Do you ever overlook the obvious?
The first time I watched Japanese baseball was 30 years ago—with my brother and my parents—in our living room. It was the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and the team from Tokyo was killing it. In fact, over the last 20 years, a Japanese team has won the Little League World Series 8 times!
I suppose it didn’t occur to me that many of these kids keep playing, and then they become the superstars of the NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball).
The Japanese love baseball. I knew this. Yet among my visits to Tokyo, I’d never attended a game. (I hadn’t even realized I was missing anything.)
Fortunately, a cousin and big-time Dodgers fan, Dennis, expressed his incredulity when he learned that I’d never been to a baseball game in Japan. He even punctuated his disbelief with an authoritative, “If I went to Japan, that’s the first thing I’d do!”
So that was that. I went to the Yomiuri Giants official website, and I bought one ticket for the April 29, 2018 game between the Yomiuri Giants and the Yakult Swallows.
Of course, it was also an opportunity to unwind, reset, discover new restaurants, and review a new hotel—The Westin Tokyo.
Getting to The Westin Tokyo is easy. Just take the Yamanote Line to Ebisu Station, and then enjoy a short but charming walk. (There’s actually a shorter way—if it’s raining, or if you have an aversion to perambulation—as there are a series of moving sidewalks that will deliver you to an Ebisu Station exit that sits across the street from the hotel. However, I routinely went “the long way.”)
The Westin Tokyo is a beautiful property in a snazzy neighborhood. There were Italian sports cars parked out front, juxtaposed nicely by a beautiful black horse with a regal mane, waiting patiently to give someone a ride in its shiny, black carriage. While I was only at the Westin for two nights, each day was host to a wedding. And while the hotel appeared to be at capacity, and with only SPG Gold Status (which is a perk of the AMEX Platinum card), the Westin Tokyo still upgraded me to a Corner Suite with a lovely view.
Of course, after a 12-hour flight, a “view” of Tokyo will only do so much. I needed food. And since I was without an agenda, I simply exited the Westin, walked down the hill, and entered the first place that caught my eye: てけてけ (type Teke Teke into Google Maps, and you should have little difficulty finding this gem.)
. . . and the best karaage (Japanese fried chicken) I’ve had.
The fried garlic bits are the key to their cucumber dish (pictured below). The garlic is bountiful, and the flavor plays.
This is their answer to chicken gyoza. Typically packaged as a pot-sticker, this chicken stuffed with meat was a surprise, but it came highly-rated on their digital menu (you order via an iPad that is docked at your seat), so I thought I’d give it a go. Note that the photo (below) is not blurry or obfuscated. That’s just excellence . . . and steam and culinary ingenuity. It’s gastronomy gone wild.
After all that food (and a few beers), the next morning required the world’s best-tasting jet fuel and, thus, a trip to Sol’s Coffee. (I’ve written about it several times.) Then it was off to Tokyo Dome (take the Yamanote Line to the Marunouchi Line to Korakuen Station).
It’s funny. On the train to Tokyo Dome, the people still looked reserved. Nondescript. Quiet. But immediately upon exiting at Korakuen Station, people started to don their black and orange Yomiuri Giants caps. They removed their jackets like a group of Clark Kents and, lo and behold, what was a subdued blend of black and blue became a vibrant reveal; it was a sea of pin-striped Yomiuri Giants jerseys.
I started to feel out of place—not because I am a foreigner but because I was among the few not wearing the team’s colors.
The outside of Tokyo Dome was fairly consistent with what I’ve seen at other sporting venues around the world and in the USA.
But the inside, of course, was a mix of kanji, hiragana, katakana, and English. It was both familiar and exotic.
And when the game began, the Tokyo Dome was full.
They have cheerleaders. They have bands. It’s a little bit like a Peruvian soccer game.
Young females carry pony kegs on their backs, serving draft beer to thirsty patrons.
The bases are loaded at Tokyo Dome. It’s the bottom of the third inning. The Giants are trailing the Swallows 3-2.
I’m attending a baseball game, but it sounds like a soccer game. The fans sing in unison. Flags are waved as if to signal the next wave of Samurai.
It’s a Sunday afternoon. It’s the cleanest stadium I’ve ever been to. There isn’t trash on the floor—not an errant popcorn kernel or nacho-sauce blop. And it’s safe. It’s the only place I’d leave my backpack on my seat while I step away to use the restroom.
The Tokyo Swallows’ fans are outnumbered, but you wouldn’t know it. Their fans are like the fabled Seabiscuit of equestrian fame. They don’t know they’re small. They chant in unison, underscored by trumpets. They sound like they rehearse. They’re like the UCLA band . . . on steroids.
The Giants fans don’t stand, presumably because it’d be rude to the people behind them.
Attending a baseball game in Japan was, undoubtedly, worth it. Not only is it fun to see something familiar in an unfamiliar setting, but it’s also such a hoot to see Japanese people—who are often reserved in public—unleash their boisterous side.
Of course, on the walk from Tokyo Dome to Korakuen Station, I quickly noticed that I stood out again—this time I was the only one wearing a Giants cap. (Everyone else had put theirs away, and save for a crude jersey or two, most people had covered up. They’d gone from Hulk to salary man.)
Alas, it was time to leave, so the next morning began with breakfast at the train station.
To be fair, I think I enjoyed four “breakfasts” on my way to the airport. Until next time, Tokyo, thanks for always being there when I need you.
United Airlines 787-900 LAX-NRT Business Class
United Airlines 787-900 NRT-LAX Business Class
The Westin Tokyo