Okinawa’s Ouendan are Prepared

By
Updated: March 9, 2015

Shiba Taguchi, Ryukyu Sports News

Naha, OkinawaApril 27, 2021: Shisa fans have had to wait until the fourth week of the season, but the time is now fast approaching when Okinawa will host a team from North America in Shisa Stadium in a regular season PEBA game. It will be an historic first for the ball club and its supporters are eager to make an impression on the rest of the league. The Kalamazoo Badgers come to town on April 30th for a three game series. Okinawa’s two fan cheering clubs (ouendan), the reds and the blues, are ready to put on a show. Both of the clubs rehearse the official song of the Shisa even when Okinawa is on the road.

 

The Okinawa Shisa’s Song
(Official English Language Version)

Running swiftly like the wind that blows from the North
Like the graceful heron soaring in the azure sky
Indomitable spirit of the youth shows the victor’s grace
The name that shines in glory “Okinawa Shisa”
Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Okinawa Shisa
Go, Go, Go, Go!

 
Powerful hits display the strength and
Skillful pitches display the cunning
Trained with every discipline here at Naha
Crowned with constant victory glorious, matchless feat
Always proud, invincible “Okinawa Shisa”
Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Okinawa Shisa
Go, Go, Go, Go!

 

With the reds seated in the left field bleachers and the blues seated in the the right field bleachers, the two supporters’ clubs hold a competition of their own during the course of Shisa home games, each chanting and cheering their hearts out and trying to outdo the other. I spoke with Nako Takanibu, a member of the reds, who was very excited about the coming series with the Badgers. “For the first time the rest of the world will see how we do things in Shisa Stadium,” he told me, in reference to the television broadcast of the series on three continents. “It will be Kalamazoo’s first trip to Japan as well, so we’ll be introducing them to our kind of baseball. They will hear the sound of our voices and the beating of our drums. If we do our part, it will haunt them in their sleep.” A member of the blues, Sakamoto Tsurayaki, agreed. “We will shout ourselves hoarse this weekend, no doubt. We may not win, but the Badgers will be in no doubt about where they were.”

Eight foot fences separate the ouendan bleachers from the rest of the stadium. “To keep the animals in,” jokes Nako. The members of the two supporters’ clubs pay annual dues for the privilege of sitting in these sections set aside for them, and they are regularly at or near capacity. The ouendan of Okinawa, unlike those found on the mainland, rely solely on their voices, their drums, and their hands in their chants, eschewing other musical instruments and noisemakers. “All of the Japanese ouendan incorporate drums,” says Lupin right fielder Kuniyoshi Kato, who has played many a game in the outfield of Shisa Stadium, “but the Shisa fans use drums. You can feel them in your gut. Boom, boom, boom.”

What will the Badgers players make of the cacophony of chants and drumming coming from the outfield bleachers? I posed this question to one of the gaijin on Okinawa’s roster, Michael Burton, who played for eight seasons in the PEBA. “For the outfielders especially it’s going to take an adjustment. Playing in the states, you’re used to the odd heckler or drunken bleacher bum yelling things out, but the ouendan are on another level. A few guys it won’t effect much at all because their concentration is so good that they can just tune it out. For others it’s going to be a long three nights. And God help you when a runner gets into scoring position. There’s a whole other cheer for that, and it’s raucous.” When asked how long it took him to adjust to road games in Japan in his first year with the Shisa, Burton chuckled, “I’ll let you know when it happens.”