Ever wished you could get a bird’s-eye view of a professional baseball game? Well, at Rakuten Kobo Stadium Miyagi, home of Nippon Professional Baseball’s (NPB) Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, you can. On May 3, a giant Ferris wheel opened for business right within the stadium complex – and the view from the top is extraordinary!
Since Rakuten was awarded NPB’s first new franchise in half a century in 2004, the internet services leader has always done things differently with its baseball team. Taking cues from its successful internet services, Rakuten saw an opportunity to approach a traditional industry from an entirely different mindset – that of a startup. The approach paid off as the Rakuten Eagles won their first championship in 2013, in only their 9th year of existence.
From Lyft to Facebook to Google, startups are known for innovation, agility and disruption. Rakuten has put those concepts into practice in what it calls Smile Glico Park, an entertainment facility adjacent to the stadium that includes not only the Ferris wheel but also a terrace cafe, attractions for children and a grass seating area for up to 7,000 spectators. Other innovations at the stadium include a natural turf playing field (a rarity in Japan) and interactive games developed by Rakuten Institute of Technology that utilize the massive full-screen LED video scoreboards.
But it is the Ferris wheel that commands the most attention. Located behind left-center field, the massive wheel is the first of its kind to be installed at a baseball stadium in Japan and, if the nearly 2,700 fans who lined up for a ride on opening day are any indication, it is certain to become a popular new way to experience one of Japan’s favorite pastimes.
Despite being new to Smile Glico Park, the Ferris wheel actually has a long connection with the community in Sendai, having previously entertained hundreds of thousands of visitors to Sendai Highland Amusement Park, which closed in 2015. There was talk of selling the attraction to overseas investors before Rakuten stepped in to buy it. Following disassembly, the Ferris wheel was carefully restored and finally installed at its new home at Rakuten Kobo Stadium Miyagi. Along the way, it also received a few upgrades, including new running gear and gondolas, as well as a giant LED screen at its center.
At Smile Glico Park’s unveiling ceremony, Yozo Tachibana, President of Rakuten Baseball, Inc. commented, “Together with (Ezaki Glico), we hope to create an even more fun and wonderful ball park.” Rakuten Eagles pitcher Takahiro Norimoto, who had just experienced his very first ride on a Ferris wheel, added, “The view was amazing! … With such a great addition to the stadium, we will be aiming to be champions and share the joy with all the fans.”
It would seem that both fans and players now have more reasons than ever to plan a trip to Sendai for a day at the ball park.