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The Tokyo area hosts five professional teams: Tokyo Yomiuri Giants, Tokyo Yakult Swallows, Saitama Seibu Lions, Chiba Lotte Marines and Yokohama DeNA Baystars.
Japan’s most popular ball club, the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants, often attracts large crowds. The Giants won nine straight Japan Series championships between1965-1973 as Japan was becoming an economic super power, so many fans consider a Yomiuri championship a symbol of financial success. The Giants play most of their home games at Tokyo Dome which seats more than 45,000 and is located in Central Tokyo. The team is owned by a media company with a variety of television and radio stations, along with newspapers.
The Tokyo Yakult Swallows, also in Central Tokyo, have an enthusiastic group of fans who turn up regularly at Jingu Stadium, Tokyo’s oldest and most traditional ballpark. The Swallows fans’ trademark is a small, green vinyl umbrella which they open and wave in unison whenever the team scores. Big bird team mascot Tsubakuro is one of the most colorful and entertaining. The team is owned by an vitamin and energy drink manufacturer.
About 40 minutes west of Tokyo, the Saitama Seibu Lions play at Seibu Dome, a covered amphitheater in the suburban city of Tokorozawa. The Lions dominated the Pacific League and Japanese baseball from 1982-1998, winning 13 pennants and eight Japan Series. The Lions remain as one of the better teams in the Pacific League. It takes a while to get there from Tokyo, but the train ride is scenic, and the Seibu Railways terminal station is right outside the center field gates. The club is owned by Seibu, a conglomerate with many holdings including railways, real estate, and department stores.
On the other side of Japan’s capital city, the Chiba Lotte Marines play on the Tokyo Bay waterfront at Chiba Marine Stadium. The Lotte cheering section has a reputation of being one of the most enthusiastic in Japan, and the ballpark staff members are among the friendliest and most helpful in the country. There is also the Marines Museum situated next to the stadium. The Lotte Candy company owns the Marines.
The Yokohama DeNA Baystars play in the cozy and centrally located Yokohama Stadium next to the city’s Chinatown district. The ball park is right across the street from Japan Railways Kannai Station, two stops from Yokohama central and about a 35-minute train ride from Tokyo. Yokohama Stadium is a favorite among JapanBall tour members. The club is owned by DeNA, in the business of developing and operating mobile services.
Japan’s newest team is the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, based in the city of Sendai, about a one-hour-and 40-minute bullet train ride from Tokyo. The Eagles joined the Pacific League in 2005 as an expansion club after the merger of the Orix BlueWave and Kintetsu Buffaloes and won the Japan Series in 2013. Sendai Miyagi Stadium is quaint and a great place to watch baseball. Rakuten is a huge Japan online merchant.
The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters represent Japan’s northernmost island and play most home games at the Sapporo Dome in Hokkaido’s largest city. The team moved there from Tokyo in 2004 and still plays about eight home games each season in the Tokyo Dome. Sapporo is a one-hour flight from Tokyo, and the team name is the (Nippon Ham) Fighters—not the (Nippon) Ham Fighters. They don’t fight hams. The club owner is a meat packing company.
Two teams play in the Osaka area: the Orix Buffaloes and the Hanshin Tigers.
Kyocera Osaka Dome, resembling a space ship, is the home of the Orix Buffaloes who also play a handful of home games at Hotto Motto Field in Kobe. The team is the result of a 2004 merger of the former Orix BlueWave based in Kobe and the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes. The Osaka Dome, inside the city’s railway Loop Line, is easy to access served by two train lines and a subway. Major league star Ichiro Suzuki wore the Orix uniform in Japan. Orix is a financial services group.
Also representing the Osaka area is the Giants arch-rival, the Hanshin Tigers. Historic Koshien Stadium can be thought of as Japan’s Fenway Park. A Tigers – Giants match-up is like going to see the Boston Red Sox at home against the New York Yankees. A highlight is the colorful seventh-inning balloon launch. The Tigers fans in the right field stands are the most boisterous anywhere in the world. The Tigers are owned by the Hanshin Railway Group.
The Chunichi Dragons play in Nagoya, a large city and major bullet train stop between Tokyo and Osaka. The Nagoya Dome was opened in 1997 and the team is usually a Central League contender, having won the pennant four times since 2004. Club mascot Doala, a dragon-koala, entertains fans with his “pass-or-fail” somersault tumbling between the seventh and eighth innings of every home game, encouraged by the Dragons cheerleaders. The area newspaper, the Chunichi Shimbun, owns the team.
The Hiroshima Toyo Carp play in Mazda Zoom Zoom Stadium, Japan’s newest ball park opened in 2009 alongside the Sanyo Shinkansen bullet train tracks. It is one of the few asymmetrical stadiums in Japan and gives a great view of the surrounding area. The Carp team colors are red and white, and the team is often referred to as the Aka Heru or Red Helmets. Mazda owns the team.
Playing in Fukuoka Dome, Japan’s only retractable domed stadium, the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks is the only pro baseball club based on the southern island of Kyushu. Like the Hanshin Tigers rooters, Hawks fans display an amazing seventh-inning balloon release. The Sadaharu Oh Museum is located in the ball park. It features memorabilia of the former Japanese home run king, Team Japan World Baseball Classic manager and current SoftBank team president. Fukuoka is a five-and-a-half-hour bullet train ride or an hour-and-a-half flight from Tokyo. SoftBank, the club owner, is a telecommunications and internet corporation.
Acknowledgment: Dan Latham and Wayne Graczyk