Japan Baseball is something everyone should experience when visiting the country, sports fan or not. The atmosphere is unlike any other sports event I have been to (including the Superbowl!) and makes for a uniquely Japanese day out. Here’s my experience of attending a baseball game in both Tokyo and Osaka and why it just might be my favourite thing to do in Japan.
About Baseball in Japan
Japan’s love of baseball runs deep. It’s far and away from the country’s favourite sport to both watch and play. Although it was first introduced in 1872 by a visiting English professor, it did not gain popularity until an American all-star team visited for some exhibition games some 60 years later. This visit lead to the formation of the Nippon Professional Baseball League (NPB) which now consist of 12 teams, four in and around Tokyo and two in the Osaka area.
Japan Baseball is also incredibly popular at the high school level with games drawing massive crowds and media coverage. It’s on par if not bigger than High School football in the USA.
Getting Tickets to a Japan Baseball Game
Getting Japan Baseball tickets can be a bit of a challenge to navigate. That said, with a friendly ticket agent and a lot of smiling and nodding, you can purchase tickets at the gates. You do, however, run the risk of the game being sold out or not getting a seat as I found on my first Japan baseball game experience in Tokyo.
At that game, we purchased tickets (and a cardboard mat?) at the ticketing booth out front of Tokyo Dome. This was confusing until we entered the stadium and found fans and families staking out spots in the hall to layout their cardboard mats and watch the game from the floor on the closed-circuit televisions!
For my second crack at Japan baseball in Osaka, I got tickets online and in advance. It’s a comically hilarious experience as the official website for the Hanshin Tigers does not translate to English. Instead, they provide instructions on where to blindly click and accept. There’s rough translation on what you are getting but for the most part, you need to trust the system!
Atmosphere & Etiquette
Arriving at the stadium you will quickly realize this is not the MLB. For one, the stadiums are packed. There’s also a division for away team fans, much like soccer matches except with less armed guards and more bowing.
In these sections, you are forbidden from wearing home team colours and cheering for the home team is frowned upon. Pay attention to this when stumbling your way through the purchasing process online!
From well before the first pitch to the last swing of the bat, fans are on. There is choreographed dances, chats, and cheers. By the fourth inning, you should be able to pick up a few of the player’s custom cheers and join in.
The coolest thing, for me at least, is the 7th inning balloon toss. I saw this on YouTube a few years ago and assumed it was a Hiroshima Carps things. To my surprise, we got to experience a stadium full of waving, then wheezing, balloons at the Hanshin Tigers game.
It. Was. Awesome.
Going to a Japan Baseball game in Osaka
The Osaka area is home to two NPB teams, the Orix Buffalos and the Hanshin Tigers. I chose the Hanshin Tigers for their historic stadium.
Originally built to host the National High school baseball tournaments in 1924. At the time it was the largest stadium in Asia with seating for over 55,000! Again, this was for high school baseball…in 1924. Yes, the love of baseball certainly runs deep.
Today this historic stadium is home of the Hanshin Tigers.
Onsite you will also find the Koshien History Museum. This small museum in the park is dedicated to the Hanshin Tigers and the high school tournaments held there.
Getting to Koshien Stadium
Like pretty much everywhere in Japan, getting to Koshien Stadium is super easy by metro. From Osaka-Umeda station it is roughly a 30-minute ride to Kōshien station on the Hanshin line. Once there, the station is steps from the front gates of the stadium.
Food & Drink
Another great thing about the Japan Baseball experience is the food you can get at the stadiums. Gone are the peanuts and cracker jacks. Instead, you will find Japanese favourites. In Tokyo, I had edamame and sushi and in Osaka Takoyaki, and Japanese Curry. How great is that?
There is, of course, plenty of beer available. What makes beer at a Japan baseball game better is the way it is served. Uriko (beer girls) roam the aisles smiling and calling out to thirsty patrons. On their backs, mini-kegs of Asahi. This means freshly poured beer right at your seat!
Japan Baseball – A Must Do in my Books
From the choreographed fan chants to the epic balloon tosses, you can see that Japan baseball is not your average day at the park. It’s pretty much everything I love about Japan all in one – quirky, delicious and fun. On top of that, Japan has some of the best baseball players in the world. All of this combined makes for an awesome day out, sports fan or not.
Where to Stay in Osaka
Looking for recommendations on where to stay in Osaka after your baseball game? Here are my choice hotels from budget to mid-range.
$$$ – The Bridge Hotel Shinsaibashi
Modern rooms in Nishishinsaibashi. It has a cute rooftop terrace and free massage chairs in the lobby. There is also free Ramen and booze during happy hour!
$$ – Best Western Hotel Fino Osaka
Traditional rooms with included breakfast. It’s steps from the Nagahoribashi metro station and, even better, next to a 7-11!
$ – Osaka Hana Hostel
Basic dorm and private rooms located steps from Shinsaibashi shopping street. Also includes free Japanese treats on check-in!