Baseball in Japan

Baseball is both one of the most popular participatory sport and spectator sport in Japan today. Boys of all ages, from primary school to the university level, play baseball in Japan. As a spectator sport, the sport is followed by the millions, from local, professional, and international levels.


Baseball was first introduced to Japan in 1872 after the Meiji Restoration, but it was not until the end of World War II that the sport flourished to become one of the most popular sport in Japan. The formation of the professional league was initiated by American baseball players. Nearly 60 years after the sport was first introduced to Japan, an American All-Star team led by New York Yankees star, Lou Gehrig, visited Japan. They played 17 games against the Japanese University All-Star team and won every single game, but the Japanese fans were thrilled and excited anyway. This led to the establishment of professional baseball in December of 1934. The first team was formed and was named the "Dainippon Tokyo Yakyu Club," soon to be known as the Tokyo Giants. The first professional game in Japan was played in February of 1936 in Nagoya. It was only after World War II that baseball flourished and became popular among the general public.


In 1950, the system of professional baseball in Japan as we know it today was established. The Japan Professional Baseball League consists of two leagues, (Central and Pacific) with six teams in each. The 12 major league teams are owned by railway companies, newspaper organizations, and other corporations. The Central League consists of Chunichi Dragons (Nagoya); Hanshin Tigers (Osaka); Hiroshima Carp; Yakuluto Swallows (Tokyo); Yokohama Bay Stars; and Yomiuri Giants (Tokyo). The Pacific League is composed of Chiba Lotte Marines; Fukuoka Daiei Hawks; Kintetsu Buffaloes (Osaka); Nippon Ham Fighters (Tokyo); Orix Blue Wave (Kobe); and Seibu Lions (Tokorozawa). Every year, starting in early April, these teams play about 130 games in their respective home cities and in regional cities that do not have their own professional teams. At the end of the season, the champions from each league compete in the Japan Series for the national title. During the season (from April to October), these games are broadcast daily, and are closely followed by millions of people.


Equally as popular as the professional league is the All-Japan High School Baseball Championships held twice a year at the Koshien Stadium in Hyogo. It is held in April and in August, and these ten-day-long tournaments were first held in 1915. More than 4,000 high school teams participate each year, and the top teams from Japan's 47 prefectures come to Hyogo for the Koshien tournament. Even in the birthplace of baseball, the U.S., high school baseball games would not draw a crowd of more than a few hundred people. But, the Koshien games are broadcast nationally, and as many as a million spectators fill the stadium throughout the course of the tournament. Even college baseball trails the Koshien in popularity. The best players of the tournament (regardless of whether their team wins or not) receive nationwide attention and publicity to become instant celebrities. Scouts from professional leagues watch these players closely in hopes to recruit the best into their professional teams. Other popular tournaments popularly followed include the college leagues; the Tokyo Big Six League, the Toto League, the Shuto League, and the Kansai Daigaku League. The annual Japan-US College Baseball Championship has grown popular in recent years, too. Many corporations have their own amateur teams, and nationwide corporate tournaments are held annually. Little-League baseball and sandlot baseball are also very popular in Japan, too.

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