History of baseball in Japan

Way before the American Occupation brought by the Second World War, the Japanese had already been acquainted with baseball and had even created their own baseball team.

How it started

Baseball was imported to Japan during the Meiji Restoration in 1872. It was introduced to the country by Horace Wilson, a teacher at Kaisei Gakko in Tokyo. However, it wasn’t until 1873 that an American teacher from Kaitaku University named Albert Bates organized the first baseball game. 

Five years later, the Shinbashi Athletic Club became the first-ever Japanese baseball team, which was started by railway engineer Hiroshi Hiraoka. Famously known as the father of Japanese baseball, Hiraoka was an avid fan of the Boston Red Sox when he studied in the United States. Using his extensive knowledge on this, he led the Japanese into the appreciation of this sport.

Hiraoka took the position of pitcher in the team and taught young baseball players. One of his students, Masaoka Shiki, was a poet who translated many baseball terms into Japanese so that people could be familiarized with the sport. Soon after, the sport became more popular among the Japanese.

The first international game of baseball was held in Yokohama Peace Stadium in 1896, where an American team from the Yokohama Country and Athletic Club was defeated by the Ichiko team of First High School of Tokyo. 

From amateur to professional baseball

Amateur baseball was prevalent in 20th century Japan. Many senior high schools compete against each other in the nationwide tournament, the National High School Baseball Championship of Japan. Commonly known as “Summer Koshien,” it started in 1915 and takes place every summer. 

Forty-nine schools participated in this tournament, which was more widespread than the National High School Baseball Invitation Tournament. As its name suggests, it’s an invite-only tournament that started in 1924 and is more commonly known as “Spring Koshien,” taking place only during spring. 

Extending to the tertiary level, amateur baseball is also played by university teams in the annual All-Japan University Championship which started in 1952. Up until 2010, high school tournaments remained more popular than those played in colleges.

Exploring the professional field, Japan was first represented by their team Tokyo Dragons in the Global League of 1969.

Aside from the men’s team, there was also a professional league of women’s baseball, the Japan Women’s Baseball Federation, which only existed from 1950 to 1951. The members then transferred to play in semi-professional amateur leagues until 1971. 

International baseball

Japan’s national team for men, controlled by the Baseball Federation of Japan, has won three Olympic medals and two Intercontinental Cups. In addition to this, they have acquired six medals in Baseball World Cups.

Also under the BJA, the national team for women has won in the Women Baseball World Cup in 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2017.