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The Tokyo Dome

I took another bicycle ride on Newton a few days ago. My destination was another sight I decided I needed to say I saw before I could leave Japan satisfied: the Tokyo Dome. The 500,000 square foot domed stadium, which can seat 55,000 people at capacity, is home to the famed Yomiuri Giants (the former team of New York Yankee Hideki Matsui), and hosts more than 60 baseball games annually. Opened in March of 1988, the Tokyo Dome is Japan’s first domed stadium.

However, in pure Tokyo style, it isn’t just a dome, it is a compound. As you approach the Tokyo Dome, no matter your direction, it is obscured by the Tokyo Dome City amusement park and dwarfed by the 500-plus foot Tokyo Dome Hotel, with more than 1,000 guest rooms and more than thirty restaurants, lounges, chapels and banquet halls. Just for show, there is an outdoor pool and elsewhere around the Tokyo Dome rests a bowling alley, a day-spa, Japan’s 50-year-old Baseball Hall of Fame museum, and more than ten restaurants and stores. The “Baseball Café” has to be my favorite, as it boasts on its website that it is “modeled upon the theme of the good old days of American MLB,” where “diners can enjoy true-blue American fare, like steaks and bacon and cheeseburgers.” Oh, Americans and their meat.

Whenever American sporting and cultural events find their way to Japan, they almost always end up taking place in the Tokyo Dome. In 2000, when the New York Mets played the Chicago Cubs in the first Major League Baseball opening game played outside of U.S. territory, it was there, when Tony Tubbs took on Mike Tyson in a Don King-promoted World Heavyweight Championship extravaganza in 1988, it was there. Madonna had concert there in September, but Michael Jackson and the Backstreet Boys had been to Japan’s biggest concert venue before, too.

I took some boring photographs, as the cloudy sky was unwelcoming as it was gray. Still, I stared for a while at its domed roof. The technology is apparently the same as it is at American domes, but I still find it fascinating. According to the Tokyo Dome website, “air is constantly blown into the dome by a pressure fan, keeping the air pressure inside the dome some 0.3% higher than that outside, thus holding up its covering membrane.” It is a pressure change only equivalent to that between the first and the ninth floor of a building, but it still manages to support its egg-hat. Pretty interesting.

I got there on an early weekday evening, finding the only crowds around a roofed structure, with a small food court. As I peeled through just a few hundred people, I saw on the television screens that angularly decorated the open-air, cement-grounded and litter-strewn ledge, tucked away from the street and within sight of the Tokyo Dome, that we were there to do one thing every industrialized nation can appreciate: gamble on horse-racing.

I bought fried fish on a stick for 200 yen and, after dousing it with some mustard and ketchup (my first use of the American-loved condiment here) I returned to the crowds, people-watching as I so often do. Around me the faces and bodies and emotions seemed repetitive, as if a writer with a weak handle on character-development was writing the story. They were all cigarette-smoking men with tired eyes and soon to be disappointed minds.

I stayed for one full race, watching men watching eight tiny horses bobbing up and down on a television screen. There were screams and, in the end, more heads down and flicked cigarettes than smiles and laughs. One wrinkly little man threw his racecard on the ground in angry defiance. I picked it up and found it circled with hopeful bets. I decided to take it home with me, as a tribute to the man, so someday I might think of him and wonder if he is happy somewhere with his family instead of throwing racecards and smoking cigarettes to keep from screaming at some anonymous horse on a cold, cloudy day, his only warmth hundreds of other forgotten souls waiting for that one big win.

Jaa ne,

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