While the most popular sport in many parts of the world might be soccer and American Football, in Japan the most popular sport is definitely baseball. Kids usually start playing baseball as a part of the PE curriculum from 3rd grade in elementary school, and a large part of the population loves to watch both Japanese major league baseball and high school baseball where everyone hopes the stars of the future are born.
History of Baseball in Japan
The origins of baseball have been the subject of debate for more than a hundred years. Baseball and the other modern bat, ball and running games, cricket and rounders, were developed from earlier folk games in England. The first published rules of baseball were written in 1845 for a New York City “base ball” club called the Knickerbockers.
Baseball was introduced to Japan soon after they opened up their country to foreigners in 1872 by American Horace Wilson, who was an English professor at the Kaisei School in Tokyo. The first baseball team in Japan was called the Shimbashi Athletic Club and was established in 1878. Baseball has been a popular sport ever since. It is called 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’.
Nippon Professional Baseball
The professional baseball association in Japan is called Nippon Professional Baseball. Japan has two leagues, just like the United States. The Central and Pacific Leagues each consist of six teams. The Pacific League uses the designated hitter style of play. The pro baseball season is eight months long with games beginning in April, and a Championship held in October. Teams play 144 games, as compared to the 162 games of the American major league teams. The season concludes with the Japan Series in which the two best teams of that year compete for the title in at most 7 games.
In Japan, it is large corporations that own the teams. Historically, teams have been identified with their owners’ names, 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.
If you would like to see a baseball match during your trip to Japan, don’t hesitate to let us know and we can work with you to include match tickets. It is fun, and it is interesting to see how the Japanese fans cheer their favorite team. If you would like to try your hand at batting or pitching, there are plenty of old school batting cages in Japan’s larger cities where you can play to your heart’s content.