It’s the last night of our honeymoon in Japan, which over the previous two weeks has enchanted and bewildered us in equal measure. Tonight’s game is no exception. Baseball is massively popular in Japan with a history that dates back to the late 19th century, when an American named Horace Wilson introduced it to a Tokyo university, where he taught English. It’s essentially the same sport as American baseball—but make no mistake: This isn’t the game of Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson. It’s more like a bizarro doppelgänger, with its own traditions and mythos. Even as we cheer in sync with our section, all uniformed in Giants orange and white, Jon and I feel at a distance. As two of only a handful of Westerners (or gaijin, as the Japanese say) in the whole stadium, we’re spectators in every sense of the word. It’s as though we’ve stumbled into a stage act mid-performance and are trying, unconvincingly, to blend into the chorus.
Jon, for his part, is valiantly trying to pick up the game’s complicated choreography. An avowed baseball obsessive, Jon can tick off vital information about maybe two-thirds of all Major League Baseball players in the States. That’s why we’ve elected to sit in the bleachers, where only the most rabid fans plant themselves. By matter of chance, we’re seated with fans of the Yomiuri Giants, today battling it out against fellow Tokyoites, the Yakult Swallows (a Subway Series game!). I’ve seen Jon this exuberant only a handful of times before, and one of those was our wedding day earlier this month. Here, he’s howling and flopping around like a gaijin gone mad, which, I’m certain, is what ultimately grabs the attention of the group seated behind us.
There are about eight of them, all plastered on a potent mixture of 7-Up, green tea and cheap soju. The stuff has the intoxicating aroma of paint thinner. The ringleader shouts a slurred introduction in broken English: “Tomo Takahashi.” A Yomiuri Giants superfan, Tomo has a nearly perfect attendance record going back years. He and his companions met in the stands a decade and a half ago, and have religiously attended games together ever since. (Two of them even got hitched last week, he says, to each other!) Tomo thrusts red solo cups of green tea and soju into our hands, and just like that, we’re in.
It quickly becomes clear that I’ve underestimated Tomo’s status within our cheering section. Imagine being adopted by the godfather of Red Sox Nation or the New York Yankees’ Bleacher Creatures: it’s like that. Tomo snaps his fingers and two orange Giants scarfs come floating down from the higher stands—gifts, he says. Tomo snaps again. Red bean-filled confections appear, gifts from a Giants fan a few seats away. Tomo loudly introduces us to everyone: Come meet the American newlyweds who love baseball, he shouts.
By now, we’ve gotten the chants down. Mostly. Wrapped in Giants orange, we bop up and down with Tomo’s baseball family, erupting into elated shrieks when our man rounds home. The green tea and soju are flowing like gatorade in the bullpen, with more Asahi tallboys just for good measure. I’m so giddy watching the rippling, synchronized crowd that I don’t even realize that we’re losing. At the top of the ninth, Tomo calls it.