The Hiroshima Carp are the first team in my time in Japan to build an entirely new stadium to replace an existing one. The previous incarnation was an old-style ballpark right across the street from the Atomic Bomb Dome, and many locals were outraged that it would be replaced. But the new ballpark should silence all but the most strident objectors, as Mazda Stadium is the best baseball stadium in the country, a fitting result as Hiroshima is one of Japan's best cities too.
The official name is Mazda Zoom Zoom Stadium Hiroshima but this is usually abbreviated to just Mazda Stadium, thankfully. It was opened in 2009 to rave reviews and has been called an "American-style" ballpark. This is true to a point, at least as much as possible in rigid Japan.
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The food options here are exceptionally varied and it is worth trying as many as possible. I considered the Philly Cheese Steak until I saw the cheese they were using, which was of the melted processed variety and consequently not that appealing.
I sampled a number of light options over the three days I spent here and particularly enjoyed the Carp Udon (noodles) for 500 yen. There are tables nearby the concession stand as it is difficult to eat noodles while holding the bowl; one poor lady dropped hers all over the floor and to add insult to injury, her cell phone fell into the pile of noodles as she bent down to clean up the mess.
The concourse is rife with different concession stands, each one offering something unique. Definitely take the time to look around beforehand before choosing as you will be surprised at the variety.
If you want to bring food in, there are small street vendors selling food items right next to the stadium, including draft beer that you can take inside. It's half the price you'll pay once you've entered, so well worth it if you plan to imbibe.
The cheering sections are separated from the rest of the seating bowl which is a unique layout in Japan and one that I personally prefer, but it might hurt the overall atmosphere for a first-time visitor. I also found the stadium to be extremely hot during day games with little opportunity to cool off. A minor quibble as Hiroshima is a very hot place at the end of August, but I found it tiring.
Still, it was packed with great fans for all three games and there is a good local flavor here that is difficult to find in any of the larger cities ballparks. Wear red if you want to fit in.
There is little in the immediate vicinity of Mazda Stadium, but within a few minutes' walk are a number of small eateries that might make for good post-game choices, if you can get a seat. Hiroshima Station is not that far away, but even then, it is not the typical downtown that you see elsewhere in Japan. There's little nightlife around the station and not much worth seeing. Most of Hiroshima's interesting points are actually quite far from the ballpark, which is its weakest point. Do take the time to view the underground shopping area right next to the station though, as there are many Carp-related posters, including some on the poles which shows how crazy this town is about their team.
Carp fans are my favorite. They have the most energetic cheer, which involves their fans alternating standing up and sitting down while chanting. Keep in mind that about half stand while the other half sit, then they quickly reverse roles. It is quite an eye-catching act and given that the Carp haven't made the playoffs in nearly 20 years, they get full points for maintaining good spirits in the face of adversity.
Mazda Stadium is a 10-minute walk from Hiroshima Station and well-signed in English. Or you can just follow everybody else; there are plenty of red-clad fans making the trek even two hours before game time.
As you draw near, you'll walk up a bridge that leads to the main entrance. However, you'll need a ticket if you choose this approach as there is no box office here. If you need to buy a ticket, stay to the right of the bridge and walk over to the ticket window, which is not immediately obvious and requires you to cross a couple of streets.
Although the gates open 4 hours before game time on the weekend, the reserved seating areas down below are closed off until 2 hours before, which is rather silly. That is a long time to spend walking around, so most fans sit in the shade and wait patiently for the aisles to be opened. When they do, it creates a funny scene as hundreds of fans make their way down the aisles at the same time.
The infield concourse is not that wide, particularly when the crowds are meandering before the game. There are other minor annoyances as well. To get to your seat, you have to enter the exact aisle that is printed on your ticket. But they don't have ticket checkers at every aisle, so they've added some fencing and created one entrance for every 3 aisles. This pushes the standing areas back quite a bit and reduces the amount of available space for standing as the pillars now block the view in many spots. As well, once you are in the main bowl, you can't move from section to section as there is no walkway. So taking pictures in a variety of areas can be difficult once fans are in their seats. Oh, and don't bother trying to get into a section for which you have no ticket, even well before the game. This is Japan and rules are rules.
Restrooms are plentiful and there were no waits at any time, despite a nearly full house.
As I was walking back to my hotel before the Friday night game, I chanced upon a kinken shop. These are stores that offer a variety of tickets that involve discounts on items such as shinkansen trips, movies, or drinks. They also have sports tickets on occasion so I decided to see if anything was available. Surprisingly, they had one seat in a section called the Royal Box for 5,000 yen. These tickets are usually not available to the general public, so I was intrigued, but the saleslady wouldn't show me the ticket itself, which I found peculiar. She pointed out the approximate location on a stadium map, and it seemed to be behind home plate in the first few rows, so I chanced it and forked over the money.
Turned out to be a fortunate decision as the seat was three rows behind the plate. The only problem is that the first two rows are those that are shown on TV, so most of the evening I was surrounded by idiots who would come down, get on their cell phone, and then wave as the pitch was tossed. Then, having been spotted by their friend on the other end of the call, they'd leave satisfied with their fleeting fame. Morons. But still a great price for a great seat.
Of course, there are plenty of other seating options, 17 in all, which I won't list here. Some of them are very interesting though; the Coca-Cola Terrace seats are sold in sets of 5 for 20,000 yen and allow you a table to enjoy your food while the Nesoberia Seats are large cushions in the outfield that are sold in pairs only for 7,000 yen. The Carp are a big draw here and most sections are sold out on game day, so if you want to sit in a certain section, make sure to buy tickets well in advance. Otherwise the best bet is the infield unreserved seats at 1,600 yen. These are in the second deck but if you get there early you can pick your spot and sit in the shade for the whole game, and it's not that far from the field.
The cheering groups each have their own special section called Carp Performance and Visitor Performance, which sit as entirely separate areas from the other sections. Brilliant idea that opens the outfield seats to fans that prefer to sit there without the music blaring and also allows for a wider variety of seating options in general. This gets them a bonus point in this section.
The unreserved seats in the second deck are open at the same time as the gates since fans want to get there early to save their favorite spot. At this time, you must have a ticket to go upstairs but once the rest of the seating area is open, you can go up to take pictures.
There is no upper concourse in the second deck, there's just a small walkway for getting between the sections. Again you need to know which aisle to use as you can't walk between sections. Since these are unreserved seats, make a note of your seat number and aisle and leave something on top of it should you wish to go touring. You get a nice view of the surrounding hills and can see the trains going by beyond the left field fence, and it is a bit cooler here too.
One of the features I like here is that the scoreboard highlights the baserunners in green so you know who is on what base. Just a little thing but something I've not seen elsewhere.
In the outfield concourse there are a couple of statues of Soichiro Amaya making great catches, complete with a fake fence. These aren't related to the two incredible plays that happened during the 2010 season, but just an interesting coincidence. They've set it up so that you can pose on this side of the fence and act surprised. There's even a popcorn tub spilling its load or a soda pop with the contents in the air to complete the illusion. Very cool.
After the 5th inning, fans sing a song while doing a silly dance, led by their mascot Slyly. What I found interesting is that all the beer vendors have to do the dance too. Each one goes to the bottom of the aisle, removes his keg, and then dances and sings. We all know that selling beer is the noblest profession and these fine individuals shouldn't be forced to perform such humiliating antics. One point penalty for that.
Overall, this is a great place to watch a game. A beautiful setting, close to transit, excellent sightlines that aren't ruined by protective netting, plenty of good eats, and a wide variety of seating options. Yeah, it'd be better if you had more freedom to explore before the game, but what can you do. Mazda Stadium definitely makes Hiroshima a key sports destination in Japan; let's hope that it begins a trend towards fan-friendly facilities around the country.
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