Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Japanese baseball and other curiosities

I should so be in bed right now.  It is criminal to make a single baseball game last that long.  I loved every overly-analytical, hyper-dramatic minute of it, but it really messed with my plan to be in bed by 10.

If you are ever in Japan, you should go see a professional baseball game.  In fact, it doesn't have to be a professional game.  It could be a regular high school game.  It's one of the best ways to realize how very different Japanese and American cultures are. 

It's the same game, right?  Except that it's really not.  What they play on the field is mostly the same, except for the bowing and a few other things that may have changed since I was obsessed with the sport too long ago.  (Dude, if you're tagged by the catcher before you touch the plate, it doesn't matter if you knock him over as long as he holds onto the ball, right?) 

What you should be watching is the stands.  If you are at a game with an audience and a cheering team, they are the people you want to have a good view of.  It's kind of unbelievable.

I was reminded of this experience (my dad and I visited my sister in Japan this April, and we were lucky enough to get great seats at a game in a new stadium) as I was watching this Japanese baseball show.  Even in high school, they take their cheering very seriously.  If you want to be in the official cheer squad, there are uniforms, protocols, hierarchies, cheering routines, songs, and all sorts of things you must know, remember, and perform.  I swear they must practice as much as the baseball teams themselves. 

It's bizarre, ridiculous, and utterly compelling.  I cannot describe to you how seriously they take it, and nothing can replace the experience of being there while it happens.  Especially during the seventh inning stretch and that thing they do with the balloons.  Words fail me.  Seriously.  (Actually, if I try to describe it, I will laugh too hard to finish, and I will need my inhaler, which is bad before bed.)

If you want to get a glimpse of this and aren't afraid of Japanese animated TV shows, check out the second part of season one of a newer show called Big Windup! Oofuri in the U.S.  What you'll see there is pretty tame (it's the first round of a high school tournament), but as you watch the game unfold, pay close attention and notice that you almost always hear music in the background this entire, rain-soaked game.  (Did I mention it's only the first round of the tournament?)

You really have to experience it some time.  Please.  Then you can try to write about the balloon thing, if you dare.

If you've been to Japan or another country and been astounded by how differently they do something (rock concerts are another interesting experience) than the way we do the "same thing" in the United States, do share.  What activities that you expected to be familiar caused massive culture shock instead?

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