Besu-Boru: The Royale With Cheese of Baseball

[VINCENT] I know, baby, you’d dig it the most..
But you know what the funniest thing about Europe is?
[JULES] What?
[VINCENT] It’s the little differences. A lotta the same sh*# we got here, they got there, but there they’re a little different.
[JULES] Example ?
[VINCENT] Alright, when you …. into a movie theatre in Amsterdam, you can buy beer.
And I don’t mean in a paper cup either. They give you a glass of beer
And in Paris, you can buy beer at MacDonald’s.
And you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?
[JULES] They don’t call it a Quarter Pounder with Cheese?
[VINCENT] No, they got the metric system there, they wouldn’t know what the fuck a Quarter Pounder is.
[JULES] What’d they call it?
[VINCENT] They call it Royale with Cheese.
[JULES] Royale with Cheese. What’d they call a Big Mac?
[VINCENT] Big Mac’s a Big Mac, but they call it Le Big Mac.
— Pulp Fiction

Taking in a baseball game in Japan is just about the same as entering a McDonalds in Europe – about the same as the American version, but with bewildering little differences.

They still print out tickets, and you still have to wait in line for a security check of some sort. You’ve got a stadium, and some ballplayers in uniform, and it’s still three strikes to an out. The game is mostly the same, if the strike zone is a little bit different and the batters a little more focused on contact than patience. If you put blinders on and only watched the game, you’d think it was a hum-drum ole’ game of ball, if a little homogeneous when it came to race. You know, baseball.

Except it’s besu-boru. And it won’t take long for you to spot the differences.

As you walk into the concourse, you may consider buying a Yomiuri Giants jersey if you happen to be in the Tokyo Dome. If you’re lucky enough to be there for a game against the hated Hanshin Tigers, you might have to brave a long line to make your purchase – but don’t do a double-take when you get to the front. Yup, they’re selling Tigers jerseys too. How thoughtful of them to provide memorabilia for the rivals. Nemesis or no, they should be able to buy a shirt, right? Imagine a Boston vendor selling Yankee pinstripes, though, and you might stifle a hiccup.

While you finish paying for your shirt, you might notice some people changing into their fan gear by the bathrooms – taking off sweaters to reveal jerseys and the like. Don’t worry, it’s normal, they aren’t playing hooky from study session. It just doesn’t seem like many Japanese think that sportswear is fashionable outside the ballpark. They are probably plenty of Americans who agree with them, anyway.

With your jersey in hand, it’s time for a snack. And you can find yourself a hot dog, if you like, that much hasn’t changed. You could go for sushi, too, but in San Francisco’s AT&T park, you can find some decent sushi, too. But where else but Japan can you indulge yourself with a fried octopus ball (tako-yaki)? And before you retch a little in your mouth, consider an alternate definition of a hot dog – a minced selection of random parts of the pig encased in stomach lining – and realize that the tako-yaki is really just another salty bite size ballpark snack. Yup, just like hot dogs.

Finally, snack and jersey in hand, you make your way to your seat. You settle in as the away team takes their licks and notice that they’ve brought fans with them. Like college football and English soccer, Japanese baseball stadiums provide cheering sections for the visiting team. Unlike in college football and English soccer, this is not for their protection, as the atmosphere is not one of denigration or thuggery. Instead, it has to be just another example of home team politesse, as every chant is uplifting and supportive.

In fact, you notice that many of the chants are planned. They’re songs, even. Songs about favorite players, often with the accompaniment of a brass section, drums, and the ubiquitous thunder sticks. Here’s a sample – a fight song for Hanshin Tiger Lin-Wei Chu, in Japanese and then in English:

Sore yuke ima koso! Honoo no ichida wo!
Wei Chu! Wei Chu! Shouri wo mezashite!
“Lin Wei Chu! Lin Wei Chu!”

Let it go now – fiery hitting
Lin Wei Chu, Lin Wei Chu, aim for victory.

Not quite ‘We need a pitcher not a belly-itcher.’ How about that, former Twin Lew Ford is a Tiger. You strain your ears to catch the nuanced lyrics:

“Lew! Lew!”
Let’s go, Ford! Lew Ford, let’s go!
“Lew! Lew! Fight! Fight! Fight!”
“Lew Ford! Lew Ford!”

So he has that going for him.

By now you’ve finished your octopus balls and are ready for an adult beverage. Luckily, you don’t even have to leave your seat to get a nice nama beeru. No, your draft beer can actually walk right up to your aisle in the form of an sales girl (urikku). This oft-pigtailed young woman lugs around a mini-keg of beer on her back all game, just to give you delicious cold beer from the tap. Imagine that – Sapporo draft without leaving your seat. Seems like the Japanese have improved at least one part of the experience.

As you wipe your frosty mustache from your face, the innings change and some pop music begins to blare. In a scene that would feel more in place at a basketball game in America, a string of cheerleaders come out on the field and begin a choreographed dance.

The six-year-old to your left knows every move and rocks right along, complete with her own orange pom-poms. You notice another couple complimenting the young girl for knowing the dance, and after a little peek left and right confirm that people are sharing food with each other, people you’re pretty sure didn’t come together. If only the language barrier wasn’t holding you back, you’d probably be talking about interesting Japanese prospects and translating power hitting between leagues with the dude to your right.

You enjoy the game and begin to assimilate. You’ve got a handle on the differences and similarities, or at least you think you do. You’re hurtling towards that last great American moment in the game, though, the seventh-inning stretch, and before you know it, it’s time to sing “Take Me Out To the Ball Game” and move those legs a little – maybe even a rendition of “God Bless America” in our post-911 world.

And then? Well, then you get this:

Heck, maybe that cultish Giants fan-unfurling and accompanying song it is not so different from the American version – it is still just a song and dance. And maybe, even though you are expected to take your trash out of the stadium with you and learn words to fight songs for each player on your team, the whole experience is fundamentally similar. You come to a baseball game, cheer a little, eat some snacks and have a beer; these things are the same in either country’s version of the game. But each little facet is a little different, too.

Besu-baru, not baseball.

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About enosarris

I write. About baseball, mostly, but also about the anthropology of sports, travel, cooking and sometimes music. But yeah, baseball mostly.
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