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.