Day 2 of our Japanese baseball tour moved us to Kyoto. We chose to stay in Kyoto for a few days, since it was the ancient capital of Japan and would afford us an up close view of Japan the way it used to be. My brother chose a hotel close to Kyoto Station, as we would be traveling on the Shinkansen the next three days.
After the rainy and humid conditions in Tokyo, the sunshine in Kyoto was a welcome relief. Following an early breakfast, we went out exploring nearby Kyoto. The hotel was located within walking distance of MANY temples, as well as parks. Walking through local neighborhoods on the way to see the temples, we could not help but notice vending machines nearly everywhere. As we later find out, vending machines are ubiquitous throughout Japan.
About ten minutes from the hotel, we found the grand complex of Higashi Hongan-ji. There are several temples and shrines in the complex, spread out over a few city blocks. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the complex contains the largest wooden tower in Japan, the five story Pagoda. This structure may be one of the most recognizable in Kyoto, and is spotlighted at night.
The largest structure in the complex is Kondo Hall (pictured above). Not accessible to the public (like most of the structures here), the Hall is the centerpiece of the temple. Strolling through the complex, we could almost feel the spirituality. It didn’t take long to see why Kyoto is so popular with tourists and Japanese alike.
Ambling through the complex, we came upon a manmade pond. Within the pond we saw some of the locals, soaking up the late September sun. Having spent more than two hours at the temple, we headed back to the hotel before leaving for Nishinomiya. The visit to the temple had me looking forward to what else we might see in Kyoto in the coming days.
1. Getting to Nishinomiya
Going to see the Hanshin Tigers take on the Yomiuri Giants at historic Koshien Stadium, we would need to take the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen from Kyoto Station to Osaka Station. The trip took roughly 30 minutes, with three stops. After arriving at Osaka Station, we walked across the street to the Osaka-Umeda Station to catch the local train to Koshen Stadium.
Like many train stations in Japan, the Osaka-Umeda Station seemed like a labyrinth of platforms and escalators. While we knew we had to take the Hanshin Line to the stadium, it wasn’t immediately clear where that was in the station. In addition to the Hanshin Line, there was the Hanshin Railway (a private line). The distinction caused some consternation, but once we determined where we needed to get Hanshin Line, we were ready to head to the stadium.
Not surprisingly, the train was packed with Tigers fans headed to the stadium. The trip to Koshien Station took about 20 minutes, with a walk of just a couple of minutes from there to the stadium.
2. Koshien Stadium
Koshien Stadium is a unique ballpark in many ways. It is the oldest ballpark in Japan, having opened in 1926. It is one of only four major league stadiums still in use in which Babe Ruth played (the others being Meiji Jingu Stadium in Shinjuku, Fenway Park in Boston and Wrigley Field in Chicago). Koshien Stadium is the only remaining NPB ballpark with an all dirt infield.
It was against this backdrop that we entered Koshien Stadium. My brother had a QR code for our game tickets, and obtained our tickets via QR scanner at the stadium. Unlike the tickets we had in Tokyo, these tickets were more difficult to read. We asked a stadium employee which gate we should enter, and the answer was not clear. In order to find the gate, we had to nearly circle the stadium.
When visiting the TokyoDome the day before, we were able to walk around from section to section, taking pictures. This was not the case at Koshien Stadium. Security made it clear that we were to stay in our area, which limited our ability to take pictures of the stadium.
The stadium was packed, with a sold out crowd there to see the Tigers take on the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants. Clouds gradually filled in during the early afternoon, and by the 1400 start, skies were overcast, but seemingly no threat of rain. Even with cloudy skies, the beauty of the ballpark shined through. The stadium dates back to the 1920s, and possessed some of the charms of an older ballpark. Koshien Stadium has a feel similar to that of Wrigley Field (before its modernization). However, the stadium did not show its age, being maintained and groomed well. From the first look, it was clear that this was a classic ballpark; a great place to see a ballgame.
Our seats were located near the left field corner, less than 10 rows from the action. We were located next to the visitors section in Koshien Stadium. As we would learn, there is a visitors section in each NPB ballpark, but not all are in the same part of the park. It was interesting to be so close to the Giants fans, who were indefatigable throughout the game. You can experience the Giants fans chanting here.
The game itself was a tight affair, scoreless after 5 innings. The Giants opened the scoring with a run in the top of the 6th, with the Tigers answering in the bottom of the 7th. A single run in the top of the 8th provided to be the winning run for the Giants, who triumphed 2-1. Toward the end of the game, the sun tried to break out, resulting in a very striking cloud pattern late.
The game time was about three hours and 30 minutes. Unlike MLB games, nobody seemed to be concerned about the pace of play. In fact, we saw a fan served a beer with two out in the bottom of the 9th inning. As we left the stadium, we noticed fans still milling around their sections, slow to exit the ballpark. Clearly, NPB fans see the game as more of an event, and these fans were in no hurry to leave.
Koshien Stadium proved to be a classic ballpark, in the vein of Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. My brother commented this was the stadium he wanted to see on this trip, and it was well worth the effort. Should I ever find my way back to Osaka, I’ll do my best to revisit this place.
The train ride back to Osaka was not quite as crowded as the trip to Nishinomiya, a benefit of a lingering fan base. After arriving in Osaka, a quick walk across the street brought us to the Shinkansen and the ride back to Kyoto. Arriving after dark, we walked back toward the Toji Temple to get a look at the Pagoda at night.