The Tokyo Yakult Swallows play in one of the oldest professional baseball stadiums in Japan. Although Meiji Jingu Stadium lacks many of the modern amenities fans expect from a ballpark, fans regularly pack the park. The ballpark is part of Meiji Jingu Gaien, which is a large athletics complex with a futsal court, an indoor skating rink, tennis courts, and more.
Arriving at the ballpark
As with many ballparks in Japan, Meiji Jingu Stadium has multiple public transit stations nearby. Sendagaya and Shinanomachi stations, which are both on the Chūō-Sōbu Line, are the two closest train stations to the ballpark. It is a 13-minute walk (about 0.6 miles/1 kilometer) from either station to the stadium. There are two subway stations close to the stadium as well. The Gaiemmae Station, which is on the Ginza Line, is the closest stop on the Tokyo Metro. It is a 10-minute walk (0.5 miles/800 meters) from the station to the park. The Kokuritsu-Kyōgijō Station, which is on the Ōedo Line, is the closest stop on the Toei subway. It is an 11-minute walk (0.5 miles/800 meters) from the station to the ballpark.
Entering the ballpark
Meiji Jingu Stadium has multiple gates. In fact, it has 18 designated gates around the ballpark. Tickets display what gate fans should use to enter the stadium. At Meiji Jingu Stadium, visiting fans sit on the third base side, which is marked on signs around the park.
Regardless of where fans enter the stadium, it should be a quick and fairly easy process. Ushers will double check tickets when climbing the stairs up to the concourse and help fans find their seats.
Pregame activities at a Tokyo Yakult Swallows game include the typical player warmups, ceremonial first pitches, player introductions, and cheerleaders. Like many teams in Japan, the Swallows employ about a dozen young women to cheer on the team during games. The cheerleading team, known as Passion, greets fans before the game by the center field gates.
In addition to the cheerleaders, the Swallows have a group of mascots. The team has a pair of anthropomorphic swallow siblings named Tsubakuro and Tsubami. The pair were on the field during warmups, but most importantly helped cheer on the team’s starting lineup during player introductions.
Exploring the ballpark
Due to its age Meiji Jingu Stadium does not have many of the amenities fans expect at a ballpark. Additionally, due to its size many amenities are outside the stadium. The most prominent example is that team locker rooms are across the street from the park. So, along the first base side fans can watch as Tokyo Yakult Swallows players walk to the stadium in full uniform.
Although there are stores inside the stadium selling team gear, there are also many tents outside the park.
The concourse underneath the seating bowl has limited space, but there are a few interesting elements. Behind home plate is signage for the stadium along with a pair of plaques depicting the ballpark. Fans may also be lucky to find a cutout of the Swallows mascot Tsubakuro, too. My wife Katie & I stumbled upon the cutout and I grabbed her picture with the bazooka-wielding bird.
Eating at the ballpark
There are multiple dining options at Meiji Jingu Stadium. Any important option to consider before entering the ballpark itself are the numerous kitchen carts around the ballpark. They offer a variety of items that varies by location.
Once fans enter the ballpark, they are likely to find a pamphlet that details all the dining options at the stadium. It lists all the generic items, but also the gourmet items branded with different Tokyo Yakult Swallows coaches, players, and mascots. Due to the age of the stadium though, fans are unable to walk completely around the ballpark to reach the various concession stands. Visiting a stand in center field requires people to exit the stadium and re-enter, which is allowed.
The food at the ballpark covers the typical fare at Japanese stadiums. There are bento boxes, curry, hot dogs, long potatoes, ramen, and more. One of the more unique options is a branch of HUB, which is a British pub not far from the ballpark. They sell fish and chips and other traditional British pub food.
With several tempting options, I opted for the Tetsuto Yamada gourmet curry. Curry is typical ballpark fare in Japan, but this version was uniquely served to honor Yamada.
Drinking at the ballpark
The beer options at Meiji Jingu Stadium cover the usual spectrum of Japanese macrobrews. Fans will see the typical beer girls toting Asahi Super Dry, Kirin Ichiban, and Yebisu through the stands. I also spotted a Heineken beer girl, which was a first for me. There are also people pouring highballs and a special Jingu lemon sour as well.
Craft beer choices are limited at the stadium. A small Tap Marché stand serves beers from Brooklyn Brewery, Spring Valley Brewery, and Yona Yona Ale. Kirin Brewery has a stake in all three breweries though.
Watching the ballgame
The only spot at Meiji Jingu Stadium with cover is the upper deck behind home plate where an awning provides some protection from the elements. Unfortunately, the rest of the stadium is left open. In addition to supporter seating in left field for the visitors and right field for the home team, the ballpark has two other unique seating options.
Along the first and third base sides there is loge (boxed) seating. These Ponta seats have four seats in a box with small tables in front of each pair of fans. In right field, home team fans can buy tickets in the 7/Eleven Deck. The deck is at the top of the stadium, but provides seating at a table.
From the first base side, fans can see the new National Stadium and part of the Shinjuku skyline.
The seating bowl is close to the field at Meiji Jingu Stadium, which allows fans to easily capture photos of the game. I took advantage of my seats midway up the first base line to capture pictures of the visiting Hanshin Tigers, including the two all-star rookies (Kōji Chikamoto and Seiya Kinami) at the top of their lineup.
I also got several photos of the home team, including NPB single-season homerun champ Wladimir Balentien.
Although the team’s primary mascots, Tsubakuro and Tsubami, rarely ventured into the stands, Torukuya regularly posed for fans.
One thing that differentiates the Lucky Seventh at Meiji Jingu Stadium from other ballparks is Tokyo Yakult Swallows fans sing “Tokyo Ondo” while dancing with umbrellas.
Recapping the fan experience
Meiji Jingu Stadium shows its age with its narrow concourse and lack of awning to protect fans from the sun and rain. However, the Tokyo Yakult Swallows put on a good gameday experience for fans. Fans are seated close to the action. Beer girls regularly pass through the stands. The concession lines may be long, but move quickly. The food may be customary Japanese ballpark fare, but is tasty. Perhaps most importantly, Swallows fans bring their own unique flair to the game with their cheers, singing, and twirling of umbrellas.
Final: Hanshin Tigers 7, Tokyo Yakult Swallows 4