Publish Date: 04/23/2019
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster
Despite being America’s favorite pastime, baseball has gained extraordinary popularity in Japan and is now a national sport there. Let’s find out why.
America’s favorite pastime, baseball, is now so popular in Japan that a lot of people there do not even realize that it is not native to this Asian country. It is the most attended sporting event in the country and one that draws crowds of fans from all walks of life. Various reasons are attributed to the game’s popularity in the land where the sun originates.
Baseball in Japan has a long history, and you will require professional writing help to document it properly. The Japanese were first introduced to it in 1872, but its success can be attributed to the efforts of American players who established the country’s first professional baseball league. Several decades after its introduction, a Lou Gehrig-led All-Star American team visited Japan and played 17 games against Japanese university teams, winning all of them.
Despite Japanese players losing, the spectacle created quite a stir across the country. That led the Japanese to improve their amateur baseball structures and resulted in the creation of a professional baseball league in December 1934. The first Japanese baseball team, Tokyo Giants, which was initially named “Dainippon Tokyo Yakyu Club” played their first professional game in Nagoya in February 1936. However, baseball only gained widespread recognition after the Second World War, becoming the country’s most popular team sport ever since.
Japan’s professional baseball as we know it was established back in the 1950s. Nippon Professional Baseball consists of two leagues, Pacific and Central, which have six teams each. The major league teams are owned by different corporate organizations. The Central League comprises Tokyo’s Chunichi Dragons, Osaka’s Hanshin Tigers, Tokyo’s Yakuluto Swallows and Yomiuri Giants, Yokohama Bay Stars, and Hiroshima Carp. The Pacific League is made up of Osaka’s Kintetsu Buffaloes, Tokyo’s Nippon Ham Fighters, Kobe’s Orix Blue Wave, Tokorozawa’s Seibu Lions, Fukuoka Daiei Hawks, and Chiba Lotte Marines.
Starting from early April, the teams participate in 130 games in their home cities and regional towns that are not represented by professional teams. Then, the champions in every league compete for the national title at the end of the season in October. All these games are broadcast nationally and attract audiences in the tens of millions.
While baseball fans in America often taunt players and fans from opposing teams, the Japanese frown on such behavior. Japanese baseball fans are kept separate at stadiums and you are not allowed to wear an opposing team’s colors in a designated fan area. The key advantage of seating a team’s supporters together is that it makes it easier for them to cheer their teams in unison. Baseball fans in Japan also have dedicated cheer songs and chants for each player in their teams.
Consequently, the atmosphere during a professional Japanese baseball game is often unmatched, especially due to the crazy mascots, rally balloons, and uriko (beer girls) who run up and down delivering beer from kegs they carry on their backs. The enjoyable experience makes baseball games events tourists, including those of them who are not baseball fans, can’t afford to miss.
Baseball is also quite popular at the high school level. Since 1915, high school baseball players have been participating in national championships held in April and August. About 4,000 teams take part in the initial stages, and the top teams from the country’s 47 prefectures congregate in Hyogo for the 10-day Koshien tournament. Unlike in the US where high school baseball games attract audiences of only several hundred people, Japanese high school games draw millions of spectators and are broadcast nationally. The best players in these tournaments attract nationwide attention and become celebrities overnight. Professional teams deploy scouts to watch and recruit the best novice players into the professional circuit.
The Japanese have made baseball part of their culture, and similarly to the US, it is difficult to separate the affection that Japanese baseball fans have for their teams from the love of the cities that these teams represent. Therefore, as you walk down the street, you can spot the colors of local baseball teams almost everywhere. Besides, you will encounter fan stores selling jerseys, key chains, pennants, signed baseballs, and calendars all emblazoned with the logo of the city’s baseball team. Not only professional teams have their their loyal fanbase. You can often see people stop their normal activities and flock to ballparks, listen to the radio or watch television whenever some little known teenager team play. They may have never heard of them nor do they know anything about their background – they do it simply because they love the game.
Although baseball is not native to Japan, the sport has gained quite a popularity in the country ever since the Japanese were first introduced to it in the 19th century. The passion local fans demonstrate, the emotionally charged atmosphere at the games of all levels, and entrenchment in the nation’s culture are all a guarantee that baseball’s popularity won’t wane any time soon.