Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Immortal Hands & Eyes

H-h-h-h-hanshin Tiiiiiigeeeeeers! Ah, I like the Hanshin Tigers. Here's a little history of the Tigers for you. Because I know you can't wait to learn about the greatest baseball team on the planet.

The Hanshin Tigers are based in Nishinomiya in the Hyogo prefecture, and are owned by the Hanshin Electric Railway Co. who operate lines between Osaka and Kobe. The team was founded in December 1935 and the first players were signed in 1936. Their name was changed from the "Osaka Tigers" to the "Hanshin Tigers" in 1940, then back again in '47, then back yet again in '61. They've won the Central League five times: '62, '64, '85, '03 and '05; and they've only won the Japan Series once in 1985, but when they did the sky practically fell on Osaka. That mini-apocalypse had a profound effect on the team, but you'll find out about that a little further down this post. In 2004 the Tigers played an exhibition match against the New York Yankees, the most successful team in American baseball. The Tigers won 11-7. (Ha!) The home stadium of the Hanshin Tigers is Hanshin Koshien Stadium. It's the oldest baseball stadium in Japan, being built in 1924, and also hosts the High School Baseball Championships.

It's the fans though. The fans totally make the team. Hanshin Tigers fans are known as the most obsessive and over-enthusiastic in Japanese baseball, which is probably what attracted me to them in the first place. I also remember reading that they "have a reputation for rough behavior and a willingness to brawl with other fans or with each other, although long fights are rare". Not sure why you'd brawl with people on your own side. I guess they really are very excitable.

The fans also have an awesome tradition of releasing hundreds of balloons after the 7th innings and then singing the Tigers' fight-song, The Wind Of Mount Rokko. These lyrics come straight off Wikipedia by the way, so you know they're unquestionably accurate:

Hanshin Tigers no Uta (Rokko Oroshi)

Rokkō oroshi ni sassō to
Sōten kakeru nichirin no
Seishun no haki uruwashiku
Kagayaku wagana zo Hanshin Tigers
Ō-ō-ō-ō Hanshin Tigers

Tōshi hatsuratsu tatsu ya ima
Nekketsu sude ni teki o tsuku
Jūō no iki takaraka ni
Muteki no warera zo Hanshin Tigers
Ō-ō-ō-ō Hanshin Tigers

Tetsuwan kyōda ikuchitabi
Kitaete koko ni Kōshien
Shōri ni moyuru eikan wa
Kagayaku warera zo Hanshin Tigers
Ō-ō-ō-ō Hanshin Tigers

And this is the official English version of the song:

The Song of the Hanshin Tigers (The Wind of Mount Rokko)

Dashing swiftly through the wind blowin' from Rokko
Like the big sun soaring in the clear blue sky
Mighty spirit of the youth shows the victor's grace
The name that shines in glory "Hanshin Tigers"
Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Hanshin Tigers
Hooray, Hooray, Hooray, Hooray!

Powerful hits and skillful pitch achieved a thousand times
Trained with every discipline here at Koshien
Crowned with constant victory glorious, matchless feat
Always proud, invincible "Hanshin Tigers"
Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Hanshin Tigers
Hooray, Hooray, Hooray, Hooray!

I know what you're all thinking: "It's all very well giving us the lyrics, Max, but how can we sing along if we don't have the tune?" Well have I got a little surprise for you. Click here. And apparently you can find this song on karaoke machines in Kansai.

One of the more kickass parts of Hanshin Tigers lore is the Curse Of The Colonel.

Dotonbori River

After the Tigers' 1985 Japan Series win (which you'll remember I mentioned earlier - told you it would come back), the fans went kind of insane and there were some riots in Osaka. One of the things that the fans did was to gather on the Ebisu bridge in Dotonbori (you'll be familiar with this area if you've played Ryu ga Gotoku 2... or been there). They then went through the roster of Tigers players, and after each player that they shouted the name of, a member of the crowd who looked a bit like him would jump off the bridge into the river. But then they got to Randy Bass, the Most Valued Player of the Series and an American. They didn't have anyone that looked like an American. So, reasoning that any bearded white-guy would do, they stole one of the metal and plastic Colonel Sanders statues that stand outside all KFCs in Japan and launched it from the bridge into the river, no doubt to ecstatic cheers.

Then followed an 18-year losing streak, in which the Tigers almost always finished in the bottom half of the Central League. But who should the fans blame for the Tigers' losing streak? They were doing so well until they won the Japan Series and threw Colonel Sanders into a river! Wait, that's it! Colonel Sanders!

So the legend now is that the Hanshin Tigers won't win another Japan Series title until they find the statue at the bottom of the Dotonbori River. The Osakan local officials have spent a lot of time and money trying to get it back. They've sent divers down there numerous times. They even dredged the river, but still no luck.

The Tigers came quite close to winning the JS in 2003, and fans were giddily speculating that the curse might be over. They won the Central League that year and instead of player-lookalikes jumping into the river, 5,300 Tigers fans jumped in. When the time came for the Tigers to play the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks (now the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks), all the KFCs in Osaka and Kobe either moved their Colonel Sanders statues inside or bolted them to the pavement. Unfortunately the Tigers lost the Series four games to three.

"Please don't jump into the river"

Since then the Hanshin Tigers have won the Central League again in 2005, and generally look a lot better. And the Osaka City Council have constructed a new Ebisu bridge to stop people jumping into the river.

Well, I hope that's been interesting. It was a little longer than I'd planned, but hey. These things need space.

A typical Hanshin Tigers fan


Shichi said...

I love the Tigers, but I'm a Hawks fan. >.>

Sorry guys!

NB said...

They found Colonel Sanders!

Maxamilian said...

I know! Awesome, isn't it? I'm literally just about to write a post on it.

Greg Opie said...

I think the tune to that song could use some work. Awesome lyrics though.