Japan's modern national sport was introduced in 1872 by Horace Wilson, an American teacher. Japan's first formal baseball team was organized in 1878 by a railroad company.
Besides the professional leagues, baseball is played in high schools, colleges, universities, leading companies, and everywhere else space permits. Their teams hold tournaments twice a year, often on a nationwide scale, and attract huge crowds of spectators.
High School Baseball
Despite the popularity of pro baseball in Japan, Japan's most avidly followed sporting event is the All-Japan High School Baseball Tournament (aka National Senior High School Baseball Tournament), first held in 1915. Played in August at Hanshin Koshien Baseball Stadium near Osaka, it draws almost one million spectators to a tournament of the 49 regional finalists that survived local tournaments involving over 4,000 schools. The tournament is sponsored by the Japan High School Baseball Federation (Nihon Koto-gakko Yakyu Renmei, aka Koyaren) and the Asahi Shimbun, a leading newspaper. Teams also meet for the All-Japan Invitational High School Tournament (aka National Invitational Senior High School Tournament).
Organization: Japan High School Baseball Federation (Nihon Koto Gakko Yakyu Renmei), 06-443-4661 (phone)
At the university level, Japan has six major baseball factories: Waseda, Keio, Meiji, Rikkyo, Hosei, and Tokyo.
Except for one publicly held team, all professional teams are owned by Japanese corporations. Foreigners are barred by law from owning a professional Japanese baseball team.
Team plays 135 games per season, which lasts from April to October. The league champions play each other in the Japan Series (Nihon Shirizu), the championship series of Japanese professional baseball.
Japanese baseball games resemble Brazilian soccer matches, with obbligato drums, horns, and cheers by cheering sections (oendan) throughout the game.
Each team is allowed only three foreigners, usually Americans, who are often key players. (Some additional Koreans and Taiwanese are allowed in a special category.) However, this restriction may soon be lifted. The prime directive on a Japanese team, as in Japanese society, is harmonious relations (wa) among players and teams. This presents foreign players with special difficulties. For example, any expression of individuality, such as "hot dogging" (i.e., showing off), is discouraged. Also, active measures are taken against the shameless foreigner who threatens to break a Japanese-held baseball record, especially the 868 home runs of Sadaharu Oh (who is Taiwanese, but at least from a former colony).
The published team standings often show how far each team is behind the previous teamnot the leaderand are written in decimal form, not fractions. For example, Team B is 3.5 gamesnot 3 1/2 gamesbehind Team A.
Tickets are available at the stadium and at Play Guide ticket bureaus, which are located on busy street corners and in department stores.
Japan has two professional leagues, the Central League and the Pacific League, each with six teams. The Central league has no designated hitter (DH). (Note that the Yomiuri Giants, Japan's first professional baseball team, are also called Kyojin, the Japanese word for Giants, because Japanese was purged of all foreign words during WWII.)
Central League (aka CL or Se League)
Chunichi Dragons (owner: Chunichi Shimbun newspaper)
Hanshin Tigers (owner: Hanshin Electric Railway)
Hiroshima Toyo Carp (owner: Mazda Motor & City of Hiroshima)
Yakult Swallows (owner: Yakult Honsha)
Yokohama Bay Stars (formerly Taiyo Whales)
Yomiuri Giants (aka Tokyo Giants or Kyojin) (owner: Yomiuri Newspaper)
Pacific League (aka PL or Pa League)
Chiba Lotte Marines (formerly Lotte Orions) (owner: Lotte Group)
Fukuoka Daiei Hawks (owner: Daiei Inc.)
Kintetsu Buffaloes (owner: Kinki Nippon Railway (Kintetsu))
Nippon Ham Fighters (owner: Nippon Meat Packers)
Orix Blue Wave (formerly Orix Braves) (owner: Orix Corp.)
Seibu Lions (owner: Seibu Railway Group)
Due to its shape and color, Tokyo Dome is nicknamed Big Egg. As its name implies, it an indoor (i.e., all-weather) stadium based on U.S. airdome technology. Games are also played at the following stadiums:
Major Differences from U.S. Baseball
* Games can end in a tie. In fact, some teams play for a tie.
* Teams avoid humiliating opponents either by running up big scores in a game or by winning their league by an immodest number of games.
* The baseball is slightly smaller.
* Players are more loyal to their ball clubs.
* Play is not as aggressive.
* The strike zone is larger.
* Games are limited to 4 hours or 15 innings, whichever occurs first.
* Free-agent system is more restrictive.
* Training is year round.
Central League (Sentoraru Yakyu Renmei), 03-3572-1673
Japan Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum
Office of the Baseball Commissioner (Puro Yakyu Komisshona Jimu-Kyoku), 03-3502-0022
Pacific League (Pashifikku Yakyu Renmei), 03-3573-1551
Further Reading and Watching
For an entertaining account of foreigners in Japanese baseball, read You Gotta Have Wa by Robert Whiting (published by Macmillan).
Or watch Tom Selleck hit a homu ran in the movie Mr. Baseball.
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