Land of the Rising Sox

By Tracy Slater | Boston Magazine |

Different hemisphere, same crazed fans.

When the Red Sox play the Oakland A’s in Japan this month, locals will be fueled by Matsuzaka mania, a taste of American competition—and their country’s tradition of going bonkers for baseball. At fabled Koshien Stadium, fans perform choreographed cheers for each batter; in the seventh inning, they simultaneously release thousands of balloons.

And yet while the Sox contests will be played in Tokyo, the real frenzy may be in Kyoto. Not only is it Hideki Okajima’s hometown, but there’s even a bar there called Fenway Park (pronounced “Fenway Pak-u”), opened by local fan Yasuyuki Ohta in 2005. Like many Kyoto-ites, he loves the Sox for their resemblance to the nearby Hanshin Tigers, who finally won a pennant in 2003 after decades in the shadow of Tokyo’s Yomiuri Giants.

“Tigers fans are crazy, crazy,” Ohta says, recalling how they’ve celebrated wins by leaping into Osaka’s highly polluted Dotonbori River. “But Boston fans, more wild,” he says. Then, as he turns to serve a customer another “Sam Adams beer-u,” his grin widens. “Or maybe, both are the same.”

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