Japanese Baseball

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Japanese baseball first started in the 1800s and was established in the 1930s as a professional sport. Following the introduction of the Greater Japan Tokyo Baseball Club in 1934, the sport took off in Japan and has since had more success in Japan than in any other country professional besides America.



The initial introduction of the sport of baseball in Japan was made by Horace Wilson in 1872 and the first formal team was created in 1878. In Japan, it was largely considered shameful to charge money to let people watch something players enjoyed doing and so all organized games were free of charge. The first game to charge a fee was held in 1907 and the sport continued to spread. Starting in 1908 and continuing for years, many prominent United States professional teams would tour Japan and play exhibition matches against Japanese amateurs and university teams.

To improve the play of Japanese teams, two professional teams were created in 1920 and soon were sent to Manchuria and Korea on exhibition tours to spread the sport and practice. The league and two original teams would disband in 1923 and completely disappear by 1929 though for financial reasons.

Japanese Baseball League

The Greater Japan Tokyo Baseball Club was formed in 1934 to revive professional baseball in Japan and was followed shortly by the Osaka Baseball Club. The two teams would later become known as the Yomiuri Giants and the Hanshin Tigers. In 1936, five more times were formed and the Japanese Baseball League was formed. The team took a break from playing in 1944 during World War II and resumed on November 6, 1945 after the war had ended and American Occupation had begun.

Also during this time, the first Americans joined Japanese teams, starting with Fumito Horio in 1934. Multiple American players joined the Japanese Baseball League when it formed in 1936 as well including the likes of Jimmy Bonna and Herbert North.

Following the 1947 Season when a rival league tried to form and played only 30 games over the summer, the Japan Baseball League has been the primary baseball league in Japan, consisting now of the Central and Pacific Leagues each with six teams. The Pacific League mimics the American League in the US and uses a designated hitter while Central League pitchers are required to hit. The season begins in April of every year and commences in October with the championship. A total of 135 games are played by Japan Baseball League teams during this timespan. Since the 1950s, the teams in Japan are all owned by corporations and their names reflect this instead of their hometown.

Rules in Japan

In Japanese baseball, most rules are essentially the same. The ball is slightly smaller but is harder because it is more tightly wound. The strike zone is also slightly smaller in Japan while fields are generally slightly smaller in Japan as well. Another rule that is different in Japan is that teams are only permitted to have four players from overseas – ensuring more even salaries and homegrown talent.

Japanese Baseball Players in America

Starting in 1995 with Hideo Nomo, there has been a huge fascination with Japanese baseball in America and the prospect of Japanese stars making the leap to American professional baseball. Today, there are more than 34 Japanese born players in the Major Leagues with the likes of Ichiro Suzuki – the 2001 Rookie of the Year and MVP, Hideki Matsui, Kazuo Fukodome, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Kenji Johjima all arriving in America since 2001.

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