Miami-Dade County

Baseball nation: Fans celebrate Japanese Heritage Day at Marlins Park

Shintaro Kuranuki and Shuji Okada led the ‘oendan’ at Marlins Park during Japanese Heritage Day. Many Japanese carried on baseball traditions from the island practiced by the oendan.
Shintaro Kuranuki and Shuji Okada led the ‘oendan’ at Marlins Park during Japanese Heritage Day. Many Japanese carried on baseball traditions from the island practiced by the oendan. For the Miami Herald

Japanese fan Yusuke Sakuma studied a page during Sunday’s Miami Marlins vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball game, but he wasn’t concentrating on player stats.

He was reciting a song written in Japanese dedicated to Marlins Japanese baseball player Ichiro Suzuki.

The Miami Marlins on Sunday hosted Japanese Heritage Day at Little Havana’s Marlins Park, bringing many from the island who live in Miami nostalgia thanks to the oendan, which roughly translates to cheering section in Japanese.

“It feels like a home away from home,” he said. “Everyone is from Japan here.”

In celebration of Japanese Heritage Day, the Marlins also made a donation to the Miami Hoshuko Japanese School for $2,575.

More than 500 Japanese sat in a section located on the right field of the park and carried traditional Japanese cheers throughout the game. Suzuki played the right-field position. Many wore traditional kimonos and beat a drum to cheer on the Marlins and their hero, Suzuki. The Fushu Daiko, Japanese Taiko Drumming, also provided sounds between innings.

Akihiko Kaji, who lives in Miami, was joined by his family and cheered the home team.

“In Japan, it’s more noisy,” he said. “It’s exciting. In the U.S.A. we are shy here it’s a little different with the noise.”

Japan is baseball nation. The island counts on the Nippon Professional Baseball league consisting of 12 teams representing different areas of the island. Such popular teams are the Yomiuri Giants, Hanshin Tigers and the Hiroshima Toyo Carp.

Unlike baseball in America, the fans are loud throughout the game especially when the home team is at bat. Each player has a hitting march the fans or oendan sing, while he is at bat. They count on the noise to tease the opposing team and fans.

Rekiji Tsujimoto, who works in Miami, lead the cheer.

Oendan consists of the fans, drums and trumpets,” he said. “We didn’t have a trumpet today, but we have six drum players and I am sure the Marlins will hear us.”

When Suzuki went up to bat, the oendan, wearing orange Marlins T-shirts in Japanese, stood up and sang his song from when he used to play in island for the Orix Blue Waves team now the Orix Buffaloes.

In America, fans sing Take Me Out To The Ballgame for the seven inning stretch, while in Japan they sing a fight song and throw balloons.

Japan’s consul General Shinji Nagashima said it is an exciting time for Japanese living in Miami, who he estimates a population of about 1,500 in Miami-Dade County and about 10,000 in the state. The Consulate-General of Japan is located in Miami.

“We are excited to see Ichiro playing in front of us,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity. We have a dozens of Japanese companies here. Many of the managers and employees of the companies are here to encourage Ichiro.”

South Florida is recognized for its Hispanic population, but due to the popularity and respect for Suzuki many Japanese living here have come together at the ballpark to cheer on their hero. Others even travel from different areas to see the player.

Tsujimoto has been a Marlins fans since 1995 and he will continue to do so, but he hopes Suzuki doesn’t go anywhere to continue the oendan traditions.

“It was an incredible news for us,” he said. “I hope he stays more and he appreciates the Marlins.”