Three things to love about the Tokyo Dome
Affectionately called the "Big Egg" by the locals, the Tokyo Dome, home to the famed Yomiuri Giants, has been a main attraction in Tokyo for all of its 30 years of existence.
The "Big Egg" nickname comes from the Dome's oblong shape, and its puffy, off-white, membrane-like ceiling that helps pressurize the air in the building. The Dome's place in Japan baseball lore, however, stems from something much more significant -- namely, a fanbase that packs the ballpark on a regular basis, bringing cheers, enthusiasm and a fierce loyalty that dates back generations, in a country where baseball is the runaway No. 1 pastime.
In honor of the three games played between the Major League All-Stars and Samurai Japan this weekend, here are three things to love about the Tokyo Dome:
If you really want the full experience of taking in a baseball game in Japan, sit in the outfield cheering sections -- but be prepared to stay busy. These designated cheering areas span the entire outfield and it makes for a lively, loud scene, even more so when everyone is rooting for the same team.
When two Japanese teams are playing in a regular-season game, the cheering sections consist of two groups with their own rooting interests -- half are for the home team, half for the visitors. They take turns, depending on which team is at-bat.
But for this Japan All-Star Series, everyone, for the most part, is rooting for the same club -- Samurai Japan, the group of Japanese All-Stars who have been giving the locals plenty to sing about in the opening stages of this tournament.
There's a different song for every Japanese hitter (and you can purchase those songs for the ringtone on your phone!) and every fan in the outfield knows every word to those songs. Ballpark regulars lead the crowd in the singalong, accompanied by flag-wavers, trumpet players and drummers.
The singing -- a combination of chants and songs -- lasts the entire duration of the hitter's at-bat. The only time fans divert from that routine is when they break into cheers when the hitter gets on base.
Sitting down quietly doesn't appear to be an option in these outfield areas, especially this weekend. Japan scored 19 runs in the first two games, giving the outfield patrons lots of singing opportunities (though with less time for bathroom and beer breaks).
The Tokyo Dome offers a wide variety of food options, from the standard fare that you might find in an American ballpark -- hot dogs, ice cream, pizza -- to items uniquely designed for a ballgame in Japan.
The most famous culinary delight is the Bento Box, a staple of Japanese cuisine. You'll find hundreds of Bento Boxes at the stadium, and thousands offered throughout the city, including in the vast, bustling train station that is as well known for its food venues (there's actually an underground hallway called Ramen Street) as it is for transportation.
Bento Boxes include approximately seven sections, with a different food item in each. What's in them? Depends on what you picked -- you may get rice, noodles, octopus, sushi, eel, rice balls, potato balls, fish or pickled vegetables, among many other ingredients.
The boxes are meant to be eaten at room temperature, which allows for the concession areas to offer stacks of them right in front of the kiosks. They're illustrated with pictures of what's inside, which helps sales, too (especially for those fans, ahem, who can't speak or read Japanese).
For a slightly less adventuresome trek into the culinary offerings at the Tokyo Dome, noodle bowls are popular here, too.
Complimentary helmets and gloves (but you have to give them back)
Fan safety is a priority in Japan's baseball stadiums. Here, protective netting doesn't end at the corner of the dugout. Rather, extends all the way down the lines, to the foul poles.
Also, security staff members blow whistles when a foul ball, or even a home run ball, is headed toward a section of fans. As soon as a foul ball is hit, -- every time -- the public address announcer issues a reminder to be aware of balls in the stands.
But the most unique element when it comes to protecting fans can be found in the open sections of seats down the lines, near the dugouts.
Because there's no protective netting there, fans are instead given equipment to ensure their safety. Each seat comes with a complimentary helmet and glove, which fans are free to use through the duration of the game.
But this isn't a promotional giveaway situation -- when the game is over, fans leave the equipment at the seats, for the next set of patrons to use.