I was fortunate on Saturday to be able to combine two time-honoured Japanese traditions; baseball and the company excursion. Kazuko’s elder sister Miyako’s company had a trip to the baseball planned but she couldn’t make it so Kazuko and I were nominated to go along and represent the company’s good name. In fact, I have no idea what the company’s name is, what they do or if they do it well or badly but if you offer a trip to live sports plus an all-you-can-eat-and-drink barbecue restaurant afterwards, you can count me in. Kazuko’s younger sister Akiko was meant to come but she also piked, so twin sister Masako was roped in at the last minute.
I imagine we could have just caught the subway station to the ground and met there but no company excursion is complete without a bus trip so instead we met at a completely different train station and enjoyed a bus trip to the ground. Nobody seemed to know each other that well so I think we may all have been stand-ins for company employees. In any case, I was disappointed no one started a hearty sing-along of the company song on the bus. But perhaps our company’s song just isn’t as good as this one. They were dishing out cans of Asahi Super Dry as we got on to the bus and I was happy to see a few of the older gentlemen knocking back two or more on the way there, even though it was not long after midday. I contented myself with sandwiches and green tea. I didn’t want to burn out before the feast at the end of the day.
Eventually we arrived at the totally sugoi Sapporo Dome. And if you don’t believe how sugoi it is, go to this link and check out the movie. On my Mac it just popped up in Quicktime. Maybe it’ll do something similar on a PC. Or just have a look at this Korean report:
Note also the old boys behind us. Jovial-looking bunch, aren’t they? I’d had no plans to start drinking quite so early in the day but our cheerful organisers insisted I shove a few cans in my bag and smuggle them into the ground so who was I to argue? I really hate going to restaurants with people who smuggle their own drinks in and hide them under the table but when we got to our seats, there was already a fair reek of alcohol coming off the old guys in front of us and they were quite brazenly drinking smuggled-in beer and sake, not to mention snacking on yummy dried squid beer snacks. So I reasoned that if no one was stopping them, they weren’t going to find the courage to try and stop the scary foreigner.
Also, although smoking is both cheap and popular here and pubs and restaurants can be pretty smoky, a lot of public places now force the smokers into little boxes.
But the day was not all about drinking and smoking. We were there to watch the baseball. Baseball has been played in Japan for more than 100 years and is traditionally the most popular team sport although soccer is now also very popular. It’s just as dull as cricket but has the benefit of being much shorter and you are at least closer to the action. Also, there’s more music and entertainment during the gaps in play. Our team is the Nippon Ham Fighters, who were Tokyo-based cellar dwellers for many years until in 2002 someone came up with the bright idea of moving to Hokkaido, which didn’t have a team at the time. They are now both popular and on top of their league. Sadly, my hopes of seeing some ham fighting at half-time were dashed but I was able to enjoy Brisky the Bear’s dance routines. And as this photo from the height of swine-flu mania in May shows, he’s not afraid to promote public health.
The cheering was all very well organised over in the fans sections but even where we were, there was a lot of bashing plastic things together whenever anything remotely exciting happened. Which wasn’t as often as you might think.
Meanwhile, the real excitement was happening in the row in front of me. The man on the left had the greasy hair and red complexion of a hardened drinker and was moving at roughly zimmer-frame pace. He went to the toilet at one point and didn’t return for a good three-quarters of an hour. Meanwhile, the others ran out of smuggled grog but luckily there was no need to send Mr Slow on a beer run, as there were girls with kegs on their backs walking up and down the aisles.
It was quite a hefty keg. They had to kneel down to pour so as not to block anyone’s view and one girl nearly flipped over backwards getting up again. Still, that’s the price of good service. At least they didn’t get included in Employee Embarrassment Time. I’m pretty sure that’s what it was called: all the dancers ran on to the ground but other, normal stadium workers had to go to the end of each aisle and wave pom poms around to the tune of YMCA.
And for the young lad two aisles up, it was clearly the longest two minutes of his life. Luckily for him, I couldn’t get a clean photo in but he’ll be in trouble when Sapporo Dome gets smile scan technology.
The Fighters won with an innings in hand and we all dashed for the bus so we could clear out before the crowds. I followed Mr Slow up the steps before making sure he was standing with his drinking buddies and headed to the bus via the toilets. However, when we got to the bus, his buddies were there but there was no sign of him. I had a vision of him lying on the ground in a Japanese squatter toilet, unable to get up but probably stoically enjoying a quick nap. I don’t think anyone knows what he really got up to, but half an hour later we spotted him across the car park, still moving at full energy-conservation speed. He gave a nonchalant sumimasen and off we went for all we could eat and drink barbecue.
We were thanked for our appearance and congratulated on our good work several times, as if we had been working on an important project rather than going to a baseball game but I imagine that is all part of company bonding. And of course the more we drink, the more people work up the courage to practice their atrocious English on me. I think Kazuko gets sick of this part of the night because she has to do all the translations whereas I just have to smile politely and say kampai a lot.
And that gives me a chance to end with another gratuitous Suntory beer ad: