Every year, Major League Baseball sends a delegation of players to Japan for a series of games against a team of Japanese all-stars. Since the contests are held after the conclusion of both the World and Japan Series, the players are all technically in their off-seasons, but there’s still some impressive skill on display.
The teams and fans all seem to come away with good memories of the games, but the Major Leaguers also left something behind: a ton of trash in their dugout at Tokyo Dome.
Baseball occupies different position on the scale between “fun game” and “serious business” in Japan and the U.S. Compared to football and basketball, the other two pillars of the American sports world, baseball’s slow, occasionally lackadaisical pace, lends itself to a more relaxed attitude. With regular and extended periods of downtime, players goofing around with one another or grabbing a snack while waiting for their turn at the plate are iconic and nostalgic images that add to the game’s unique charm.
In Japan, though, baseball is a much more hard-nosed affair. In contrast to the newfound popularity of soccer and basketball, baseball has been around in Japan so long that it’s the only modern team sport with its own Japanese name, "yakyu" (literally “field ball”). With that age comes traditional Japanese values and emphasis on regimented discipline, something you can see in the way many youth teams require players to shave their heads.
So when you put a Major League and Japanese team in the same ballpark, there’s a chance they’re going to act very differently. Earlier this week, I caught a bit of Game 4 on TV, and couldn’t help but notice that when the camera cut to a group of Major League players sitting on their bench in Tokyo Dome, almost all of them seemed to be chewing or munching on something. But hey, different cultures, right? Nothing to shake your head or cluck your tongue over, and Japanese fans and media didn’t have any complaints about the snack attack.
Things were a little different after the game, though.
As documented by Nikkan Gendai in the image above left, the two teams left their benches in very different states. At the bottom is the Japanese dugout, which is more or less spotless, with a carefully arranged stack of seat cushions being the only bit of clutter.
The Major League area, though, could almost as easily be called a pigsty as a dugout. There’s no way to tell if those stains were on the floor or not before the visitors arrived, but the plastic bottles, paper cups, and other bits of trash littering the place were pretty obviously left behind by the players themselves.
Famously neat and tidy Japan was less than impressed, as online comments showed.
“The Major Leaguers made a mess like it wasn’t even a thing.” “Can’t believe the lack of manners by the Major League team. Are they making fun of Japanese baseball?” “That’s the Major Leaguers for you. Gotta love those dirty post-game dugouts.”
As shown by the last remark, though, some Japanese fans do seem to be aware of the difference in cultural norms. One commenter pointed out the ubiquitous nature of sunflower seeds in Major League games, even going so far as to praise them as the perfect snack for athletes due to their healthy and nutritious nature. Another, perhaps remembering the debate sparked by Japanese fans cleaning up after themselves at the World Cup, offered the theory that the visitors didn’t want to take away jobs from the cleaning staff by picking up after themselves.
Still others posted pictures of filthy dugouts at Major League ballparks, asserting that what happened at Tokyo Dome isn’t necessarily indicative of a lack of respect for the Japanese league and its stadiums.
Differing cultural perspectives aside, though, “When in Rome, do as the romans do” is a pretty universally acknowledged target for international travelers these days. An equivalent phrase even exists in Japanese: "Go ni haitte ha go ni shitagae" (“When you enter the village, follow the villagers”). So maybe, along with trying sushi and taking their shoes off indoors, the Major Leaguers might want to toss their empty cups in the trash can after their next game in Japan.
Sources: Nikkan Gendai, Naver Matome
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