14 August   Shibuya, looking down on ourselves, a look forward to 2002, and our boys win!


Apart from a trip to the convenience store round the corner for milk, bread and a copy of the Japan Times, we didn’t really get going until the afternoon.  We travelled on the subway to Shibuya, where there is a vast underground station.  Stephen guided us to the right exit and we stepped out into the seething crowds.  There was one of the political megaphone pedagogues bellowing his message from a podium erected on the pavement.


Ignoring him, like (so far as I could see) the rest of humanity, we joined a crowd of some hundreds of people waiting to cross the road towards the shopping area.  Dutifully waiting until the crossing lights flashed and the “cuckoo” beeper beeped cuckoo-like, we seethed across with everyone else.  Coming in the opposite direction was an equal but opposite mass of people.  I had visions of a massive pile-up in the middle of the crossing, the two rivers of people pressing against each other so that those in the middle were raised high above the masses, as if two tidal waves crashed into each other.  However, such was not the case.  Somehow or other we passed each other without clashing.  It must be something to do with the proximity that Japanese people live in that enables them to glide past each other without touching.  I now know what it’s like to be a salmon fighting my way upstream to spawn.  (I wasn’t going to spawn; it was just a figure of speech.)


A cafe provided welcome refreshment (and a restroom).  We found an official World Cup 2002 shop.  Japan is gearing up to co-host one of the big two sporting events – football’s 4-yearly World Cup (the other biggie is of course the Olympics, which Japan has already hosted in both its summer and winter varieties).  The shop provided us with the opportunity to buy some suitable gifts to take back home.  We bought some good tee-shirts and various knick-knacks.


Stephen wanted to see if there were any good new records in stock at Tower Records.  This is a large record and magazine store.  The external lift that took us up to the 5th floor (“I’ll take the fifth, judge”) had a television camera concealed in its roof.  There was a monitor on the wall.  We saw ourselves from above, which in my case was slightly unnerving.  From above, I could be mistaken for a monk in mufti.


Time was pressing, and we moved on to the Tokyo Dome and its surrounding funfair.  The Dome is a colossal indoor arena, used for baseball and rock concerts.  We met up with Yuichi, one of Stephen’s teacher colleagues.  He had obtained tickets for us to watch a baseball match.  Yuichi is a born-and-bred fan of the Nippon Ham Fighters.  Sadly the lads were languishing at the foot of the table, and today they were to meet the Kintetsu Buffaloes.  The Buffaloes not only were at the top of the table, but have a reverential status rather akin to Manchester United’s in another field.  Yuichi seemed to be rather sad about this relative state of affairs.  Val confidently stated that the Fighters would no doubt win, in our honour.


This was the first live baseball match I had been to, so I was not sure what to expect.  There was a curious atmosphere, which I guess was an expression of Japanese-ism.  The fans belonging to each team had well-defined seating areas, and of course the home team, the Fighters, had the numerical advantage.  Unlike any other competitive sporting event I have ever experienced, the fans cheered their team vociferously (not to mention singing the team song and chanting the team chant) but – and this is the curiosity – remaining completely silent when the other team was batting.


While the match was in progress, various people came around to sell hot dogs.  We had already had our “included with the ticket” hot dogs (presumably sponsored by Nippon Ham itself).  However, we availed ourselves of the mobile draft beer sellers (mainly young women paying their way through college) who visited each seat four or five times an hour.


The game of baseball itself is, frankly, a bit feeble.  There is a lot of secret signalling between the pitcher and the bloke that stands behind the batter (this may be the “catcher”, but I am not sure).  This involves much tipping of the pitcher’s cap and various signals from the team coach, and much adjustment of the groin guard sensibly worn by the catcher.  The ball, having been thrown, is either struck by the batter or caught by the catcher.  An umpire makes a signal and a strange hoot, and either the batter walks to the first base, or trots there, or runs there flat out, or waits for another ball to be pitched, or throws the bat down and stalks back to the dugout.  And then someone else becomes the batter and the process is repeated.  If the batter manages to hit the ball (about one time in ten), and if he puts enough oomph into the stroke, it can travel out of the playing area.  So long as it is in a permitted arc from the batting point, he can then trot round the diamond and score a home run.  This is the most exciting thing that can happen, except where there are already batsmen who have managed to run to the other bases round the diamond, when they too, can complete their runs.  After nine episodes, the teams change places.  A typical baseball score after an evening’s play is 2-1, or 3-2.


Let us now proudly state that, in pursuance of Val's prediction, the Nippon Ham Fighters trounced the Kintetsu Buffaloes by – wait for it – 17 to 3!!!!!  This is an unheard-of score.  Such was its unbelievability that the following day’s Japan Times printed the score as 7-3 to the Buffaloes.  (They did print a correction, without apology, the day after.)  Yuichi was a very happy Fighter Fan, and indeed, as honorary members of the fraternity, so were we.


Thus we celebrated in the “British Bar” a quarter of an hour’s walk away, where we had some hot food and raised a number of libations to the lads.


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