Baseball – Understanding Japan's Most Popular Sport

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Baseball (baseball) in Japanese is called yakyuu [野球] or simply beesubooru [ベースボール] and is one of the most popular sports in Japan. There you will find many more baseball stadiums than football/soccer. Even with the influence of the USA, baseball is totally unknown in Brazil and few have any idea how the game works.

The Japanese name of yakyuu [野球] baseball comes from the characters for field and ball. The sport was first introduced to Japan in 1872 by American Horace Wilson in Tokyo. The first baseball team was called Shimbashi Athletic Club founded in 1878. In 1896 the team won over a foreign team in Yokohama which gradually made the sport's popularity grow in Japan.

Baseball - Understanding Japan's Most Popular Sport

Baseball, baseball or baseball? All these ways to pronounce are correct and we will use the 3 in this article in order to make it more dynamic. To help you navigate, we will leave a summary below:

How does a baseball game work?

A baseball team usually has more than 25 players, some may play more than one role. In a baseball team we have catchers, defenders, pitchers, hitters and several substitutes and reserves. The team manager is called manager and is usually accompanied by coaches who prepare the team.

The game seems complicated at first, but it only consists of scoring points through runs on base when you hit the ball. Each team has its turn to attack and defend, the defending team needs to throw the ball or catch it when it hits to prevent the attacking team from scoring points by running around the base.

Baseball - Understanding Japan's Most Popular Sport

The pitcher or pitcher of the ball is called a pitcher. He needs to throw the ball into a strike zone between the catcher's knees and shoulders. Each time the batter fails to hit the ball and it lands in the catcher's hands, the defense scores a strike.

In short, the goal of offense is to score points while defense is to eliminate hitters. For a hitter to score he needs to run through the 4 bases of the field. If he can hit a home run that consists of throwing the ball out of bounds (without crossing the foul zone) all the base hitters can complete his run.

How is a hitter eliminated?

When making 3 strikes the batter is out of the game, and with 3 batters out the teams switch sides. When the pitcher throws the ball out of the strike zone it is called a ball [booru|ボール], and by scoring 4 balls the batter can advance one base. When a batter runs to last base he scores a point.

Baseball - Understanding Japan's Most Popular Sport

A batter or teammates on other bases may run from base to base when the batter manages to hit the ball and the defending team manages to catch it. The defensive team can try to eliminate batters running from base to base by touching them with the ball (tag out) or by reaching base before them (ground out) with the ball in hand.

If the defense catches the ball before it hits the ground, the batter is also eliminated (flyout). Strikes only happen if the hitter fails to hit the ball in the strike zone, or tries to hit any ball without any success. If the batter throws the ball into the foul ball, he also takes a strike (except for the third strike).

Hitters can also try to steal bases when the pitcher prepares, if he is caught it is considered a force out. If the ball lands near the pitcher and he throws it to a teammate, the batter who is trying to run to another base is also forced out.

Baseball - Understanding Japan's Most Popular Sport

The baseball game works in turns, after the 2 teams play both offense and defense they complete an inning. A professional game usually has 9 innings, whoever accumulates the most points in those 9 innings wins the game. A baseball game can be unpredictable and can be long or short-lived.

Professional baseball in Japan

Baseball is undoubtedly one of the most popular sports in Japan, where there are school championships, international participation and the national tournament. The professional baseball season typically starts with training in February and March, and regular season games run from late March through October.

There are several baseball associations in Japan, ranging from school, amateur, industrial and professional. You can easily find baseball stadiums or simple amateur fields in common neighborhoods throughout the city. Baseball is without a doubt one of the most popular sports in all of Japan.

If you want to watch a baseball game in Japan, you can buy your ticket on site if it's not a major game or a holiday to sell out early. If you believe that tickets may be sold out, you can buy them in advance online or by phone.

Baseball - Understanding Japan's Most Popular Sport

The influence of the Japanese in Baseball in Brazil

Many think that the Japanese brought the sport to Brazil, but it was actually the Americans in 1850. Around 1910, the game came to attract more popularity than football/soccer itself in some places. The Japanese helped popularize the sport in 1908 with Japanese immigration to Brazil.

The impact of the arrival of Japanese immigrants was great, transforming the years from 1925 to 1938 into a golden age for baseball in Brazil. Unfortunately baseball went downhill in the second world war with the ban and Brazilians' prejudice against the Japanese. Softball was another baseball-like sport that became popular in Brazil.

In the 1970s and 1990s, things got even worse with Japanese descendants going to Japan in search of jobs. This caused the sport's popularity to drop drastically, losing even media coverage. Unfortunately after this situation baseball never managed to grow in Brazil again.

Baseball - Understanding Japan's Most Popular Sport

Baseball related anime

I got interested in Baseball after I started watching the anime One Outs, which I highly recommend. From the same author of Liar Game, this anime manages to deliver a psychological thriller along with the sport. A very smart anime that I recommend everyone to watch.

Other anime are:

  • Daiya no Ace;
  • Cross Game;
  • Touch;
  • Major;

Japanese baseball vocabulary

Below we will put a list of words related to baseball in English and Japanese. I thought about translating, but everyone knows the sport with English terms, even the Japanese use English terms in their matches. Even if there is a Japanese word for something, it is common to hear the expressions english in the field.

  • クローザー (kuroozaa) – closer
  • セーブ (seebu) – save
  • ホームラン, 本塁打 (hoomuran or hon-rui da) – home run
  • 一塁 (ichi-rui) – first base
  • 一塁手 (ichi-rui shu) – first baseman
  • 三塁 (san-rui) – third base
  • 三塁手 (san-rui shu) – third baseman
  • 三塁打 (san-rui da) – triple
  • 三振 (sanshin) – strikeout
  • 中堅, センター (chuuken or sede) – center field
  • 中堅手 (chuukenshu) – center fielder
  • 二塁 (ni-rui) – second base
  • 二塁手 (ni-rui shu) – second baseman
  • 二塁打 (ni-rui da) – double
  • 先発投手 (senpatsu-toushu) – starting pitcher
  • 内野 (naiya) – infield
  • 出塁率 (shutsuruiritsu) – on-base percentage
  • 勝利 (shouri) – win
  • 右翼, ライト (uyoku or raito) – right field
  • 右翼手 (uyokushu) – right fielder
  • 四球, フォアボール (shikyuu or foa-booru) – walk
  • 外野 (gaiya) – outfield
  • 安打 (walks) – hit
  • 審判 (shinpan) – umpire
  • 左翼, レフト (sayoku or refute) – left field
  • 左翼手 (sayokushu) – left fielder
  • 得点 (tokuten) – run
  • 打席 (daseki) – at bat
  • 打点 (daten) – runs batted in
  • 打率 (daritsu) – batting average
  • 投手 (toushu) – pitcher
  • 指名打者 (shimei-dasha) – designated hitter
  • 捕手 (hoshu) – catcher
  • 救援投手 (kyuuen-toushu) – relief pitcher
  • 敗戦 (haisen) – loss
  • 本塁, ホーム (hon-rui or hoomu) – home plate
  • 死球, デッドボール (shikyuu or deddo-booru) – beanball
  • 盗塁 (tourui) – stolen base
  • 監督 (kantoku) – manager
  • 試合 (shiai) – game
  • 遊撃手 (yuugekishu) – shortstop
  • 野球場 (yakyuujou) – ballpark
  • 長打率 (choudaritsu) – slugging percentage
  • 防御率 (bougyoritsu) – earned-run average

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