Remembering Masayasu Okada

Today (July 30) marks the eighth anniversary of the passing of Masayasu Okada, arguably the Swallows’ biggest fan. Okada was responsible for many of the cheering rituals that continue to be used to this day, including the use of umbrellas and the singing of Tokyo Ondo. Beyond an obituary written by Jim Allen and some mentions in Robert Whiting’s You Gotta Have Wa, not much has been written about Okada in the English language. While the proceeding will not be able to do justice to Okada’s life and contribution to the Swallows, I do hope they give the reader some insight into how one man so greatly influenced the identity of our beloved team.

Masayasu Okada, born April 8 1931, was a working class Tokyo-ite. A young Okada was first exposed to Swallows baseball in 1952, when he attended a Giants-Swallows game at Korakuen stadium. What Okada saw was stands dominated by Giants fans. Feeling sorry for the Swallows, Okada decided to cheer for the team. That day in 1952 was the beginning of a special relationship that ran through the rest of Okada’s life.

While Swallows fans today are still greatly outnumbered by Giants fans, it’s important to remember that in 1952 the gap was much wider. The Swallows, still in their formative years, were barely managing to attract double digit fans into their cheering section. In order to be heard, Okada began beating a frying pan while cheering. The frying pan was one of many home-made cheering innovations brought about by Okada. It is said that Okada was the first fan to popularize the use of megaphones in baseball cheering when he brought a modified traffic cone, painted in Swallows colors, to the stands.

Despite the Swallows perennial B class finishes, the Swallows cheering section began to grow in large part to Okada’s quirky style and passion. Still outnumbered, however, Okada suggested that fans should bring umbrellas from home to make it look like there were more fans in the stands. That tradition lives on today, combined with another Okada suggestion, the singing of Tokyo Ondo. In 1978, as the Swallows finally found success, Okada suggested that Swallows fans begin singing Tokyo Ondo as it was a song that every Tokyo-ite would know. Swallows fans new and old were able to come together to sing a common anthem. Even as the number of fans increased Okada was never drowned out, as he simply exhibited even more passion in leading the crowd in cheer.

Okada’s continued loyalty was finally rewarded on October 4, 1978 at Jingu Stadium, when the Swallows beat the Chunichi Dragons to capture their first Central League pennant. After over a quarter-century of cheering on the Swallows, the team had finally won a pennant. When the Swallows were presented with the champions’ trophy, the Swallows’ Katsuo Ohsugi invited Okada to join the players in parading the trophy in front of the fans. When manager Tatsuro Hirooka gave the winning address to the fans, Okada was at his side. When the Swallows won the Nippon Series a few weeks later, the scene of Okada crying in the stand was broadcast to the nation.

Okada continued to be a regular supporter of the Swallows right up to his death in 2002. Just one week prior to his passing, Okada had traveled to Hokkaido to cheer on the Swallows. In all Okada had attended over 3800 Swallows games, and was a part of Swallows baseball for a long time. Okada was true fan that cheered for the team through good times and bad, and loved the players and the fans like family. Okada’s cheering philosophy was to make sure the fans had a good time so their positive energy would rub off onto the players. Though he may no longer be in the stands, his impact on Swallows baseball, and Japanese baseball as a whole are still felt today.

A memorial set up in right field shortly after Okada's passing. Note the frying pan and traffic cone megaphone.

About Kozo Ota

Kozo Ota is a third-generation Swallows fan that grew up on Montreal Expos baseball. When he's not at Jingu, he works as a freelance translator/interpreter to make enough money to go to Jingu. You can find random posts by Kozo on Google+ and Twitter.

  • http://tokyoswallows.com/ Garrett DeOrio

    And we haven't snared a pennant since his passing.

    Congrats, Kozo. When all is said and done, this is probably the best, and most relevant, post to have yet appeared on the Tsubamegun.

  • http://www.facebook.com/metroalex Alex Medina

    That's amazing! I never knew about him. Thank you for the great post.

  • http://tokyoswallows.com/ David Watkins

    Quality stuff.

  • No

    Great post. Made me proud to be a fan of the birds.

  • http://marinerds.blogspot.com Deanna

    I never knew about him either. That is a great story.

    Though, the ouendan were in the infield way back when Okada started, weren't they? Jingu didn't even have seats in the outfield until 1978, just grassy hills.

    • Kozo

      You're probably right. I wrote this piece in a hurry right before I left for vacation, and I probably got some details mixed up. I'll look it over and make the necessary corrections.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matthew-Chidester/629843401 Matthew Chidester

    Thanks for the blog, I was wondering where the umbrella/tokyo ondo idea came from.

    Does anyone happen to have a mp3 of that tokyo ondo that is used in the games? I've had it stuck in my head for days now lol.. thanks

    • http://tokyoswallows.com/ Garrett DeOrio

      While not the recording played at Jingu, I do have “Tokyo Ondo” mp3s somewhere, including the one-minute excerpt used in the “NPB on TPR” podcast.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matthew-Chidester/629843401 Matthew Chidester

        sweet! I'd love to have it, the only one I can find is an old sounding one (that version in the link is actually better than the one I found.. that's not the one. Anyway if you find it somewhere on your pc i'd love to have it :) Thanks

        MatthewChidester@hotmail.com

  • SFBird

    Ok, I feel inspired. I am bringing a frying pan to Jingu next week to fend off the GiantWallets!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matthew-Chidester/629843401 Matthew Chidester

    this is the only place I can find it (not the best quality)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3uP8U-iXbpo

  • Tat

    During a TV interview a few years ago, actor Toshiyuki Nishida – a Hanshin fan – told the following anecdote on Okada-san.

    When the Tigers won the pennant in 1985 at Jingu Stadium for the first time in twenty-one years, Okada-san came running towards the Tigers fans (including Nishida), who were surprised and braced themselves since everybody knew he who he was. He then shouted “Omedeto!!!” and congratulated them the long-awaited victory. Many of the Hanshin fans, moved by his goodwill, burst into tears.

  • Charles

    I never knew about Masayasu Okada either. His story makes the history of the Swallows even more impressive I think. Thanks for posting it in English. I probably couldn’t of gotten through the Japanese.

  • Naomi

    My grandfather loved the Swallows and my older brother used to take me to the games in the late 70s maybe early 80s. We used to ride our bikes to the game with our frying pans, at one point my brother was playing trombone in school and would bring it to the games to play in the oengun? Oendai? Okada san would say “nanda gaijin no chibi” but my brother so looked up to Okada San in his spit and sweat flinging fervor for the Swallows that he stuck around and I even remember staying late one game with Okada San who took us to meet the players where they came out after the game. It’s been many, many years but I can still remember him sweat drenched, hoarse voice, amping up the fans to cheer for our Swallows who were always being outshined by the giants, but we felt good knowing we were greater crazier fans. Okada-san you live on in our memories.