Sunday, July 14, 2019

2019 Japan Trip Report: Kanto Leg

My first career trip to Japan took place in June of 2019 during a portion of the interleague season. Call it a long time coming, call it overdue, but it finally came. Due to some crazy workload since coming back combined with a busy season picking up, it has been hard to put together a post about my trip and travels through observation. 

I live tweeted anything I saw on @GraveyardBall throughout the time, but rather than do everything in 140 characters, I'll summarize my day by day adventures here by each leg. 

Day 0: Hawaii Layover

The Prince Hotel can be seen in gold, as the sun rose near Waikiki Beach.
Rather than go in one long light from California like most would, I had an extended layover in Hawaii for 13 hours and caught up with a friend. From a few meals to a walk around Waikiki at night, I saw the Prince Hotel while wandering around the streets in Honolulu. 

Of course any NPB fans would know Prince Hotels are one of the many things that the Seibu Lions own and the their Prince Waikiki is one of three stateside properties. Wes, the founder of his blog, has stayed at several of these prior to being a Lions fan. Quietly, he's been donating to the Lions unconsciously. 


Day 1: Arrival

Even through customs, it was funny when I wrote I was here for Baseball or 野球 on my card. The security guard got a smile out of it. 

Got through the airport no problem and this was probably the only scary part of the trip for me. The SIM card I purchased prior to departing failed and had to give in to Pocket Wifi. Therefore, I donated about $100+ to the Softbank Hawks, you're welcome.  

What made this nerve wrecking was how I didn't get the address of my crash site until I landed and then navigated on the fly. After picking up the JR Pass, I got the first train experience going through the edge of Chiba prefecture and calmly looked at the paper map I was given.  

When transferring at Akihabara station, I won't forget how someone approached me in Google Translate and felt excited to see a Lions tourist as I was decked out looking at the train map on my ride. This man was willing to help me even though I was going far away. We exchanged contact before I transferred at Ikebukuro. 

After a first Seibu Train experience, I arrive at Higashikurume station and tried following Google Maps to the address I was given. Of course this was a newcomer mistake given it took me through the back streets and I got the full street views as a result through the neighborhoods. 

It was an unforgettable experience when two strangers (with no English) helped me find the place after I couldn't see the address at night and eventually I found the key. Even in my broken Japanese with incomplete sentences, they knew what I was looking for. I wanted to tip them badly for spending 35+ minutes searching for my crash spot. Eventually I just relaxed after walking to a 7-11 to print the prepaid game tickets.  


Day 2: First game, main tourist spot

I head over to the old Tsukiji Fish Market even though the auctions take place elsewhere. Specifically one egg omelette spot from an infamous BuzzFeed video which made me happy it was ¥100 a piece. 

Couldn't help but buy two of them as with the dashi flavor, it was amazing. I also bought Tuna on a stick for ¥500. Probably a little touristy and maybe a trap, but tasty. Walking around the market was still fun even with it being a tourist thing. 

The only thing I laughed at was some Kimchi sample that had no spice or kick. Guess Japan doesn't like the flavor in Kimchi eh?  It was a fun walk down the streets because I woke up early (slightly after the sun at 5:00AM) and there wasn't any crazy crowds. 

Strolling down the Sumida River was also a fun bonus. 


After buying a few souvenirs for friends it was time to head to MetLife Dome and pickup my first ever game attended. Seeing the building after leaving the main train station still had me in awe, only because it was nice to not see this place through a\ computer screen. 

On the field, this game was a dud with the Yomiuri Giants having their way against Chun-Lin Kuo. Regardless for my first career sighting of MetLife Dome, it was something to sink in seeing all the scoreboards and fans in action. 

Also in a hilarious manner, Ginjiro Sumitani's HR went right to my section. Had I been more aggressive, the ball almost got to me. 

Day 3: More exploring of Kanto

I spent the day going around Shibuya and walking around Jingu Stadium. The first photo from this post came from Shinjuku station. It was a nice walk and the tourism didn't feel as heavy or crowded
at least.


The real gem was walking to the Selection Int store in Shinjuku where there is a great amount of choices for NPB gear if needed. Wouldn't say it's the best or the cheapest, but for anyone that is only staying in Kanto, it is a decent option to find NPB stuff. I mostly purchased for other people while I didn't take much for myself inside. 

I did notice how some teams had cheaper quality replica uniforms while others had their uniform suppliers like Majestic or Descente make them. Was interesting to note.  

This time I made sure to walk around the exterior of MetLife Dome and saw the Indoor practice facility painting the logos on it as they were putting the finishing touches in. Was something to also see the new store which opened earlier this month. I ended up going through the old store which was inside the Seibu indoor skiing facility. 

You can definitely see the contrast in the new dorms (above) versus what the old dorms from Seibu II (below) look like in difference. It was fenced off when I was there, but the walk ways should be open today, like the store on the left side of the stadium entrance. 


As for the game itself, it was a fun exciting blowout as Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura smashed his 18th career grand slam, which is a category he already has the NPB record for. The place was rocking and it made me happy.


This time I was able to nab some food, including the Ernesto Mejia beef plate and some Lions Yaki (Taiyaki variant). Because they were playing the Swallows, they had a special flavor with a Yakult taste to it besides tehir custard cream default. I missed on the Mango from the previous game against the Giants. Couldn't believe I waited 40 minutes for two snacks. 

 The real bonus was the on-field hangout after the game. From throwing a pitch on the mound to even catching one from kids, it was fun. A few fans approached me in broken English while I responded in my broken Japanese. The man pictured here is a college student Shishito, who was very good with his English saying he enjoys my tweets and posts to practice.

All in all, this was a fun day from the win and the other activities.

Also if you didn't already know, the Lions post the scoreboard at all their Seibu train stations, so you don't need social media to find out who won or lost. 


Day 4: Final Home game

I spent the early afternoon in Iruma, Saitama hanging out with locals and kids with some friends from Hope Alive that I know. Lots of fun talking with the kids and practicing Japanese/English besides food. Was a fun little gathering before I went to the game. 

As for the game itself, I did purchase the Tomoya Mori bento box and it had some thrills with a big bases-clearing double from Okawari-kun, but Tatsushi Masuda blew it in the top of the 9th for a Lions loss. Regardless, I made a friend just asking about what Ikkyu is when I saw an add.

I also went on the field for the after-game hangout. Wondering how much electricity this costs? Even though it was raining, I'm thankful MetLife Dome has a roof, or else I wouldn't have been able to see this one! 

My scorekeeping kept me watching, though it was tricky given a few things happen very fast. MetLife Dome's scoreboards don't show all the details outside of a few things behind home plate, so you're really forced to watch closely. 


In a very random surprise, I went to an Onsen experience right in Higashikurume with my friends at Hope Alive. I didn't have this in the travel plans, but I'm thankful I got to do it, because it didn't feel like some place to go alone. 

From what I observed, it was cool seeing fathers and sons there together besides bonding with some of the teams I saw that just arrived. This is definitely something to do with people you know. 


Day 5: Last Full day in Kanto

I chose to do some hiking around Saitama prefecture hearing about the hills and Hachikuyama park. Ended up walking around Lake Tama and seeing MetLife Dome and even Mt. Fuji from the distance.

If anyone is familiar with My Neighbor Totoro,  Hachikokuyama is where the artists stood and drew the landscape for the film. I had to go through given it's in Tokorozawa. I also walked through another park called "Totoro's Forest" which is a preserved area and has graphics on their maps.  This was a nice little walk through nature. 


Without even trying, I walked to MetLife Dome given I had to take the train elsewhere to get to Hope Alive. I ended up donating some money to the Lions through buying a Sosuke Genda Bento box and a Chocolate Banana Crepe (Kona Takahashi's dessert). It is a nice bonus you can just walk around the exterior and have plenty of stadium food without going to the game. 


I walked through the Tokorozawa probe which was a nice stroll before my final night in Kanto at Kokukoen. I didn't have time to see the Aviation museum, which is a significant part of flight history that took place in Tokorozawa. 

This was a fun little hangout after a service with Hope Alive as we played cornhole, sang songs and continued to hangout as the sun set. Was a nice quiet park to walk through.

My final meal from Kanto was some fried chicken (Tori-ten/Tendon) with Udon with Hope Alive inside Tokorozawa Station. Was a fun time and I'd like to once again thank Hope Alive for bringing some extra experiences to my time in Kanto.


Majority of my meals in Kanto came from a convenience store, whether it was 7-11, Family Mart or Lawson. My food portion really came in the Following area. The next leg of this trip was in Nagoya... which is something I'll save for my next post.

Matane, MetLife Dome. 



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