As Japanese as Coca Cola and baseball

Yesterday I ranted on Facebook about the fact that pretzels in Japan weren't really pretzels. Just pretzel shaped cookies. And a friend commented: "Exactly why everyone should travel. We need to know that things aren't always what they appear to be!"

I've been thinking about that since I arrived in Kobe. What's more American that Coca Cola and baseball, right? Both were invented in the US over a hundred years ago. Really, truly, American classics. Unless you are in Japan.

If you've been reading any of these blog posts you're probably aware that I am fascinated by Coca Cola's marketing in Japan. Not just the seasonal and oddball flavors (peach, Plus, clear, frozen squeeze pouches) but the souvenir aluminum bottles from different regions of the country. I already have three of them, that are in a box, somewhere between Japan and Philadelphia. I've been shipping miscellaneous souvenirs and things I don't need home via the Japan post office. They know me well in the local branch, and wince when they see me coming.

But I digress ... A new souvenir bottle has just been released in Kobe, but it doesn't say "神戸" (Kobe) on it. It says "甲子" Koshien. Hmm, I wondered. I knew the local baseball stadium was named Hanshin Koshien Stadium. My friends Mike, a Japanese baseball fan, and Eva had gone to a game there when they were here in June. I wondered why Coca Cola would chose the name of the baseball stadium rather than the city.

It turns out there is some really interesting history to the stadium. The stadium, opened on August 1, 1924, was built to host the national high school baseball tournaments, not a major league baseball team. Babe Ruth played in an exhibition game there in 1934. It didn't become home to a major league team until 1936 when it became home for the Osaka (now Hanshin) Tigers. It is still host to the annual National High School Baseball Championship, a huge event that culminates in a two-week final tournament stage with 49(!) teams in August, as well as the The National High School Baseball Invitational Tournament in March. What's most interesting is that the high school tournaments are given a higher priority, with any tournament games that need to be rescheduled forcing the Tigers to postpone conflicting home games. Can you imagine ... ? The Hanshin Tigers play only away games during the high school tournament.

The stadium has an interesting look to it. I had watched a game on TV that was played there and was curious about the look of the infield. I asked Mike what it was and he said, "It's dirt. All dirt. It's always been that way." And from what I can find on line, it may cause problems for the infielders, but that dirt is hallowed ground in Japan. Of the high school tournament one writer says, about "the gathering of the dirt" ... Losing teams typically scoop infield soil into their bags as a memento of having played on Japan’s most hallowed field. For graduating players, to lose means their high school careers are over. Finished. Done. Caput. A career symbolized forever by that last handful of dirt."

Another writer talks about his experience going to a Hanshin Tigers game. "Make sure you buy Hanshin Tigers balloons before the game so that you can participate in the Tigers' 7th inning stretch tradition of launching balloons into the air. It's quite the experience."

Too bad it's over 40 degrees C here, or I might see if there was a game tonight or tomorrow. Sounds like a lot of fun. Check out their official links of all the things you can do at a game ... at Enjoy Koshien. I particularly like that they have a separate plan for women to enjoy the park! Well, this is Japan.



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