by Bryce Marley-Jarrett
When people think of sports in Japan, typically Sumo instantly comes to mind, or perhaps one of the various martial arts like karate, or even soccer (football) comes to mind. What many outside Japan don't realise however is that the biggest sport in the country is an import; and it is huge. Welcome to the world of Nippon Professional Baseball, the most popular sport in Japan.
The “Great American Pastime” of baseball has a rich history in Japan, dating back to 1879. A young Japanese engineering student, Hiroshi Hiraoka introduced the sport to co-workers at Japan’s national railways after returning from studying in the USA. The first Japanese baseball team was created by Hiraoka and his co-workers, called the Shimbashi Athletic Club. The sport quickly gained massive popularity across Japan with teams popping up all over, however the Shimbashi Athletic Club reigned supreme for many years.
As the sport grew and legitimised through the early decades of baseball in Japan, more professional teams emerged from universities and eventually the first “major league” emerged: the Tokyo Big6 Baseball League. Expanding through Japan, the Tokyo Big6 was eclipsed and the creation of a new nationwide league came in 1936, called the Japanese Baseball League.
Today, baseball is the biggest sport in Japan. It is played throughout school from elementary level through to university, and out of school minor leagues operate throughout the country. The game has become so successful that many of the major league teams actually have US (and other nationality) stars who have played a season in major league baseball in the USA. Many native Japanese players have been so successful at the game, that they have gone on to play for major league baseball teams in the US too.
As it stands today there are are two leagues that cover Japan, each having six teams, these are:
The Central League
- Tokyo Yakult Swallows
- Chunichi Dragons
- Yokohama DeNa Baystars
- Hanshin Tigers
- Hiroshima Toyo Carp
- Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles
The Pacific League
- Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters
- Yomiuri Giants
- Chiba Lotte Marines
- Saitama Seibu Lions
- Orix Buffaloes
- Fukuoka Softbank Hawks
Both leagues play against each other in the professional season, which runs from late March until October, and are televised. Games are played almost every day of the week during the main season. Baseball is the most watched sport on television, as well as most attended sport across the country.
The season winds up in October with the playoffs, then comes to a climax with the two league champions battling it out over seven games for the Nippon Series Championship.
Attending a Baseball game in Japan is, in many ways, similar to any baseball game across the world, and also incredibly unique. It shares many similarities to a day at the ballpark in the US: you get your tickets, go to a massive stadium with tens of thousands of your closest friends, drink beers, cheer for your team and try to catch a foul ball. However, in Japan they have created many of their own traditions, both for the show of a game, as well as team specific rituals that the fans really take to heart.
One thing you will notice quickly is the amazing fan sections for each team. They sit together, taking up a massive chunk of the stadium, and have a dozen or more unique cheers for every move imaginable: from a run to base, getting someone out, a home run, and so much more; each has a spectacularly choreographed chant and dance.
A great example of these is the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. They use amazing props of brightly coloured umbrellas that they chant and dance with standing up and throwing them in the air, taking them back down, and repeat for various scores in the games. the Yomiurri Giant fans’ unfurl a massive logo blazoned banner across a thousand fans and move it in a hypnotic way on a score, cheering at a deafening tone. Each team’s fans have different cheers and they are all fantastic.
Naturally, being Japan, you’ll also see the teams adorable mascots paraded out on field with team cheerleaders playing around with them, and also occasionally shooting t-shirts into the crowds.
And of course there is the spectacle of watching the game itself! (if you can avoid being distracted by the cheer dancing in the stands and adorable mascots, that is.)
The biggest issue that stops many tourists from experiencing a baseball game in Japan is the idea of getting tickets. In Japan they are sold online, through ticket agencies and at convenience stores (‘konbini’), on self service machines. Most of these are all in Japanese, which makes it troublesome for someone who doesn't speak the language. The same goes for ordering from a Japanese site before leaving home. Additionally, many sites will not accept credit cards issued outside Japan.
Never fear though, thanks to the internet there is a easy, safe and great service to get you AMAZING tickets to any baseball game in Japan!
It's called Japan Ball Tickets, and is Japlanning's recommendation for purchasing tickets to baseball or sumo matches in Japan.
Several of us on the Japlanning team have used the service, which has been operating since 1995, and have had nothing but praise for the company.
It's quick and easy on Japan Ball tickets simply:
- Jump on over to Japanballtickets.com.
- Check out their Baseball schedules.
- Pick the game you want and securely pay for the tickets.
- Let the team at Japanballtickets.com know your accommodation details for the area your staying around the date of the game.
- The Japanballtickets.com team will have the tickets delivered to your hotel at waiting for you at the front desk at check in!
- ENJOY THE GAME!
We all found the communication between the team running the website quick and polite, they answered any questions you might have and great suggestions.
Our last game we got fantastic field side seats about as close to the home plate as you could get, and were priced great. Also enclosed in your ticket delivery is the Japan Pro Baseball Fan Handbook and Media Guide which is all info guide on teams and games in english!
One of the greatest experiences one can get while traveling abroad is experiencing local sports games. Japan is no exception. The thrilling environment of a Baseball game in Japan surrounded by the locals and die hard fans is infectious and memories you won't quickly forget. You'll find yourself running out to buy your favourite teams caps and shirts, and perhaps even an umbrella to get in on the cheer squad.
Be sure to check online when you’re next visiting Japan, and if it is Baseball season, grab a ticket for a truly amazing time!
Have you ever been to a baseball match in Japan? What was your favourite team?
Tell us in the comments below!