The majority of people think about the US when they think about baseball, but it’s a sport that is followed all over the world. Japan, in particular, has a penchant for the game and a long history of both playing and watching it. In fact, large amounts of the population recognize it as the official game of the country.
But why do the Japanese love baseball so much? And when was baseball first brought into the region?
The History of Baseball in Japanese Culture
Baseball was introduced to Japan in 1872 by an American professor teaching English at a school in Tokyo. Six years later, in 1878, the first adult baseball team was created, named the Shimbashi Athletic Club. From this point on, a love for the sport was born, and the popularity of baseball skyrocketed.
Around this time, Japan was in the Meiji era, which was marked by a move from a feudal society to a more modern, industrialized, and, some may say, more western nation. Adopting baseball as a national sport was seen by the government as a great way to focus on modernization. Efforts were made to integrate baseball with the school curriculum, and Japanese enthusiasts of the game were given valuable positions in government.
A turning point came at the end of the 1800s when a Japanese team defeated a team of foreigners at a match played in Yokohama. The players were titled as national heroes, and baseball started to be seen as a desirable and impressive game to partake in.
The sport became even more loved across the country in the post-World War II era when lots of American soldiers played and promoted it. Games were set up in Japan to showcase how baseball worked and to get people enthusiastic.
During this time, the games would feature famous US players like Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, and Bebe Ruth.
Watching & Betting On Baseball in Japan
Baseball was unique in Japan when it was first introduced because it focused on cooperation between a team, whereas the country’s native sports, like kendo and sumo wrestling, are much more individualistic. The idea of teamwork and of a team to root for resulted in watching and supporting baseball becoming more commonplace.
The rise of group sports also led to a rise in sports betting, as Japanese baseball fanatics wanted to place wagers on the odds of their team winning a game or event. The leading bookmakers in Japan allow fans to bet online on the outcome of major baseball games – both domestically, like Nippon Professional Baseball, or internationally, such as the MLB. In-person betting isn’t allowed yet in Japan like it is in many US states where the sport is also popular; it’s only possible at offshore sites for now.
Whether you’re betting on the outcome of the game or not, watching baseball in Japan is definitely an experience, whether at a major league or high school game. The atmosphere is electric, with fans cheering on their favorite team and sporting clothes, flags, balloons, and more in their team’s colors. As well as fanfare, expect to hear a live brass band or some other form of live music playing to accompany the game.
Even for people who aren’t committed fans of baseball, the vibe of a game is so enthralling that it’s impossible not to get swept up in it!
There are two leagues in Japan’s professional baseball scene: the Pacific League and the Central League. Each of the leagues is made up of six teams, including the Yomiuri Giants, the Hanshin Tigers, and the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.
In Japan, baseball season usually begins with training in February and March, with actual games running from the end of March until October. There are televised games nearly every day during the season, which explains why the sport is so popular – it’s accessible 24/7!
Many Japanese baseball stars are so talented that they get recruited to join international teams, especially those in America. At the moment, there are currently eight Japanese players in the MLB: Yu Darvish for the San Diego Padres, Shohei Ohtani for the Los Angeles Angels, and Masataka Yoshida for the Boston Red Sox, amongst others.
High School Baseball
As well as professional games, high school baseball is also very popular and attracts thousands of spectators each year. There are national championships every year in April and August, with about 4,000 teams initially trying out. The best teams from these will then battle it out at the Koshien Stadium near Osaka. High school sports in Japan are not considered any less important than professional baseball tournaments. Every game at the Koshien Stadium is televised and draws in massive crowds!