A’s celebrate Japanese Heritage Night against Ohtani and the Angels


photo by Scott Nakajima Photography

OAKLAND, Calif. — The Oakland Athletics celebrated Japanese Heritage Night at the Oakland Coliseum Sept. 4 during a 4-0 win against the Los Angeles Angels in partnership with the Nichi Bei Foundation and other community organizations. The event included pre-game taiko performances, free special Japanese Heritage Night T-shirts, and a ceremonial first pitch by Consul General of Japan in San Francisco Tomochika Uyama.

“The Nichi Bei Foundation is proud to partner with the Oakland A’s over the past 10 years, as our Nichi Bei Day with the A’s was actually our first major fundraiser when we launched 10 years ago,” said Kenji G. Taguma, president of the nonprofit Nichi Bei Foundation and editor-in-chief of its community newspaper, the Nichi Bei Weekly.

The A’s have celebrated players of Japanese descent like Hideki Matsui before, but haven’t done it in the last several years.

Back in March, the Nichi Bei Foundation held its 10th annual Nichi Bei Day with the A’s, again against the Angels, but the 248 tickets sold for September’s game was four times the amount they were able to sell in March.

The Sept. 4 night game was selected due to the presence of Japanese two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani. Now in his second year with the Angels after winning the 2018 American League Rookie of the Year Award, Ohtani came to the MLB after five successful seasons with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters in Nippon Professional Baseball.

The Oakland A’s celebrated Japanese Heritage Night against Shohei Ohtani (above left) and the Los Angeles Angels on Sept. 4. photo by Scott Nakajima Photography

The evening’s events started in Championship Plaza, where the A’s invited three taiko groups to perform before the game: Queer Taiko out of Oakland, Jiten Daiko from the Buddhist Church of San Francisco, and Taiko SOBA, who is based at the Palo Alto Buddhist Temple.

“I actually reached out to the A’s a long time ago,” Galen Rogers, the director of Jiten Daiko, said. “A friend of a friend of a friend was like, ‘Hey this would be a great venue for you guys,’ so I reached out and we assumed the lead had gone dead. But then they offered us to play here and it’s been great.”

Added Vicky Zhang of Taiko SOBA: “I didn’t know the A’s do these events, but it’s a really great way to bring the community together and share appreciation of a different culture. It’s a really nice event and I’m glad they do this.”

Then, before the ceremonial first pitch, Emeryville Taiko took to the field and performed in front of the entire stadium in centerfield.

“I think it’s really great to share taiko with first time audience members who have never seen taiko before,” Queer Taiko’s founder Kristy Oshiro said. “People see it and immediately feel the vibrations of the taiko and it’s hard to walk away from that and not be affected in some positive way so it’s really special for us as performers to be able to provide that experience to others.”

The last part of the pre-game celebration saw Consul General Uyama throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Starting off the mound, the righty’s pitch ultimately came up quite short of the plate. Uyama didn’t seem to mind, waving to the crowd with both arms raised as he walked off to shake hands with his catcher.

CELEBRATING JAPANESE HERITAGE — Consul General of Japan in San Francisco Tomochika Uyama threw out the ceremonial first pitch. photo by Scott Nakajima Photography

Once the game started, the fans in the Japanese Heritage night section were one of the most active all night. Decked out in a combination of the free T-shirts designed by local artist Brandt Fuse of Sumofish, A’s gear, hachimaki (headbands), and a few wielding sensu fans with the Japanese flag emblazoned on them, they ate bento, took pictures with Stomper, and cheered — for both the A’s and Ohtani — throughout the night.

Sensing the excitement for Ohtani’s at bat, one man wearing a happi coat over an A’s T-shirt and a matching hachimaki even tried to convince the fans around him to chant for the superstar in Japanese, though the results were shaky at best. It’s questionable whether that was due to loyalty to the A’s or a lack of Japanese speakers in the audience.

Ohtani could have used the chants, going 0-for-3 as the designated hitter with three strikeouts, though he did reach base once on a catcher’s interference call against A’s rookie Sean Murphy. On the season, the Japanese phenom has a batting average of .288 to go along with 17 home runs and 61 RBIs.

Though famed for his two-way ability, Ohtani won’t pitch in 2019 as he recovers from Tommy John surgery underwent in October 2018.

“It’s been a really fun evening to be here and support our heritage,” Liz Hasegawa-Pence, a seven-year season ticket holder, said. “I’ve noticed the club has done numerous ethnicities this season which I think is great.”

The A’s have hosted heritage nights before, with African American, Filipino, Portuguese, Greek, and Jewish events appearing at the park for several years now, but this is the first celebration for people of Japanese descent at the stadium.

“Japanese Heritage Night presented a great opportunity to get the Japanese American and Japanese community together in fun and fellowship, over our shared love of baseball, while sharing our culture with the general public,” Taguma said.

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