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Official Review by Sean MacDonald, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
In 1997, the Kintetsu Buffaloes moved from their old and decaying stadium at Fujidera to a brand new dome in the city of Osaka. Using the typical Japanese penchant for creativity in naming, the stadium was dubbed Osaka Dome. Known more for its resemblance to a silver spaceship in the middle of the city than an actual functioning ballpark, the dome took on naming rights from electronics concern Kyocera in 2006, and has retained the name Kyocera Dome Osaka since.
The Buffaloes merged with the Orix Blue Wave two years before that, and the resulting team (Orix Buffaloes) made the dome their regular home ballpark, much to the chagrin of their faithful based in Kobe, where the Blue Wave played. This choice has left the Dome empty much of the time, as it can be difficult to get to from Kobe, and hence the true fans are often left at home.
The dome is also used as the temporary home stadium for the Hanshin Tigers when Koshien Stadium is reserved for the high school tournament, and it is likely a far livelier spot for these games than when the Buffaloes are at home.
(Note that the exchange rates are as of the time of this posting, August 2013.)
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
A good variety of food greets you here, but unfortunately, the items I had were less than appetizing. A spicy fried chicken (¥400/$4.10) looked good but turned out to be bland, with no spice whatsoever. I also had some chicken sticks (¥400/$4.10) that were hard and flavorless.
Other options include crepes at ¥700 ($7.20), beefsteak rice bowl (¥650/$6.70) and takoyaki (fried octopus balls, ¥400/$4.10, and a Kansai staple). As usual, I recommend that you wander the concourse before the game and look at all the options that are available. There are 22 different concession stands each with something unique; hopefully, you will have better luck than I did on my most recent visit.
On the beverage side, there are plenty of beer girls with kegs on their back who will serve your favorite variety of draught throughout the game; just wave one down, and you will have a cold brew delivered to your seat.
This place is too big to have a great atmosphere, and it is made worse by the fact that so few fans show up. There are a couple of mascots that try to get fans excited, and an energetic group of cheerleaders who perform outside the stadium prior to the game and also dance on the field at various breaks in the action. Still, this is probably the least interesting place to watch a Japanese baseball game, as the cavernous surroundings kill any real noise or excitement.
Although the stadium itself is located in a less-than-inspiring part of the city, there are two shopping malls right next door that allow you to cool off before entering the ballpark itself. Meanwhile, the bustling nightlife district of Namba is nearby, just 2 stops away on the Hanshin Namba line. There are hundreds of clubs and bars here that will keep you awake until the early morning hours if you are still suffering from jet lag. Club PURE is the most recommended, especially on Friday and Saturday when you can drink all you want for just ¥3,000 ($30.75).
The Buffaloes fans have been through a lot, what with their team being merged and all. Regardless, the logistics make it so that they are unable to show up in numbers, leaving vast tracts of the dome empty on a weeknight. At the game I saw, the visiting Lotte fans were much louder and energetic and for this, the Buffaloes' fans must be punished.
There is a subway stop right in front of the dome on the Nagahori Tsurumi-ryokuchi line, as well the Hanshin Railway has a stop on the Namba line. Both of these are just seconds away from the dome itself, while the Hanshin line has the advantage of being just two stops away from the Namba neighborhood mentioned above.
Outside, you can walk around the entire venue, but there is little to see with three propane tanks the dubious highlight. Once inside, concourses are wide enough and you can walk around to the outfield area, where as usual in Japanese ballparks, you are stopped by fencing. This is the only fault here and hence the lost point (for what it's worth, no NPB park scores a perfect 5 in this category because of this). Getting in and out is not a problem since the stadium is only about a third full.
Note that gates open here just an hour before first pitch, unlike most parks here which give you two hours to explore.
Tickets vary widely in price, and I quote the day of game price for the average Joe here, although you can save a bit if you buy in advance or if you are a member of the team's fan club. The most expensive seats are those on the field, known as the MobaPro seats after an online baseball card game, which go for ¥8,000 ($82) for those near the bases, and ¥6,500 ($66.60) for those a bit further down the line. My recommendation is to spend ¥3,000 ($30.75) on the B seats, which are near the corners and still in the lower deck. These are generally quite empty and you can move around to get some space. The upper deck seats in the infield are unreserved and go for ¥2,400 ($24.60) if you like to sit higher up.
For an extra ¥100 ($1), certain seats allow you to enter three hours before game time to watch batting practice; you are then kicked out of the stadium and readmitted when gates open just one hour before first pitch, forcing you to wander the area for 75 minutes, and thus not a highly useful choice.
There was a T-Rex sculpture out front advertising a show that was taking place in the Sky Hall, which is an event center on the 9F of the dome and might be worth a visit if you have time.
Outside the stadium, there is Bs Park (the Buffaloes refer to themselves as Bs and I will refrain from making any wisecracks), which is a small area with a few food options and a cheerleader performance before the game.
Although it is not recommended, the option to watch batting practice is a creative approach and nets another point here.
A bizarre design might be the highlight of the Osaka Dome, because once you are inside, you will not see this as much different than the Rogers Centre in Toronto. Sure, the food is slightly better and more varied, but the fact that this team is unable to generate significant fan support makes it a poor choice to experience your first Japanese ballgame. You are much better served in visiting nearby Koshien, home of the Tigers, which is the best Japanese baseball experience to be had.
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Shinsaibashisuji, Chuo Ward
Osaka, Japan 542-0085
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