Baseball In Japan

Japanese Baseball Vocabulary

Bridge Across the Pacific

Baseball is the most popular team sport in Japan, with high school, university, and professional games stirring the public and dominating the media during the spring and summer months.

Baseball was first played in Japan in 1873 at Kaisei Gakko ( now Tokyo University ) under the instruction of an American teacher, Horace Wilson. Around 1880 the first Japanese baseball team was organized at the Shimbashi Athletic Club, and several college teams were formed in Tokyo. During the period 1890 to 1902, a team from the First Higher School in Tokyo played and often defeated a team made up of American residents in Yokohama; the publicity for these games helped make baseball one of the most popular Western sports in Japan.

Amateur Baseball Organizations


Around 1900, baseball clubs were formed in middle schools throughout the country. Baseball became Japan’s major school sport, with interscholastic competitions leading the way. The annual series between Waseda University and Keio University ( known as the Sokeisen ), the most popular intercollegiate rivalry, started in 1903. Three universities, Waseda, Keio, and Mejii-formed a league in 1914, which by included three other universities, Hosei, Rikkyo, and Tokyo, becoming the Tokyo Big Six University Baseball League. Before 1945, the Big Six was Japan’s most popular league, and it remains the favorite league in college baseball. By the late 1970’s there were 253 college teams. Leading teams from each region of the country participates in the annual Japan Collegiate Baseball Championship.


High school baseball activity is dominated by the National High School Baseball Championship Tournament, held each year in March and April, and the All-Japan High School Championship Tournament, held in August. These events, which trace their origins back to 1924 and 1915 respectively, are held at Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture and are commonly known as the spring and summer Koshien tournaments.These schools that represent every Japanese prefecture, they recieve extensive attention in the press, are broadcast live nationwide on radio and television, and consistently rival professional baseball popularity.
Non student amateur teams also compete in a number of recognized leagues and tournaments, of which the inter city Baseball Championship Tournament and the Japan Amateur Baseball Championship Tournament are the most important. All amateur activity, including high school baseball, is supervised by the Japan Amateur Baseball Federation, which is composed of separate groups governing high school, college, and other amateur competition.

Development of Professional Baseball


When an American major league all-star team came to Japan in 1934, an All-Japan Team was selected from the best players of the nonprofessional teams. With these members as it’s core, the first professional team, the Nihon Baseball Club, was organized at the end of 1934, and by then seven professional teams had been formed. Though not as popular as amateur baseball before World War ll, professional baseball rapidly grew into Japan’s most popular spectator sport in the post war years, with an annual attendance of over 14 million, and televised games became top-rated programs.

Japan-United States Baseball Games


The first Japanese baseball team to visit the United States was the Waseda University team in 1905. Two years later the first semiprofessional American team came to Japan from Hawaii, and, in the following years, several international matches were organized by colleges and clubs. Waseda University and the University of Chicago played 10 games between 1906 and 1936.

Japanese-American teams from Seattle began tours in 1914, 1918, 1920, and 1923. Hawaiian teams continued to tour in 1915, 1920, and an all-star Nisei Team from Fresno, California set up exhibitions in 1924, 1927. In1926, the San Jose Asahi’s travel to Japan and Korea, and the Stockton Yamato Athletic Club follows the same path in 1928. The Los Angeles Nippon’s make their first tour to Japan in 1931. An all-star team from Central California and Northern California combined to form the Alameda-Kono All-Stars that tour to Japan, Korea, and Manchuria, China in 1937.

As for American major leaguers, a world tour team led by Charles Comiskey and John McGraw was the first to visit Japan in 1913. Major league all-star teams managed by Connie Mack that came to Japan in 1931 and 1934 with such notable players as Lefty Grove, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, and Jimmie Foxx made a strong impression on the Japanese public and led to the formation of the first professional team in Japan.

After World War II, Japanese-American baseball interchanges became more frequent. In 1949 the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League visited Japan, followed by numerous major league teams. In recent years some Japanese professional teams have held spring training camps in America. Since 1936, over 400 Americans have played for Japanese professional teams.


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