“America’s Pastime” in Japan: Japanese Baseball

Baseball may be America’s pastime, but it seems like other sports such as football often take the spotlight away from the sport. In Japan, though, baseball has been the most popular league sport in the country for decades (although soccer may be starting to steal some of the spotlight).

Contrary to popular belief, baseball was not introduced to Japan by American soldiers after World War II and has been present in Japan since 1872. The first game took place at Kaisei Gakko (which is now Tokyo University), where an American professor organized a game and introduced the game to the nation. Professional nation-wide teams have been present in Japan since 1934 and the national league was established in 1936. Rules fluctuated but have remained mostly the same since 1950, when two leagues became the norm.

The two leagues in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPL; “Nippon” is one word for Japan) are the Pacific and the Central Leagues and there are six teams in each league. In the Central League, there are the Chunichi Dragons from Nagoya, the Hanshin Tigers from Nishinomiya, the Yokohama BayStars from Yokohama, the Hiroshima Toyo Carp from Hiroshima, the Tokyo Yakult Swallows from Tokyo, and the Yomiuri Giants from Tokyo.

In the Pacific League, the teams are the Orix Buffaloes from Osaka, the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks from Fukuoka, the Chiba Lotte Marines from Chiba, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters from Sapporo, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles from Sendai, and the Saitama Seibu Lions from Tokorozawa.

The baseball season lasts from April through October with a total of 144 games. The two leagues have their own championships and then the winning teams from each league compete in the Japan Championship Series, a seven-game championship that airs in October and November. The Japan Championship Series doesn’t affect the participating teams’ rankings, so it’s similar the World Series in America, but it’s a beloved annual event in the world of Japanese sports.

Almost as popular as professional baseball is the annual high school tournament called the Koushien. The Japanese High School Baseball Federation allows Japanese high school teams nationwide to compete in two tournaments (one in the spring and one in the summer) that culminate in a final 2-week tournament of 49 teams at the Hanshin Koushien Tournament in August. Many high school players who hope to go pro know that their performance at this tournament can make or break their dreams.

Have you ever watched a Japanese baseball game? Have you ever seen how supportive the Japanese fans are for their teams? Why do you think baseball is more popular in Japan than it is in the US?

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Tags: baseball, japan, japanese culture, japanese entertainment, japanese schools, japanese students, koushien, sports