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(Christopher Klein for the Boston Globe)
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A passion for the Sox in Kyoto's Fenway Park

Email|Print| Text size + By Christopher Klein
Globe Correspondent / October 1, 2006

KYOTO, Japan -- They call it Red Sox Nation, but it's really a Red Sox world, despite the team's recent slide out of playoff contention.

Wherever you travel across the country, you run into Red Sox fans. You see Red Sox shirts and hats in museums, in airports, in bars. When traveling overseas, the numbers drop off, but you still spot the occasional fan proudly wearing his or her Red Sox gear.

The international nature of Red Sox fandom was driven home this summer as I wandered with my wife, Erin, along Kyoto's main thoroughfare in an unsuccessful attempt to find the restaurant where we were planning to eat dinner. After spending a week in Japan, we had quickly learned that locating an address can be a frustrating experience.

As I checked our map one more time, I was surprised to hear Erin say, ``Why don't we just go to Fenway Park?" I looked up and saw her pointing to a sign behind me. As luck would have it, we had stopped in front of a sign that read ``Fenway Park: Public Bar." Of course, we had to check it out.

We took the elevator up to the third floor, where Fenway Park was located. The doors opened to reveal a dusky, empty bar with a lone bartender inside. The bar's white walls were decorated with a few Red Sox jerseys dangling from hangers, posters of the 2004 championship team and Manny Ramírez, a map of Boston, and other Red Sox items. It looked like the bedroom decor of a typical 10-year-old boy in New England.

Having seen British and Irish pubs across Japan full of Westerners, we assumed the owner must be an American who opened the place in hopes of drawing a crowd of countrymen. However, after ordering a couple of glasses of Sapporo beer, we were surprised to learn that our Japanese bartender, Yasuyuki Ohta, was one of the owners, along with his brother.

While former Red Sox pitcher Tomo Ohka is from Kyoto, it wasn't a local connection that turned Ohta into an ardent Red Sox fan. It was Nomar Garciaparra. And while Garciaparra has been gone from the team for a couple of years, Ohta's passion for the Sox hasn't diminished a bit.

Ohta spoke a fair amount of English but he certainly wasn't fluent. Erin and I knew about five words of Japanese between us, so we found ourselves defaulting to Red Sox player names in order to communicate. The three of us threw out names: Manny . . . Varitek . . . Papelbon . . . Big Papi. After pretty much covering the entire lineup, we were afraid we might run out of things to say, but Ohta, searching for words to connect with us, suddenly blurted, ``Uh . . . uh . . .Yankees suck!"

We determined that Ohta had come to Boston five years ago and realized his dream of seeing two Red Sox games in person. He showed us the two worn tickets, which he had pinned on one of the walls of the bar. Ohta said that few Americans have visited his bar in the year that it's been open. Most of the patrons are Japanese, but it's unlikely that many share Ohta's strong interest in the Sox.

In some respects, it's not surprising to find a connection to Boston baseball in the middle of Japan. The country's first baseball team, the Shimbashi Athletic Club, was established in 1878 by Hiroshi Hiraoka, who had become a fan of the old Boston Red Stockings while studying railway engineering in Boston. Hiraoka, known as the ``father of baseball in Japan," was a member of the first class to enter the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame.

Kyoto's professional baseball team, the Hanshin Tigers, could be considered Japan's version of the Red Sox. The Tigers have the most fervent fans in Japan's two professional leagues, and they play in the leagues' oldest stadium. Unfortunately, they have had about the same track record as the Sox in winning championships, claiming just one Japan Series title since 1950.

If the Tigers are the Japanese version of the Red Sox, then the Tokyo Giants, Hanshin's fiercest rival, are the equivalent of the New York Yankees, playing in the country's largest city, generating the most media coverage, and winning 20 championships during the last 56 years.

Just as the Tigers often play second fiddle to the Giants, Kyoto can be lost in the shadows of the huge metropolis of Tokyo. But while Tokyo is Japan's center of financial and political power, Kyoto is the country's cultural heart and its most historically significant city, having been the imperial capital of Japan until the 1860s. Strolling through Kyoto's narrow alleys lined with wooden houses and ryokans, traditional Japanese inns, you get the feel of old Japan. In the city's Gion district, you can still see geishas shuffling along cobblestone streets to their next appointments.

Along with its old imperial palaces, the most notable sites in Kyoto are its more than 1,700 Buddhist temples and 300 Shinto shrines. Among the most striking and ostentatious of Kyoto's temples is Kinkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion. Built in 1397, the three-story pavilion is covered with pure gold leaf.

In the eastern foothills of Kyoto is Ginkaku-ji, the Temple of the Silver Pavilion, which was established in 1482. Despite its name, the temple is not silver at all. A lack of money and the outbreak of war scuttled plans to place a silver coating on the structure. Ginkaku-ji is worth visiting for its surrounding grounds, which include gardens of rippled sand, rocks, cultivated moss, and trees.

Fa rther south is Kiyomizu-dera, another temple and one of the most famous landmarks in Kyoto. The veranda of its main hall offers commanding views of the city. Below the main hall, Japanese line up to drink from the springs of Otowa Falls, reputed to cure any illness.

After a day of seeing Kyoto's temples and shrines, little did we think we'd be doing something as familiar that evening as watching Red Sox highlights. But there we were in Fenway Park, named after a shrine of another kind, as Ohta played a DVD recapping the glorious 2004 championship season.

Contact Christopher Klein, a freelance writer in Waltham, at christopherjklein@gmail.com.

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