Recreational activities such as sports are one of the many ways of not just to entertain people but also to help them stay physically and mentally active. There are various sports that one can get into depending on one’s strength and interest. Among the many options is baseball. Generally played by men, baseball is one of the most watched sports in the world. Not only is physical strength needed in order to excel in baseball but also proper concentration and mental clarity. Among the many countries that support the sport of baseball is none other than Japan. Baseball season in the Land of the Sun is one of the most anticipated seasons in all of the sports industry in the country.
When did Baseball Start in Japan?
While baseball generally began in the west, the sport was first introduced in Japan during the early Meiji period in the year 1872 as a school sport. Known as yakyu in Japanese, baseball gained popularity among the amateur athletes, clubs, and universities almost right away upon introduction. An American by the name of Horace Wilson, an English professor in the Kaisei Academy in Tokyo, Japan, introduced the sport. The very first organized adult baseball team was founded in the year 1878 and was known as the Shimbashi Athletic Club.
The popularity of baseball further grew when a baseball team from Ichiko high school in Tokyo defeated another baseball team composed of resident foreigners from the Yokohama Country and Athletic Club in the year 1896. Despite the sport hailing from the west, the Japanese team was able to win against a foreign team, which was praised by the contemporary Japanese language press at the time. This fuelled the popularity of baseball as a schools sport in the country.
It was in the 1920s that professional baseball in Japan first began. However, it was only in the year 1934 that a baseball team composed of all-stars was established by media mogul Matsutaro Shoriki. This baseball team was known as the Greater Japan Tokyo Baseball Club, also known as Dai-nippon Tōkyō Yakyū Kurabu in Japanese. This was the catalyst to the continued success of professional baseball games in Japan. It especially rang true when this Japanese club was pitted against an American all-star team that was composed of players such as Jimmie Foxx, Charlie Gehringer, Babe Ruth, and Lou Gehrig.
On the other hand, the very first Japanese professional league was established in the year 1936. This Japanese professional league was known as the Japanese Baseball League or the JBL. The dominant team in this league at the time was the Tokyo Kyojin, renamed to the Yomiuri Giants in the year 1947. This team won a total of nine league championships between the year 1936 and the year 1950, with six of these championships being consecutive from the year 1938 to the year 1943.
At the end of the 1949 season, the Japanese Baseball League was reorganized by its owners and became known as the Nippon Professional Baseball or the NPB in the year 1950. Also known as Puro Yakyu in Japanese, which translates to professional baseball, this league is divided into two smaller leagues, namely, the Central League and the Pacific League. It was the owner of the Daiei Stars by the name of Masaichi Nagata who promoted this two-league system. The Central League is made up of already established teams while the Pacific League, formerly called the Taiheiyo Baseball Union, is made up of new teams and new players. The latter also utilizes the designated hitter style when playing.
The Central League was formed by four JBL teams, namely, the Hanshin Tigers, the Shochiku Robins (previously known as the Taiyō Robins), the Chunichi Dragons, and the Yomiuri Giants. Four new teams were added to the league to fill it out, namely, the Kokutetsu Swallows, the Taiyō Whales, the Hiroshima Carp, and the Nishi Nippon Pirates. As for the Pacific League, it was also formed by four JBL teams, namely, the Nankai Hawks, the Tokyu Flyers, the Hankyu Braves, and the Daiei Stars. Three new teams were added to the league to fill it out, namely the Mainichi Orions, the Kintetsu Pearls, and the Nishitetsu Clippers.
Presently, baseball teams compete at all levels, meaning it is not just professional baseball games but also baseball games in high school. In fact, high school baseball in Japan has a strong public profile with the Japanese High School Baseball Championship, also called Summer Koshien, being televised nationwide every month of August. This is also comprised of regional champions that hail from all of the 47 prefectures in the country. There are also elementary school baseball teams, which just goes to show just how deeply rooted this sport is in Japan.
Not only is Japanese baseball popular within the country but outside as well. Japanese baseball teams are highly regarded as they perform very well even in international competitions. There are also many players of Japanese descent that have quite successful careers in the American Major Leagues. This is, of course, recognized by media outlets in Japan. These games are typically televised with special highlights of the players with Japanese descent.
How Long does the Baseball Season Last?
The baseball season for professional leagues usually starts with spring training in the months of February and March. On the other hand, the regular season typically begins in the month of April and lasts until the month of October. When the season begins, the baseball games are held almost every single day of the week aside from the semi-regular holidays that occur on Mondays. These games are also broadcasted live on various TV stations as most Japanese would want to watch the game unfold as it happens.
With about 144 games, the professional baseball season can last up to eight months long. After the 144 games, it is followed by a league playoff system known as the Climax Series. After which, the last part of the season would be the championship game series composed of seven games. This is known as the Japan or Nippon Series, which is a battle of two league champions.
Tickets for the game can be bought at the ballpark on the same day as the game is held. However, tickets for the games of the Hanshin Tigers and the Yomiuri Giants. Due to their popularity, tickets for their games sell out pretty quick especially on weekends; hence, a lot of fans buy tickets in advance for these games. Games that occur on huge national holidays such as the Golden Week also sell out tickets pretty fast. Fret not as tickets can be bought online or via telephone, though one may need to speak Japanese well or own a Japanese credit card to make a purchase. A number of websites also offer online services wherein they can obtain the tickets for customers but with a service fee.
Prices of tickets vary depending on the seating. A non-reserved bleacher seat can cost about 1000 yen only while field level seats can cost 15,000 yen and up. Despite this very steep price, the Japanese are still willing to pay for it as many people swear by the extraordinary experience of watching an intense baseball game right at the side of the field. One of the many highlights of a Japanese baseball game is the cheering sections. Not only are the people in this area highly enthusiastic, they are also organized so as to cheer and sing fight songs continuously throughout the game. This further intensifies the feeling of the game.
There are many leagues in the country that play high levels of baseball albeit not being fully professional. This can include minor, semi-pro, and university leagues, all offering intense and vibrant games. These leagues are usually the sources of professional teams for their potential new members. Because high school baseball is highly popular, most students who play in high baseball actually train the whole year. Held at the Koshien Stadium located near Osaka, the annual Summer Koshien wherein high baseball is held has a wide media coverage for fans to enjoy even while at home.
Because of the popularity of baseball in Japan, there are also other places where Japanese baseball fans can go crazy over aside from the actual game itself. Among the local attractions in the country that is related to baseball is the Matsui Hideki Baseball Museum. Situated near Kaga Onsen and Kanazawa, this museum is dedicated to one of the most successful Japanese baseball players in history, Matsui Hideki, who is also a native of the region. There is also a hands-on section in the museum wherein visitors are allowed to touch his glove, bat, and other gears.
Introducing the Nippon Professional Baseball
As was mentioned earlier, the Nippon Professional Baseball is the primary baseball league in all of Japan. As the highest level of baseball in the country, this league is usually just referred to as “Japanese baseball” out of the country. Also known as Nippon Yakyu Kiko, the league has undergone changes through the years. Currently, it has six teams in the Central League and another six in the Pacific League. Furthermore, there are two professional minor leagues that are on the secondary level and that play shorter schedules in comparison to the major leagues. These two are known as the Eastern League and the Western League.
With the season beginning either in late March or early April, there are two to three all-star games in the month of July. Just in the year 2004, the Pacific League had five games less than the Central League during the regular professional baseball season. Moreover, a new playoff format was used to determine the champion of both leagues and would go on to the Japan Series. The teams in second place and third place would battle in a best-two-of-three series to be held at the home ground of the team at second place. The winner of this game would then proceed to battle the team in the first place in a best-three-of-five series to be held in the first place’s home ground.
Come the year 2006, the Central League decided to adopt the playoff format of the Pacific League for its own tournament. This format now became known as the Climax Series, wherein the winners from each league would compete for the championship in the Japan Series.
The Central League is composed of six teams, namely, the Chunichi Dragons, the Hanshin Tigers, the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, the Yokohama DeNA BayStars, and the Yomiuri Giants. The Chunichi Dragons team hails from Nagoya, Aichi with Nagoya Dome as its home ground. The Hanshin Tigers team hails from Nishinomiya, Hyogo with Hanshin Koshien Stadium as its home ground. The Hiroshima Toyo Carp team hails from Hiroshima, Hiroshima with MAZDA Zoom-Zoom Stadium Hiroshima as its home ground. The Tokyo Yakult Swallows team hails from Shinjuku, Tokyo with Meiji Jingu Stadium as its home ground. The Yokohama DeNA BayStars team hails from Yokohama, Kanagawa with Yokohama Stadium as its home ground. Lastly, the Yomiuri Giants team hails from Bunkyo, Tokyo with Tokyo Dome as its home ground.
The Pacific League is also composed of six teams, namely, the Chiba Lotte Marines, the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, the Orix Buffaloes, the Saitama Seibu Lions, and the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. The Chiba Lotte Marines team hails from Chiba, Chiba with QVC Marine Field as its home ground. The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks team hails from Fukuoka, Fukuoka with Fukuoka Yafuoku! Dome as its home ground. The Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters team hails from Sapporo, Hokkaido with Sapporo Dome as its home ground. The Orix Buffaloes team hails from Osaka, Osaka with Kyocera Dome Osaka as its home ground. Lastly, the Saitama Seibu Lions team hails from Tokorozawa, Saitama with Seibu Dome as its home ground.
The 2017 Schedule of the Baseball Season in Japan
The professional baseball season for this year is currently ongoing. The pre-season games began last 25th of February and lasted until the 26th of March. The opening of the regular season was held last 31st of March for both the Central League and the Pacific League. The Interleague began last 30th of May and ended last 18th of June. The most anticipated all-star games will begin in the Nagoya Dome on the 14th of July and in the ZOZO Marine Stadium on the 15th of July. The locations are accessible as there are subway stations nearby.
The schedule for the Climax Series is yet to be announced but the Nippon Series Game 1 is scheduled to be held on the 28th of October, which is a Saturday. The Fresh All-Star Game shall be held on the 13th of July while the schedule for the Farm Championship Game is yet to be announced. Late September indicates that there is only less than a month of enjoy the baseball season.
The baseball season in Japan is truly something to be anticipated. The Japanese people can get really excited as they await the baseball season. When one is in the area during the baseball season in Japan, it is imperative not to pass up the opportunity to be able to watch the game live and be immersed in the cheering of the crowd as they roots for their Japanese baseball teams to win.