March 17, 2016

The national Japanese pastime

It's March, and that means it's time for--no, not basketball--the National High School Baseball Invitational Tournament, also known as Spring Koshien. Together with Summer Koshien, the bigger open tournament in August, it is the sporting event in Japan, a cultural (and television) institution.

Courtesy Japan Times.

The last twenty years of economic malaise took a lot of the air out of golf, though Japanese golf players have become competitive internationally. Soccer has recently rocketed past baseball in terms of sheer popularity. Sumo has the historical deepest roots (albeit now being dominated by Mongolians).

But baseball has truly become a Japan's "national pastime," occupying the same cultural and social space as football does in the U.S. (and particularly in states like Texas).

Baseball came to Japan in the mid-19th century with the opening of Japan and caught on quickly. Babe Ruth toured Japan with the American League All Stars in 1934. The first national high school championships were played in 1915, and moved to Hanshin Koshien Stadium in 1924.

The Koshien baseball tournaments equal the popularity of NCAA "March Madness" and the football bowl games. The summer tournament is open to every high school baseball team in the country, so at the beginning of every season, every baseball-loving Japanese kid can dream of going to Koshien.

And with American baseball teams using Japan as a kind of super-minor league system, every baseball-loving Japanese kid can dream of playing in the Majors as well.

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