Probably the single most popular activity in Japan is baseball. This sport is played by hundreds, if not thousands, of kids from elementary school (little league) through to the young adults of high school. Annually, from early March, professional and high school teams begin spring training. Similar to the United States, Japan has two professional leagues – The Central and Pacific. Pre-season games wet the appetites of millions of fans – presumably giving them a “taste” of what is to come. Also during this time, high school teams across the country battle for a place in the Japan High School Championships held every year in August.
As with America, professional teams represent different places or cities around the country. However, unlike their American counterparts, Japanese pro teams are owned by corporations and thus carry names like Yomuri Giants – owned and run by the Yomuri newspaper and television corporation. The Hanshin Tigers – owned and run by the Hanshin Group of companies, including a Railway and department store. Only one team within, the Central league, is named after the city of their home ground and that is the Hiroshima Carps. Originally owned by the people of this famous city, the Carps, were bought by Mazada (the automoblie maker) over twenty year ago. Skyrocketing costs to maintain a professional team, forced the local government to sell. The Carps were formed following the destruction of Hiroshima City on August 6th 1945. The government, at the time, formed the team in order to unite the populace. It was thought having a city baseball team, would give the people hope and something to strive for.
There are millions of Japanese, young and old, that are avid baseball fans. Whether it is high school or professional, fans cram the stadiums, waving banners and chanting for their favorite teams. Nightly on televisions in almost every household, a ball game is being watched. Many restaurants will tune TV’s into a game, rather than have patrons leave early. Take a taxi and you’ll often hear a baseball game being broadcast over the vehicle’s radio. When Japan won the World Baseball Classic, two years ago, thousands stopped work to watch the game live – gathering in bars, outside shop windows or taking the day off work.
So what food and drink is consumed at baseball games? I have read that hot dogs and beer are the staples while watching a game. Japanese, however, choose to eat other foods – curry and rice, Yakisoba (fried noodles and cabbage), balls of rice, to name a few. Fortunately, beer is the preferred drink.
During the 1980’s baseball flourished, and I distinctly remember in 1985 when the Osaka based Hanshin Tigers won the Japan Series for the first time in 21 years. The fans went crazy. In recent years, baseball is having its popularity threatened by the introduction of professional soccer – J-League. Soccer became professional in the mid-1990’s and over the years has garnered quite a large following. Baseball, however, is still the mainstay.