Jim Allen's Japanese Baseball Page


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  • Introduction
  • Brief History of Japanese Baseball
  • General Information About Japanese Baseball
  • Japanese Professional Baseball
  • English Bibliography on Japanese Baseball
  • Jim Allen's Guide to Japanese Baseball
  • Introduction

    Hi. My name is Jim Allen and I work on the sports desk of The Daily Yomiuri as a page editor. I have been writing a weekly column called The Hot Corner since February 1999. Before that I published an annual guide to Japanese baseball for a few years that imitated a number of things in Bill James Baseball Abstracts. Although very little of the thinking was particularly original or revolutionary. I learned a lot and it was fun, but now I'm doing different things.

    The purpose of the Japanese Baseball Page is to be a resource for baseball fans in general and Japanese baseball fans in particular.
    If you have something you want to add. Please let me know. After an idle span from 1998 to 2002, the site is again changing little by little.

    Brief History of Japanese Baseball

    Japanese Baseball has existed in Japan since 1873. It first appeared amid the social, cultural and technological spasms Japan endured on the heels of the Meiji restoration. The game began as a club sport; Japan's first team was the Shinbashi Athletic Club Athletics (composed mostly of people associated with Japan's first railroad which ran from Shinbashi, in Tokyo, to the recently established treaty port of Yokohama). For a relatively good treatment of Japan's early baseball history see Robert Whiting's "You've Gotta Have Wa," (Chapter 2).

    The sport became popular with schoolboys and eventually won recognition from the government. Amateur baseball was the only game in Japan until the Shibaura Club was organized in the early 1920s. The Shibaura Club was founded in Shibaura, Tokyo and eventually ended up playing in Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture under the sponsorship of the Hankyu railroad. Eventually the club foundered in Takarazuka as well.

    In 1934, the Yomiuri Shimbun organized another professional team, Dai Nippon. After a 1935 North American tour, Dai Nippon was renamed the Giants. Soon, other teams were formed. In 1936, Japan took the big step. In April, Japan's first professional "season" began at Koshien Kyujo near Osaka. Six teams, not including the Giants, took part in three Spring tournaments played in Koshien, Narumi Kyujo (in Nagoya) and Takarazuka near Osaka. The Tigers won the spring league with five wins and four losses.

    This was not to be an anomaly. From 1936 to 1939, the Tigers were the best team in Japanese pro baseball. It was not until 1939 that their chief rivals, the Giants, began to dominate. In 1939, the schedule was changed from a split season (spring and fall) to a single 96 game season. The next season (1940), the schedule was expanded to 104 games. In 1939 and 1940, the Japanese league consisted of nine teams.

    The league's season changed somewhat after that. Each team played at least 84 games in 1941. In 1942, the war in China spread to the rest of the Pacific. In spite of the continuing escalation of the war, the 1942 schedule went back to 104 games. In 1943, the schedule reverted to 84 games. In 1944, the schedule was drastically reduced to 35 games and only six teams. The 1945 season was never played. Within nine months of the beginning of the Allied occupation, Japan's pro leagues were back in business with eight teams playing 105 games each.

    General Information About Japanese Baseball

    Amateur Baseball

    Japan is, arguably, the worldwide center of amateur baseball, in the sense that so many people play baseball here. Softball is played in Japan but it far less popular among men than baseball. The total number of softball and baseball players in Japan is probably about even however, since there appears to be many more womens' softball teams than baseball teams.

    The most popular form of baseball is "nanshiki" which uses a light rubber ball with dimples so that it resembles a large golf ball with the traditional raised seams of a baseball. The ball is a little harder to catch (because it is so light, it has a tendency to pop out of the glove). It is very popular with town and city leagues as well as with many youth and company leagues.

    The focus of amateur baseball is on corporate league, college, and especially high school ball.

    High School Baseball

    Every year there are national high school baseball tournaments in the spring, summer and fall. In the spring and summer, representative high schools from around the country converge on Koshien Kyujo in Nishinomiya City, Hyogo Prefecture. Every aspect of the tournaments, from the opening ceremony to the award ceremony is televised nationally. The fall tournament, held in Tokyo's Jingu Kyujo, receives scant attention.

    The teams in the spring tournament are invited to attend and represent their region. It has been rumored that, in the past, some schools' booster organizations offered cash to influence officials involved in the selection process. Because it is by invitation, there are often teams that have little business being there.

    Teams take part in the summer tournament after winning their prefectural-level knock-out tournament. This system means that schools from the most heavily populated zones have to play one or two more games to reach Koshien, meaning there is less chance of a weaker team getting through.

    College Baseball

    Universities throughout Japan take part in local university leagues. As in high school ball, these leagues are split into spring and summer tournaments. Unlike high school ball, however, the focus is on the local tournaments with the national college championship earning scant attention from the media.

    The two most prestigious, but not necessarily the best, leagues are located in Tokyo. The Tokyo Roku Daigaku (Tokyo Six Universities) league gets the most ink and has the longest tradition, but far more top-notch players are now coming out of the Toto (Tokyo Metropolitan) League.

    The Toto league (and most other Japanese college leagues as well) has a division system. After the league season ends, the last-place team from the upper division has to play a series against the lower division winner. The winner of the series plays in the upper division in the following tournament. The loser is relegated to the lower division.

    Pro Baseball

    There are currently twelve teams in Japanese professional baseball. They are divided into two, six team leagues: the Central League and the Pacific League. Each team has a farm team in one of the two minor leagues: the Western League and the Eastern League.

    Central League

    Team             Home Park              City
    Chunichi Dragons    Nagoya Dome                Nagoya City, Aichi Prefecture
    Hanshin Tigers      Hanshin Koshien Kyujo      Nishinomiya City, Hyogo Prefecture
    Hiroshima Carp      Hiroshima Shimin Kyujo     Hiroshima City, Hiroshima Prefecture
    Yakult Swallows     Jingu Kyujo                Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo
    Yokohama BayStars   Yokohama Stadium           Yokohama City, Kanagawa Prefecture
    Yomiuri Giants      Tokyo Dome                 Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo

    Pacific League

    Team                Home Park           City
    Chiba Lotte Marines    Chiba Marine Stadium    Chiba City, Chiba Prefecture
    Fukuoka Daiei Hawks    Fukuoka Dome            Fukuoka City, Fukuoka Prefecture
    Kintetsu Buffaloes     Osaka Dome              Osaka City, Osaka
    Nippon Ham  Fighters   Tokyo Dome              Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo
    Orix BlueWave          Kobe Green Stadium      Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture
    Seibu Lions            Seibu Dome              Tokorozawa City, Saitama Prefecture

    For more in depth information on Japanese Professional Baseball.

    For current information on Japanese Baseball, see the following web pages:

    Jim Allen's Guide to Japanese Baseball

    It was fun while it lasted but the guide is no more. In case you missed it, here is the introduction to my 1995 guide...

     Bob Horner said on his return to the major leagues that Japanese baseball was not "real baseball." It was almost as if the world had conspired to play a cruel practical joke on him. Horner had come a long way to get here (a third of the way around the world). He had spurned luke-warm major league contract offers and thus forfeited his status as a major leaguer. He had been paid a lot of money to show what he could do. After all that, he found the baseball world in Japan to be completely differentănot what he had expected at all.

    The rules are essentially the same, so how could it not be baseball? I think the answer lies in the fact that pro baseball, no matter where you go, means different things to different people. For the players, it is a job. For the owners, it is an investment. For the fans, it is a source of entertainment. Little wonder then, that the same game implies something altogether different, to players, owners, and fans in another country.

    Of course when Bob Horner tells us that Japanese baseball is not the real McCoy, he is speaking from experience. The priorities in Japanese baseball are different from those in the game he had known since childhood. Horner knew baseball, and the game in Japan was different from what he knew, therefore, Horner was confident that what the Japanese called baseball was in fact a weak imitation.

    People's understanding of what they see is largely colored by previous experience. When things run counter to our expectations, we often latch on to the first seemingly rational explanation that comes along. When good non-native speakers of a language interact with native speakers, the native speakers are often insulted or offended. This typically happens, not because the non-native speakers are rude individuals but, because social customs differ and because ways of using language differ. In other words, the meaning of the language one uses goes far beyond the literal meanings of the words themselves.

    When someone speaks a language rather well, we automatically assume that she understands all the social implications of every phrase she utters. The same thing happens in baseball.

     Baseball is like a language in several ways. We draw meaning from its events and records. If you say one guy is a .300 hitter, it means something. If you say another guy can't hit his weight, that means something too. Statistics, as Bill James has shown to the world, mean different things in different places and times.

    In 1943, three hitters tied for the league home run title with four each. We cannot, however, conclude that no one in the league could hit for power. Our understanding of baseball is not limited to events on the field. Clubhouse, practice, spring training, contract negotiation all have meanings attached to them. These meanings go beyond the physical and represent a society's attitudes. Doing things differently in baseball or requesting others to change their behavior, can easily be interpreted as evidence of rudeness, arrogance, stupidity or all of the above.

    Baseball in Japan is different. It has developed differently from the American game. In America it evolved from an English ball game called rounders. In Japan it was imported as a finished product in 1873. Japanese baseball has probably retained more of the flavor of that era than the American game has. The American game has been more subject to innovation, while the Japanese game is more mindful of its past. The function that sports and popular entertainment play in a society, is intertwined with that society's culture. To expect Japanese and American fans to have identical attitudes towards baseball would be naive.

    On the other hand, there is much to be learned from the way other people do things. Approaching different practices with an open mind is an important step towards understanding our own habits and customs. Baseball, like life, doesn't stand still. It is always changing. Recognizing its changes are one of the pleasures of being a fan. The game changes and some part of it is completely new. Sometimes the game runs in cycles and we will see something which may look new, but which in fact is very old.

    A rebuttal

    One reader has suggested that Horner's ire with Japanese baseball was justified in that he was continually being called out on pitches well out of the strike zone. The same reader suggested that there was an effort on the part of the Giants at one point during the season to keep Horner from breaking some record held by then manager Sadaharu Oh. This is not an unusual play in Japan. Former Tiger slugger Randy Bass was never thrown even a reasonable facsimile of a strike in his pursuit of the Japanese single-season home run record, held by Oh.

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    Contact Jim at: jallen@gol.com