By Jeannie Gan
Set in the center of Osaka, the Kyocera Dome is the home to the Orix Buffaloes baseball team. With an interesting building and decent prices, catching a Buffaloes game is recommended for baseball fans in the Osaka area.
The Kyocera Dome is a fairly modern building, constructed in 1997. The building itself looks something like the alien mothership from the outside, with a very distinctive shape. The ceiling from inside the dome has a neat look as well.
If anything, the dome might be too big for its everyday purpose. The building is very large, and seats roughly 36,500 fans, making it one of the larger facilities in Japan. The team rarely seems to fill it, and the upper tier was sparsely populated on the Sunday afternoon I was there.
As is often the case, fans of the home team sit along the first-base side, while the cheering section is in the right-field stands. The visiting team's fans mirror along the third-base side.
The stadium food concessions had a pretty wide variety, ranging from fast food chains to local delicacies to ballpark classics. I had some pretty decent okonomiyaki (an Osaka specialty) and there was takoyaki (another specialty) aplenty. Prices seemed slightly cheaper than average, compared to other stadiums. A draft beer from a roving beer girl cost 750 yen.
The stadium also houses a very large official team goods shop, filled with caps, uniforms, souvenir balls, T-shirts, keychains, and lots more. As a team with a lot of alternate uniforms in their repertoire and history, the shop seemed to have a lot of them. The store also had a small section devoted to goods from each of the other teams across Nippon Professional Baseball.
The Orix Buffaloes have a long and somewhat troubled history. Originally called the Hankyu Braves, the team was founded in 1936 as one of the original pro baseball teams in Japan. They played their home games in Nishinomiya City, Hyogo Prefecture. The team was sold in 1988, and became known as the Orix Braves, changing the name of their majority sponsor company. However, in 1991 they moved to nearby Kobe City, and changed their name to the Orix BlueWave. During this era, they were led by star player Ichiro Suzuki. Then, in 2004, there was a league realignment which merged the Orix BlueWave with the Kintetsu Buffaloes to form the Orix Buffaloes, which played their home games in Osaka's Kyocera Dome (then called the "Osaka Dome"), which had been the home of the former Kintetsu Buffaloes.
The Orix Buffaloes (and their predecessors) have won the Japan Series championship four times: in 1975, 1976, 1977, and 1996. They play in the Pacific League of Nippon Professional Baseball.
Orix fans don't boast a particularly impressive reputation in the world of Japanese baseball, with critics often pointing to the number of regular empty seats in the Kyocera Dome. While there were certainly plenty of seats to be had when I visited for a Sunday afternoon game, the fans that were there made a pretty strong showing with their cheering, chanting, and singing. They certainly surpassed my lukewarm expectations. They do have a few points against them, including the cavernous Kyocera Dome, which can keep fans distant physically as well as emotionally, and the team's divided and merged history, which certainly has cost it some of its long-term fans.
The fans' 7th inning stretch routine is to blow up jet balloons and let them fly all at the same time, along with a singing of the team's fight song.
Although this isn't in the top tier of Japanese baseball experiences, it was still a pretty nice outing overall. With seats easy to come by and not so expensive, plus a good in-game experience that featured lots of kid-friendly events and cheer team dancing, there was enough going on to keep things entertaining. For baseball fans in the area, it's well worth a visit.
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