The year was 1982, and my (then) husband and I were stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, Japan. Since both of our jobs were pretty demanding and we also had our infant son with us, we didn’t often venture far from the base. We did take bike trips to nearby Kintai to enjoy the architecture of the well-known bridge, especially lovely at cherry blossom time, and also made the trek a time or two by train to Hiroshima, for shopping and other sight-seeing, but other than that, we stuck pretty close to home.
You can’t live in Japan long without realizing that the Japanese love baseball. We Gaijin (slang term for foreigner) claim that baseball is as American as apple pie and the ’57 Chevy, but baseball is as much a craze in Japan as it is at Fenway Park or Giants Stadium. I’m not sure how it came about, whether tickets were given out on base or we sought them on our own, but somehow we commandeered tickets to a professional Japanese baseball game, so off we went.
After the trip by train, we entered the stadium that was home to the Hiroshima Carp, who were scheduled to play the Kawashima Yanks (a team apparently no longer in existence – and why do I even remember the team names almost thirty years later?). I followed baseball off and on and even attended a few Red Sox games at Fenway Park in my youth, but I never claimed to be a real baseball fan. Even so, I was tickled to be witnessing the great American pastime played on Japanese soil. Would they play by the same rules we did? Would their uniforms be similar to ours, or would Japanese culture come through at all in their mode of dress, their mannerisms? Would they spit and grab their crotch?
The first thing I noticed was the tiny seats. Ok, we were in Japan, where the native people were for the most part smaller than Americans. I get that. The bleachers were extremely close together so that a person of any size (read: anyone not Japanese) would have their knees hitting the person in front of them. There was a little plastic seat bottom (no backs) for each spectator, so you couldn’t really move to leave more space between you. If your butt didn’t fit into that little spot provided for it, you were in for an uncomfortable ballgame. Enough said.
Alright, uncomfortable or not, let’s play some baseball!
Our seats were behind third base and gave us a good view of the bullpen and warmup area. I was ready to see some action, to see if these guys really knew the game. I listened to the announcer rattle off the lineup in a language I couldn’t understand, then heard something that caused me to perk up. Did he just say something in English? Looking at the program (in a language I also couldn’t read) there it was – two very western names. As it turns out, each professional Japanese baseball team is allowed two foreigners, ‘Gaijins’, on the team roster.
Ok, I’m cool with that. That means that the other seven players will be Japanese.
Remember, we’re sitting closest to third base. Who do you think was warming up, soon to be taking the field in that position? Some guy that stood about 6’3″ with a name as American as any I’ve ever heard!
That’s when disappointment set in. I traveled by train to see a game of Japanese baseball, have planted my butt into a most uncomfortable space with my knees against my chest, determined to pick apart how they play the game, to witness first hand how they couldn’t possibly know how to play OUR game – only to have a perfect shot of one of two Americans on the team. I had no clear view of much of anything else on the field (remember, this was 1982, long before games were televised on large screens at the stadium).
I don’t think I watched much of the game. I was too ticked off and didn’t really care anymore. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, and I could be wrong, but it seemed like the two Gaijins on each team were much more prevalent on the field than their teammates native to the land.
I have no idea who won, and I don’t suppose it matters some 28 years later. My day wasn’t made any better when, as we were in the parking lot headed out, I noticed that the fine chain I was wearing had caught in the zipper of my jacket and broke, resulting in my small diamond pendant having found a new home at Hiroshima stadium, behind third base. There was no way to get through the crowd and gain access to look for it. It was a very small diamond chip and not worth much monetarily, but I was heartbroken at its loss.
So much for my adventures with Japanese baseball. I think I’ll stick with Fenway Park and my BoSox.