Traveling to Ohtani’s hometown, Mizusawa: Ben Verlander’s Japan Diary

By Ben Verlander
FOX Sports MLB Analyst

Editor’s note: Ben Verlander is spending time in Japan exploring Shohei Ohtani‘s roots, experiencing the country’s culture and meeting fans. This is the fifth in a recurring series that began Friday, Aug. 19.

Hello again from Tokyo! Today, I’m writing from inside the legendary Tokyo Dome, sitting on a bench in the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame. Be sure to check back tomorrow to hear more about that!

Yesterday, we woke up rested in our Tatami hotel room (check out yesterday’s recap to hear more about that) and headed straight back to Ohtani’s former school, Hanamaki Hagashi High School, where I sat down with his former teammate, Daiki Obara.

Ben Verlander met Daiki Obara, one of Shohei Ohtani’s high school teammates. (Photo by Nick Rago/FOX SPORTS)

Daiki was a pitcher at Hanamaki Higashi and now is a member of the local sports media. You might know him as the reporter Ohtani playfully slapped at last year’s MLB All-Star Game. I asked Daiki a wide range of questions, but my favorite was when I pressed him to give me something Ohtani is bad at, since — let’s be honest — he’s good at just about everything baseball-related.

After pointing out that Ohtani used to regularly beat the high school swim team, despite not being on the swim team, Daiki finally caved and gave me something. 

“He doesn’t like tomatoes,” he said with a laugh.

After saying goodbye to Daiki (and giving him some “Flippin’ Bats” gear as a gift), I headed for my last stop in Iwate, the Mizusawa town hall. Mizusawa, in case you didn’t know, is the town Ohtani hails from.

Verlander chatted with the mayor of Mizusawa, Ohtani’s hometown. (Photo by Nick Rago/FOX SPORTS)

Watch “Flippin’ Bats with Ben Verlander” on YouTube, or subscribe on podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts.

When I arrived, I was greeted by the mayor, as well as a group of older men who were wearing the same ridiculous Ohtani shirt that I was wearing. 

The mayor then showed me a perfect replica of Ohtani’s hand that visitors can shake, as well as a banner of the Mizusawa legend’s MLB stats.

This replica of Ohtani’s hand is available for visitors to shake in Mizusawa. (Photo by Nick Rago/FOX SPORTS)

Then it was time to head back to the train station and return to Tokyo by bullet train.

A hilarious moment happened while we were waiting on the platform. We rode the bullet train to Iwate previously, but I don’t think I truly understood just how fast this thing travels until one ripped through the station at 200 mph. One member of my crew let out a shriek as we collectively tried to hold it together.

We eventually made it back to the city and headed to dinner at a little place in Shibuya. Over the next two hours, we experienced an 11-course meal I will never forget.

The culinary adventures continued with an 11-course dinner in Shibuya. (Photo by Nick Rago/FOX SPORTS)

My favorite round was what I’d call the Japanese version of chowder served in an upside-down, hollowed-out crab shell. I wish I had the cooking skills to learn how to make this back home.

The highlight of the meal for Verlander was this chowder-esque dish. (Photo by Nick Rago/FOX SPORTS)

Finally, we ended the night by strolling around Shibuya and stopped to take pictures at the world-famous Shibuya Crossing. It’s like Tokyo’s version of Times Square. We stayed long enough to soak it all in — probably a little too long, given that one of my producers started attempting cartwheels in the street. 

What a way to end another perfect day in this country that I’m falling in love with.

Verlander likens Shibuya Crossing to New York’s Times Square. (Photo by Nick Rago/FOX SPORTS)

Ben Verlander is an MLB Analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the “Flippin’ Bats” podcast. Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, Verlander was an All-American at Old Dominion University before he joined his brother, Justin, in Detroit as a 14th-round pick of the Tigers in 2013. He spent five years in the Tigers organization. Follow him on Twitter at @BenVerlander.

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