Chaos and Kanji is the blog where I write about my adventures through Japan!

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Sunday, February 9, 2020

The (Temporary?) End of a Japanese Baseball Institution

Attending a Japanese baseball game brings with it a few differences from Major League baseball. But for the time being, at least one of the "quirks" of Japanese baseball has been banned.

Fan experience in Japan essentially means interactivity. Or at least, perceived interactivity. Japanese fans cheer in unison, chanting "unique" songs for every player (really, many of them have the same melody, and just include the player's name and a couple other words).

Fans in Japan - anime, idol girl music groups, and baseball - often feel like they are a part of the production. The word "supporter" often comes up when I talk to my students. They "support" their favorite anime (or anime character) by buying merchandise. They "support" their favorite girl by buying her souvenirs, or buying lots of CDs to give her more votes. And they "support" their baseball team by singing and clapping.

One song you'll always hear is sung when their team comes to bat in the seventh inning. Similar to the seventh inning stretch in the US, at the top of the seventh, the visiting team's fans sing their team's fight song, and in the middle of the seventh, the home team sings along.
For many teams, the song's climax is celebrated by releasing long phallic balloons into the air, resulting in a loud screeching sound as they deflate and flutter around the stands.

But thanks to fears surrounding the coronavirus, the balloon release has been banned by the Tigers and the BayStars. There are teams that don't use balloons at all anyway - the Swallows fans wave little umbrellas in the air. And I'm sure other teams, like the Hawks, Buffaloes, and Golden Eagles, will also ban the balloons in the near future if they haven't already. 

And while this ban seems to be only during the teams' spring training games, I could see it continuing on for a while into the season. And while it's a spectacle to see in person, it's quite wasteful - something like 20 million balloons (assuming 40,000 balloons at 500 games) per year. (It probably brings in some big cash for the teams, though - the balloons tend to run about $1 each.)


  1. It's apparently against the law to shoot off jet balloons in Tokyo which is why the GIants and Swallows don't do it. I also think there's something about the balloons interfering with the ventilation system at Tokyo Dome - I vaguely remember some announcement about it at the WBC games I went to back in 2013.

    I love watching the balloons and I launched a few myself last year but, yeah, it's wasteful and unsanitary.

  2. It makes total sense to me as well - better safe than sorry. There is a lot of unfounded paranoia regarding the outbreak, but at the same time, the balloons do just randomly land on top of people's heads as they fall down... not the most sanitary event. And as one article I read states, this sort of temporary ban happened about a decade ago to prevent the spread of another virus.

  3. Wow. I'm not some crazy environmentalist or anything like that... but 20 million balloons which probably mostly end up in the trash definitely seems like a waste. It's a unique tradition though.

  4. Oh dang, I didn’t realize they did this, but totally makes sense to put a ban on them until this health issue goes away. Would be fun to see all these balloons flying around.

  5. I've always been torn about that custom. The first time I saw it at a game at Koshien I was really impressed by the spectacle. But the amount of waste involved is hard to justify - those balloons aren't recyclable so they just cart them off and incinerate them. I used to buy the balloons to let them go but stopped after a while as I just didn't want to contribute to the mess anymore (and the novelty had kind of worn off anyway).

  6. Fuji: Yeah, just a big waste, in the end.

    SumoMenkoMan: I'm sure they'll be back this summer, once the threat dies down.

    Sean: Exactly. If I go to a game with my friend and her kids, that's one thing, but by myself, it's just not that fun to pay 200 yen or so to literally throw away in the seventh inning.