The Unfulfilled Hope of Japanese Baseball
Many of the Issei’s hopes for baseball were based on a desire to establish a bond between them and the dominant white society through which mutual understanding and respect could be established. This hope was largely unfulfilled.
Today Japan has active minor and university leagues, and its high school teams compete in the Koshien tournament that receives extensive media coverage. Students train year round.
During the Meiji Restoration, when Japan was recreating itself for modern times, baseball was seen as a way to break down barriers between cultures. It also helped replace old stereotypes of Asians as feminine, irrational and sensual with a more masculine competitiveness.
University teams began to grow in number, and they would send their students over to America to learn how to play better. Eventually, this lead to the Seals touring Japan in 1908.
The tour is credited with inspiring the first effort at Japanese professional baseball. The team was made up of some of the best high school and collegiate players in Japan, and it was a great success.
When it comes to sports, most fans are used to there being a clear winner and loser. But in Japanese baseball, this isn’t always the case.
The rules of Nippon Professional Baseball allow for games to end in a tie after a maximum of 12 innings have been played. This is a result of the emphasis on teamwork and fair play in Japanese culture.
Unlike American MLB, NPB teams are owned by corporations with other interests. Consequently, they are named with both a corporate and place name. This can confuse Westerners. However, a number of NPB teams are currently planning to change their names to only include the corporate name.
Unlike American players, who often switch teams to capitalize on their hot hitting or pitching, Japanese players show much more team loyalty. They play in a league where games have a limited number of innings and the teams compete for a championship series.
The league also implements some rules that mimic MLB rules, such as no-challenge zones and a stricter rule on pitchers’ use of pick-off moves. And NPB teams have more coaches — a head coach (equivalent to an MLB bench coach), a third base coach, and other specialties.
The sport is extremely popular at high school and university levels, too. The universities of Keio and Waseda have intense rivalries that draw large crowds.
For many Japanese, baseball is more than just a game. It embodies the values of discipline, hard work, and teamwork that are rooted in Japan’s culture and tradition. Youth tournaments and clubs nurture young talent, and the prestigious Koshien Tournament draws mass attendance from households across Japan.
This single-elimination tournament is famous for spawning future stars who have gone on to play in Nippon Professional Baseball and even in MLB in America. Players often live together in team dormitories year-round, requiring them to shave their heads and eat extra rice to stay in shape. They are considered part of the clan, and their loyalty to the team is unquestioned.
Despite being a smaller league, NPB is still very competitive. Its stars are coveted by MLB clubs, which utilize the posting system to acquire NPB players.
Generally, NPB hitters and pitchers see their offensive production decline when they come to MLB. This is due to the higher level of competition and an adjustment period.
NPB players also exhibit greater team loyalty than their American counterparts, who often move to new teams in search of better salaries. This can lead to conflicts in the clubhouse, as demonstrated by Valentine’s clash with his coaches. However, many Japanese players are successful in MLB, including Shohei Ohtani and Yu Darvish.
Japan has a long tradition of supporting baseball. In fact, it was the first country outside of the United States to establish its own professional league. It also has a robust youth baseball culture, where young talents are nurtured from a very early age. Participation in international competitions further contributes to the national pride associated with the sport.
In Japan, players are known for their patient and disciplined approach at the plate. Their focus on precision and strategy aligns with Japanese cultural values, such as respect for opponents and the value of hard work and perseverance. Dedicated supporters, or “yakyu otaku,” demonstrate unwavering loyalty and passion for their teams by singing and chanting in synchrony.