by Chris Jeon
The coming of the new school semester has brought the start of the baseball season. The University of Tokyo has become synonymous with world-class academic success, but few people would consider the institution to live up to its eminence in non-academic fields. While this perception is not without reason –most people would not dream of attending the University of Tokyo in hopes of becoming baseball players– attending events provide viewers with an oft-overlooked part of Japanese culture.
The University of Tokyo is a part of the Tokyo Big 6 Baseball League, which consists of six prominent universities in the Tokyo area:
- Hosei University
- Keio University
- Meiji University
- Rikkyo University
- Waseda University
- University of Tokyo
Games are typically played at Meiji Jingu Stadium (明治神宮野球場) in eight weekend seasons and have each of the six teams playing against each other in a series of three games, with the league champion being the team with the most overall series victories.
Immediately upon entering the stadium, one can see a stage-like area in the front of the seats where a male cheerleader of the ōendan (応援団) and several other cheerleaders directed the crowd in a multitude of cheers that helped to encourage the team and rile up the crowd.
A notable occurrence during the game was that as soon as the chance came for Todai’s team to switch from defense to offense, the entire atmosphere of the crowd changed. As soon as the players began to run back to prepare to bat, music began to blare as the cheerleaders ramped up their own enthusiasm and began roaming the aisles and introducing complex cheers. After the nine innings of the back and forth struggle for victory have concluded, the two teams conclude the game by bringing out their respective flags and singing their respective anthems.
Although Todai fans are likely to be disappointed at the fact that the team has yet to win a game this season (posting scores of 0-10 and 0-7 against Meiji University and Keio University, respectively), it should be noted that the games themselves, regardless of the outcome, provide viewers with a chance to experience a part of Japanese university culture. The contagious enthusiasm of the ōendan and the general feeling of kinship that one feels with a fellow supporter of the team make it difficult for any member of the crowd to truly detach him/herself from the viewing experience. Regardless of whether you are an avid baseball fan or a first-time watcher, it is worth going to watch at least one game whilst at Todai for a truly memorable experience.