If you think baseball is only popular in the west, think again. The sport happens to be the most popular in Japan and has been played for many years. This article entails a comprehensive description of the advent of baseball in Japan, its evolution over time, and the sport’s current status in the country.
History of baseball in Japan
The sport was first introduced to Japan in 1872 during the Meiji Period by Horace Wilson, an American expatriate working as an educator in Japan then. Almost right away, it gained rapid popularity across the country among amateur athletic clubs and educational institutions. In the years following its introduction, the sport was embraced by the masses and spread across the country to the point where it became Japan’s most popular spectator as well as a participatory sport.
The first structured adult baseball team was formed in 1878 and was called the Shimbashi Athletic Club. In 1896, a team from Ichiko High School Tokyo defeated a team from Yokohama Country and Athletic Club, comprising a group of resident foreigners. The win received wide coverage in the Japanese media, and the winners were hailed as heroes. This led to the popularity of baseball at the school level. Within a short time, children in far-off regions could also be seen playing baseball.
Japanese Baseball as a professional sport
The first professional baseball competitions were introduced in Japan in the 1920s. However, baseball did not become popular at a professional level until the Greater Japan Tokyo Baseball Club was established in 1934. It was a team of all-stars formed by Matsutaro Shoriki, a media magnate. Prior to the formation of this team, other similar clubs had formed only to disband after a short while. However, Matsutaro Shoriki’s club played against an American all-star team, which included the likes of Jamie Foxx and Babe Ruth, and gained international recognition as an independent league.
professional baseball leagues in Japan
1936 saw the establishment of the first professional league in Japan. The league continued to grow over the years, and in 1959 it was divided into two leagues, the Pacific and Central League. Together these two are called the Nippon Professional Baseball.
Presently, the professional baseball season lasts eight months, begins in April, and comprises 144 games, unlike the American major leagues season, which has 162 games. After the formal season, there is a playoff series followed by the Japan Series, a championship competition held in October.
Currently, there are 12 teams in the Nippon Professional Baseball, and they are owned by various corporations having interests beyond baseball. The rules for the Professional Baseball League are similar to the Major Baseball League but differ in a few technical aspects.
Many people are unaware of this, but the ball used in Japanese baseball is comparatively smaller, and the playing field and strike zone are also smaller. Some of the fields for the Nippon league teams do not fit the criteria or official rules prescribed for American baseball.
In addition, the duration of a Japanese baseball game is also different, with an allowance for a game tie. After 2011, a rule was implemented for the game length according to which an innings could not start after 3.5 hours of the first pitch. The rule was imposed to cater to the power limit imposition after the tsunami in 2011.
Moreover, while a regular game in Major League Baseball continues until a winner is decided, the innings limit for Japanese baseball is twelve during the season and fifteen in playoffs. Other differences exist in terms of the active roster, which is 28 for Nippon Professional baseball and 26 for Major League Baseball.
For both the Japanese professional leagues, the team with the highest wins percentage precedes a playoff according to a stepladder format. There have been a few instances when a team with a greater number of wins was placed below a team with more ties or lesser losses yet ended up with a higher winning percentage. The winning team from the Pacific League and the Central League then go on to compete in the Championship Japan Series.
Besides professional leagues, Japan has two minor leagues, Eastern and Western, affiliated with Nippon Professional Baseball. The Pacific League owns the Western League, which comprises five teams. While the Eastern League comprises seven teams, and the Central League owns it. While Nippon Professional Baseball has a 144-game season, the minor leagues have 80 games in a season.
Amateur Baseball in Japan
In addition to professional baseball leagues, Japan also has highly competitive minor, semi-pro, and university leagues, with a huge fan base. The Japan High School Baseball Federation holds two national-level tournaments, named the National High School Baseball Invitational Tournament and National High School Baseball Championship. The former takes place in spring and the latter in summer.
In addition, Japan also has rampant amateur leagues for baseball. The Japan Amateur Baseball Association manages the affairs of these leagues, and various companies sponsor the league players. The amateur leagues also have two tournaments; an Industrial League tournament and an intercity tournament. You may be surprised to know, but some real talent has been found through these leagues. Players from the amateur leagues have represented the country internationally, including Major League Baseball.
Japanese teams have performed well at the international level, and the country’s strength in the sport is widely recognised. Various Japanese players enjoy successful careers in American leagues, and the locals enjoy watching their games broadcast widely on television.
How many basketball leagues are there in Japan?
Japan has two major professional leagues, the Pacific League and Central League. The country also has two minor leagues; the Eastern League, which is owned by the Central League, and the Western League, which the Pacific League owns.
How much do baseball players make in Japan?
According to 2021 data, the average salary of a professional baseball league in Japan is around 41.7 million Japanese Yen, which amounts to around US $290,000.
What is Nippon Professional Baseball?
The two major professional leagues in Japan, the Central and Pacific League, are called the Nippon Professional Baseball. Currently, it comprises 12 teams.
Is baseball popular in Japan?
Baseball is the most popular sport in Japan. It is not only the most played sport in the country but is also the most popular spectator sport.
Is Japan good at baseball?
Till 2021, Japan’s men’s baseball team was the number one team in the world. This year, Brazil grabbed the title, but the Japanese team is recognised as one of the strongest teams in the world. It won the baseball Olympics in 2020 and also the II Premier12 in 2019. Many Japanese players are also a part of various major international leagues and are quite popular.