Japan’s national sport? It’s not sumo, judo or crazy noodle-eating contests but actually American baseball. Imported from the United States during the Meiji period, baseball is the most watched and played sport in the country, which makes catching a game an essential item on your Japan-experience checklist. The Seibu Dome, home of the Seibu Lions, is a great place to experience a Japanese baseball game, being one of the most tourist-friendly and accessible stadiums near to Tokyo.
The stadium is the first in Japan to offer free high-speed wifi, accessed on your smart phone via the Japan Connected-free Wi-Fi app, to improve the fan experience, not only within the venue during the game but also before and after at the Seibu railway station. From anywhere within the stadium and station, you can access exclusive content like the Seibu Lions player guide, the Lions YouTube channel, real-time game statistics, the game schedule and a food options guide. Or, if like me you don’t understand the rules, you can log onto the internet and quickly wiki How To Play Baseball (with pictures). The architecture of the stadium is pretty cool too – halfway between an open-air and indoor ballpark, a domed roof hovers above the stadium allowing the fresh air to come in and stopping the stadium from becoming a sweaty, beery hotbox (pun intended – I wiki-ed it) while also sheltering fans from the elements.
The best seats are the field view ones, at the right behind first and third base (the Lions fans sit behind third base) or the bench side seats; both usually cost 4,800 yen on the day but are often sold out in advance. Reserved seats further back are cheaper; infield A cost 3,500 and infield B cost 3,000 yen. Infield non-reserved are 2,500 yen while the cheapest seats are the outfield non-reserved seats at 1,800 yen. For 1,200 yen you can get a standing ticket for the cheering section in the middle of the outfield.
The cheering section is the most fun as the Lions fans are constantly jumping around, singing and waving their flags in perfectly timed unison. It’s worth going to a Lions match just for the amazing fan chants which everybody manages to perform flawlessly (there must be some kind of handbook somewhere?) even after quite a lot of beer. During the 7th inning, all the fans let off blue balloons up into the dome while singing the Lions team anthem – you can pick up a pack inside the stadium.
Games usually last around 3 hours and there is a good variety of food and drink available at the entrance and inside the stadium to keep you going. Concession stands line the slopes behind the seats, selling reasonably-priced Japanese and Western fast food, and there are girls who walk among the seats selling beer and other beverages during the game at around 500 yen each. You can also bring your own supplies in too. Getting around the stadium you have to show your ticket but you’re free to come and go as you please.
The stadium is located in Tokorozawa, Saitama, about an hours ride from Tokyo on the Seibu Ikebukuro line. There are direct trains, though most routes will involve a transfer at Tokorozawa or elsewhere. The station stop is Seibu-Kyūjō-mae from where the stadium gate is about a 45 second walk away. You can start to use the Lions wifi at the station which is actually really useful for checking train times or organizing meeting points with your friends, as well as brushing up on any last minute baseball terms (Baltimore chop anyone…?)
Tickets to Lions games are usually available on the day if you don’t mind where you’re sitting. Just turn up to the stadium from 3 hours before and you should be able to get the cheaper seats there and then. For big games such as the Climax Series, or during national holidays like golden week, this method might be a bit risky.
If you’re confident in your Japanese (or your ability to decipher Japanese using Google translate), you can buy advance tickets online via the team’s official website or through an external ticketing website. You’ll either pay online (you may need a Japanese credit card) or pick up and pay at a convenience store.
You can also buy tickets at a ticketing machine at the convenience store (usually located next to the ATMs) but again you’ll need to able to read Japanese. It’s relatively simple, you just have to go to the baseball tickets bit (野球チケット) and you’ll select the team Saitama Seibu Raionzu (Lions) 埼玉西武ライオンズ and choose the match date and seats out of those available.
The baseball season runs from April to November with pre-season and friendly matches before and after. To make sure you have all the bases covered before you go (gettit?!) check out the official website or post your questions below!