Baseball in Japan
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Baseball is one of the most popular sports in Japan. It was introduced in 1872 by an American, Horace Wilson, who was an English professor at the Kaisei School in Tokyo. The first baseball team was called the Shimbashi Athletic Club and was established in 1878. Baseball has been a popular sport ever since. It is called 野球 (やきゅう; yakyū) in Japanese, combining the characters for field and ball. According to Japan's National Tourism Organization, "Baseball is so popular in Japan that many fans are surprised to hear that Americans also consider it their ‘national sport.’"
Professional baseball in Japan first started in the 1920s, but it was not until the Greater Japan Tokyo Baseball Club (大日本東京野球倶楽部 Dai-nippon Tōkyō Yakyū Kurabu?) a team of all-stars established in 1934 by media mogul Matsutarō Shōriki, that the modern professional game found continued success — especially after Shōriki's club matched up against an American All-Star team that included Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, and Charlie Gehringer. While prior Japanese all-star contingents had disbanded, Shōriki went pro with this group, playing in an independent league.
The first Japanese professional league was formed in 1936, and by 1950 had grown big enough to divide into two leagues, known as Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB). (It is called Puro Yakyū (プロ野球?), which simply is a translation of professional baseball.) The Central League included the established teams, and the Pacific League was made up of new teams and players. The Pacific League uses the designated hitter style of play. The pro baseball season is eight months long with games beginning in April. Teams play 144 games (as compared to the 162 games of the American major league teams), followed by a playoff system, culminating in a championship held in October, known as the Japan Series.
Corporations with interests outside baseball own the teams. Historically, teams have been identified with their owners, not where the team is based. However, in recent years, many owners have chosen to include a place name in the names of their teams; seven of the 12 Nippon Professional Baseball League (NPB) teams are currently named with both corporate and place names. Maruha Corporation has taken this one step farther by completely dropping its name from its NPB team, the Yokohama BayStars.
Differences from Major League Baseball
The rules are essentially those of Major League Baseball, but technical elements are slightly different: The Nippon league uses a smaller baseball, strike zone, and playing field. The Japanese baseball is wound more tightly and is harder than an American baseball. The strike zone is narrower "inside" than away from the batter. Five Nippon league teams have fields whose small dimensions would violate the American Official Baseball Rules.
Also unlike MLB, game length is limited and tie games are allowed. In the regular season, the limit is twelve innings, while in the playoffs, there is a fifteen-inning limit (Games in Major League Baseball, by comparison, continue until there is a winner; the 2002 All-Star Game, an exhibition game, was a notorious exception.) Additionally, since the 2011 NPB season, an inning occurring three hours and thirty minutes after the first pitch was the final inning, due to power limits imposed because of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.
A team cannot have more than four foreign players on a 25-man game roster, although there is no limit on the number of foreign players that it may sign. If there are four, they cannot all be pitchers nor all be position players. This limits the cost and competition for expensive players of other nationalities, and is similar to rules in many European sports leagues' roster limits on non-European players.
In each of the two Nippon Professional Baseball leagues, teams with the best winning percentage go on to a stepladder-format playoff (3 vs 2, winner vs 1). Occasionally, a team with more total wins has been seeded below a team that had more ties and fewer losses and, therefore, had a better winning percentage. The winners of each league compete in the Japan Series.
Strike of 2004
On September 18, 2004, professional baseball players went on a two-day strike, the first strike in the history of the league, to protest the proposed merger between the Orix BlueWave and the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes and the failure of the owners to agree to create a new team to fill the void resulting from the merger. The strike was settled on September 23, 2004, when the owners agreed to grant a new franchise in the Pacific League and to continue the two-league, 12-team system. The new team, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles began play in the 2005 season.
Japanese-American baseball during World War II
Baseball had become such a significant part of Japanese culture that when a great many of the Japanese-Americans were sent to Internment camps during World War II they built baseball diamonds. For many, baseball served as a saving grace during their time in the "war relocation camps". There are many books on the topic, such as Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki. It is told from a young Japanese boy's point of view about going to the internment camps during World War II. Due to having nothing to do, his father decided to build a baseball field for everyone to use.
They funneled water from irrigation ditches to flood what would become our baseball field. The water packed down the dust and made it hard. There weren’t any trees, but they found wood to build the bleachers. Bats, balls, and gloves arrived in cloth sacks from friends back home. My mom and other moms took the covers off mattresses and used them to make uniforms. They looked almost like the real thing.
High school baseball
In Japan, high school baseball (高校野球 kōkō yakyū?) generally refers to the two annual baseball tournaments played by high schools nationwide culminating in a final showdown at Hanshin Kōshien Stadium in Nishinomiya. 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, 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 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.
Amateur baseball leagues exist all over Japan, with many teams sponsored by companies. Amateur baseball is governed by the Japan Amateur Baseball Association (JABA). Players on these teams are employed by their sponsoring companies and do not receive salaries as baseball players but as company employees. The best teams in these circuits are determined via the Intercity Baseball Tournament and the Industrial League National Tournament.
The level of play in these leagues is very competitive - Industrial League players are often selected to represent Japan in international tournaments and Major League Baseball players such as Hideo Nomo (Shin-Nitetsu Sakai), Junichi Tazawa (Nippon Oil) and Kosuke Fukudome (Nihon Seimei), have been discovered by professional clubs while playing industrial baseball.
Japan has won the World Baseball Classic twice since the tournament was created. In the 2006 World Baseball Classic, they defeated Cuba in the finals and in 2009 World Baseball Classic Japan defeated South Korea in 10 innings to defend their title.
- Sport in Japan
- Japan national baseball team
- Asahi (baseball team)
- Baseball awards#Japan
- List of Japanese baseball players
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