‘When we get there,’ he said, ‘it’ll be full of old guys with pencils behind their ears, smoking cigarettes and holding folded-up newspapers in their hands,’ and he was spot-on. Admittedly, part of the stadium was closed for renovations, but even allowing for this, it had the same tatty appearance and seedy atmosphere as Wimbledon dog track. Like Wimbledon, you can either pay more money and sit behind a glass-fronted section of the stands to watch the action, or pay less money and brave whatever the weather throws at you in the cheap seats.
What this also means is that rather than odds, the likelihood of your bet being successful is displayed on the many monitors and TV screens around the stadium not as a ratio – 3-1, 11-4 or whatever – but in terms of how much you would win from a hundred-yen stake. The list that you are given as part of the fifty-yen entrance fee has basic statistics detailing how the riders have fared in recent races, and for the more dedicated punter there are keirin newspapers, but for beginners like us, the best thing to do is to take a wild guess and bet small.
For lunch we headed for a one-storey, shack-like building with sliding glass doors and formica tables, where the food was significantly better than the kind of thing you get at a British dog track or football stadium: I had a set meal of tempura, rice, miso soup and pickles for a few hundred yen, and water, green tea and some kind of herb tea were available free from a nearby vending machine.
Either at the bar-like counters with their stacks of betting slips and pots of little plastic golf pencils, or at the windows where you handed over your stake, the staff were keen to help, and would show us how to fill in our betting slips or suggest who to bet on. Rumour had it that earlier in the day, someone had won a lot of money on an unexpected result, and after a fruitless few races, I finally struck it lucky myself. Unfortunately, because I a) bet on the most favoured riders and b) didn’t guess the exact order in which they finished, it wasn’t so much winning as losing a little less – I recouped 240 yen on a 300-yen bet, which was dispensed without fanfare from an anonymous vending machine.
‘If you don’t want to come all the way to Toridé,’ said onii-san, ‘there’s a betting shop near Mito that shows live broadcasts.’ At this point, Mrs M looked as if she might have started to worry about our future, so I said to onii-san that when it came to keirin, once was probably enough.