An Idiot’s Guide to Baseball Leagues in Japan

A couple of weekends ago, a few things happened. I went to a festival in Osaka and then Hiroshima beat Osaka to win the Central League, which is a baseball league in Japan.

I don’t know much about baseball. We don’t have it much in Australia: I know more people in Australia who regularly play Ultimate Frisbee than who have ever regularly played baseball, and this is not an exaggeration. I knew one kid at school who played baseball, and his dad was American. I did play softball at school, which I gather is related. So I can kind of understand the very basics.

Something I still don’t really understand is the different leagues within Japan. In 2016, Hiroshima Toyo Carp was the champion of the Central League series for the first time in 25 years. This was a big deal in Hiroshima, which is baseball-mad as of the last few years, apparently (the ‘apparently’ is that I’m told it used to be not quite so big as it is now). So everyone was really excited about the win… and then the baseball season kept going, and everyone kept watching. Apparently if they hadn’t won the match that made them champions, they would have stopped for the season, but because of winning, they kept playing. I now realise that this is because there are two regional leagues, the Central League and the Pacific League, and the ‘best teams’ from both then play against each other in what is called the Climax Series. Also known as… the Japan Series? Wait, I need a cup of tea.

No, the Climax Series is not the Japan Series. The Climax Series decides who gets to play in the Japan Series. Important distinction.

Also, Osaka has a team in each league. The Orix Buffaloes play in the Pacific League and the Hanshin Tigers in the Central one. That’s not fair, Osaka. Except… it seems the Hanshin Tigers are actually not based in Osaka anymore, but Hyogo. Even though they used to be called the Osaka Tigers. But even at that time their home ground was always in Hyogo? My friend tells me that’s just because Hyogo is close to Osaka.

Furthermore, most of the teams are named after the companies who sponsor them. Hiroshima Toyo Carp, I have been told, is the exception – it’s supposed to be sponsored by the City of Hiroshima. But I looked this up just now and Wiki reckons Mazda is the biggest sponsor. Mazda’s name used to be Toyo Kogyo. So when Toyo Kogyo became the principal sponsor in the late ’60s, Hiroshima Carp became Hiroshima Toyo Carp. Their home ground is Mazda ‘Zoom-zoom’ Stadium, pronounced by locals as Matsuda Sutajiamu. Speaking of which, did you know the spelling of Mazda is just a stylisation? It’s said Mr. Matsuda thought it looked cooler than ‘Matsuda.’

Back to baseball basics. In the Central and Pacific Leagues both, the best teams are decided at the end of a 144-game season. The top 3 get to Stage 1 of the Climax series, in which no. 2 and no. 3 compete for the chance to play in Stage 2. In Stage 2, those winners play the no. 1 team from their leagues. The winners of Stage 2 advance to what is not Stage 3, but the Japan Series. Wiki has a handy diagram of this progression.

The Japan Series, it turns out, is a series of up to 7 matches between just the two teams who were the winners of the Climax Series. It’s a best-of-7 tournament, so whoever is the first to win 4 matches becomes the victor. That’s the end of Japanese Professional Baseball for that year.

So… in 2016 when Carp won the Central League, Hiroshima went mental.

When Carp won Central League in 2016.
Image: tabiyaka hiroshima

The streets in the city filled with people, the izakayas served free beer, there were all sorts of sales. Various shops started selling/displaying V7 (7-time Central League Victors) stuff.

 

2016 Central League champion edition phone cover. Image: this blog Munesada by some dude who was excited about it

Public places displayed stuff like this a fair bit

Then they kept playing and people kept watching. I was confused, because I didn’t know about the Climax Series and Japan Series, but when a friend invited me to go and watch a match where a bar had turned one of their TVs out to face the street, I went. It turned out to be the 6th match of the Japan Series, and at the start of the match it was 2-3 where the 2 was 2 wins for Hiroshima Toyo Carp and the 3 was for Nippon-Ham Fighters from Sapporo… and Carp lost, which made Nippon Ham the champions of Japanese baseball for the year. There was a point where the match was really close, and then one particular pitcher went on and the other team got about 3 batters home safe, and the Hiroshima fans were pretty angry with that pitcher, and with the manager or whoever was responsible for putting him on the field at that point. It was Halloween and a friend I was watching with was dressed up as a zombie or something in a Carp uniform, and standing out as she did, some TV crews kept watching us and filming us. So they got her saying, ‘I HATE that pitcher!’ in Japanese.

A few weeks after this, my parents came to visit Hiroshima and came to a couple of the schools where I was working at the time. I’d told Mum and Dad about how the championship had gone to the other team and how disappointing it was for the Hiroshima crowd. The principal of the junior high school, though, said something like, ‘Oh, do you know about our baseball team, the Carp?’ and Dad started to say something commiserative like ‘Yeah, sounds like they got so close!’ and the school principal continued, ‘We are all so happy and proud because they won this year.’

Mum, Dad and I were all a bit dumbfounded. I think we said something like ‘Yes, that’s good.’

So, Mum and Dad, now I think I understand what happened – they were simply choosing to acknowledge the results of the series they had won, as opposed to the later one they entered (and ultimately lost) as a result of that win.

Tell you what, in AFL (Australian Football League, no, not soccer and not rugby) there’s just the one season. It goes for ages, but it’s got its quarter-finals, semi-finals and the ‘grand final’ and whoever wins the Grand Final is the winner. Then it’s finished. Seems so simple. Are rugby and cricket leagues/series easy to understand?

This year, 2017, Carp won the Central League again, on Monday the 18th of September, the day of the national holiday ‘Respect for the Aged Day.’ That day, I had just come back on the train from Osaka where I’d been to a particular local festival and then had dinner in a place where the beer mugs had Hanshin Tigers on them. It felt weird and traitorous to drink from those mugs.

So now it’s V8. I think the Climax Series starts soon. So in Stage 2, Carp will play either Hanshin Tigers or Yokohama BayStars for the chance to play in the Japan series. Right?

‘Very Carp! Celebrate V8’

Japanese Post Attempt No. 1

(English below)

困っています。

このブログは今一年以上書いていますが、日本とオーストラリアの生活や習慣のことはもう、何を伝えようとすればいい?毎日の小さいこと。挨拶の大切さか、大切じゃなささ。。。?

この間、面白いけどイライラする記事を読んだ。面白いところは、「オーストラリアのびっくりしたこと」というのがたくさんあった。イライラするところは、「留学のメリットは何かと聞かれたら、色々な経験して、日本の良さ改めてしる」と書かれた部分。

これ、なぜイライラする?

多分、記者の「やっぱり日本がどこよりもいい」と暗示する文体が自分の考え方と合わないね。あまり強い愛国心はオーストラリア人としてちょっと気持ち悪い。自分の国が育ったところだから、自分の家という気持ちがあるから、「やっぱり自分の国が自分にいいね」と、ほとんどのオーストラリア人は思うと思う。けど、「オーストラリアはオーストラリアだから最高」と思えない。それは、日本の誇りの謙遜と反対じゃない?

もちろん、そう記者の考え方とそう思わない日本人がたくさんいることが気付いている。ただ、この記事が面白いながら、イライラした。
読者さん、おられるなら、オーストラリアのことや、日本にあるものに対するオーストラリア人の見方知りたいことがあるでしょうか。

あれば、是非教えてくださいね!日本語はこう、まだまだ下手ですが、上達の為にこのブログを書いて頑張ります。:)

This post is, as you see, my first attempt at writing a post in Japanese. The contents go something like this:

I’m in a fix.

I’ve been writing this blog for over a year now, but what should I be trying to convey here? Small, everyday things? The culture of greetings…?

The other day, I read an article that was interesting but annoyed me. The interesting part was reading some things that a Japanese girl who did a one-year study abroad in Australia thought about Australia. The annoying part was that what she seemed to get out of it was a renewal of her ability to appreciate the goodness of Japan. (From here on it’s my opinion which will be nothing new to any long-time readers, but I haven’t written in Japanese before.)

Why did I find this annoying?

Perhaps the way the writing implies a belief that Japan is better than anywhere else just doesn’t fit with my own way of thinking. To me as an Australian, such strong patriotic or even nationalistic thinking seems a tad gross. I think most Australians would feel something like, ‘Australia is where I brought up and it’s home, so it’s good to me.’ But I can’t think, and I don’t think most Australians would think, ‘Australia is Australia, therefore it’s the best.’ Wouldn’t that be the opposite of the humility Japan is so proud of?

Of course, I know many Japanese people don’t think the same way as the writer of that piece. Just, reading that was interesting and at the same time, irritating.

Reader, are there things you would like to know about Australia or about an Australian’s perspective of something in Japan? If there are, please let me know. And sorry for my poor Japanese; I’m writing this in order to try to improve 🙂

*end translation*

Here is a list of the things that surprised that writer, by the way. I won’t translate the whole article, but just to give you an idea.

  1. Australians don’t really use umbrellas
  2. The products at the supermarket are all big
  3. Different people seem to feel hot and cold more (some people are in T-shirts and shorts while others might be wearing winter clothes)
  4. It’s hard to find a bus timetable
  5. Australia is really anti-smoking
  6. Some people don’t wear shoes outside
  7. The shops close early
  8. You can drink and drive (The legal limit is BAC 0.05)
  9. They sell some wine that is cheaper than soft drinks
  10. You have to wear a helmet when you ride a bike
  11. Some people eat things before paying for them (in the supermarket. Bijinjapan input here: I have never seen or heard of this happening. Have you?)

Sport culture: watching

This post was inspired by seeing my first ever baseball match.

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Hiroshima Carp vs Hanshin Tigers at Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium, Hiroshima

Australia is a sports-mad country. I noticed this growing up as a kid who wasn’t naturally talented at ball sports. My remaining impressions of PE at school: the feeling of waiting to be chosen for a team and knowing I’d be one of the last standing (is this still going on in Australia’s schools?); and the beep test which was actually kind of horribly satisfying. Apart from the beep test, my experience of PE wasn’t a positive one overall and I didn’t like sports in general. I made friends in the music department at school and hung out with friends from there or from language/media-type classes. This helped me notice that sport gets a lot more attention than most of the arts in the Australian media. As a young nation (in its current guise!) with relatively little history to speak of, a lot of Australia’s identity seems to be in sports and drinking.

Australia is also one of the most overweight countries in the world at the moment. Maybe some of the enthusiasm for sport has moved from playing it in the backyard to watching it on TV with a beer. That being said, plenty of people do play regular weeknight or Saturday cricket, footy, tennis or netball.

Being from Melbourne, the most popular sports were footy (Australian Rules football – no, not rugby) and cricket. These sports are loved by many including what you might call the jocks of southern Australia. When you get further north it’s rugby and cricket. There are two kinds of rugby: union and league; and I know how to play neither of them. As of this year, I think, (AFL) Grand Final day now gets its own public holiday, which falls on the day before the match, not on Grand Final day, which is always a Saturday anyway.

What it looks like to spectate at an AFL match. Image: George Salpigtidis @ news.com.au

What it looks like to spectate at an AFL match. Image: George Salpigtidis, news.com.au

The big footy and cricket matches in Melbourne are played at the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground). When people go to the footy they often wear team hats and scarves and maybe jumpers. I never did because I wasn’t interested enough to stick to a team to support – I was one of few Melburnians I knew who didn’t follow a team. I nominally went for Essendon one time because some of my friends did. By the way, in Australia we ‘go for’ a team or we ‘barrack for’ a team, but we don’t ‘root for’ a team because ‘to root’ has another meaning in Australia.

The beer vendors at the baseball have kegs on their backs. There are Kirin and Asahi both.

The beer vendors at the baseball have kegs on their backs. There are Kirin and Asahi vendors both.

Footy teams have anthems and uniforms. Fans wear/carry amounts of merchandise corresponding to their enthusiasm for the sport: the bigger the fan, the more costume they wear, in general. Fans seem to shout a lot, including belting out the anthem if their team wins, but there are no organised chants that I recall. People eat things like chips (hot) or (meat) pies and drink soft drinks (in Australia this means sweet fizzy drinks) or beer. I think there are pie vendors who go around the audience, but I don’t know what else they sell these days. There are lots of people in the audience and if you’re in free seating that means cold concrete bleachers, next to some older pot-bellied man constantly screaming CARN THE TOMMIES! in my memory.

A sport that I got a bit more into was tennis, because my family watches the Australian Open every summer (January). I’ve been a few times. The atmosphere is quite different, and some people get dressed up, and there are organised cheer groups who come to support their chosen players so some other fans join in with their chants – but not during play.

Soccer at Edeon Stadium, Hiroshima. Purple=San Frecce=Hiroshima

Soccer at Edion Stadium, Hiroshima. Purple=San Frecce=Hiroshima

I’ve now been to both the soccer and the baseball in Hiroshima, and it is massive. Kind of like footy in Melbourne, you don’t have to be a massive fan to go to the soccer, or especially the baseball. Baseball is like the unofficial national sport of Japan. (The official one is sumo, which is less practiced and watched by most people.) The whole country watches the national high school baseball competition during the summer, and every school has a baseball club. Fans have all the paraphernalia for their team, which differs in that nobody has a jumper, they have a jersey, and instead of a scarf they have a towel and/or maybe a hat. Then there’s the other stuff: bags, little things to clap for you, stationery, socks, I don’t know. But I think more people get more into dressing up for it in Japan than in Australia.

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You can use this handy thing to clap if you don’t want to use your hands. Or you can get these little plastic bats to bang together instead, which is what most people have.

There are a lot of set chants in Japan, and for both baseball and soccer there is constant cheering throughout the game. Most of the baseball chants are quite simple, but there is the odd song that you have to actually know to be able to join in. The soccer is quite complex in the number of chants and songs there are. You can get a lyric sheet for all the different ones for SAN FRECCE (Hiroshima’s soccer team) when you go to a match and it comes in handy. I already knew the baseball theme song for Hiroshima Carp because all the supermarkets have been playing it on repeat recently.

img_20160922_155013

There is a certain point of the match – I think it’s after the 6th or 7th changeover? when all the fans blow up these balloons, and the team’s song comes on the speakers, and everyone sings the song and waves the balloons around, and then lets them fly into the air at the end of the song. It was quite fun. I guess the ushers clean them up later and throw them out.

Of course, Japanese sport teams also have mascots, which I never saw so much of in Australia. I’m not sure what Carp’s mascot Slyly is supposed to be… a dragon?

 

Japan and Me

Probably best to be clear, and probably like most blogs of this type that you’ll find, this is not a Japanophile affair. It’s just about my experience, which may well include a few rants.

Last time I was back in Australia, I got the impression that most of my friends there had the impression that I was nuts about Japan. And for a while, I was. But somewhere, that changed. For a while it was love-hate. For a while, it stayed on the negative side of that spectrum. At the moment it’s somewhere in the middle, and to be honest, I think one of the things I’m trying to achieve in writing here is to rediscover the things I like about this place, or at least come to terms with it in a new way.

See, when I first came, it was all just really interesting and exciting.

 I was up in the north, and discovered this fantastic international community, international communitywhich allowed me to make friends with a heap of other expats but also locals who were interested in things and people from outside Japan. I went to onsen, I went to nightclubs, I went skiing. I had a car my company helped me lease. I went on road trips and saw temples, shrines, gorges and caves.

Then I moved, and the community wasn’t there. The work I was doing went from trying to coordinate 40-strong classes of unmotivated high school kids to watching and trying to help Japanese teachers of English with varying levels of language proficiency in classes of middle school kids. I met some overtly sexist and xenophobic people, including a teacher who kindly informed me that I didn’t understand history or politics because of being a woman*. (He was serious.) I started to feel self-conscious that every time I looked at someone on the street, they were already looking at me. I started to notice more the distinctions people in my town and schools made between ‘Japan’ and ‘other,’ which largely meant American. Basically, the novelty was wearing off and I had more time to notice these kinds of things. They bothered me, but I still somehow felt there was more to do in Japan. However, I had to leave for unrelated reasons.

*I don’t mean to suggest that people like this don’t exist in Australia – I just never had to work with any.

A year and a half later, I came back. This time, due to now having a significant other who lives in central Japan, I’m in central Japan with a new company. I don’t have a car because my job doesn’t require me to have one. IMG_1060This makes life different again, particularly living in an area where most people have cars: it’s that kind of area.
Rice paddies. Closest station is a half-hour walk away. My significant other is a 2-hour commute away. The things that I was noticing in my last job that bothered me about Japan are all still there. When I came to my new placement, a year’s contract, it looked set to be a very long year.

5 months in, I’ve finally made a few local friends and had the chance to travel around and rediscover a few of the best things this country has to offer, as well as things that can help me get through the day/week/semester.

Here are a few:

  • The ABC radio app, and more specifically, Radio National’s breakfast program with Fran Kelly.
  • Mountains and gorges.
  • Avoiding eye contact with strangers (you don’t see them looking, though one of my newfound friends does the opposite and likes to stare them down).
  • Audiobooks, book books, ebooks, fanfiction.
  • Making and maintaining contact with any and all friends and family.

Now, heading into the second semester of school, let’s see how these things help over the next 4 months until the winter holidays.

Ya! Bijin?

little welcome dudes

Welcome. First of all, let me clarify: why ‘bijin’?

Well, if you’re hoping for a fashion or manga/anime nerd blog, sorry to disappoint. I was actually going for ‘big in Japan’ but that was already taken.

So, for any readers who don’t know, bijin 美人 is the Japanese word for ‘beautiful woman,’ although the characters actually translate to ‘beautiful person.’ Am I really vain enough for this? Well, no, I wouldn’t have thought so, but it was free and very similar to ‘big in’. Plus, ‘bij’ in my family means ‘television’. (When we were kids, one of us couldn’t be bothered saying the whole word?) But it’s not a TV blog either.

L in Japan

yep, uniqlo – it’s pretty cheap here

This blog is intended to be about my experience in Japan as a Westerner and specifically a white Australian woman. My excellent intended name of ‘big in Japan’ was thusly inspired: In Japan, I am big in two ways. Firstly, I noticed when I first came, in my town I was immediately famous and somewhat popular because I looked non-Asian. Hence, big. I had this Tom Waits song stuck in my head a lot of that year. Secondly, although I’m average size in Australia and usually buy clothes that are S or maybe M, in Japan I’m always an L, and for shoes, LL if it’s available. It’s usually not, but sometimes I’m lucky.

Ok. First post done. Yohkoso, welcome, thank you for reading, please read again. Yoroshiku! (Goodly/well!)