I was told, when I first got to Japan, that one thing to definitely do before I left was attend a sports event. Now I am not big on sports, though I do enjoy watching soccer and volleyball games. While I was not eager, I was interested – I felt like it would be a good experience to have.
Fast forward to half way through the semester, and I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to get the chance. AIU is small and a bit far from Akita City, where the sports stadium is. I hadn’t gotten an opportunity to buy tickets to anything (not that many games were being held in Akita), and even if I had the tickets, transportation would be a bit of an issue, given the bus schedules. And then, I got it. An email from AIU inviting students to attend a basketball game, at a discounted price (only ¥500), with a ride included. Needless to say, I accepted this invitation.
Three time Tohoku Cup Champions, the Akita Northern Happinets is a professional men’s basketball team based in Akita Prefecture. Originally an expansion team of the bj league (basketball Japan league), they now compete individually in the Eastern Conference of the Second Division of the B.League (a pro men’s basketball league founded in 2016).
The Akita Northern Happinets’ official formation was announced in 2009 and they played their first game a year later. Since then, the Happinets have garnered a massive and loyal following in Akita Prefecture. The team members are mostly Japanese, with a couple American players and one Bahamian player mixed in. The current head coach, Josep Clarós, is from Spain; and former notable players hail from the U.S. and Canada. Their official colors are pink, gold, and black; and their mascot is a pink frog named Bicky.
So does AIU own this professional basketball team? Not quite, though the team was founded by an AIU alumnus. And though it’s not done every year, often a certain number of special tickets are given to AIU for currently enrolled students.
Beware “The Crazy Pink!”
As I stated before, the Happinets have a large and loyal fan base in Akita. So much so, that their fans are nicknamed “The Crazy Pink.” Speaking from experience, that nickname is no joke. Upon entering the CNA Arena, I was surrounded by people in pink tee shirts, wearing pink hats, carrying pink fans and noisemakers. Instead of just having one concessions area, a variety of foods (from ramen to hot dogs) were available all over the first and second floors, as well as team merchandise.
Our reserved seats were on the second floor and gave us a great view of the arena floor and the other seating sections. So far, aside from the overwhelming sea of pink, this venture seemed like any other sporting event I had been to. I didn’t understand what all the hype was about. The game soon started and fans began chanting and waving their fans and posters. Encouraging words were shouted and a flat screen near the front of the arena encouraged players to defend or score.
It felt… normal. In fact the entire game did. The only shocking difference I found, was that the crowd booed the opposing team. Yes, booed them. Every time the opposing team (the Earth Friends Tokyo Z) took a free throw, the once encouraging sea of pink became quite unpleasant, booing them at the top of their lungs. It was a far cry from what I’ve experienced at games back home, where fans of the home team are usually silent as the opposing side makes their moves. Other than that however, nothing was particularly shocking or stood out to me. The game went on and unfortunately, the Happinets lost to the Earth Friends, 63-73.
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Perhaps the experience varies with the sport being played. While the game was certainly entertaining and the behavior of the fans were interesting to see; I would not consider it a completely unique experience.