I won’t lie and try to pretend that I’ve been to a lot of professional sporting events. I won’t even try and say I’ve watched much on TV. If you’ve ever been around me or seen me watching a game on TV, I can pretty much guarantee that even if my eyes were trained on the screen, my mind was somewhere else entirely (probably thinking about shopping or ice cream or kittens).
Even so, I have a general idea how sporting events transpire. There is yelling. There is synchronized chanting. Hordes of people will be dressed alike. And, more often than not, there will be plenty of unruly sports fans fueled by something a little bit stronger than Coke.
That may be what a sporting event looks like in the States.
Not so in Japan.
Last Sunday I went to the Tokyo Giants playoff game. I was interested in going, because like most things in life, I figured “why not?” It wasn’t like I was dying to see them play, or I’ve been following the playoffs, or that I care much about baseball (sorry dad!). If nothing else, it would be an “experience,” right? (To give you a better idea of what it would be like to go to a game with me, I had no idea who the Giants were playing, and it took me about 15 minutes during the game to figure out which team was which…)
My friend and I headed to the game. As we got off the train in the general vicinity of the stadium, my friend was momentarily worried. He thought we might be at the wrong station, because there was no one in sight sporting any Tokyo Giants gear. I found this odd too. We were only a few minutes walking distance away from the stadium, for a playoff game nonetheless, yet we seemed to be surrounded by your average Tokyoites. Then we noticed a few people pulling sweatshirts, scarves, and hats out of their bags. Suddenly they transformed from salary men to super fans.
My friend explained to me that this is because in Japan, it’s not exactly “cool” to walk around in sporting gear. I’ve noticed this too. In general, Japanese people are dressed very nicely all the time, especially in Tokyo. I think it would be highly unlikely to see someone outside running errands in sweatpants, for example. (Side note: it was the same when I lived in Switzerland, and I noticed this in the 14 other countries I traveled to while I was living there. The States seems to be one of the few places where people feel perfectly fine running errands in their scrubby clothes or, as I’ve often seen, go out to eat in their pajamas (further aside: what is the deal with that?????))
As we walked toward the station we saw more and more people make their transformations into baseball fans. But still, the ambiance around the stadium seemed subdued. People entered in a calm, orderly fashion. There was not a ruckus or rumpus to be found. No mayhem or bedlam. Just composed individuals filing into a building.
We quickly found our seats only to discover we were accidentally in the “visitors” section (which apparently was the section for fans of the Chunichi Dragons).
The game started and I quickly learned how Japanese fans act during a game. Polite. Cheerful. Subdued. There was no rabble-rousing to speak of. No jeering. No yelling. There was chanting and singing, but at a controlled volume. I don’t mean to imply that people weren’t having fun, on the contrary it seemed like everyone was truly enjoying themselves. In fact, I would say in a sense it seemed as if they were concentrating more on the game than fans I have seen in the States. In the States, I often feel fans are focusing more on other fans, or the refs or the ump or whatever.
I myself am not sure what I was focusing on, because before I knew it the game was over and I could honestly not recount a single second of the entire game. Well, expect for the very last second where the Tokyo Giants scored a run in the bottom of the ninth, winning the game.
I have to say, however, if I only looked up once during the entire game, that was a good second to choose to do so.