Day One – September 11, 2023
The highlight of our delicious welcome dinner wasn’t the food but rather our special guest: Japanese pitching legend Masanori Murakami! “Mashi” pitched for the San Francisco Giants in the 1960s and was the first Asian and first Japanese MLB player! He had a long career in Japan too, and is a respected commentator still today at age 79. He was so generous with his time, telling stories about Willie Mays, Juan Marichal, and Shohei Ohtani, and even brought a stack of signed cards to give to everyone. Big thanks to Rob Fitts for helping to make this happen!
Day Two – September 12, 2023
After four years, JapanBall is finally back at an NPB game! But first, we kicked things off with a Tokyo must-see attraction: Sensoji Temple and Nakamise-dori shopping area. It is touristy, but also fascinating and historically significant, as Sensoji is Japan’s oldest and preeminent Buddhist Temple. Many guests also took advantage of the free observatory at Asakusa Visitor Center to get a birds-eye view of the bustling district.
And then we had our JapanBall Hall of Fame Luncheon, where we inducted five new members, including JapanBall founder Bob Bavasi! Seven existing HOFers were on hand to join the festivities.
Finally, it was off to Yokohama Stadium, where we saw the host Yokohama DeNA BayStars play the Chunichi Dragons. The BayStars lost a close game to the Dragons, which hurt because they are fending off the Yomiuri Giants for the last playoff spot in the Central League. Fortunately, our guests are not invested so much in the game results – more so in having a great time at the ballpark! And that we did. It felt so good to be back in the rhythms of Japanese baseball, amongst 40,000 or so passionate fans. Yokohama Stadium is in great shape, fresh off its expansion and facelift for the Tokyo Olympics. Oh, and did we mention that it was half-off beer night! All beers in the ballpark, including those served by Japan’s famed beer girls, were 50% off. That means that they cost just 400 yen, the equivalent of about $2.75!
Day Three – September 13, 2023
Tour guest and Japanese baseball historian Rob Fitts treated our group to a private tour of the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame this morning. His knowledge is unparalleled in the space (by English speakers at least), and we learned a ton about the history of baseball in the country from Rob. Highlights from the HOF tour included the expansive WBC exhibit, the plaque room (we found the plaques of Sadaharu Oh, Hideo Nomo, Hideki Matsui, and recent inductees Alex Ramirez and Randy Bass, amongst others), loads of cool Shohei Ohtani game-used equipment (Fighters, Angels, and WBC), and my favorite – the base that Rickey Henderson stole and signed for Yutaka Fukumoto.
Then it was time for game two of the tour, at ZOZO Marine Stadium in Chiba, a suburb east of Tokyo along the Tokyo Bay. The ballpark has parallels to San Francisco, as it’s on the water and is notorious for its sneaky cold weather, but any wind or unexpected temperature drops would be welcome in this heat and humidity! We saw the Chiba Lotte Marines face off against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. A highlight was the Marines’ oendan (cheering section) which didn’t disappoint one bit, as they kept their high-octane cheering going strong for the entire game. Big thanks to Jen Rolroth and her husband Jerome for joining us these past two days! It’s great to have more local friends in Japan.
— Shane Barclay
Day Four – September 14, 2023
Note: At this point, I (Shane) am back home in California to help my wife Jessie out with our newborn baby Brooks. I will be borrowing summaries from Rob Fitts and sharing as much as possible. Thanks to Rob Fitts for keeping us in the loop moving forward!
After an open sightseeing day in the morning (young James went to the batting cages while some went to the Ghibli Museum, which is highly recommended!), tonight we sent out to Saitama, about an hour northwest of Tokyo, to see the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks play the Saitama Seibu Lions at the Belluna Dome. They call it a dome, and it looks like one, but its really just an umbrella-like roof constructed above an existing field. It looks really cool, but this “dome” has no AC! In the summer months, it’s like a sauna – everybody’s shirts are soaked through by the third inning. Although it’s an attractive stadium, I don’t recommend it during the summer unless rain is in the forecast or you’re a Lions fan, of course! Anyway, it was a good game, ending with a 4-2 victory for the hometown Lions.
Day Five – September 15, 2023
This afternoon JapanBall brought a group to sumo. I love sumo and this is the first time that I saw it live. The tournament lasts 15 days and each day there are many dozens of individual matches. The matches start at 9 AM and go until 6. An individual match only lasts 30 seconds to a couple of minutes and is preceded by 3-5 minutes of ritual but it’s lots of fun. One unique thing about sumo is that other than the surrounding grandstand – the sport has remained the same for hundreds of years – the rituals and customs and fighting style you see today is the same that you would have seen in ancient Japan!
After sumo we went to Meiji Jingu Stadium in Tokyo to watch the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. It was raining pretty hard but the game went on. I must confess that I stayed for only a few pitches before calling it a night and headed out to a nearby restaurant. But my fellow tour members toughed it out and saw a good, clean (and damp) game – the BayStars won 3-1 and our group was treated to a couple of home runs, including one by BayStars star third baseman Toshiro Miyazaki.
Day Six – September 16, 2023
Day 6 was an off-day for baseball, as our Pre-Tour guests headed home after four games and five days of fun and our Main Tour Guest arrived. Of course, many are staying on for both tours so they had a day in Tokyo to do as they pleased. One group chose to visit Kamakura, the seat of the shogunate during the 13th century. There they saw the great buddha as well as a yabusame (horseback archery) festival before having a great lunch. Other activities included:
-Tokyo whisky library
-Going to Seibu Lions game (bonus baseball!)
-Suginami Anime Museum
-Finding Calbee baseball cards in potato chip bags!
Day Seven – September 17, 2023
First full day of the Main Tour! We left Tokyo and took the bullet train to Nagoya. At the Vantelin Dome we watched the Hiroshima Carp beat the Dragons 3-0. The park was packed and both cheering sections were enthusiastic and loud, as many Carp fans took the train up for Hiroshima to root for their team. I ended the day with a great dinner of broiled eel (forgot to take a picture of it because I was hungry).
Day Eight – September 18, 2023
A packed day. We started in Nagoya, took the bullet train to Osaka, and then went straight to the historic Koshien Stadium. There we met our local guide Trevor Raichura, who runs a great blog called Hanshin Tigers English News. He showed us the bronze plaque of Babe Ruth that honors his game at the stadium in 1934, a shrine on the stadium’s grounds where fans pray for their team’s success, and the Koshien Baseball Museum. The museum is fantastic! If you are in Osaka, please make an effort to see it.
Afterwards, a few of us enjoyed an amazing sushi dinner near Osaka Train Station.
Day Nine – September 19, 2023
We spent a second day in Osaka. In the morning a few of us went to Osaka Castle. Very interesting. It’s a don’t-miss place if you visit the city.
And then after a great Okonomiyaki lunch (an Osaka specialty cabbage “pizza”) we went to the Kyocera Dome to watch the first-place Orix Buffaloes beat the second-place Chiba Lotte Marines 3-2. It was a great game with stolen bases, a home run, and a missed squeeze attempt. It’s been unseasonably hot in Japan- about 90 each day with very high humidity- so the BEST part of the game was the air-conditioned seats! See the photos. We have to get up early tomorrow as we are off to Hiroshima.
Day 10 – September 20, 2023
Today it was Hiroshima! After arriving on the bullet train, the group toured the Peace Park and Museum. For those who haven’t been, it’s a powerful monument to lives lost from the A-bomb and an effective plea for peace. The feeling you get there is the same as the 9/11 Museum in NYC. Some of us went further into town for the city specialty- okonomiyaki with soba noodles for lunch (yes, we said Osaka had the same specialty, but they both claim it, and both have their own style).
In the evening, we saw a game at one of my favorite ballparks – the Mazda Zoom Zoom Stadium. It’s a beautiful outdoor ballpark with some of the most enthusiastic fans in NPB. Before Es Con Field Hokkaido opened this year, it was the only “modern” NPB ballpark with its own unique character. The host Hiroshima Toyo Carp lost 3-1 to the Yokohama DeNA BayStars. Note the red balloons being set off during the 7th inning stretch – most teams banned them during Covid but the Carp ask fans to use hand pumps to inflate them to not spread germs.
Day 11 – September 21, 2023
Today it was Fukuoka. We had a very full day and I need to wake up at 5AM to go to Kyoto tomorrow, so this will be a very brief entry. We began with a tour of the Tochoji Temple in the morning and then headed to the Sadaharu Oh Museum. I thought it was amazing. I’ll have to do a blog entry on it when I return.
Then we went to PayPay Dome (yep, that’s its name) to watch the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks play the Chiba Lotte Marines. Another good game. I hope to write a more detailed entry and talk about Japanese baseball in a day or so. Now it’s off to bed.
Day 12 – September 22, 2023
No baseball today. We left Fukuoka at 630 AM, took the bullet train to Kyoto (Japan’s cultural center), and spent the day sightseeing. Here’s some pretty pictures. Tomorrow we return to Tokyo.
Day 13 – September 23, 2023
Back to Tokyo, back to baseball! Today we arrived in Tokyo around 11AM and went off to Tokyo Dome to see my two favorite teams- the Yomiuri Giants and the Hiroshima Carp. For six innings it was a great game until the Carp broke it open in the 7th on their way to a 7-3 victory.
Day 14 – September 24, 2023
Today we are in Sendai to watch the hometown Rakuten Eagles take on the Nippon Ham Fighters (BTW the team is the Nippon Ham — Fighters, not Nippon — Ham Fighters). Rakuten Mobile Park is a beautiful old-style stadium (with some super modern renovations). Before the game the area leading to the ballpark felt like a carnival. The cheerleaders were mingling with the fans and signing autographs and the were several stages with various shows.
The park has an interesting feature–the concession stands are outside in an enclosed area, so the stadium halls are not packed with people (ie there is no concourse). This area also has a kids playground and a Ferris wheel. The game was a close 1-1 match. Most of the game was small ball. There were sacrifice bunts, stolen base attempts, etc. A classic Japanese-style game! It looked like extra innings but in the bottom of the 9th Hiroaki Shimauchi hit a sayonara (walk-off) home run to win it. An amazing finish!
Day 15 – September 25, 2023
A travel day for us. We flew from Sendai to Sapporo on the northern island of Hokkaido. Sapporo and Hokkaido are renown for many things including bears and great seafood. And we found both! The sashimi we had for lunch at Nijo Market was the best I’ve ever had.
Day 16 – September 26, 2023
Last stop! For our final game we visited brand-new Es Con Field Hokkaido to watch the lowly Nippon Ham Fighters blowout the Chiba Lotte Marines 7-0. The ballpark has been called the most beautiful stadium in the world. While it is impressive, I think it lacks the charm of Zoom Zoom Field in Hiroshima. It certainly is striking, comfortable, and modern, with wide interior corridors, wide seats with plenty of legroom, and great food. The game was fun, with acrobatic mascots and cheerleaders, a live performance after the game, and a win for the home team.