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Official Review by Sean MacDonald, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Chunichi Dragons are a long-standing team in Japanese baseball, having begun play in 1936. They used to host games at Nagoya Stadium, an outdoor field first constructed in 1948 which burned to the ground in a tragic fire in 1951. That stadium was rebuilt in time for the 1952 season and the Dragons remained tenants until 1997, when Nagoya joined the dome boom that was sweeping Japan. The Dragons moved in and relegated their old grounds to their minor league team. Despite nearly 70 years of existence, the Dragons have only won two Japan Series, the most recent in 2007. Lately though, they have been the strongest team in the Central League, taking 5 of the last 8 pennants entering the 2012 season.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There are a couple of restaurants outside one of the gates but I would avoid these and go inside where there is more to see and do. You will enter on the lower concourse and this is where the best options for eating and drinking can be found.
Typical Japanese stadium fare is available at booths named after their location, such as Snack Home, which sells snacks behind home plate. Of course, this leads to the beverage booth near first base to be called Drink First, a message that might lead recovering alcoholics to fall off the wagon.
Avoid these places as their offerings looked rather bland and try one of the specialty spots instead. Torishige, a yakitori stand, was the most enticing option with 5 skewers of chicken costing only 600 yen. I enjoyed the warabi-mochi, a jelly-like dessert that is made from starch and covered in sweet soybean flour and then topped off with brown-sugar syrup. It may not sound appealing, but it is good stuff and worth trying for just 300 yen. For those brave enough, there was a shrimp and avocado salad dog that simply looked disgusting in the picture.
If you want more than just a stadium snack, the third floor has a large food court with 6 full-service restaurants, including a sushi place that was packed. Judging from the crowd, this would be worth trying but you probably have to arrive shortly after gates open (two hours before game time) to ensure a seat.
The dome is quite nice from the outside with its silver geodesic dome shining in the sunlight. Take note of the roof which has been double glazed to allow natural light through. Each section on the roof can be individually shaded which allows for intricate patterns to be displayed, although this doesn't happen during the game.
The dome is cavernous and it was fairly quiet on the night I went, with about 28,000 fans. Of course, each team has their cheering section and there's a dance team that tries to entertain during breaks in the action, but I found that this is one of the less-inspiring venues in Japanese baseball. They don't participate in the 7th-inning balloon release that is featured at nearly every other stadium. Instead, the Dragons' mascot Doala (a dragon and koala mix I guess) tries to land a running backflip during the 7th-inning break. The team keeps his record of success and failure, so far he is just 2-6 on the young 2012 season.
The good news is that there is relative quiet between innings and you are not inundated with announcements or advertisements all game long.
The dome is located in a suburb about 15 minutes by subway from downtown. There is nothing here other than a huge shopping mall next door and after the game you'll want to head back to the center of the city. Close to the main station lies an Irish pub called The Cooper's which is a welcoming spot underneath a business hotel (3-25-6 Meieki, Nakamura-ku, Nagoya). They are most famous for their Crazy Guinness contest where you are challenged to drink 3 liters of the dark beer faster than anyone before. The current record was 2m48s; failure to beat that will cost you 5,000 yen.
If you want to stay out late, Sakae is your best bet for an all-night party. One club that I found is known as Cream (Santo Bldg 3F 3-10-11 Sakae Naka-ku), an international hip-hop bar that was open until dawn and was hopping with locals and foreigners for most of the night.
The Chunichi fans in my area were very supportive and cheered their team all night long. There was a good mix demographically with a number of elderly people along with families with young children. Everybody seemed to be really enjoying themselves and behaving well. The only annoyance was fans leaning forward in the first row of the upper deck and blocking the view of those behind them.
When the Nagoya Dome first opened in 1997, there was no convenient station close by. That changed in 2000 when the Nagoya Dome Mae Yada subway stop was added to the Meijo line. From here to the dome is a ten-minute walk, first along a long walkway with dozens of historical baseball pictures as well as photos of each player on the roster. Because this walkway is crowded before and after games it is tough to stop and look at everything on display but if you can get there a few hours before the game, it should be easier to enjoy.
Once inside the stadium, you can freely move between the upper and lower levels with stairways and escalators easy to find. The concourses are relatively narrow and rather dated but it was still easy to get around.
The main problem here was a cramped seating area, with limited leg room, making it difficult to navigate to the middle of the row if other fans were sitting. This might be a problem only in the upper deck as the lower bowl seats did seem to have more space.
There are five seating levels, each painted a different color. Sitting down low is more expensive with tickets ranging from 3,800 to 5,800 yen but the view is blocked by the screen all the way down the lines. I chose the cheaper upper deck seat (Panorama A) at 2,500 yen. Even this was not optimal as those in the first row lean over the ledge and block your view from time to time. I did notice that the seats in the lower bowl don't face home plate forcing those fans to spend the game with their bodies turned sideways.
The outfield seats are actually reserved unlike most other ballparks in Japan and cost 1,800 yen. The view is not bad as you are well above the field.
There are some other special seating areas including the Prime Twin, a pair of seats meant for couples. Located in left and right field, these go for 8,700 yen for both tickets and include a bento box and a drink. Similarly, the Prime Box is a section in center field where four fans can sit together at a table for 15,600 yen with snacks and a drink included. Above the outfield seats is Arenaview, a restaurant that offers a panoramic view of the ballpark and costs 6,000 per person including dinner, with seats sold in pairs or sets of four.
The overall experience here is fairly average but with prices slightly above average for the lower bowl infield seats, your best bet is to get the first row in the upper deck for a clear view of the action.
The third floor houses the Dragons' Museum, a large collection of memorabilia including the 1954 Japan Series championship plaque. All of the explanations are in Japanese only but it is worth visiting as it is free once you have purchased a game ticket.
Some of the concession stands had MLB memorabilia above them, including a Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers jersey - whether or not it was authentic is unknown. Regardless, when walking around, keep your head up; there are a few surprises to be found.
The roof design is pretty interesting as well and merits one point here.
Overall, this is a decent venue for a dome. I enjoyed the friendly staff and food selection. The seating issues made it difficult to relax though. I think only the first row in the upper deck offers a purely unobstructed view among the infield seats, and those tickets can be tough to get. With no unreserved seating area, you'll be stuck with whatever ticket you buy, so be aware of that before going to the ticket window.
Follow all of Sean's journeys at Sports Road Trips.
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3-25-6 Meieki, Nakamura-ku
Nagoya, Aichi 4500002
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