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The away team

In Dice-K's new town, Japanese media find a friendly atmosphere

They love Boston's clam chowder.

But the weather stinks.

They actually find Bostonians friendly.

They say the city isn't that expensive.

They're in awe of Red Sox fans.

They're partial to Jason Varitek, since he's catching for Dice-K. And Curt Schilling, since he's keeping an eye out for the young pitcher.

The sushi at Fenway? Not bad at all.

And they loved the souvenirs, lugging home bags of Red Sox T-shirts, caps , and sweatshirts.

They're the Japanese media who swarmed into town to record every pitch, glitch , and twitch of Dice-K. (Yep, they call him Dice-K, too . )

More than 170 Japanese reporters, photographers, cameramen , and crew poured into Fenway Park for the home opener series against the Seattle Mariners. And though the weather was hostile and Daisuke Matsuzaka only fair in his debut, the media seemed overwhelmed by the warm welcome they received, from a cab driver who returned a $4,000 camera left by a TV reporter to the waiters at Legal Sea Foods who wore headbands that said, in Japanese, "If it isn't fresh, no dice."

Parts of Fenway looked like a little Tokyo, with WEEI sports radio handing out posters that said "san-shin" on one side, translated into Japanese characters on the other. In smaller letters, it said: "san-shin = strike out." Dunkin' Donuts welcomed the Japanese to Fenway Park with its huge billboard behind center field spelling out the greeting in Japanese. One food stand on Yawkey Way had its usual sign: "Italian Sausage, Pizza." Underneath, a smaller sign had been tacked on: "Sushi." And in the media dining room on the fifth level, bento boxes of sushi were added to the box suppers of ham and cheese or turkey sandwiches with chips.

Because of the notorious Japanese work ethic, the time differences -- and deadlines -- that had them up early, and the lousy weather, their stay in Boston was mostly a matter of eating and sleeping, reporting and filing. There wasn't much time for sightseeing or bar hopping. Many had to get up at the crack of dawn to do live feeds from Fenway for the nightly news back home. But most of them will be back throughout the summer, to document Dice-K's first season here.

About sleeping: Many stayed at large chains such as the Back Bay Hilton, the Boston Sheraton , and the Copley Marriott.

About eating: Somehow they found their way to the big names -- Legal Sea Foods, the Summer Shack, Grille 23, the Union Oyster House.

Sherry Yamamoto was part of a 10-person crew from TV Asahi, one of Japan's major networks. They ate clams at the Summer Shack and sausage and peppers at Fenway Park. At the Union Oyster House, they waited 45 minutes for a table, then feasted on fried calamari and lobster, washed down with a Sam Adams seasonal, on tap.

Everywhere, everyone ordered clam chowder.

"It's much better here than home," said Hideki Kuriyama, a sports commentator for TV Asahi who played professional baseball in Japan. The day of Dice-K's Fenway introduction, he, Yamamoto, and two other colleagues -- Hiroyuki Mihira and Takashi Yokoi -- had lunch at the Prudential Center food court (chowder again), then shopped around.

Yamamoto stopped at Starbucks, her favorite back home, and bought an iced latte with caramel syrup. At Barnes & Noble, Yokoi picked up a Red Sox magazine with David Ortiz, Varitek, and Dice-K on the cover. Then it was on to Olympia Sports, which devotes much of its space these days to all things Red Sox.

"Tokyo is a very expensive city, so nobody's complaining about Boston prices," said Yamamoto.

Kuriyama quickly zeroed in on a table of T-shirts, and picked up three for friends. He said he likes the "little pair of red socks" logo. And he was impressed that the store also carried the blue Seibu Lions shirts and caps: Dice-K's former team. "We've never seen a Japanese team T-shirt in the United States," said Yamamoto, a production coordinator who did much translating for her colleagues.

She tried on a Red Sox jacket that fit perfectly but, at $80, decided against it. Meanwhile, Kuriyama, who was to sit in the stands and not the media room at Fenway that night, picked up a Red Sox blanket. He threw in a Red Sox cap, and threw down his credit card for a total of $99.60.

Yokoi stood outside the store, flipping through his magazine. Though he hadn't done any official sightseeing during the whirlwind trip, he said he was happy to see "historic Fenway Park" and just to walk the streets. "It's one of the historic cities in America, and I can really see that," he said. His friend, Mihira, said that Boston seemed like a European city, with its old brick buildings.

Back in the sporting goods store, Kuriyama decided the blanket wasn't enough. He picked out a black Under Armor sweatshirt. Now he was ready for Fenway Park on a chilly spring evening that felt more like November. The crew returned to their hotel in the early afternoon and rested briefly. "It's going to be a long night for us," said Yamamoto.

By 2:30, they had changed to warmer clothes and walked to Fenway, Kuriyama lugging his new blanket in a plastic bag. "My lifesaver," he noted. Walking past a Howard Johnson's motel near the park, they noticed a sign for the Hong Kong Cafe. They ordered takeout: seafood stir fry and eggplant and garlic, plus sweet and sour soup, which they took to the park.

But there were a couple of detours en route. Because of her fluent English, Yamamoto was interviewed by American TV reporters wanting to know all about Dice-K and his upcoming game against the other Japanese favorite, Ichiro Suzuki. Likewise, Japanese reporters cornered their American counterparts: Could they please explain the Dice-K frenzy? And, toward the end of the game: How many games could he lose before the fans start turning on him? (Fifteen, replied one Boston reporter.)

During the game, Yamamoto and Kuriyama sat in the stands, bundled against the cold. Most of their brethren watched the game from the warmth of the media room, their eyes moving between the television screens and their laptop screens.

Natsuko Aoike, a television sports reporter wearing a Red Sox jacket, said she hadn't had time to "have fun in Boston," though she'd sampled a Dice-K-tini at the Ritz.

But she had already come to love the city. "I like the old buildings, and since it's the town of Harvard, I feel there's a kind of intelligence in this town."

She'd heard tales of the Fenway faithful -- "that they are crazy" -- but said she found them warm and passionate. "Not so many people come to watch baseball in Japan," she said, adding that she was especially surprised to see so many women. "I like the sound this stadium makes. Everyone's voice has a lot of power."

The Morning After, Yamamoto and her crew got up early and headed to Fenway, where Kuriyama had an exclusive, live interview with Dice-K. Yes, the game was disappointing to fans back home, she said. But she added: "I think Boston is a great baseball city, and Dice-K is really lucky to be able to play here. It is amazing how excited people are about him being here. He's much better than what we've seen so far. When he's got his stuff, he's untouchable. So hopefully soon he'll be able to show that to Boston fans."

Yamamoto has an ulterior motive in rooting for him. "If he does well, they'll send us back to Boston. We just hope the weather will be better next time." Then she and her crew headed to the airport in driving rain and pinging hail, Tokyo-bound. In her bag were a couple of Wally the Green Monster stuffed animals for friends back home.

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