Baseball, once America’s favorite sport and pastime, is an unlikely hit in Japan. As with yoshoku cuisine, a mix of Japanese flavors married with Western recipes, Japanese baseball emerged during the Meiji era, as Japan began to incorporate more Western practices. Horace Wilson, an American English teacher at Kaisei University, was the first to introduce baseball to Japan in 1872. Other American teachers and missionaries helped to spread Japanese baseball around resulting in the formation of university and high school leagues.
A Japanese baseball club’s victory over a team of American baseball legends like Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, and Charlie Gehringer helped to not only generate wide press coverage but also encouraged the development of Japan’s first professional league. In the 1950s American teams like the San Francisco Seals and the Brooklyn Dodgers began coming to Japan to compete against Japanese baseball teams.
Aside from this brief history, what is it about baseball that endears it to Japanese people? Some suggest that the discipline, hard work, and team focus of baseball appeals to the Japanese work ethic. Whatever it is, in Japan baseball is a big and thriving business.
In Japan, baseball games are on a whole other level than American baseball games. Fans sporting jerseys and caps cheer players on alongside a live brass band. They cheer for their favorite team waving rally towels, balloons, and even mini umbrellas. It doesn’t stop at wearing team color paraphernalia, fans shout out a unique cheer for each player on the roster. Yakult Swallows fans are particularly well known for their spirited umbrella dance. Fans will cheer and raise their umbrellas in the air after a good play and again in the seventh inning.
But let’s not forget about the snacks. In Japan baseball and food go hand in hand. You will see uriko young women hauling kegs of beer up and down the stands. Each uriko wears a uniform for the type of beer they’re serving, making it easier for fans to select their preferred brew. Aside from beer, you will still find popcorn in concession stands. But the most popular stadium eats go beyond a simple bag of popcorn. Food like takoyaki (fried Japanese octopus balls), yakisoba (pan-fried noodles), ramen, edamame, grilled wieners, curry rice, and donburi (rice bowls) are among the most popular snacks.
If you want to bring a taste of Japan to your at-home baseball viewing experience, add some tasty Japanese snacks for your typical hot dog or wings. For a Japanese baseball spin on the classic standby baseball snack, try Mike Popcorn: Butter Soy Sauce Flavor. This brand of popcorn is well-known for its unique flavors, but butter and soy sauce is actually a common flavor pairing in Japan. The rich buttery flavor pairs nicely with the umami-rich savory soy sauce. If you’re looking for something totally new and different, grab a bag of Takoyaki Tei Corn Puffs, an airy crunchy puffed snack inspired by takoyaki.
Or if you’re looking for a meal with more substance, make your own curry rice. Bokksu Market sells a variety of instant curry sauce packs that make whipping up a batch of Japanese curry as easy as can be. Start simple with the Yokohama Curry. Just open the package, pour the sauce into a microwave-safe bowl, heat up, and pour over cooked rice. Feel free to add your favorite veggies like cooked potatoes, carrots, and onions, or even a protein of your choice to round out the meal.
So next time you’re in Japan try to check out a Japanese baseball game. It’ll be a viewing experience you won’t forget and an opportunity to eat some truly unique baseball snacks. Until then, satisfy your craving with delicious Japanese baseball-inspired snacks that will have you jumping for joy.