Mac on Tokyo: David Watkins
David Watkins has established a place for himself in the annals of Japan Baseball Writing as the co-founder of tokyoswallows.com, the premier English language site for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. A well-known face in the crowds at Meiji Jingu Stadium, Mac was lucky enough to talk to him about what brought him to Japan, his love of the Swallows, his company Yamatalk English, and his thoughts on the rest of the 2017 season.
Maction Planet: Hi David. Thanks for joining us and sharing your Tokyo tale with us today. Before we go into any Tokyo Yakult Swallows-related stories, I guess we should start at the beginning. What brought you to Japan in the first place?
David Watkins: You’re most welcome Mac. Well, to cut a long story short, after I graduated from university, I worked for a couple of years in the financial sector, and was staring down the barrel of a life in a career I did not care for in any way, shape or form. So I researched my options and decided to do what I’d always assumed to that point was impossible – to go to live and work in Japan. A decade and a half later, I’m still here, with my roots now firmly planted, and indeed spreading.
MP: Why Japan?
DW: From way back when I was a child, I’ve always had an interest in Japan. The catalyst for that interest was mainly video games, and to a much lesser extent anime. As I grew older that interest turned to fascination, but like I said, I never thought I’d be able to actually move here.
MP: That sounds familiar! And to realise that dream was truly the greatest feeling I bet! Did you visit Japan before you moved here?
DW: Never. Money was always fairly tight, and I never got out of Europe travel-wise up until then. The nearest I got to Japan was wandering the streets of Dobuita in Shenmue.
MP: I guess we all have to begin somewhere. So, you moved here! At the time, did you have a time constraint on on how long you would be in Tokyo?
DW: None at all, I was playing it all by ear. My employer at the time sponsored my work visa, so as long as I was employed, I was okay legally. Plus I had no burning desire to return to the UK before I had given Japan my best shot so to speak.
MP: Understood. How did the reality of Tokyo, living and working here, compare to your expectations and dreams?
DW: Those early days were somewhat of a blur if I’m honest. I tend to be pretty fluid in terms of adapting to new situations, so it was kind of like life in the UK, just with so much more on top of it, added value if you will. Living and working in a metropolis the size and scale of Tokyo just gave me so many options with which to enrich my everyday life. I remember just filling any free time I had effortlessly, hopping on a train to a new neighborhood, and just wandering around exploring. The “Oh s**t, I’m in Tokyo!” moments came thick and fast. Oh, and GAMES ARCADES IN EVERY TOWN!
MP: This was exactly how I felt first moving here. To be honest, it is how I still feel now! The city is constantly changing, and is so large in scale, breadth and depth, that I do not think it is possible to get bored in Tokyo
At what point can we say “Enter, The Swallows”?
DW: In that first year, I was hunting for a soccer substitute, being that I was an avid follower of English football team Aston Villa back in England, and was looking for a team to follow in Japan. Rather than soccer, I thought I’d try baseball, a sport I’d had little prior exposure to, but one that served a similar historical role in Japanese culture that soccer does back in the UK. Given that I was living in Tokyo, that gave me a choice of a few teams at the time, but rather than opt for the “easy” option of the city’s famous evil empire aka the Yomiuri Giants, I went to a Swallows game instead at Meiji Jingu Stadium. I was enchanted by it all pretty much from the first second, making it my second home here in Japan from that point on, and the Swallows have been a prominent part of my life, for better and worse, ever since. (A much longer answer to this question can be found on the Tokyo Swallows website)
MP: I’ve read that post on tokyoswallows.com several times over the years, which then begs the question… how did the website come about?
DW: Back in around 2006 or so, friends of mine and now fellow Tsubamegun cohorts Garrett DeOrio and Christopher (the Shochu Whisperer) Pelligrini, were involved in the now inactive Japanese news and politics website Transpacific Radio. They, specifically Garrett, also did regular podcasts on Japanese current affairs, and Chris and I were invited to do Japanese Baseball podcasts for Transpacific Radio, a podcast that would eventually become what is now the Tokyo Swallows Podcast. Anyway, after we had a few podcasts under our belt, I believe Garrett and Chris set up the Tokyo Swallows site on early 2008, with the original thinking something along the lines of “Hey, I bet if we set up this site, Dave will write a load of stuff about the Swallows on it.”. And so proved to be the case, and here we are almost ten years later, now with a team of six writers, having written game reports in English for every Swallows regular and post-season game since that 2008 season, and we’re also now not far off forty episodes of our podcast too.
MP: It’s a fantastic achievement and you have really made your mark on English-language Japan baseball reporting. I’m sure you have some interesting anecdotes of incidents that have occurred as a result of the site’s existence and your involvement in it?
DW: Good question, I most likely do, but most of my baseball memories have just melded together into one big blur of highs, lows, and hangovers! One thing that springs to mind was a party we held back in 2012 to celebrate the site’s 1000th post. Not only was it great to meet some of the followers of our site and put some faces to names, but also Swallows legend Tony Barnette and his wife Hillary (previously interviewed on Mac On Tokyo) also put in an appearance It was quite bizarre talking to Tony, and have him quote back to me some of the things I had written about him in his early days on the team. Thankfully it wasn’t anything too harsh!
Other than that I’m not really sure. I go as many games as my life allows, I just happen to have spent literally hundreds of hours writing, and talking into microphones about the Swallows on top of all that stadium time. Glamorous it is not!
MP: I empathise completely. It’s certainly a commitment, and as you go more and more then the ‘giri’ (obligation) to go more increases in proportion!
Where do you hope to take the site in 2017 and beyond?
DW: Well, the thing about the site is this: it’s about a niche operation as it comes. A website, in English, about one of the less popular teams in Japanese baseball. That said, I do think we serve an important purpose as a window for people who are interested in this wonderful brand of baseball we have here in Japan. and more specifically it’s most likeable team (objective fact). Of course our primary audience would be non-Japanese, but we also have a smaller audience of Japanese fans who like the way we do things. As we’ve always stated, our pro-Swallows bias is open and extreme, and I think a lot of Japanese fans like that. Not to mention our (often rather warped) sense of humour that is probably not so prevalent in Japanese language coverage of the sport/team.
So going forward, I guess keep on keeping on would be the primary goal. Whether or not that means more focus on social media content, and possibly more podcasting, and less focus on dedicated day-to-day game reports is something that I think we’ll have to think about sometime in the not too distant future. After all we all have pretty busy and varied lives outside of baseball, and we’ve never received any financial reward over the years for what we do (nor indeed recognition from the Swallows organisation itself), so finding that extra time and motivation six evenings a week during (often predominantly losing) baseball seasons can be a challenge at times. Our love for the team still runs deep though, so that works as a consistently strong motivator!
MP: The service you offer is unique and well-respected, and has a reach beyond what you may expect. I have spoken to the families of several Swallows players, both current and former, and I know they rely on the site for information about their loved ones who are playing ball across the ocean. Website aside, and I know you covered this in a recent podcast, but having now seen the team at the start of the season, how do you think the Swallows will do for the rest of 2017?
DW: While we’re still not even half way through the season, it’s looking like this year may be one to forget for our birds. So far it’s been a familiar story of injuries galore, while trying to piece together a pitching rotation out of a ramshackle collection of young and veteran arms. Add in a drastically under performing out of sorts superstar in Tetsuto Yamada and you’ve got a recipe for some bottom of the standings shenanigans. Looking on the positive side, only the top two teams in the CL currently have a winning record, so if we can see some of the wounded return and then get on some kind of run of form during the second half of the season, then sneaking into the playoff equation come October isn’t beyond the realms of possibility but… Yeah, probably won’t happen.
MP: Indeed. It is incredible that the team generates such love despite its “volatile” performances, let’s just leave it at that! Going back to the fan experience, obviously we bring a lot of guests to Jingu on Maction Planet Baseball Tours, and invariably they all come away describing it as the highlight of their time in Tokyo. I assume you would echo our believe that everyone needs to take in a game during their time in The World’s Greatest Metropolis?
DW: Absolutely! There is no place I would rather be in the whole of Japan than in the stands at Jingu on a game day. There’s just something special about it that’s quite unlike anywhere else. The friendly and passionate, yet comparatively laid back fans, the singing and dancing with the obligatory umbrellas, the beer, the atmosphere, and that’s even before mentioning what goes on on the field! I don’t think there has been a single person that I’ve taken to a game that hasn’t walked away charmed by the whole experience, and they never ever forget it. Taking in a game at Jingu is definitely a relatively hidden gem for any visitor to Tokyo. I mean you could go to a game at Tokyo Dome but, come on!
MP: Due to game schedules, we sometimes have to take guests to the Tokyo Dome. While people do have a good time, we would not describe the experience as comparable to a night at Jingu! Aside from all the baseball, anything else you’re up to?
DW: Yeah, aside from watching all the losing baseball, I have been working hard at the small company I started roughly four years ago, Yamatalk English. We specialise in teaching young Japanese kids to read and write in English. To that end we have also been all over Tokyo and it’s surrounding prefectures of late conducting teacher training workshops to aid Japanese teachers in their teaching of English literacy skills. Things are ticking along nicely, and for anyone interested, more info can be found at our website http://www.yamatalk-english.com/
MP: David, we really appreciate you joining us for this edition of “Mac on Tokyo”. All the best to Yamatalk and the Swallows – I think the latter need it more! Any comments you would like to sign off with?
DW: You are most welcome Mac, thank you for having me. Final comments huh? Erm, come to Jingu! If you see me say hi! Become a Swallows fan! You (probably) won’t regret it!
Maction Planet runs Tokyo Baseball Tours throughout the Japan Baseball season. Guest have repeatedly told us, and reviewed on TripAdvisor, that a visit to Jingu Stadium on a Maction Planet Baseball Experience is one of the true highlights of a trip to The World’s Greatest Metropolis. You will not just be watching the game – you will be part of the Swallows community. We even provide all the gear – cheering batons, shirts, caps and mini umbrellas – required to make you look and sound the part of a true fan!
When the Swallows are not at home, we have taken guests to home games of the Yomiuri Giants, Yokohama Baystars, Seibu Lions or Chiba Lotte Marines. We also run Tokyo College Baseball Tours, which is an entirely different experience to the professional game!
Whatever your interests in Tokyo, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org!