Japan Trip - Seibu Dome

>> Thursday, April 15, 2010

Welcome to the Seibu Dome, home of the Saitama Seibu Lions! Saitama is about 45 minutes west of Tokyo by train, but I live on the west side of the city, so it was doable in an evening for me. I'd read good things about the Lions, and the stadium, so I was eager to see how it differed from a Swallows game at Jingu stadium.

The Seibu Lions are owned by the Seibu Railway. You'd think it would be easy to get to the stadium on the Seibu railway, and while you certainly have to take Seibu trains to get there, it involves a few tedious transfers from Seibu line to line. Or perhaps using a lot of their trains is exactly what you would expect. The line that takes you to the Seibu Dome dead ends there too, so you get the feeling they built an attraction to give people a reason to use the line. Clever in a business sense (and a strategy employed by other lines with railway-owned department stores and theaters), but frustrating as a fan trying to casually pop in and see a game.

The Seibu Dome was always a baseball stadium, but it wasn't always a dome. Until 1998, Seibu Stadium was open air, and, reputedly, one of the most magnificent open-air ballparks in Japan. Set into a hillside and facing out, it offered what was a stunning view of the surrounding mountains and forests, and didn't stand out like a concrete monolith on the landscape. Then, in a drive to keep up with a dome craze sweeping new stadiums in Japan around the turn of the century, the owner of the stadium went insane and decided to cover the beautiful little stadium. He at least decreed that the dome just be a roof, thus making it both a domed and open-air stadium at the same time. (The only other covered stadium in the world with a permanent opening is Safeco Field in Seattle.)

From outside, you can see in, which is kind of cool.

The dome is like a giant UFO that descended on a little ball park, complete with metal landing struts.

The cheery blossoms were still in bloom, and you could see them through the "cut" in the stadium, between the dome and the stands. Again though, you could have seen all of them, and more, without the roof.

The view from the turf-covered fan section in the outfield. This area used to have natural grass, but of course that had to be replaced when the roof went on. You can see the bright light of day through the cut out.

I love the overall design of this stadium, roof not considered. Since it's built into a hillside, the walkway to the more expensive seats means climbing the broad, gentle slope around the edges. This is where all the food stalls and bathrooms are located too, in a ring around the ballpark. No diving into caves under the stands here when you leave to get snacks. It made you feel as though you were still outdoors. Even the bathrooms were open to the outside, with walls that left off around eight feet up and didn't reach the ceiling!

The whole place is built to handle rain water that blows in through the cut too, with neat channels unobtrusively cut into the concrete floors to funnel water away. Those aren't the channels there on the ground in this picture--not sure what those are. Here though you can see the transition from cherry blossoms to concession stands to seats. Pretty neat.

The scene from where I sat. Once again, not a big crowd on hand in the more expensive seats. More people showed up as the game got under way. All games start at 6 p.m. here on weekdays, making me wonder how they expect any of their working fans to have enough time to get home after work, have something to eat, and then get out to the ballpark--and that's assuming they leave at 5 p.m. I get done with school at 3 p.m., and I often feel like I'm pushing it to get to some of these stadiums on time for the first pitch.

The scoreboard in center. Again, you can see how this stadium's design might have been really neat against the landscape without the dome over it. The top of the outfield picnic area comes up to ground level outside. The right side picnic area would soon fill up with Orix Buffaloes fans, the Lions' opponents this day.

The Seibu oendan (fan section), getting an early start on the revelry. I have to say though, the Lions fans let their cheers end every now and then, to be followed by awkward silences. The silences were only 15-20 seconds or so, but when the fans sing non-stop while their team is batting, you really notice it when it stops. I was a little embarrassed for them. The Swallows fans at Jingu stadium would never have allowed that to happen.

I sat on the home fans' side, so my section is a lot more full than the Orix side of the stadium. By now the game is underway, and night has fallen. It was sunny and warm this day, which is why I chose the day to go to the ballpark. (I knew it was a dome, but I knew it was open-air too.) As soon as the sun went down though, my meager t-shirt and light jacket were not enough. I shivered the whole time, huddled up with hands in pockets when I wasn't taking pictures, and reminded myself (repeatedly) to check the weather forecast ahead of time when traveling outside the city.

A shot of the field from a little lower down.

The super fans weren't limited to the outfield picnic areas; this guy had the fans around him rolling all night with his antics, most of which seemed to be songs and chants from Lions' eras gone by. Middle-aged fans encouraged him, sometimes getting up to sing and dance with him, and he brought cue cards for younger fans who didn't know the old songs.

The Seibu Lions have cheerleaders of a more western sort too. If I was shivering in my jeans and jacket, these girls must have been freezing. Get those girls some pants and sweatshirts!

Around the middle of the sixth inning, people began blowing up big condom-shaped balloons. Japanese seventh-inning stretches were once notorious for these, but after health scares many stadiums have over-reacted (IMHO) and banned the things. Not the Lions! Everyone sat ready, and after a group song (ala Take Me Out to the Ballgame, but not that) they all let fly their balloons at once. Awesome! I shot some video of it, but I'm having technical difficulties. I think I'll get them hammered out, but it'll have to be a later post.

I liked the happi coats the Lions fans wore. Drums were bigger here than trumpets, though they had those too. The pounding of the drums really reverberated in the dome. You could yell and be heard a long way too--a man down from me had a megaphone (and old-fashioned, non-electronic cone-shaped one like cheerleaders use), and was taken aback the first time he hollered through it and his voice blasted out as far as the field. (At least it seemed to be loud enough to carry that far from where we were.) I was certainly impressed.

I made a few trips in to the bathrooms, and though the toilet seats were not heated, as I had hoped (I was looking for any warmth I could find!) I was really impressed by the design and cleanliness of the bathroom. That black part of the wall above the checkerboard tiles on the left? That's not wall at all, but open air! When it was light out, you could see the sakura while you were peeing. Very zen.

I liked this baseball shaped mirror too. How, I hear you ask, was I able to snap pics of an empty bathroom? I slipped in while the Lions were at bat! Somebody came in right after this though, so I had to hide the camera and make a run for it. The lengths I go to for the Gratz Industries blog!

Next up, a trip to Musashino-no-mori Park to see how the Japanese spend their free time when they're not at baseball games or drinking under the sakura...


Bonnie J. Doerr April 15, 2010 at 4:39 PM  

Alan, your blog is always full of such fun and adventure. For that Gratz Industries blog has won a Sunshine Award. You can learn morea about this at http://www.bonnieblogsgreen.blogspot.com/

tanita davis April 16, 2010 at 5:09 AM  

Colonel Sanders, condom balloons, and Zen urinals.

Really -- the mind boggles.

Ken Martin May 28, 2010 at 10:09 AM  

Dear Gratz Industries:

How great to see you dropped by what I like to call "my home stadium!" I love the Lions. In the CL though, I'm a Swallows fan (I know...maybe next year).

I just discovered your blog as I was searching for recycled broken bat ohashi. Kattobashi

I have lived in the Tokyo area for the last 4 years, and last season I joined Bob Bavasi's JapanBall.com tour of 12 NPB ballparks.

I'm moving to Okinawa in July, so the only baseball I'll get will be spring training. If you'd like, stay in touch, and I'll see what I can do re. Okinawa Spring Training 2011.

Thanks for sharing your insights...maybe I'll get the chance to see more of your travels in the next few days!


Alan Gratz May 29, 2010 at 8:00 AM  

Hey Ken, thanks for dropping by and leaving a note!

I loved the Seibu Dome, and took my family back one more time when they got to Japan to visit me and travel. We went during Golden Week too, so it was packed. What a great atmosphere!

I too became a Swallows fan, particularly as Jingu was the closest (and best!) stadium to me without going all the way out to Saitama. Too bad they stink this year! But my real adopted team is the Hiroshima Carp. I've been a fan for a long time, prior to my Japan trip even, due to their resemblance to my favorite childhood team, the Cincinnati Reds.

And I'm so jealous of you taking the JapanBall trip. That's been on my radar for some years now, and I'd love to go back to Japan and hit all the ballparks I couldn't get to last time!

Enjoy Okinawa! I hear it's beautiful.

ktwoa@yahoo.com,  June 13, 2010 at 8:03 AM  

Dear Alan,

Thanks for your kind reply!

I went to Seibu Dome yesterday (Saturday) with my friend, Akihiro, who, like you, is a huge Hiroshima Toyo Carp fan. The Carp won handily 6-2 coming back from 2-0.

I hope you are well and enjoying the World Cup!


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