The Batting Center System
You can find batting centers pretty much everywhere in Japan. Although the size and layout of each center will be different, the system is pretty much the same no matter where you go.
Above you can see the batting center at Spo-Dori in Tokyo Dome City, which is set up with eight separate batting cages.
Before you can step up to bat, of course you have to pay! This will usually be done through a machine like the one above. Some machines will give you a token ("medal") while others will give you a card.
While the amount you pay depends on which batting center you go to, the fee averages between ¥300 and ¥400 for each game. At Tokyo Dome, it's ¥400 per game, though you can save money by buying sets of three or more tokens.
After you've got your tokens, you can select which batting cage you'd like. At Tokyo Dome City, the pitch speed and style are fixed at each cage, which you'll see indicated on the signage as above.
In this case, we have 100 kilometer-per-hour (62 mph) pitches, a right-handed "pitcher" (右投手, migi toshu), and a batter's box set up for a right-handed batter (右打席, migi daseki). Note that right is 右 (migi) and left is 左 (hidari). If the batting cage you'd like is crowded, unfortunately you'll just have to wait.
You'll find bats available inside the cage; just choose the one that's easiest for you to swing. Many places will also offer batting helmets to protect your head from the onslaught of balls, so it's a good idea to put one one. Batting gloves may also be available to protect your hands from blisters and bat vibration.
Now that you've got your gear ready, it's time to start batting. To do so, simply insert a token into the machine. Some machines will also let you fine-tune the pitches. In this case, you can adjust the ball position by pushing the red button to indicate you want it thrown higher or green for lower.
Depending on the batting center, one game will give you anywhere between 20 and 30 balls. Some newer places even have pitchers on projected screens, so you can watch the pitching motion to help time your swing.
Advanced Batting Centers
This is the batting center at Meiji Jingu Gaien, which is located adjacent to Tokyo's Jingu Stadium, home of the Central League's Yakult Swallows. As you can see, in front of the cage there are chairs for those awaiting their turn at bat. This can present an opportunity to learn a few tricks from other batters while you wait!
At this batting center, one game costs ¥410, and you'll get card rather than a token. You can also get a three-game card for ¥1,030. A single game is 20 pitches.
Now, here we have a much more advanced machine! You can still change the height of the ball with the round red and green buttons on the left, but here you can also adjust the speed and pitch style.
Select from a nice and easy 90 kilometers per hour (56 mph), an intermediate 110 kilometers per hour (68 mph) or a blistering 130 kilometers per hour (80 mph). For more of a challenge, push the bottom button (変化球, henkakyu), which will give you different pitches such as forks, change-ups, curves and sliders (depending on the machine, you may get all the same type or a variety of pitch styles).
If you think you can handle the big leagues, hit one of the two red buttons under 実戦級 (jissen-kyu) for a completely unpredictable, pro-level set. 上級 (jokyu) is the higher level, while 中級 (chukyu) is intermediate.
When you're ready, hit the green start button at the top right, which will let you play one game (the bottom green button lets you use all your credits at once, but this has been disabled on this machine—likely to ensure that no player hogs the cage. General courtesy is to play one game, then let other players use the machine while you wait for your next turn). To get your card returned, hit the white button at the bottom right.
The bats here are a little fun—this one has "Jingu Slugger" ("Jingu Dageki") written in yellow on the side. Bat options range from kids' size to adult.
There's nothing like the high you get when you hit a ball right in the sweet spot. It's also great for managing stress and staying in shape.
Ready to go hit that home run? Before you head out, check out the video above to see a few batting centers in action!