While Japan spent most of its history isolated from the rest of the world, the nation quickly assimilated a number of sports that were introduced when the country opened up in the late 19th century at the same time when the real money casino got more and more fans. Surprisingly, many remain the country’s top sports to this day. But the number one is the biggest surprise. It is baseball.
Number One Sport in Japan
Baseball is the undisputed number one sport in Japan, and is jokingly called Japan’s national sport (ironically, there is no officially recognized national sport in Japan – not even Sumō or the sword art Kendō). While most Japanese* would probably understand the English word “baseball,” it is more commonly called yakyū, or puro yakyū when referring to the professional league. Even high school baseball tournaments are taken very seriously – the National High School Baseball Championships (or Koshien) is a summer event heavily followed by the media.
Even though baseball was introduced in the country as early as 1872, it took a full 64 years for a professional league to be formed in 1936. This league included the Tokyo Kyojin (now the Yomiuri Giants) and the Osaka Tigers (now the Hanshin Tigers), among others. By 1950, the league was large enough to split into the Central League (consisting of older teams) and the Pacific League (consisting of newer teams), which still compete each October in the “Japan Series.”
There are some differences between Japanese and American baseball. The Japanese ball is a little smaller, as is the strike zone and the field of play. Normal league games are limited to 12 innings, while elimination games are limited to 15 innings, which means that a tie is also possible. Nevertheless, the leagues also sign players from the U.S. and other countries, although only a maximum of four foreign players may be on a team’s active roster. Nevertheless, American Randy Bass still holds the record for the highest batting average ever achieved in a season, at .389.
Where Does it Come From?
Japan has a long baseball tradition. Over the past 150 years or so, the karate and judo nation has developed tremendously in baseball. At the Olympics, the Japanese have won silver once and bronze twice.
The Japanese did even better in the four “World Baseball Classic,” synonymous with the World Championship. Twice they won the title, twice they finished in third place. By comparison, the USA, baseball’s mother country, has only won this tournament once.
Everyday Something New
Baseball is very popular in Japan – in the “regular season” alone, comparable to the Bundesliga in soccer, 143 games are scheduled from April to September. Twelve teams play in the two professional leagues, six each in the Central League and six in the Pacific League. They determine the Japanese baseball champion.
In addition, there are preseason and offseason games and games in the lower leagues. Japan’s baseball calendar offers something for the fan almost every day, and the Japanese media are always on it. Kaz Nagatsuka, sports editor-in-chief of The Japan Times, commented:
“Baseball is undoubtedly the biggest sport in Japan, at least in terms of team sports. It’s the biggest sport nowadays, and to answer your question, the impact of not playing baseball games is enormous in Japan. Baseball is an everyday game these days.”