Opening Day “Wa”

(“Wa” is a Japanese term meaning “unity and team spirit.”)

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What a way to start the season! I officially lost my voice when Brandon Moss hit that game-tying home run in the top of the ninth inning off of Oakland’s ace reliever, Huston Street. How about that — a rookie gets an unexpected start on Opening Day japan-trip-sox-fan.jpgand makes it his best Major League game of his (short) career. Awesome.japan-trip-lugo-fan.jpg

Some observations about the fan experience:

1. I was very surprised at the relatively modest applause that Matsuzaka received at the beginning of the game. (When I say “relative,” I mean relativejapan-trip-nomo-fan.jpg to the kind of cheer that even someone like Dave japan-trip-father-and-daughter.jpgRoberts or Doug Mirabelli would receive upon returning to Fenway Park.) I expected the noise and excitement level to be so high, Tokyo Dome’s roof would blow off. Not even close. The fans’ applause was certainly enthusiastic, but definitely not memorable.

2. Once again, I was sort of unnerved by the total silence between pitches in thejapan-trip-clemens-fans.jpg first through third innings. Each pitch felt like (and sounded like) a serve at Wimbledon. All of us in the Red Sox Nation section half-expejapan-trip-mother-and-son.jpgcted an usher to kick us out when we cheered loudly for Youk, or Lowell, or whomever. But the place erupted when Okajima took the mound in the ninth, and the Dome stayed loudjapan-trip-varitek-fan.jpg after that (by “loud,” I mean “Fenway loud”).

3. The Japanese fans at Tokyo Dome were eager to celebrate with the fans from the U.S. during and after the game. They came over in waves to give us high-fives. While spontaneous, it was a very welcjapan-trip-drew-and-ortiz-fans.jpgoming gesture and an exhilarating cross-cultural experience for all invjapan-trip-kid-fans2.jpgolved.

4. You gotta love that after Manny was presented with the MVP Award (post-game ceremony), Hideki Okajima was presented with the “Fighting Spirit Award.” I read in Robert Whiting’s superb book on Japanese baseball, You Gotta Have Wa, that “the emphasis on making thejapan-trip-pedro-fan.jpg effort is sjapan-trip-little-girl-fan.jpgo strong in Japan that how hard a man tries is considered by many to be the ultimate measure of his worth. Results are almost secondary.”

5. After seeing the variety of Red Sox players’ names and numbers on the backs of Japanese fans’ t-shirts, I do not buy into the idea that Japanese fans are only fans of the Red Sox because of Matsuzaka and Okajima or because we recently won two World Series. Yes,japan-trip-manny-and-jacoby-fans.jpg Daisuke’s and Okie’s shirts are popular, but equally popular are Ortiz and Ramirez shirts. And I saw severajapan-trip-kid-fans-4.jpgl Garciaparra shirts and Clemens (Red Sox) shirts. Being a huge Nomar fan myself, I went up to all those Japanese fans wearing #5 and japan-trip-as-fans-at-sox-as-game.jpgwe had little five-second Nomar parties. (“Nomaaaaaaah!”)

6. And finally, if I were Hank Steinbrenner, I’d be very worried about falling way behind in the japan-trip-sox-fans-5.jpgglobal competition for fans. He can call Red Sox Nation whatever he wants to call it, but it doesn’t change the facts. The Red Sox have become an irresistible international sportsjapan-trip-as-and-sox-fan.jpg franchise whose popularity transcends the particular names on the roster, and little children around the globe are growing up chanting “Let’s Go Red Sox!” before they’ve even heard the word Yankees. japan-trip-yankees-fan-at-sox-as-game.jpgCertainly Japan, as these photos show, is squarely in the center of Red Sox Nation (although I did see one bold Yankees fan, who politely allowed me to photograph him for this blog… and there were some A’s fans too… so in the spirit of journalistic integrity, here they are).

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4 responses to “Opening Day “Wa”

  1. More, Rob!6:00 am here. Watched the warmup. Fun! Kep this hotstuff coming.

  2. Rob,

    As always … Excellent. Having been to the Dome to watch a Japan League game, I can really understand what you write about.

    I remember reading the Gotta have Wa book with you in senior English and doing a “walkabout” on it.

    We got to get you up to Portland to toss out the first pitch at a Seadogs game.

    Have a safe trip back.

    –Martin

  3. I’m in awe, that is a great article. My favorite quote had to be “Please take good care of Matsuzaka and Okajima.” It shows how highly they think of their athletes doesn’t it?

  4. Hi there – I met you at Game 2 in Tokyo – you gave me some Red Sox Nation stickers in Japanese – I am displaying them proudly next to my other Red Sox Nation stickers (the ones in English).

    Thought I would share my Tokyo Dome photos with you – they’re on Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/gp/75764734@N00/157Ms5

    Speaking of Japanese fans, I had a small group of Oakland fans sitting behind me at Game 1. The sound of their chant was so funny I put it up on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HjUF7_hKa0) I had two guys who are Fenway season ticket holders sitting next to me and they kept yelling New Zealand after this guys. It was great!

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