The Baseball Craze in Japan

People usually talk about what there is to like about Japan when talking about Japan and there is plenty to not just like but love about it. It can be things like their unique culture, or their amazing food, or even their rich history. Among the many things that one can love about Japan, there is a certain thing that is unlike the others because it isn’t just something someone can just love about Japan. It is also something that Japan loves no matter what and that is none other than the wonderful game of baseball.

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The History of Baseball in Japan and the Leagues that now Exist for the Love of the Game

It isn’t common knowledge that the game of baseball was only brought into Japan in the year of 1872, however, what is common knowledge about baseball in Japan is that they have been crazy for it since it was introduced to them over a century ago. It took a time for the quality of baseball in Japan to be where it is now and judging from where players from Japan rank in terms of their level of competition, it has become clear that Japan can definitely play this sport against anybody.

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When it was introduced in Japan in 1872, it was far from being one of the most popular sports ever in Japan. It was brought in by an American English professor named Horace Wilson who then worked in the Kaisei Academy found in Tokyo. People slowly learned it throughout the following years and its development bore fruit as the first organized adult baseball team was formed in Japan in the year of 1878. They called themselves the Shimbashi Athletic Club. Soon after this, more and more clubs started popping out of places and in one swift motion, official baseball matches became more frequent.

A milestone for baseball in Japan would be reached in the year of 1896, particularly in Yokohama.  There was a match between Tokyo’s Ichiko high school and the foreigners from the Yokohama Country and Athletic Club and prior to this match, there hasn’t been a big baseball win achieved by a Japanese team against a foreign team. Tokyo’s team defeated the foreigners in this particular match and since they did so in such a convincing fashion, it was also a matter of time before the press went crazy over it. They even called the team something close to national heroes and it was fitting because it did huge things in boosting the popularity of the sport throughout Japan.

It would take a couple more decades after this before people could play baseball in Japan professionally. Such a level of competition was dated to start in the 1920s but it was really during the time of Matsutaro Shoriki that the real modern professional baseball came to be in Japan. It is for this reason that Shoriki is referred to as the father of modern baseball in Japan. He did this in the year of 1934 when he arranged an All-Star match between his club and a team made up of American All-Stars. To name some of them, there was Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and even Charlie Gehringer. It gave the fans something to get excited about and gave players and aspiring players something solid to look up to.

By the late 1930s, the first Japanese professional league was born but it wouldn’t be until the year 1950 that this league would be called the NPB or the Nippon Professional Baseball league. In Japan, this league is called Puro Yakyu or simply “Professional Baseball”. There are two leagues within the NPB and these are the Central League and the Pacific League. To simplify things, you may opt to look at each of these leagues as the “eastern conference” and “western conference” of the NBA but there are certain differences.

It is said that the Central League is the league wherein established teams play while the Pacific League is where new teams and players of great caliber compete with one another. Though the Central league started with 8 teams, in present times, both leagues now only have 6 teams each.  The teams that compete in the Central League are the Chunichi Dragons, who represent Chunichi Shimbun in Nagoya, the Hanshin Tigers, who represent Hanshin Electric Railway in Nishinomiya, the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, who represent the Matsuda family in Hiroshima, the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, who represent Yakult in Shinjuku, the Yokohama DeNA BayStars, who represent DeNA in Yokohama, and the Yomiuri Giants, who represent Yomiuri Shimbun in Bunkyo.

As for the Pacific League teams, there are the Chiba Lotte Marines, Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, Orix Buffaloes, Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fights, Saitama Seibu Lions, and the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. There is another difference between the two leagues that it is a rule that exists in the Pacific League called the “designated hitter”. If you do not follow the game of baseball, all you need to know about this rule is that it allows a player to fill in for the pitcher as a hitter on the plate. Aside from that rule, the CL and PL are practically the same and that is why the winners for both the CL and PL play against each other in the annual Japan Series to determine who the true champion in Japan is for that particular year.

Aside from the professional leagues in Japan, there are also certain high school baseball tournaments as well as something called “Industrial baseball”. As its name suggests, the high school baseball tournaments are held for players to be able to compete and play the game at the high school level. These tournaments are organized by the Japan High School Baseball Federation but the two tournaments held annually are managed by Mainichi Shimbun and Asahi Shimbun, respectively. These tournaments are the National High School Baseball Invitational Tournament held during the springtime and the National High School Baseball Championship held during the summer time every year. The spring tourney is also called the Spring Koshien while the summer tourney is called the Summer Koshien.

Industrial baseball, as you may have figured by now, was made for the aspiring amateurs of the game in Japan. There are many amateur leagues held throughout Japan but there are all governed by the same entity which is the JABA or the Japan Amateur Baseball Association. The players that play here aren’t played like actual professionals of the sport. Instead, they are like employees to the company they play for. While the NPB and high school tournaments are a great way to scout for talent, the Industrial baseball leagues have also proven to be a way to the word out on a player. This was the case for players like Hideo Nomo, Junichi Tazawa, and Kosuke Fukudome.

Information about the Baseball in Japan

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It was mentioned earlier that the NPB had 2 leagues within it and these were the Central League and the Pacific League. What wasn’t mentioned earlier was that there are also minor leagues in the NPB that run shorter seasons. These minor leagues are the Eastern League and the Western League. You can think of these leagues as the D-League or G-League that the NBA started in recent decades. The purpose of this is to give more opportunities to professionals as well as to prospects and young players to get better as they gain more in-game experience through these minor league games.

There also used to be more differences between the CL and PL than just the DH rule or “designated hitter” rule. You see, in the years prior to 2007, the PL played a substantially fewer amount of games. The number of games played in the PL would play around the 130 to mid-130 games in a season while the CL usually hit game counts of 146. They standardized this in recent years and it is for that reason that both leagues now play 146 games in a season. Their league starts around April and the regular season goes on until about the month of September with the post-season reached the month of December.

Playing 144 games is a lot of work especially if you play 6 games in a week with only Mondays off. Players don’t usually get the rest that they need in between the days which is why a game roster in these leagues are like the MLB format wherein they are allowed, 25 players. With 25 players available per game, the teams are able to rest certain players for a significant amount of time and this makes the season bearable for their bodies. The NPB teams actually have 28 players on their team though. Before every game, they are to choose 3 players that become ineligible to play for that particular game to match the game roster limits in the regulations of the league.

As for their equipment, they pretty much used the same equipment used in the MLB. The sport is heavily funded in Japan so you wouldn’t need to worry about sub-par equipment being used in training and in actual league games as well. After all, players like Ohtani and Ichiro were originally from the NPB so you can be sure that the quality of everything baseball there is world class.

Details on the Baseball Tickets in Japan

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Now that you know what teams play and how long the season goes for, the remaining details you need to know to be able to walk these games in real life is how to obtain the tickets as well as the routes used to access the stadiums or domes that these games are usually held in. Ticket buying used to be a tedious thing to do before the internet because of the time and patience you needed to line up and actually buy the said tickets. Nowadays though, in a matter of clicks, you can already gain access to a ticket of your preference.

Just like online purchasing in anything else in this world, you just need to have a reliable website or medium to get the information on these tickets. This should be easy enough because the NPB has trusted distributors of these tickets. The price of your ticket will depend on the teams playing as well as the seat that you would want to sit in. Generally, if you want the best seats in the house, you should be prepared to spend at least 10,000 yen. On the other hand, if you just want experience how it games in the NPB are as an audience, buying the 3000 yen ticket would also do the trick for you.

Japan’s public transportation is one that is idolized by many countries because it has practically connected the entirety of Japan. With this said, all you need to know is where or not the game you are watching will be held in places like the Tokyo Dome or the Kyocera Dome in Osaka. These are several JR lines and subways provide trains that directly go to these places so just plan your trip beforehand to maximize your time and money. These trains and subways are safe so even if you are a woman traveling alone with your kids, you can rest assured that your commute will be absolutely safe from any harm. If trains aren’t your type of transportation, you may also opt to look for the bus routes that go to these sporting establishments as well though it may take you a bit more time to get there as compared to riding the train.