Why the NPB is Better Than the MLB vol. 1: The Fans/Atmosphere

courtesy of sethskim
courtesy of Boston.com

You tell me which picture makes you excited to go to a game...
Ah, the cliched controversial blog post. To quickly quell any confusion, I don't think a team of the best NPB players could beat the best players in the MLB on a consistent basis as verified by the Major League Baseball Japan All Star Series (a mouthful, I know). As evidenced by the World Baseball Classic, however, Japan is superior to every country when it comes to winning games as a nation. This is not necessarily a reflection of talent or skill, rather, it displays the importance that Japan places on the team game and the passion that they have for the sport. More on the team aspect in another post.

Fans are a special group of people. They put a great deal of effort into following their favorite team and cheering them to victory, or so goes the trite phrase. The fact is, many American fans spend half the game booing their own players. The other half is spent booing the opposing team. Unless you use the Yogi Berra method of mathematics this leaves little time to support the team and "will" them to victory. Don't get me started on other sports that display even less class within the fan base.

                                                                   You said it Wayne!

In this way aren't all fans fair weather fans? When the team wins or the player performs well, they cheer loudly and talk about how devoted they are to the team and how much it means to them that they are excelling. Observe that same fan at the game after a few losses and they are booing with all their might. I've heard all the arguments; the fans pay...
to see the game, they can act however they wish. This is all fine and dandy, but don't go telling me how much you love your team and how you have stood with them through thick and thin. Yea you stood with them, you stood next to them and booed at them when they needed support. The fan has every right to boo their team and I completely agree that they deserve that right. On the other hand, I think it's so refreshing to see fans who support their team regardless of how they are performing (unless of course, there is a lack of effort, in that case, boo your heart out).

You will not hear Japanese fans boo whether they are winning 5-0 or on their way to an 8th straight loss. It hasn't entered their wildest dreams and I have talked to more than one Japanese fan who is utterly perplexed at the American fans fixation with the "boo." They believe that they owe it to the players to support them no matter the score. This is not only a respectful relationship between players and fans, it can actually improve the morale of a slumping player. I remember a quote by Benny Agbayani (former New York Met and Chiba Lotte Marine) where he said he didn't want to let the Japanese fans down when they chanted his name. In stark contrast, it can't help your confidence to hear a chorus of boos every time your name is announced in your home stadium. The fans that solely reinforce their team are actually doing more to support their team. The reality is that the Japanese fans are more passionate about baseball. The MLB has taken a backseat to the NFL as America's game. Bobby Valentine, longtime NPB and MLB manager hit the nail on the head when he said "Japan is, I believe, the last major country on earth where baseball is truly the National pastime." (The Zen of Bobby V)

Bobby Valentine is a perfect subject to study when it comes to understanding the fans of Japan. After several successful years with the Chiba Lotte Marines, Bobby was told that his contract would not be renewed. As occurred with the Mets, the main reason for his disposal was his relationship with upper management. The fans, who adored Bobby, were crestfallen and went to war for him. They had a petition with over 100,000 signatures begging for management to change their mind. Management was unmoved and a decent amount of the fans, loyal to the end, have stopped attending games. While drastic, this shows the unwavering loyalty that the Japanese fans possess. (It is ironic that in showing their loyalty they actually turned their back on the team, however, remember that this is an extraordinary scenario and shows the level of commitment they have to someone who has given their all for them.)

An emotional goodbye to the fans in his last game. credit to yakyubaka.com
The tradition and atmosphere is in the spirit of the Japanese people. The organization and discipline is paralleled only by Full Metal Jacket's recruit training and the noise and revelry can only be matched by a college football game. Every batter can be distinguished by their unique anthem. The trumpets blare catchy tunes while the fans bang thundersticks together in unison to form the percussion. For vocals, a unified chorus sings the players' songs (seemingly everyone in the stadium knows the words). Even more enchanting is the various styles of cheer that every team has. In Hiroshima, the Carp have fans that mimic jumping fish by alternating sitting and standing between all the rows. The Swallows pull out mini umbrellas and thrust them in the air as the classic folk song, "Tokyo Ondo" plays.

Since fans travel well in Japan, this has potential to be a volatile situation. However, the respect and class of the Japanese people endures. Only the fans of the team that is batting sing their songs. Of course, the fans of the defensive team can make all the noise they want, but the trumpets and chants remain silent. This adds to the beauty of Japanese baseball. Everything is centered on the game being played on the field, but there is a palpable competition element in the stands. Who can cheer their team to victory? Who can be louder? It is certainly an experience that can only be described as the perfect sports environment. The videos do no justice to the real thing.

The environment of the game goes a long way for me. Obviously, every one is different, and your surroundings at a game may not matter to you. Personally, the booing is all fine for me and it doesn't affect me at American games. In Japan, however, the fanfare and singing actually draw me in. As cheesy as it is, it makes you feel as though you are part of the game. This is one reason that the NPB is better than the MLB.

Look for more posts on the subject soon.

© 2011, copyright Julian Jowise


  1. I'm an American and no-no-no, trumpets and sticks are gimmicks! One kid with a trumpet drowns out 100 trying to cheer with their voice. We saw that with the last World Cup, it's annoying. But at least they seem more organized with that hardware and are having fun. Nice to hear they are respectfull to traveling fans. In the US fights break out and sometimes people die. How stupid!

  2. @Vernon I agree it CAN be gimmicky but allow me to explain.

    The World Cup and the vuvuzelas are completely different in my opinion. These were plastic horns that anyone (and everyone) blew into with all their might with no organization and no scale. It was just a extremely annoying and loud buzz. I will use the Tampa Bay Rays and their cowbells as another example. Pure gimmick! It started when they made the playoffs and really didn't have a purpose.

    Now to the NPB. The trumpet players are selected and all play together to lead the cheers. There is no rogue trumpet playing its own tune. And it's a tradition that has been around for a long time which I also think makes it above a gimmick. "If a gimmick sticks, it's not a gimmick." I can see your point though, it's definitely not for everybody!

    And a shame about some fans; the SF Giants fan being beaten by the Dodgers fan was disheartening to hear.


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