Japanese Baseball: History, teams, ballparks, players
History of Japanese Baseball
Baseball was introduced to Japan in 1872 during the Meiji Period by an American professor at Tokyo University, Horace Wilson.
Amateur teams began to form from the late 1870's onward. A Waseda University team of students toured the United States in 1905 becoming the first Japanese baseball team to play in America.
The first tours by US professional teams to Japan began in 1908, which eventually lead to the establishment of professionalism in Japanese baseball.
Japan was instrumental in the game spreading to Korea and China. The game is known as yakyu (field ball) in Japanese and is Japan's most popular sport.
Baseball is played widely in schools, universities and companies. Two national high school tournaments are held at Koshien stadium, near Osaka, and are widely popular.
Professional baseball in Japan (puro-yakyu) dates back to 1920. There are currently two pro-leagues: the Central League (CL) and the Pacific League (PL). There are also two pro minor leagues, the Eastern League and the Western League.
Japanese Baseball Teams & Leagues
There are 12 professionals teams presently in Japan, 6 each in the Central and Pacific Leagues.
Japan's oldest teams are the Yomiuri Giants (founded as the Dai-nippon Tokyo Yakyu Club in 1934) and the Hanshin Tigers (founded as the Osaka Yakyu Club in 1934) and their traditional East-West rivalry in the Central League is particularly intense.
The Japanese baseball season begins in the Spring (late March/early April) and continues through to October with the Japan Series, when the Central League champions face off against the Pacific League winners in a best of seven series.
Since 2004 the PL has employed a play-off system among the top three teams to determine the outright champion. The CL followed suit in 2007. Inter-league play between the two leagues began only in 2005.
Japanese Baseball & Major League Baseball
The greatest influence from overseas on Japanese baseball comes from the USA. MLB teams have been playing exhibition series in Japan since the mid-1980's and mostly journeymen American and other foreign players have been plying their trade in Japan since the 1950's.
There is now a current fad for American managers in the Japanese game and for individual MLB teams to come over and play pre-season exhibition games.
The movement of players between the US and Japan remained mainly one-way until the pitcher Hideo Nomo started a trend of leaving Japan for the US in 1995, becoming the first Japanese pitcher to play professionally in the States since Masanori Murakami in 1964-1965.
Since then stars such as Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui, Kazuhiro Sasaki, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tadahito Iguchi have left Japan for the Major Leagues.
The different styles and philosophies of Japanese and US baseball have often lead to problems for foreign players in the Japanese game (see Warren Cromartie's Slugging It Out in Japan) but the recent financial difficulties of the sport in Japan have lead to various changes in thinking and more openness towards Major League Baseball in a belated attempt to reinvigorate the game.
Japanese baseball is poorly administered and few of the teams make a profit. Japan's success at the inaugural World Baseball Classic has tempted more players to seek professional fulfillment in the Major Leagues in the US.
In the early 1990s with the onset of a decline in the Japanese economy, the establishment of a professional soccer league (the J-League in 1993) and the beginning of an exodus of Japan's top players to MLB, domestic baseball has been in the doldrums. Spectators at the ballparks and TV audiences have both declined. With the possible exceptions of the highly-popular Yomiuri Giants and the Hanshin Tigers, Japanese teams traditionally ran at a loss and the losses were picked up by their parent companies and written off as a form of advertising. The poor economy throughout the 1990s and the rise in popularity of J-League soccer made these subsidies unsustainable for many teams.
In late 2004, Japanese ballplayers staged their first-ever strike in protest at the proposed merger of the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes and the Orix BlueWave. The strike was settled when owners agreed to create a new team, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles and maintain the two-league, 12-team system, in exchange for the players' acceptance of the merger of the Buffaloes and BlueWave.
Japan's victory in the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006 has raised hopes that baseball may make a come-back in the popularity stakes.
Pacific League Ballparks
Stadium: Chiba Marine Stadium
1 Mihama, Mihama-ku, Chiba
Tel: (043) 296 1189
Getting there: A 15-minute walk or shuttle bus from JR Kaihin Makuhari station.
Stadium: Invoice Seibu Dome
2135 Kamiyamaguchi, Tokorozawa, Saitama
Tel: (042) 925 1151
Getting there: A 1-minute walk from Seibu Seibukyujomae station.
Stadium: Fukuoka Yahoo! Japan Dome
2-2-2 Jigyohama, Chuo-ku, Fukuoka
Tel: (092) 847 1006
Getting there: A 10-minute walk from Tojinmachi subway station.
Stadium: Sapporo Dome
Hitsujigaoka, Toyohira-ku, Sapporo
Tel: (011) 850 1000
Getting there: A 10-minute walk from Fukuzumi station.
Stadium: Fullcast Stadium Miyagi
2-11-6, Miyagino, Miyagino-ku, Sendai
Tel: (022) 292 1273
Getting there: A 5-minute walk from JR Senseki Line Miyaginohara station.
Stadium: Osaka Dome
3 Naka, 2-1 Chiyozaki, Nishi-ku, Osaka
Tel: (06) 6586 0106
Getting there: A 7-minute walk from JR Taisho station or a 2-minute walk from Osaka Domemae Chiyozaki station.
Stadium: Skymark Stadium
Midoridai, Suma-ku, Kobe
Tel: (078) 795 5589
Getting there: A 1-minute walk from Sogoundokoen subway station.
Central League Ballparks
Stadium: Koshien Stadium
1-82 Koshien-cho, Nishinomiya, Hyogo
Tel: (0798) 47 1041
Getting there: A 2-minute walk from Hanshin Koshien station.
Stadium: Tokyo Dome
1-3 Koraku, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo
Tel: (03) 3811 2111
Getting there: A short walk from Korakuen and Suidobashi subway stations.
Stadium: Nagoya Dome
1-1-1 Daikominami, Higashi-ku, Nagoya
Tel: (052) 719 2121
Getting there: A 5-minute walk from Nagoya Domemae subway station or a 15-minute walk from JR or Meitetsu Ozone station.
Stadium: Yokohama Stadium
Yokohama-koen, Naka-ku, Yokohama
Tel: (045) 661 1256
Getting there: A 2-minute walk from Kannai JR or subway station.
Stadium: Jingu Stadium
13 Kasumigaoka, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Tel: (03) 3404 8999
Getting there: A 5-minute walk from Gaienmae subway station or a 10-minute walk from JR Shinanomachi station.
Stadium: Hiroshima Stadium
5-25 Motomachi, Naka-ku, Hiroshima
Tel: (082) 228 5291
Getting there: A 20-minute walk from JR Hiroshima station; a 1-minute walk from Genbaku Domemae streetcar stop or a 5-minute walk from Hiroshima bus station.