High school baseball in Japan

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Hanshin Kōshien Stadium during the 1992 Kōshien tournament
View from the Alps stands

In Japan, Kōshien (甲子園) generally refers to the two annual baseball tournaments played by high schools nationwide culminating at a final showdown at Hanshin Kōshien Stadium in Nishinomiya, Japan. They are organized by the Japan High School Baseball Federation in association with Mainichi Shimbun for the National High School Baseball Invitational Tournament in the spring (also known as "Spring Kōshien") and Asahi Shimbun for the National High School Baseball Championship in the summer (also known as "Summer Kōshien").

These nationwide tournaments enjoy widespread popularity similar to that of NCAA March Madness in the United States, arguably equal to or greater than professional baseball. Qualifying tournaments are often televised locally and each game of the final stage at Kōshien is televised nationally on NHK. The tournaments have become a national tradition, and large numbers of frenzied students and parents travel from hometowns to cheer for their local team. It is a common sight to see players walking off the field in tears after being eliminated from the tournament by a loss.

The star players of the championship team achieve a degree of celebrity status. For the players, playing at Kōshien is the door to playing at the professional level. Due to the recruiting practices of Japanese high schools, top prospects often play on strong teams that are able to reach the final tournament at Kōshien. Several professional baseball players first made their mark at Kōshien, including Eiji Bandō, Sadaharu Oh, Koji Ota, Suguru Egawa, Masumi Kuwata, Kazuhiro Kiyohara, Hideki Matsui, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka.

Background[edit]

There are two main tournaments:

In addition, there is a separate and less well-known Meiji Jingu Baseball Tournament held each year in November at Jingu Baseball Stadium in Tokyo. Since the 2002 tournament, the winner is guaranteed a spot in the following Spring tournament at Kōshien. In addition, the region of the winning school receives one extra bid.

Particulars[edit]

In the week preceding the tournament in spring and summer, teams who have won a spot in the tournament each hold a 30 minute practice on the grounds of Hanshin Kōshien Stadium. This is mainly to help the players adjust to the environment of the stadium. In the summer, due to scheduling conflicts with the Hanshin Tigers of Nippon Professional Baseball, the Tigers are forced to go on a three-week road trip every year during this period to allow the tournament to take place.

In addition, teams are able to practice during the tournament at public and private facilities made available in Nishinomiya, and neighboring Osaka, Amagasaki, and Kobe.

Usually, 1st year students cannot take part in Spring Kōshien (only 2nd and 3rd year students), so in three years of high school there are five chances for a player to go to Kōshien.

In November 2004, in response to a growing trend among Japan's youths, the Baseball Federation announced that players could not participate with dyed-hair or shaved eyebrows.

Notable episodes[edit]

Spring/Summer Champions[edit]

Known in Japanese as 春夏連続優勝, haru-natsu renzoku yuusho or Spring-Summer Consecutive Champions, this signifies the winning of the senbatsu (Spring) and natsu (Summer) tournaments in a calendar year. To date there have been 6 instances of such a feat:

Spring-Summer Champions
Year School Spring Opponent Result Summer Opponent Result Notes
1962 Sakushin Gakuin (Tochigi) 34th Nichidai-san (Tōkyō) 1 - 0 44th Kurume Commercial (Fukuoka) 1 - 0
1966 Chūkyō Commercial (Aichi) 38th Tosa (Kochi) 1 - 0 48th Matsuyama Commercial (Ehime) 3 - 1 Now known as Chūkyōdai Chūkyō
1979 Minoshima (Wakayama) 51st Namishō (Osaka) 8 - 7 61st Ikeda (Tokushima) 4 - 3 Namishō is now known as Daitaidai Namishō.
1987 PL Gakuen (Ōsaka) 59th Kantō Ichi (Tōkyō) 7 - 1 69th Jōsō Gakuin (Ibaraki) 5 - 2
1998 Yokohama (Kanagawa) 70th Kandai Ichi (Ōsaka) 3 - 0 80th Kyōto Seishō (Kyōto) 3 - 0 Daisuke Matsuzaka finishes the feat with a no-hitter in the final against Kyōto Seishō.
2010 Kōnan (Okinawa) 82nd Nichidai-san (Tōkyō) 10 - 5 (12) 92nd Tōkaidai Sagami (Kanagawa) 13 - 1
2012 Osaka Tōin (Osaka) 84th Kōsei Gakuin (Aomori) 7 - 3 94th Kōsei Gakuin (Aomori) 3 - 0 This is the first time two teams have had a rematch in consecutive finals, and the 3rd time a team
(Kōsei Gakuin) has reached 3 consecutive calendar finals (they are the only ones to lose all 3).

Participation of overseas teams[edit]

Before World War II, teams from Taiwan, Korea, and Manchuria, which were all part of the Japanese Empire at the time, participated in the tournaments (in the spring only Taiwan took part). The first overseas teams to participate were Pusan Commercial School of Korea and Dalian Commercial School of Manchuria in the 1921 Summer Kōshien. Foreign teams have made it as far as the championship game, but have never won the tournament. The last tournament including foreign teams was the 1940 Spring Kōshien.

Foreign teams advancing to the championship game
Year Tournament School Result Opponent
1926 12th Summer Dalian Commercial

(Manchuria)

runner-up 1-2 Shizuoka High (Shizuoka)
1931 17th Summer Chiayi Agricultural (Taiwan) runner-up 0-4 Chūkyō Commercial (Aichi)

Six-time Kōshien participants[edit]

Currently, the maximum number of times a player can appear in Kōshien is five. However, under the old secondary school system, a player could appear more than five times. Here are two examples.

Year Tournament Tamotsu Kusumoto
Akashi Secondary (Hyōgo)
Masao Yoshida
Chūkyō Commercial (Aichi)
1930 7th Spring 2nd year
1931 8th Spring 3rd year
1932 9th Spring 4th year 3rd year
18th Summer 4th year 3rd year
1933 10th Spring 5th year 4th year
19th Summer 5th year 4th year
1934 11th Spring 5th year
20th Summer 5th year
Total appearances 6 6

Makeshift Kōshien[edit]

The tournament was suspended due to the war from summer 1941 until spring 1946, with the exception of a "Promote the Fighting Spirit" tournament held by the Ministry of Education in 1942 at Kōshien. The number of teams was only 16 compared with 23 at the previous tournament, but each region held qualifying tournaments and sent teams to a national tournament. The military theme was prevalent at the tournament, with military slogans posted on the scoreboard, and names on uniforms previously written in trendy Roman alphabet letters replaced by traditional Japanese kanji characters. The tournament proceeded smoothly and Tokushima Commercial (Tokushima) won the championship. However, since this tournament differed from past Summer Kōshiens hosted by Asahi Shimbun it is not counted as an official Kōshien tournament.

Sacred "Dirt of Kōshien"[edit]

In the 1937 Summer Kōshien, Kumamoto Tech (Kumamoto) advanced to the championship game, but lost. After the game, Kumamoto Tech player Tetsuharu Kawakami grabbed a handful of dirt from the playing field of Kōshien Stadium and put it in his uniform pocket as a memento. Some years later, in the 1949 Summer Kōshien, after Kokura High (Fukuoka) lost to Kurashiki Tech (Okayama) in the semifinals, Kokura pitcher Kunio Fukushima scooped up some Kōshien dirt and took it home. This has become known as the original scooping of "the dirt of Kōshien" (甲子園の土 Kōshien no tsuchi?). Since then, as a memento of their fleeting time on the hallowed grounds of Kōshien, players from the losing teams take home a pouch of the precious soil.

At the 1958 Summer Kōshien, Shuri High (Okinawa) became the first school to represent Okinawa (then under U.S. government rule) in a Kōshien tournament. They were eliminated in their first game by Tsuruga High (Fukui). After the game, they collected souvenirs of dirt and took them home. However, due to quarantine regulations of the Ryūkyū government they were not allowed to keep the dirt, and it was confiscated. Some Japan Airlines flight attendants heard about this, and had a sea stone lying outside Kōshien Stadium sent to Shuri. Even today this "Monument of Friendship" lies in the yard of the school as a reminder of the first trip to Kōshien by a team from Okinawa.

Denial of Participation[edit]

In the past, if a scandal was uncovered at a high school chosen to participate in the Kōshien, the school was forced to withdraw from competition in the tournament. A team's participation in the tournament was affected even by scandals not related to team members. However, recently, such unrelated incidents have had less effect on a team's participation.

Denials of Kōshien participation based on circumstances other than scandals have also occurred. In the 1922 summer tournament, Niigata Commercial High School's denial was based on a star player's illness.

Denials of Participation in the Kōshien Tournament (Spring Invitationals Included)
Year Tournament School Reason for Denial
1922 8th Summer Niigata Commercial (Niigata) star player's illness
1935 12th Spring Naniwa Commercial (Ōsaka) series of crimes connected with the school
1939 25th Summer Teikyō (Tokyo) concerns regarding player qualifications
1939 25th Summer Nichidai San (Tōkyō) concerns regarding player qualifications
1952 24th Spring Moji East (Fukuoka) player exempted from school examinations
1958 30th Spring Naniwa Commercial (Ōsaka) student blackmail
1965 37th Spring Kōchi Commercial (Kōchi) assault involving player
1967 39th Spring Tsuyama Commercial (Okayama) assault involving former player
1971 43rd Spring Hokkai (Hokkaidō) assault involving students
1971 43rd Spring Sanda Gakuen (Hyōgo) assault involving students
1971 43rd Spring Shiwakayama Commercial (Wakayama) assault involving students
1971 43rd Spring Nanbu (Wakayama) assault involving students
1975 45th Spring Moji Industrial (Fukuoka) attempted assault involving students
1984 56th Spring Ikeda (Tokushima) player driving while intoxicated
1984 56th Spring Hakodatedai Yūto (Hokkaidō) manager involved in hit and run accident
1985 57th Spring Meitoku Gijuku (Kōchi) team president involved in criminal case
1987 59th Spring Tōkaidai Urayasu (Chiba) assault involving player
1989 61st Spring Iwakura (Tōkyō) assault involving team leader
1992 64th Spring Uenomiya (Ōsaka) assault of a student by former coach
1992 64th Spring Kōbe Kōryō (Hyōgo) player caught smoking tobacco
2000 72nd Spring Tsuruga Kehi (Fukui) player driving while intoxicated without a license
2005 87th Summer Meitoku Gijuku (Kōchi) player caught smoking and involved in assault
2006 78th Spring Komadai Tomakomai (Hokkaidō) former player drinking and smoking

Jargon for lack of regional champions[edit]

Shirakawa Barrier and the Tsugaru Strait[edit]

This term is based on the barrier built in Shirakawa, Fukushima. No team north of the northern Kantō region had ever won a tournament at Kōshien. This fact became known in the high school baseball world as the "Shirakawa Barrier". At the 2004 Summer Kōshien, Komazawa University Tomakomai High (southern Hokkaidō) took the title, and in one bound leaped over not only the Shirakawa Barrier but also the Tsugaru Strait separating Hokkaido from Honshū. On the plane carrying the team and championship flag back home, at the moment the plane crossed the Tsugaru Strait, the passengers joined in unison for a celebration cheer.

In 2005, Komazawa University Tomakomai High won a second straight Summer Kōshien title, becoming the first to do so since Kokura Secondary (Fukuoka) in 1947–48. This title was tainted after the tournament, however, by reports of repeated incidents of physical punishment of one of the players, once during the tournament, by the baseball club advisor (a 27-year-old school faculty member). Besides a reprimand for withholding the report until after the tournament, the High School Baseball Federation did not punish Komazawa Tomakomai. However, the report drew widespread attention to the issue of physical punishment in youth sports in Japan. It is believed that such physical punishment probably goes heavily underreported, due to cultural tendencies.

Hokkaidō and Tōhoku region teams in the championship game (through 2012)
Year Tournament School Result Opponent
1915 1st Summer Akita Secondary (Akita) runner-up 1–2 Kyōto Ni Secondary (Kyōto)
1963 35th Spring Hokkai (Hokkaidō) runner-up 0–10 Shimonoseki Commercial (Yamaguchi)
1969 51st Summer Misawa (Aomori) runner-up 2–4 Matsuyama Commercial (Ehime)
1971 53rd Summer Iwaki (Fukushima) runner-up 0–1 Tōin Gakuen (Kanagawa)
1989 71st Summer Sendai Ikuei (Miyagi) runner-up 0–2 Teikyō (E Tōkyō)
2001 73rd Spring Sendai Ikuei (Miyagi) runner-up 6–7 Jōsō Gakuin (Ibaraki)
2003 85th Summer Tōhoku (Miyagi) runner-up 2–4 Jōsō Gakuin (Ibaraki)
2004 86th Summer Komadai Tomakomai (S Hokkaidō) champion 13–10 Saibi (Ehime)
2005 87th Summer Komadai Tomakomai (S Hokkaidō) champion 5–3 Kyōto Gaidai Nishi (Kyōto)
2006 88th Summer Komadai Tomakomai (S Hokkaidō) runner-up 3–4 Waseda Jitsugyo(W Tōkyō)
2009 81st Spring Hanamaki Highashi (Iwate) runner-up 0–1 Seihō (Nagasaki)
2011 93rd Summer Kōsei Gakuin (Aomori) runner-up 0–11 Nichidai-san (W Tōkyō)
2012 83rd Spring Kōsei Gakuin (Aomori) runner-up 3-7 Osaka Tōin (Osaka)

As mentioned above, Komawaza University Tomakomai (aka Komadai Tomakomai) won the 2004 Summer Koshien, becoming the northern-most school to win since Sakushin Gakuin (Tochigi). However, the route traveled by the championship flag from Koshien to Hokkaidō did not actually pass through the Shirakawa Barrier by land, so many fans (especially in the Tōhoku region) believe that the barrier has technically not yet been broken.

Passing Hakone[edit]

In high school baseball jargon, a championship by a school in the region from Kanagawa to Tochigi.

During the Edo period, Shirakawa and Hakone were both strategic checkpoints and official passes were needed to pass through, thus leading to these names.

The first team to "pass Hakone" was Keio Futsūbu (Tōkyō). After that, Shōnan High (Kanagawa) won in summer of 1949. Despite the fact that Keio Futsūbu won in summer of 1916, the victory by Shonan High in 1946 is known as the first "passing of Hakone". Reasons for this include the fact that 33 years had passed since the Keio Futsūbu and Shonan High victories, the fact that western Japanese teams were seen as stronger than eastern Japanese teams at the time of Shonan High's victory, and the fact that high school baseball was not yet well known in 1916. The first spring passing of Hakone was achieved by Waseda Jitsugyō (Tōkyō) led by pitcher and future pro baseball legend Sadaharu Oh in 1957.

Also, the "fording of the Tone River" in northern Kantō has also been achieved.

Since the victory of Waseda Jitsugyō, championships by Kantō teams have become more frequent and as a result these terms have fallen out of use.

Kanmon Straits[edit]

In high school baseball jargon, when a team from Kyūshū wins a tournament. The first to "cross the Kanmon Straits" was Kokura Secondary in the 1947 Summer Kōshien. Coincidentally, Kokura Secondary repeated as champions in 1948, a feat not matched until Komadai Tomakomai also became the first team to bring the title to their region then repeated the following year.

Kyūshū teams in the championship game (through 1947)
Year Tournament School Result Opponent
1934 20th Summer Kumamoto Tech (Kumamoto) runner-up 0–2 Gokō Secondary (Hiroshima)
1937 23rd Summer Kumamoto Tech (Kumamoto) runner-up 1–3 Chūkyō Commercial (Aichi)
1947 19th Spring Kokura Secondary (Fukuoka) runner-up 1–3 Tokushima Commercial (Tokushima)
1947 29th Summer Kokura Secondary (Fukuoka) champion 6–3 Gifu Commercial (Gifu)

Mountain of Aso[edit]

Based on Mount Aso in Kumamoto. In high school baseball jargon, when a team from the southern half of Kyūshū wins the tournament. The first to "pass the Mountain of Aso" was Seiseikō High (Kumamoto) in the 1958 Spring Kōshien. This is not been achieved in the Summer Kōshien yet.

Ocean crossing[edit]

In high school baseball jargon, when a team from Okinawa wins a tournament. The first to "cross the ocean" was Okinawa Shōgaku (Okinawa) in the spring of 1999, and Konan (Okinawa) achieved the first summer championship in 2010.

Okinawa teams in the championship game (through 2010)
Year Tournament School Result Opponent
1990 72nd Summer Okinawa Fishery (Okinawa) runner-up 0–1 Tenri (Nara)
1991 73rd Summer Okinawa Fishery (Okinawa) runner-up 8–13 Osaka Tōin (Osaka)
1999 71st Spring Okinawa Shōgaku (Okinawa) champion 7–2 Mito Commercial (Ibaraki)
2010 82nd Spring Konan (Okinawa) champion 10–5 Nichidai San (Tokyo)
2010 92nd Summer Konan (Okinawa) champion 13–1 Tokai Daigaku Fuzoku Sagami (Kanagawa)

Into snow country[edit]

In high school baseball jargon, when a team from the Hokuriku region wins a tournament. To date no team has achieved this. Fukui Commercial High (Fukui) in the 1978 Spring Kōshien and Seiryō (Ishikawa, alma mater of Hideki Matsui) in the 1997 Summer Kōshien reached the semifinals. More recently, Nihon Bunri (Niigata, Niigata) reached the finals in 2009, and made an amazing comeback from down 10-4 in the bottom of the 9th with 2 outs to make it 10-9 before catcher Naoki Wakabayashi lined out to 3rd to end the game.

Appearances in popular culture[edit]

Some of the most famous appearances of high school baseball in popular culture are in the manga and anime series Touch, H2 and Cross Game by Mitsuru Adachi, and Major by Takuya Mitsuda. Those series follow the struggles of different high school teams' bids to make it to the Kōshien tournament.

An unusual appearance is in the series Princess Nine, where a private girls' high school forms a baseball team and struggles against systemic bias in the Japan High School Baseball Federation and within their own school in order to make a serious bid at making it to and winning at Kōshien. Something similar, in the long running baseball video game series Pawapuro Series, it is known that at least three female players (two pitchers and one catcher, until 14) made their name in Kōshien in the main series' original storyline (Success Mode) and turned active players in the NPB, through one of them retired later and become a coach and lecturer in Baseball academy.

The manga and anime Big Windup! by Asa Higuchi is about high school baseball. It follows the story of a first-year pitcher and his team's struggles to get to Kōshien. It won the Kodansha Manga Award in 2007.

In the finale of the anime Zipang, radio broadcast of the "patriotic" 1942 summer tournament is playing in the background when Kadomatsu meets his grandfather back in the past.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]