Written by our guest columnist, Eric Lord.
Nested halfway between Kansai’s two major urban centres, in blue-collar Nishinomiya, lies a building that arguably represents more to the average Japanese than any of Kyoto’s historic temples or Tokyo’s soaring skyscrapers. Constructed in 1924 to house Japan’s famous High School Championships, Koshien Stadium is known throughout the country as the most important shrine of Japanese baseball.
Every August, the winning schools of the 49 regional tournaments converge on Koshien, each bringing with them hundreds of drum-beating, hand-clapping, song-singing supporters. The tournament is televised nationally on terrestrial cable, and for three weeks the entire country hangs on every swing of the bat. The image of losing teams collecting bagfuls of the park’s sacred infield dirt as mementoes is an iconic one. Koshien has been the subject of countless films, novels, and manga comics, and is firmly engrained in the Japanese psyche as a metaphor for youthful passion and vigor.
During the rest of the summer, Koshien serves as the home field of Kansai’s hapless baseball heroes – the Hanshin Tigers. In the 76 years since the team’s founding, they’ve won the Japan Series exactly once, in 1985, and the celebrations that gripped Kansai that summer led to a noticeable boom in the region’s economy. Hanshin fans are reputed around Japan to be the most fervently dedicated and blindly loyal fans in the world, and a visit to Koshien for a Tigers home game shows that they live up to their reputation. From the first pitch until the final out, the Tigers ouendan, or cheer squads, lead the crowds in organized chants and cheers, customized for every player and every game situation. The seventh inning stretch features the coordinated release of thousands of multicoloured balloons. All this creates a festive atmosphere at the park that’s unmatched at any sporting event in any country.
Even for those with no interest in sport, Koshien represents a rare chance to see the Japanese at their most open and uninhibited. As Hyogo’s most famous landmark, it is a can’t-miss experience for summer visitors to the prefecture.
Season: March to September
Tickets: 2,000 – 4,000 yen
Booking: Ticket websites (http://ent-toraticket.pia.jp, http://t.pia.jp/sports/baseball/index.jsp, or http://l-tike.com/genre/sports.html#a02, Japanese only) or ticket machines at Lawson convenience store.
Address: 1-82 Koshien-cho, Nishinomiya City, Hyogo 663-8152
Website: http://hanshintigers.jp/ (Japanese)
How To Get There
Hanshin Line Koshien Station: Walk five minutes south.