniably palpable. As people started filling up the stadium and the sun set behind the mountains, the crowd broke into chants that lasted the entire evening. Tireless supporters slammed their bats together, screamed their lungs out, and incited the rest to follow along.
When the players switched places, instead of the usual Tigers’ chant, you could hear “Gomese” (Mauro Gómez) or “Arrrai” (Takahiro Arai), while girls climbed entire flights of stairs to offer beers, snacks, soft drinks, etc. The atmosphere was just electric and we couldn’t believe we were actually watching a game of baseball in Japan.
At a certain point things got crazy. Atsuko pulled out the balloons and handed each person one so we could start filling them. It’s tradition to release these at the seventh inning stretch, and I really can’t put into words what a 45,000 seat stadium releasing whistling balloons into the air in chorus sounds or feels like.
The game was close, none of the teams wanted to risk losing it while it stretched beyond the 9th inning. On the 12th inning though, when everyone was at the edge of their seats, Kosuke Fukudome — the hero of the game — hit a superb home run that had everyone jumping around and screaming.
Final score: 3-2 for the home team and two new Portuguese Tigers.