Photo: The crowd goes wild after Watanabe’s crucial triple.

May 24, 9 p.m., bottom of the eighth inning. Tens of thousands of Rakuten Eagles fans rise from their seats in unison, as a double from veteran infielder Naoto Watanabe drives home Toshiaki Imae and Carlos Peguero. Though this isn’t Rakuten’s usual home field, they are playing in front of an overwhelmingly crimson crowd of 44,000 spectators. It’s the 2018 edition of Rakuten Super Nighter, and Eagles fans are most certainly going home happy.

Rakuten Super Nighter is an annual event that sees the Sendai-based Rakuten Eagles play a Nippon Professional Baseball League game to a home crowd at Tokyo Dome. Rakuten employees from all over Japan gather in the thousands, celebrating the intense display of Rakuten culture by dressing up in Eagles colors, visiting booths from various Rakuten services and cheering on the company team.

And cheer they did. Thanks to Watanabe’s clutch hit, as well as a terrific complete game pitching performance from Takayuki Kishi, the Eagles earned a 4-1 victory over Pacific League rivals the Orix Buffaloes.

For many, the event is an opportunity not just to bond with coworkers from around the company, but also to invite friends and family to experience a slice of Rakuten life. Koji Shiba of the Open Service Platform Department brought his wife and two young children along to watch the game.

“We always look forward to this day,” he said. “I’ve been with Rakuten for about five years, and we’ve come to this event pretty much every year… We are actually from Sendai, so we’re big Eagles fans!”

Koji Shiba (center) and his family had a ball at Tokyo Dome.

Koji Shiba (center) and his family had a ball at Tokyo Dome.

“Whenever there is a Rakuten event I get everyone to come along – to the Family Day as well,” Shiba continued, referencing another event in which Rakuten opens its doors each year to thousands of family members looking for a glimpse of life at Rakuten.

Rakuten Travel’s Yuna Tanaka said it was her second year attending the event. “The first time was so much fun, I just had to come again,” she explained. “It’s great to be able to get together with all of my coworkers from branches in other cities and let loose a little.”

Yuna Tanaka (right) with coworkers from Rakuten Travel.

Yuna Tanaka (right) with coworkers from Rakuten Travel.

Maxim Labat of the Payments System Department brought along a friend to see the game. In three and a half years of working at Rakuten, it was his fourth time attending the event.

“I’d never actually seen baseball before coming to Rakuten,” he laughed. “So I actually started learning the rules and now I’m able to understand what’s happening! It’s great!”

Maxim Labat (right) brought a friend along to experience an intense display of Rakuten culture.

Maxim Labat (right) brought a friend along to experience an intense display of Rakuten culture.

Labat remarked upon the unique relationship his company has with sports: “Rakuten is probably the only company that has such sports assets. Also with Vissel [Kobe]… I’m more of a football fan than a baseball fan actually,” he joked, before expressing excitement at the recent signing of Spanish superstar football player Andres Iniesta.

Overall it was a big day for sports at Rakuten, with the game beginning just minutes after the Iniesta signing was announced. The star midfielder, who will soon begin playing for Rakuten-owned J.League football team Vissel Kobe, made a surprise appearance before the game to thousands of delighted spectators.

Labat summed up the feeling of the Super Nighter event succinctly: “It’s really nice, a nice time to have fun with your colleagues, to meet new friends,” he said, adding: “I really hope there could be a Vissel day as well!”

The game was won and it was time to go home – much to the dismay of this group of young trainees.

The game was won and it was time to go home – much to the dismay of this group of young trainees.