Honeymoon in Japan: A Home Run Experience at the Hanshin Tigers Baseball Game

Eric is a big sports fan, so on our round-the-world trip he was able to seek out a few local sporting events. He was excited to check out a baseball game while we visited Japan on our honeymoon, since baseball is one of the most popular sports in the country.

The way our itinerary worked out, the best chance for us to see a game was to go to a Hanshin Tigers game – they were playing at their stadium outside Osaka while we were in Kyoto. Koshien Stadium is one of the most historic baseball stadiums in Japan (built in 1924, and visited by Babe Ruth in 1934), so Eric was excited to be able to check it out.

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Ivy covers the outside walls of the stadium, reminiscent of Wrigley Field

We purchased seats in the cheap outfield section (see below for details). As an added bonus, they were running a promotion for the game we went to, and we each got a free replica jersey as we went into the game!

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The game experience was just as exciting as we had been hoping for! Even though it was just a regular season game between two teams with mediocre records, the stadium was packed, and then fans are very into the game.

The biggest difference in attending a Japanese baseball game is how the fans interact while watching a game. While their team is at bat, the fans are constantly singing/chanting. The songs they sing are specific to the player up to bat as well.

The singing is coordinated by leaders at the bottom of each section (similar to the yell leaders at Texas A&M).

One of the most unique songs was for Mauro Gómez, the first baseman for the Tigers. Japanese teams are only allowed four foreign players on a game-day roster, and Gómez was the main one we noticed for the Tigers. He is known for hitting home runs, and we could hear the word “home run” in the song (we didn’t quite capture it in the video). The fans definitely seemed excited about the foreign players – they had special fans with their pictures. Eric was told by a fan that he looked like a famous Tigers foreign player Matt Murton.

The visiting team, the Chunichi Dragons (from Nagoya), had their own designated fan section near where we were sitting. While the Dragons were up to bat, the Tigers fans would sit quietly and the Dragons fans would start up their own cheers. They were pretty loud as well!

We were able to find some ballpark food that felt like something you wouldn’t get at a US game. Eric got yakitori skewers – two of chicken and one of squid. Della got udon noodles! There are tons of beer sellers (all female) wandering the stands, but we ordered beer from the counter since we weren’t sure we would be able to communicate well from our seats in the middle of the row.

Our seats gave us a nice panoramic view over the action and the mountains behind the stadium, especially as the sun set.

We thought it was fun that they use carts to smooth the dirt infield, and that they use a bullpen car to bring in relief pitchers.

The most impressive fan activity by far was the seventh-inning stretch. During the top of the seventh inning, the Tigers fans all started blowing up these long, skinny balloons with a plastic piece on the end. We hadn’t known to buy these balloons, but another fan was kind enough to give us one each.

Then, during the seventh inning stretch, a song was played, and at the end everyone released their balloons. The sky was filled with balloons, each of which let off a whistling sound as the air rushed through the plastic piece. A really fun communal experience!

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It was a close game throughout. The Dragons took an early lead on a big home run. The Tigers threatened multiple times but never could put together enough hits, and ended up losing 3-1. We were bummed not to get to see a win, but still were very glad that we took the time to experience this!

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Buying Tickets

There are third-party services that will buy tickets for you, but we found instructions on the Tigers website that were quite easy to follow, found here. You have to use a site that is only in Japanese, but that page will tell you which buttons to click. We chose the cheap outfield seats. The end result was a QR code that we took to a booth at the stadium on game day to get the actual tickets.

Getting There and Away

The game we chose was on the evening of the day we arrived in Kyoto. We were running a bit late getting into Kyoto (more on that in the Kyoto post), so we had to rush to get down to the game. It required a few transfers but ultimately wasn’t too hard. The steps to get to Koshien Stadium (the Tigers’ home stadium) were:

  • Bus from our Airbnb to Kyoto station
  • Local express train to Osaka station. On a JR (Japan Railways) line, so we could use our JR pass. It was quite crowded with commuters. Local express trains are faster than local trains because they make less stops.
  • Navigate through underground tunnels connecting the JR Osaka Station to the station for the private Hanshin line (the team is named after the Hanshin Railways company that owns them). We had been warned this might be difficult, but it was well-signed, and we started to see other people in Tigers yellow so we knew we were on the right track
  • Buy a round trip ticket to the Koshien station (since this private railway is not included with the JR pass). This is better than buying a single ticket because then you don’t have to wait in line to buy after the game. They had big signs for people heading to the game letting us know exactly what buttons to press to get the right tickets.
  • Ride the Hanshin Railways train for about 15 minutes to Koshien station. This was standing-room only since it was almost game time.

From the station, it is just a few minutes walk to the stadium.

Getting back to Kyoto from Koshien Stadium just required doing the above steps in reverse. The biggest hangup was that basically everyone in the stadium takes the train to get there, so there was a huge crush of people to get into Koshien Station – we probably had to wait at least 30 minutes before getting onto the platform. Both that train and the train from Osaka to Kyoto were standing room only.

 

Sports Fan Abroad: Horse Races at Happy Valley Racecourse in Hong Kong

We’re going to switch the blog back to talking about some of our other travels on our round-the-world trip, but are hearts are still with Nepal. If you’d like to contribute to help the people of Nepal recover from the devastating earthquake, please visit our page collecting some worthy causes.

Eric had thought that he might have the chance to sample sporting events all around the world on our trip, but as it turned out the only one we ended up going to was a soccer game in Olomouc, Czech Republic. However, when doing research on Hong Kong, he saw that probably the biggest sporting event there was the weekly races at historic Happy Valley Racecourse (established in 1846), and our time in the city would overlap with one of the race nights. Our hostel in Hong Kong had a sign up for a group outing, so that sealed the deal: we were headed to the races.

We met at the front desk of our hostel at 4:30 as we had seen on the sign, but were a little perturbed when we noticed we were the only ones there. No one else showed up, so the two of us headed out with out one of the workers. As it turned out, we were going to another branch of the same hostel closer to the track where we would meet up with a group from there. We were relieved to hear that, because it seemed like it would have been awkward with just us and the not-too-talkative hostel worker.

We rode the above-ground trolley over to Causeway Bay and then walked to the other hostel. Then we found out that the group from that hostel wasn’t leaving for another hour! So we just sat in the common area and used their WiFi while we waited.

The above-ground trolley drives away after dropping us off

The above-ground trolley drives away after dropping us off

Finally, a different guy who worked at that hostel gathered the small group (about 10 people) that had been waiting there, and we all walked over to the Racecourse together. We entered into the grandstand area, which was at track level. The entrance fee was a very reasonable 10 Hong Kong dollars (HKD), which is about $1.30.

A display outside the racecourse touts Hong Kong as the equine capital. It served as the site for equestrian events during the 2008 Beijing Olympics

A display outside the racecourse touts Hong Kong as the equine capital. It served as the site for equestrian events during the 2008 Beijing Olympics

We had arrived about an hour before the races started, so we had time to explore the area. The weather was great, so it was fun to just stroll around. There was a buzz in the air, with a lot of people already starting to fill the stands. We got a beer from one of the many vendors and then tried to figure out how the races would work.

The guy from the hostel who had walked us over didn’t actually know much about how the betting worked, so we all worked together to figure out how to do it. We found a paper guide that listed the different horses running in the different races, and then figured out how to read the odds board. Della didn’t want to pick a horse until we had seen them, so we waited by the area where they were paraded around before making our selection. One horse made good eye contact with her, so we chose him.

We went up to one of the places where we could place a bet, and were able to find an employee who graciously walked us through the process. We picked our selected horse to “place,” meaning it just had to finish in the top 3. We placed the minimum bet of HKD 10, so we weren’t risking much.

The confusing odds board

The confusing odds board

We made our way down to the track and got a good spot right by the rail and near the finish line. The race was starting on the other side of the track so we had to watch the first part on the monitors. It was over very quickly, but after watching the video replay we discovered that we won! We made a HKD 9.50 profit.

Emboldened by our success, we again bet on the second race for a horse to place (after seeing them parade by). This race was longer so the horses passed by twice. We won again! This horse was a bit more of a favorite so we only made HKD 6.

The group debated and decided to stay for the third race. We had a hard time choosing a horse to bet on, so we ended up betting on both a good horse and one with long odds. The good horse did place, but the long shot didn’t, so we didn’t get all our money back. In the end though, we made just about enough to cover the cost of our admission.

We then decided to head out, so we missed out on the many other races that went on into the night. Still, it was quite a fun experience, both learning how horse races work and being around the large crowds of tourists and locals alike. With how cheap it is too, we would definitely recommend it as an activity when visiting Hong Kong!

We took the trolley back home

We took the trolley back home

Sports Fan Abroad: Watching the Super Bowl in Bali

When we scheduled our visit to Bali for Phill’s birthday, Eric consulted a calendar and realized that the NFL Super Bowl would be airing not too long after we got there. Unfortunately, his favorite team, the Dallas Cowboys, did not make it to the big game, but he still wanted to figure out a way to watch it from abroad, especially after being able to figure out how to watch the opening weekend in Budapest.

Luckily, it turned out to be pretty easy. We were staying in the resort town of Seminyak, and the main street was filled with quite a few tourist restaurants so he figured at least one would be showing the game. With the time difference, the game started at 7:30 on Monday morning – s the phrase “Super Bowl Sunday” is inaccurate!

Eric woke up early and walked out to the main street. After a few blocks, he saw the Nirvana Burger Bar, which had multiple big screen tvs and plenty of people watching. He found a table and ordered a papaya juice – it just seemed too early for alcohol.

One downside of watching abroad was that he didn’t get to see the commercials! The Australian channel was simulcasting the American feed for the game action, but the commercials were all low-budget Australian ones. He also missed the halftime show; instead, they just rebroadcast the Good Morning America pre-game show, so he was left wondering what all of the social media references to sharks and lions was all about!

We had already booked a day trip to the Bukit Peninsula leaving at 10, so Eric ended up missing the second half and the exciting end to the game. But he still is happy to say he was able to experience watching the Super Bowl in a foreign country!

 

Sports Fan Abroad: NFL Opening Week in Budapest

As you may know, Eric is a pretty big sports fan. He knew that coming on this trip would limit his ability to follow his favorite teams back in the US, but he still would like to try when possible.

Eric’s favorite sport to watch is football, and his favorite team is the Dallas Cowboys. We were in Budapest on the first Sunday of NFL games, so he researched where it might be possible to watch the game. We were on our way to a British pub that might have the game on when we stumbled onto something even better: a Hungarian American sports bar! We knew we were in the right place when  we saw that it was called “The Endzone” and that there were people in NFL jerseys outside. Here’s a website for the bar (in Hungarian): http://www.endzonebbqpub.hu/

It wasn’t just Americans in the bar either… we did meet one, but there were quite a few fans speaking Hungarian as well. The favorite team of the bar seemed to be the Giants. Maybe it is because Europeans seem to really like New York.

We ended up leaving at halftime because it was after midnight, and the Cowboys were playing terribly. It was still a fun first experience of watching the NFL in a foreign country!

The American flag was a hint that we were in the right place

The American flag was a hint that we were in the right place

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You can kinda see a Broncos pennant up there.

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Notice the Giants Helmet