Play ball! An evening with the Tokyo Swallows

I’m the first to admit I’m not much of a sports fan. I’d much rather bury my nose in a book than watch a game play out on screen. But I do love the excitement of a live game. The energy of a crowd going wild, no matter the sport, is a thrilling experience. It’s fun even when that crowd is cheering in a language you struggle to understand for a team you’ve never watched before.


We put attending a Japanese baseball game on our Japan bucket list but failed until recently to cross it off. When Wil’s office decided to organize an outing to the Tokyo Yakult Swallows game on May 19, we gladly signed on for the game. The Swallows are a professional baseball team in Japan’s Central League. We watched them play against the Hanshin Tigers, a team from Koshien, Japan, in their home stadium of Meiji Jinju in downtown Tokyo. (Tickets were cheap: Maybe $20ish each for our tickets and only roughly $5 for Liam’s seat. You can buy them ahead from machines at convenience stores.)

Step one at a ball game? Get some beer.


In Japan, that’s easy. The beer comes to you. Pretty women — nicknamed ‘Ghostbusters’ — cruise the aisles with big smiles and backpacks filled with beer which they pour from nozzles into cups for you at your seat.



The stadium is modest by American standards. Built in 1926, it seats a little under 40,000 fans. It wears its age well and feels rather fresh and shiny and clean for being nearly 100 years old. All of the seats are near the field so no one suffers from the nosebleeds so many larger stadiums offer. I’m short, so I sat comfortably in the seats, but hubby at 6 foot nearly kissed his knees.

There’s the game, and I didn’t even have to use my camera’s zoom!


I mentioned fans. Swallows fans are known for their enthusiasm. One way they show their enthusiasm is by raising little mini umbrellas to cheer the team on after every score. A little weird, maybe, but I give them lots of points for enthusiasm.


The umbrellas aren’t enough, though, for fans to convey their enthusiasm. They also proudly belt out a catchy ditty called “Tokyo Ondo.” I couldn’t grasp the lyrics but was happy to yell out ‘Bonsai! Bonsai! Bonsai!” with the rest of the crowd. A brass band in the stands plays along.

Our food options included KFC, pizza, french fries and popcorn, snacks I wouldn’t be surprised to see at an American baseball game. They also included rice bowls with meat, chicken on a stick, and takoyaki (octopus inside of, essentially, a hush puppy). Liam made out like a bandit devouring KitKats provided to him by his own little fan club of Japanese sports fans sitting behind us. (He is an expert at making friends. One “konichiwa” out of him and the locals, quite literally, start throwing treats at him. He may be surprised when we move to the States and strangers aren’t quite so entranced….)


One thing I didn’t expect to find at a Japanese baseball game was cheerleaders. The dance team is called “Passion” and they bounded out to perform on the field several times during the course of the game.



They traded their pom poms in for umbrellas later in the game. The men in the crowd seemed to particularly enjoy the umbrella portion of their performance.


The female mascot for the Swallows is named Tsubami and is the younger sister of male mascot Tsubakurou. She danced with the cheerleaders.


Tsubakurou worked the crowd, but we never managed to get him to come over to us. This is as close as we managed:


I think Liam really enjoyed himself at the game:


To be fair, we all had a great time:


The true fans in the stadium — the ones who cheer for their team on screen or in person, season after season — also had themselves a great night. I’m glad. The Tokyo Yakult Swallows beat the Hanshin Tigers 4-2.


IF YOU GO: There’s still plenty of games left in the 2017 season. For details on tickets, access, etc., visit the official team page in English.