“Be Best, the Sports”

I’m back from a two-week business trip to Japan. It was a great trip, with time for some fun along the way. At some point I’ll post whatever politically relevant observations I may have, but for the moment I want to comment on one of the visit’s highlights: last Saturday’s baseball game between the Hanshin Tigers and the Yomiuri Giants.
In Japan, baseball teams are named after the companies that own them, rather than the cities they play in–imagine the Budweiser Yankees–but Hanshin and Yomiuri represent Osaka and Tokyo respectively. The Giants are a perennial powerhouse, but the Tigers won the league last year and enthusiasm for the team in Osaka is at a fever pitch. We were lucky to be able to get tickets for the game, which was sold out.
Forty-five minutes before game time, the stands were nearly full. The Hanshin fans started cheering and singing, and never let up for four hours. The closest analogy I can draw is to American college football, but even that falls short. There are cheerleaders and bands, and as far as we could tell, everyone in the stadium joins in the cheers. Each player in the lineup has his own song.
I wasn’t particularly impressed with the quality of the play; only a few pitches hit 90 mph, outfield arms were mediocre, and an inflelder dropped a routine popup. But the atmosphere was electric. I haven’t had as much fun at a sports event since the Twins were last in the World Series.
I thought it would be fun to put together a short video of the game for Power Line readers who are also sports fans. Here it is: Hanshin Tigers vs. Yomiuri Giants
I didn’t do anything fancy, but just strung together a few clips. My companions drank a number of beers; you’ll see a brief shot of an Asahi beer glass that says, “Be Best, the Sports.” This is very typical: the Japanese love English, but they tend to garble it. What’s impressive, though, is their openness to American influences, which I take as a sign of cultural confidence. Baseball illustrates how seamlessly English is interwoven with Japanese. The Tigers have a slogan, which you see everywhere in Osaka, written in English: “Never, never, never surrender!” What I find bizarre about this is that the Tigers’ motto contains no fewer than six R’s–a sound not found in Japanese. The players’ names on their jerseys are written in English characters. The team’s name is the Tigers, and, as far as I could tell, it is always written in English. On the scoreboard, the numbers for the innings are written in Japanese characters, but the team names are in English, and the runs, hits and errors columns are titled “R,” “H” and “E” respectively.
The chanting and singing continued non-stop, and when the home team took the lead in the bottom of the seventh, the stadium went crazy. My camera work got a little shaky because I was knocked over, briefly, by a woman behind me who, in turn, was knocked down by someone else. When the Tigers chased the Giants’ starter in the same inning, the crowd sang “Auld Lang Syne.” For the seventh-inning stretch, and again at the end of the game, the fans blew up and released balloons–thousands of them. Again, if there was anyone in the crowd of maybe 40,000 people who lacked balloons, I didn’t see him.
We had balloons because the fans sitting around us gave us some. They also gave us food and taught us the songs and cheers–the main phrases, in translation, are “hit the ball” and “fight, fight, fight.” And this was only partly because we bought them beers. I don’t want to pontificate about another country’s culture on the basis of a two-week visit, but if there is a kinder, friendlier, more considerate group of people anywhere in the world than the citizens of Osaka, I haven’t met them.
We left when the game was over, but hardly anyone else did. After the game, the player who had the game-winning hit was brought back onto the field for an interview, and virtually the entire crowd stayed to cheer the interview.
On the whole, it was one of the most fun evenings any of us have had in a long time. Hope you enjoy the video.

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