‘Ohtani changed our store’: Blue Dodgers jerseys listed for $510 US at Japanese shop

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Mai Fukuo was gift-shopping for a friend. Hideki Chiba was in the same sports store in the Shinjuku area of Tokyo looking for something for his father-in-law.

They each picked up items in blue — Los Angeles Dodgers Blue, of course. This reflects the colour revolution that’s evident all over Tokyo in the last few months since Shohei Ohtani moved from the Los Angeles Angels — base colour, red — to sign a $700-million, 10-year contract with the Dodgers.

Angels caps have almost vanished in Tokyo. A Dodgers lid is the fashion item, a bit like designer-label goods.

“Ohtani just changed our store,” said Takuto Yamashita, a part-time worker at a shop called Selection, which boasts Japan’s largest array of MLB gear for all 30 teams, and the 12 Japanese pro teams, too.

But there’s one team that matters more than the rest in Japan. And only one player, which is why the Dodgers invested so heavily in Ohtani; not just for his pitching and hitting, but for his celebrity status to market the Dodgers as Japan’s team.

“The place is completely different. It went from all red to all blue,” Yamashita added. “Without Ohtani in these last few months, the sales in this store would be so different.”

Fukuo eyed a traditional white jersey with “Dodgers” in script across the front. She lifted it off the rack — a quilt of Dodgers and Ohtani garb — and admired it for looks, size and texture.

“I’m thinking of buy this t-shirt for my co-worker because Ohtani is very famous — of course in Japan — and also all over the world,” she explained. “He likes baseball and he likes Ohtani so I’m thinking of this.”

In another shopping aisle, Chiba dropped a traditional Dodgers cap into his hand-held shopping basket.

‘He’s a Japanese icon’

“He [Ohtani] is like a hero to us, at least to me as a baseball fan,” Chiba said. “Everybody knows him, even if they are not baseball fans. To me, he’s a Japanese icon. I think people expected him to be a good player, but he is more than anyone expected.”

Store manager Hayato Daido estimated that 60 per cent of the sales come from Dodgers gear, or Ohtani specific t-shirts, jerseys, key chains, etc. Assistant store manager Takato Suzuki suggested it might be as high as 70 per cent. Daido said about 10 per cent of sales were linked to local teams like the Tokyo Giants.

Daido said Ohtani-related sales are “four or five times” more than they were prior to the Dodgers announcing in December they’d signed him. He said gear has yet to arrive for Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who joined the Dodgers on a 12-year, $325-million US contract — reported to be the highest in money and longest in duration for any pitcher.

“There is no doubt there will be demand for it,” Daido said. “We’re just waiting.”

WATCH | Behind the Blue Jays’ pursuit of Ohtani:

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Surprisingly, what’s still selling are Ohtani caps and jerseys from his six years with the Angels.

“That’s because they are not being produced any more and have become collector’s items,” Suzuki, the assistant manager, said.

The store resembles a museum to Ohtani, filled with posters, memorabilia and “Sho-time” emblazoned on myriad items. A few Ichiro Suzuki shirts hang for sale, reminders of the certain first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Shirts with Ohtani’s dog are a big item — Dekopin in Japanese but known as Decoy in English. The next big seller could be anything related to his surprise marriage.

Being an Ohtani fan comes with a price, and it can be steep. The ordinary Dodgers cap, like other MLB caps, sells for about 6,300 yen — about $42.

However, Ohtani-specific items are much higher. A traditional blue Dodgers cap with the interlocking LA on the front, which also features No. 17 on the side and a replica of Ohtani’s signature goes for 22,400 yen — about $150.

Ohtani-used glove sells for nearly $13,400 US

If you want a baseball that Ohtani threw in a game on April 27, 2023, brace yourself. The price tag is a whopping 3.3 million yen — about $22,000. An Ohtani-used glove sells for almost 2 million yen — $13,400.

Taiwanese Torben Lin offered a contrarian view. In town shopping, his interest was in buying a Masataka Yoshida jersey, the Japanese outfielder who wears No. 7 for the Boston Red Sox. He bypassed the Ohtani gear — intentionally.

“Ohtani is a good player. He’s really good,” Lin said. “He has two or three skills. But to be honest, I think he’s not perfect. You know, it’s not like we all need to buy his stuff. His souvenirs. His shirts. I think we need to support other players.”

That perspective didn’t deter Hina Kishi. She works as a waitress in a Japanese restaurant, admired a blue Dodgers jersey on the rack and said she intended to buy it. Even after she looked at the price of 77,000 yen — about $510.

“Very expensive,” she said, muttering about how she’d work the spending around her payday. She said she works wearing a kimono, a wrap-around garment and Japan’s traditional dress. She said the jersey would offer a “different look.”

“I saw baseball in person for the first time at the World Baseball Classic last year at the Tokyo Dome,” she said. “I respect Ohtani so much for being the best and also such a good person.”

She said she was so taken that she flew to Los Angeles shortly thereafter to see Ohtani play with Angels.

Fans seem willing to pay to be outfitted like Ohtani with demand soaring and profits to divvy up. A store employee said a blue Dodgers cap with a script “D” above the bill — being worn frequently in spring training — nearly sold out in a few days.

“They talk about Ohtani on Japanese news every day,” Suzuki, the assistant manager, said. “We can’t think of what business would be like without him.”

Ditto for MLB and the Dodgers.



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