Nippon Professional Baseball (playing a role similar to the USA’s MLB) consists of two leagues, the Central League (Hiroshima Toyo Carp, Hanshin Tigers, Chunichi Dragons, Tokyo Yakult Swallows, Yokohama DeNA BayStars, and the Yomiuri Giants) and the Pacific League (Chiba Lotte Marines, Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, Orix Buffaloes, Saitama Seibu Lions, and the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles). There are two minor leagues as well, the Eastern and Western Leagues respectively.
Japan’s baseball season begins in late March or early April with spring training and continues with games almost daily, barring Mondays, until October, when the annual playoffs called the “Climax Series” determine the teams (one from each league) that will compete for a shot at the national championship in the Japan Series.
Following World War II, the Nippon Professional Baseball League underwent an expansion to create two separate regional leagues. In December of 1949, Hiroshima Prefecture established its own team as part of the city’s efforts to overcome the devastation of the atomic bombing. The team’s name comes, in part, from Hiroshima Castle, long called the Carp Castle. The new team took its place in the equally new Central League, and from the beginning was a source of intense pride for the city’s residents.
Among connoisseur’s of Japanese baseball, the Carp are considered a purist’s team. Following a shaky start with insufficient funding, few standout players, and a nasty losing streak, Hiroshima’s residents fought tooth and nail for their team, keeping it afloat with private donations in 1951 and barely weathering another crisis the following year when the Central League decided to merge the lowest scoring team with another, reducing the number of its teams from seven to six. Hovering near the bottom of the NPB rankings, the Hiroshima Carp managed to survive thanks to the loyal support of local fans and the determination of its players. In 1968, Toyo Kogyo (now the Mazda Motor Corporation) became the largest shareholder in the team and its official name was changed to the Hiroshima Toyo Carp.
Following the new name and sponsorship, the Toyo Carp went on to become a Central League powerhouse with Japan Series championships in 1979, 1980 and 1984. From the early 1990s, there followed an agonizing stretch of years in which the team seemed cursed. But in the past several years, their fortunes have taken an upward turn, with an appearance (and ultimate defeat) in the 2016 Japan Series.
These days, win or lose, attending a Carp game at the new Hiroshima Municipal Stadium (officially titled the MAZDA Zoom-Zoom Stadium) is a great way to spend an afternoon and see Hiroshima at its best. With a capacity of 32,000, the stadium isn’t enormous, but relative compactness of the ballpark only amplifies the energy generated by the team’s fans.
Labeled a “retro-classic” ballpark, nearly all the stadium’s seats offer excellent views of the field, and wherever you sit you’ll find yourself surrounded by some of the most notoriously spirited fans in the country. A close-quarters, high energy environment like this makes it impossible not to enter the spirit of the game, as Carp fans seem to cheer without pausing for breath. Fans have a specific chant for each player and, regardless of the score, the chant carries on long after the player has finished batting.
Even if you’re not a superfan, thought, everyone loves a chance to catch a homerun ball, and the stadium’s low outfield fences provide ample opportunities. Despite the addition of a high-tech scoreboard, the stadium’s old-fashioned charm, flawlessly maintained diamond and the roaring, red sea of fans will win over all but the most jaded.
MAZDA Zoom-Zoom Stadium
2 Chome-3-1 Minamikaniya, Minami Ward, Hiroshima, Hiroshima Prefecture 732-0803 (map)
A number of games, both pre-season and the first of the regular season, are in the offing for March, including two friendlies against the Carp’s 2016 Japan Series rivals, the Nippon-Ham Fighters.
March 10, gates open at 11:00, game from 13:00. Pre-Season Match vs. Yakult Swallows
March 13, gates open at 11:00, game from 13:00. Pre-Season Match vs. Nippon-Ham Fighters
March 14, gates open at 11:00, game from 13:00. Pre-Season Match vs. Nippon-Ham Fighters
March 21, gates open at 12:00, game from 14:00. Pre-Season Match vs. Orix Buffaloes
March 25, gates open at 12:00, game from 14:00. Pre-Season Match vs. Softbank Hawks
March 30, gates open at 15:00, game from 18:00. Regular Season Match vs. Chunichi Dragons
March 31, gates open at 11:00, game from 14:00. Regular Season Match vs. Chunichi Dragons
Tickets often sell out quickly, but it’s always worth checking, even at the last moment. You can purchase your tickets from the stadium directly, or on the Carp’s official website, either pre-sale or on the day of the game.
Since this process can seem a bit overwhelming with all of the different seating options available, be sure to check out this page for a comprehensive guide. As mentioned previously, there really isn’t a bad seat in the house, but sometimes the volume of people in attendance makes it hard to secure a place with a group. This is especially true for the cheapest, non-reserved seat option, so be sure to arrive early!
Additional info on Buying Tickets
You can find more information on buying tickets by clicking through to this article, also on Japan Info Swap: Take Me Out to the Ball Game: Baseball Tickets in Japan