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Kansai Scene Magazine

High of the Tigers


High of the Tigers

Baseball season is in full swing! Let’s take a look at how Kansai’s craziest fans hit it out of the the park.

tigers-fan-familyHanshin Tigers fans are known throughout the baseball world as the most fanatic, devoted sports nuts in the whole of Japan. In a culture so famed for composure, what is it about the Tigers that ignites such a flame in the hearts of the people of Kansai? With the baseball season heating up under the midsummer sun, now seems an appropriate time to explore the history, culture and passion of this revered sports team and the people who hold it dear.

The Tigers, originally the Osaka Tigers (finally settling as the Hanshin Tigers in 1961), were founded in December 1935 and since then, have resided at Koshien Stadium, the oldest ballpark in the land. The Tigers first batted their way to victory in the 1960s, winning the Central league pennant twice in three years (’62 and ’64), repeating this impressive feat in 2003 and 2005.

tiger-3However, the team’s most emphatic success was the Japan Series win of 1985 which induced a frenzy in Kansai, sending shockwaves through the country for which Tigers fans are now (in)famous, and which firmly etched them in the pages of baseball folklore.

In ecstatic celebration, fans who resembled players flung themselves off Osaka’s Dotonbori bridge into the filthy currents of the river. The first baseman at the time was American Andy Bass, and legend has it that in the subsequent absence of this caucasian mustachioed character, the supporters snatched a statue of Colonel Sanders from outside a nearby KFC and hurled it into the river.

The Tigers went on to have unholy luck in the following decade and a half, and this was imputed to “the curse of the Colonel” – the belief that the fried chicken gods were angry and would smite the team until the statue was gathered from the murky depths. Accordingly, the Colonel was recovered in 2013 and now stands in all his finger lickin’ glory outside the Koshien branch destined, one can assume, never to dive another day.

“Tigers fans have a reputation for being crazy”, explains Osaka resident and enthusiastic fan Fasong Gu. “In combination with the rough-sounding Kansaiben commonly spoken, and a tendency to criticize other teams, Hanshin fans are even seen as slightly freakish outsiders who are too passionate to conform to Japanese standards of tranquility.”

tiger-4Superstition and passion are, of course, synonymous with sports fans the world over. However, Tigers supporters have typically taken things one step further by dedicating a shrine to their slugger idols. Oe Jinja is nestled in the hilly backstreets of Tennoji-ku, Osaka. Built by Prince Shotoku (572- 622 AD), the shine is protected by two majestic stone tigers in lieu of koma-inu (guardian dogs). A myriad of Tigers memorabilia lies strewn around these statues by followers.

“There was only one tiger guarding this shrine until 12 years ago,” said the shrine keeper, a friendly middle-aged woman eager to pass on her knowledge of the shrine to a curious passerby.

“Back then the team was starting to get better after years of bad luck. The neighborhood fans decided to install a second tiger in the hope it would bring continued good luck, and it worked because that year the Tigers won the pennant! Since then, supporters see this shrine as particularly sacred and come here to offer gifts to the spirits and pray for the Tigers’ success,” she said.

tiger-2The sacredness of which she speaks is evidenced by the eclectic mix of baseball bats, photos, newspaper cutouts and jerseys positioned around the stone guardians. It’s a tad zany, make no mistake, but it saliently suggests that, for many followers, their love for the team transcends sports and is rather something of a devout spiritual experience.

I decided it was time to see for myself. I pick a glorious day to step up to the plate for my first Tigers home game at Koshien Stadium where the Tigers are taking on the Nagoya Dragons. My immediate observation is that alcohol is encouraged inside the venue. Bring in your own but conform to the polystyrene cups issued at the entrance.

If you didn’t have time to hit the konbini there’s no need to worry because teams of young women in cute cheerleader-style outfits) work the rows, calling and responding to thirsty fans’ beer requests with squirts of hoses connected to kegs lugged on their backs.

The atmosphere inside the rustic stadium is electrifying as the fans sing tribal hymns to the beat of distant drums and cheer seemingly every hit, pitch, or stolen base. The highlight comes at the close of the seventh inning with the release of thousands of inflated but untied balloons that soar in unison into the atmosphere, only to rain back down seconds later.

Tigers fans obey this old tradition at every game, home and away, but have had to curb their release under the watchful eyes of the stewards at Tokyo Dome; home of the Yomiuri Giants. Unsurprisingly, this fuels some, let’s say distaste, for their Kanto cousins and longstanding rivals.

After the game I head to Gosakudon, one of Osaka’s favorite Tigers izakaya. As well as being purveyors of fine seafood and cheer, it’s also a great place to drink, because if the Tigers win a night game, draft beers drop to ¥100 a pop for three glasses per person. Owner and avid supporter Ryuzo Moriyama sheds light on the Giants/Tigers rivalry and speaks of the fans’ enduring spirit:

“I’ve been a huge Tigers fan since I was a little kid. Despite the rivalry between the Giants and Tigers, here there’s a lot of love between us as baseball fanatics. For the games, we host both sets of fans and this produces a unique and exciting atmosphere, although us Tigers fans aren’t happy when the Giants win! Baseball is about camaraderie. Mix that with Osaka, a city I love, and you have something special,” he said.

And special it is. Whether superstitious, devout, or just fun-loving, the Hanshin Tigers certainly give the people of these parts something to hold on to and believe in. With the baseball season entering its climax, it’s high time to get out there and start rooting for the home team!


Hanshin Tigers Schedule, July/August 2015


• 1st, 2nd : Swallows (A)
• 3rd,4th,6th : Baystars (A)
• 8th, 9th : Dragons (Koshien)
• 10th, 11th,12th : Giants (A)
• 14th, 15th : Carp (Koshien)
• 20th, 21st, 22nd : Giants (Koshien)
• 24th, 25th, 26th : Baystars (Koshien)
• 28th, 29th : Dragons (A)
• 31st : Swallows (Koshien) August:
• 1st, 2nd : Swallows (Koshien)
• 4th, 5th, 6th : Carp (A)
• 7th, 8th, 9th : Baystars (A)
• 11th, 12th, 13th : Dragons (Osaka Dome)
• 14th, 15th, 16th : Swallows (A)
• 18th, 19th, 20th : Giants (A)
• 21st, 22nd, 23rd : Baystars (Osaka Dome)
• 25th, 26th, 27th : Carp (A)
• 28th, 29th, 30th : Swallows (Koshien)

Getting Tickets

The best way to get tickets is from any Lawson Loppi machine. The process is in Japanese but friendly store clerks are willing to help.

An option in English is, but be aware this website charges over the odds at around ¥6,000, when the most expensive from Lawson is about ¥4,000.


野球シーズンまっただ中。関西が誇る、 日本一熱いファンの声援を聞きにいこう。





しかしながら、このチーム史上最大の栄光といえば、なんといっても日本シリーズを 制した1985年が思い出される。関西地方は狂乱の渦に巻き込まれ、日本中に阪神フィーバーの衝撃が走った。当時のタイガーズファンの狂乱ぶりは今でも語り継がれ、日本球史に残る伝説になっている。

tiger-guardian優勝が決まって祝祭ムードがエスカレートした夜、ユニフォーム姿で選手に扮装したファンたちがヘドロまみれの道頓堀川に飛び込み始めた。当時の一塁手は髭をたくわえたアメリカ人のランディー・バース。この優勝の立役者に扮装できる者がいないとい うことで、ファンたちは近所のKFC店頭か らカーネル・サンダースの像を拉致して川に投げ入れてしまった。

その後、15年以上に渡ってリーグ優勝から遠ざかったタイガースだが、低迷の原因は 「カーネル・サンダースの呪い」によるものだと噂された。フライドチキンの神様の逆鱗 に触れたので、像を回収して供養するまで決して優勝できないだろうと信じられていたのである。最終的に、カーネル像は2009 年に川底で発見。修復を経て、2013年より KFC阪神甲子園店の店頭に安住の地を得ている。再び道頓堀川にダイブさせられる日が来ないことを願っての措置だろう。

大阪在住の熱心なファンであるク・パソン さんは、ファンの心理をこう説明する。


もちろん、世界中のスポーツファンに伝説や熱狂はつきものである。それでもタイガースファンはさらに上を行く。大阪市天王寺区の路地裏にある大江神社がその証拠だ。 聖徳太子(572〜622年)に創建されたこの神社は、石でできた2体の狛犬ならぬ「狛虎」で守護されており、無数のタイガース関 連グッズがその虎像を取り囲んでいる。


「12年前まで、狛虎は1匹だけでした。 当時のタイガースは何年も低迷が続いて、ようやく調子が上向きかけた頃です。近所のファンの方々が、このまま頑張って欲しい という願いを込めて、もう1匹の狛虎を設置 しました。するとその年、タイガースが優勝 したんです。あれからというもの、ファンの方々はここをタイガースの守り神だと崇め てお供え物をしてくださいます」 説明の通り、神聖な狛虎のまわりには、バ ット、写真、新聞の切り抜き、ユニフォームなどが供えられている。まさしく珍妙な光景だ。しかしこれは参拝者のチーム愛が、スポ ーツを神聖な霊的体験にまで昇華させている象徴でもある。



外観は飾り気のないスタジアムだが、観客席は目が覚めるように賑やかだ。ファン は遠くから聞こえる太鼓の音に合わせて応援歌を合唱し、それこそワンプレーごとに声援を送る。ハイライトは7回裏のジェット風船だ。無数の風船が一斉に空に向かって放たれ、数秒後にはみな空気が抜けて落ちてくる。

ホームでも、アウェイでも、タイガースフ ァンは毎試合この古い伝統を守っている。だが読売ジャイアンツの本拠地である東京ドームでは風船が禁止されているため、監視員の目を盗んで儀式を敢行しなければならない。当然のように、長年のライバルである巨人ファンたちはこの風船を毛嫌いしている。




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