There I was, sitting in the stands at a Softbank Hawks game. I was wearing a jersey and hat I had just been given, by friends I had met just the week before, when everyone suddenly stood up and broke out in the team’s fight song.
Me being new to Japan at the time, I didn’t know the words. I stood up and tried to blend in with pantomimed singing, which seemed to get me off the hook until everyone around me started blowing up yellow balloons in addition to the singing. I grabbed a couple balloons to join in that as well, but obviously this wasn’t an easy task while I was still trying to sing along with the fight song.
Then, long before I finished inflating, the fight song finished, and in a flash the thousands in attendance all let their balloons fly up into the Fukuoka Dome night sky. It was a sight to see. I ended up letting mine go as well, though they fell with an uninflated whimper that paled when compared to the thousands of balloons of the people around me had released.
I was a halfway fan in a sea of REAL FANS
After that, the game played out as normal, but it was a landmark moment for me. Maybe it was the 70-something lady keeping a box score, or the shockingly high number of people in official jerseys, but I realized I was a halfway fan in a sea of REAL FANS.
The next week at my ALT job, I thought it might be a good idea to join an after-school club. So, I walked out of the teacher’s room to where the closest club was located, which happened to be the tennis club. I grabbed a racket and tried to keep up the best I could. A few minutes after joining in, the club’s coach came up to me and asked if I liked tennis. Since my Japanese wasn’t at the level to say, “If there’s nothing else to do, I don’t mind playing it,” I just answered with, “suki!” (I like it!)
When I got to my desk the next day, I found a practice and game schedule for the entire semester. When I found the coach and attempted to tell him I was just stopping by to visit the club, I realized I’d made the same mistake I had made at the baseball game.
I attempted to be a halfway coach in a country that simply doesn’t do halfway.
It took a few more instances in different circumstances for me to fully appreciate it, but those moments helped me start to realize that my favorite thing about Japan isn’t the sushi, games, or anime. It’s the fact that so little is done halfway, especially in the world of hobbies.
If you’re already in Japan, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that when someone asks your hobby, it’s more akin to asking what you’re PASSIONATE about, rather than what you like to do every once in a while in you have some free time.
When I told that first batch of people I met that I was a Softbank Hawks fan, they rushed to take me to a game and buy me a jersey because I’m sure they were trying to do something they expected I would excitedly enjoy. I’m equally sure that they were shocked and let down when I didn’t know the theme song, the players, and the shooting of the balloons.
When I told that coach that I liked tennis, he took it to mean that I was passionate about playing and teaching tennis, and he wanted to make it as easy as he could for me to help out with a sport I loved!
Whether it’s the train full of people all bearing color-coordinated swag before a Momokuro concert, or the salary man with the Mario strap that’s on the DS he’s playing on the train, the examples are everywhere. In Japan, if you have a hobby, it can be a HUGE part of your identity if you want it to be, and that’s a beautiful thing.
I get a huge smile when I see people doing their thing all the way, whether it’s something I’m into or not.
I realize there are probably plenty of “halfway” fans in the country as well, maybe even just as many as in my home country. But it just seems to me that the real fans in Japan are so much more of a visible majority, and that creates a lot of exciting opportunities for anyone with a true hobby.
So, the next time a Japanese person asks you what your hobby is, think long and hard. They’re not asking what you like to do as a diversion. They want to know your passion.
And if you have something that means a lot to you, finding people to share it with you is a great way to have more fun.