Thursday, 26 February 2009


This will be a very quick intro to Japanese baseball. Ready? Hold on tight.

Baseball came to Japan in 1872, with the first full-time team being formed in 1878. It faltered for a few decades until the Greater Japan Tokyo Baseball Club was formed in 1934 and the Osaka Baseball Club in 1935. Respectively those two clubs became the Yomiuri Giants (booo!) and the Hanshin Tigers (yaaay!). In '36 a few more teams were formed and the Japanese Baseball League took off. This was a bit crap until the foundation of the Central League in 1949. The Pacific League was also founded in 1949, but back then it was called the Taiheiyo Baseball Union (the name changed in 1980). By the way, there are loads of name-changes going on all the time in Japanese baseball. You know, just in case it wasn't difficult enough to follow already.

The Central League and the Pacific League are currently the two major leagues in Nippon Professional Baseball, but there's a few more leagues which we'll get onto later. Both leagues have six teams, no team is in both leagues. The winners of the leagues each year then play each other, and the winner of that is the Japan Series Champion.

Japanese baseball teams are franchised - they are owned by corporations, and rarely have much of a connection with their home turf. They are usually referred to by their sponsor name, not the name of their town - so it's the "Yakult Swallows", as opposed to the "Tokyo Swallows".

The Pacific League consists of:

Saitama Seibu Lions (Tokorozawa)
Orix Buffaloes (Osaka and Kobe)
Fukuoka Softbank Hawks (Fukuoka)
Chiba Lotte Marines (Chiba)
Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters (best name ever) (Sapporo)
Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (Sendai)

I don't really follow the Pacific League. One league is enough for me, given I live in England - a veritable black-hole of baseball coverage. I'm sure the Pacific League is very interesting though.

The Central League consists of:

Tokyo Yakult Swallows (awesome name) (Tokyo)
Hiroshima Toyo Carp (even better name) (Hiroshima)
Yokohama Baystars (Yokohama)
Yomiuri Giants (booo!) (Tokyo)
Chunichi Dragons (Nagoya)
Hanshin Tigers (yaaay!) (Nishinomiya)

You can probably tell just by the names, the Central League kicks ass. Unfortunately it's historically been dominated by the Yomiuri Giants, who are owned by the famous multimedia corporation. Because they essentially have the Yomiuri Shimbun and NTV on their side, they've been successfully marketed as "Japan's Team". The Giants have won the CL 30 times and the Japan Series 20 times, and 50% of Japanese polled support them, so I don't like them. As an Englishman I don't like winners, I like plucky losers who almost make it, and are therefore consigned to history book footnotes. Like the Hanshin Tigers! The Tigers will get their own blog post.

If you want a more detailed overview of the Japanese Leagues then read Deanna's post.