The Koshien Stadium Experience
David Maher, a photo-journalist, is based in Japan. He has lived there for many years and is a keen observer of Japanese culture. He contributes to Japan Tourist, an English language website–a good source for what to see and do in Japan–on the beaten track or off. This week, my son Brian (a friend of David’s) sent me a post written by David, “Koshien Stadium: Field of Dreams” that appeared in Japan Tourist about Japan’s two great national high school baseball tournaments. We wanted to share with our readers what David had to say about the Koshien Stadium experience.
I well remember my first excursion to Koshien Stadium in 1952. My family was there to see a Hanshin Tigers game. They were hosting the Yomiuri Giants from Tokyo. The Hanshin Tigers, who have called Koshien home ever since their charter membership in Japan’s first pro league (in 1936), are there for all home games during the season. The Tigers fans have long been identified as the most loyal and rabid pro baseball fans in Japan. It is somewhat reminiscent of the unbridled enthusiasm of the Brooklyn Dodgers fan base versus the equally loyal, but more reserved rooters of the New York Giants back in the 1940s and 1950s. We were sitting in the heart of the Tigers’ season ticket holders… and the noise was deafening. I learned that crowds at Koshien (in the northwest of greater Osaka) were generally loud, but never more so than at Giants games. The Giants are Japan’s most storied Japanese pro franchise–sort of like the New York Yankees in America. And, similarly, you are either a Tigers fan… or a Giants fan. There is no ambivalence among fans on this point.
Then, we got to attend games at Koshien, in August of that year, for the National High School Championship Tournament. The noise was also loud–all day long–and there were 49 teams there, vying for the zenith of high school teams everywhere: a national championship.
“For a brief moment in time the boys of summer sprint onto the national stage playing ball in the field of men and dreams as they compete for the title of national champion.” — David Maher, “Koshien Stadium: Field of Dreams”
In the Spring, there is the National (pre-season) High School Invitational Tournament, the second largest high school baseball tournament in the world (next to the summer championship). Both tournaments are sold out every year.
The summer championship has been played every year since 1915. The Invitational started in 1924, to coincide with Koshien’s opening. In the years between the two world wars teams from Taiwan and Port Arthur (Japan ruled both areas then) played in the summer tournament. Port Arthur (first called that under the British, and then the Russians, a combination of the Manchurian towns Lushun and Dalian, or Dairen–the Japanese pronunciation) played in the annual event. In 1926, a team from Port Arthur, comprised mostly of Japanese dependents, but including team members of some mixed Russian/British/Manchurian/Chinese heritage, played in the championship game, but lost.
Today, a visit to Dalian reveals strong traces of British and Russian influences in the faces of its citizens together with the expected Manchurian, Chinese and Japanese influences.
“Where else in the world does there exist a yearly baseball tournament that includes every single high school program in the country, has a history of 97 years, and is held at a ball park that Babe Ruth played in?” — David Maher, “Koshien Stadium: Field of Dreams”
The Japan High school Baseball Federation runs both tournaments. Many of Japan’s top baseball stars, such as Sadaharu Oh, Hideki Matsui, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish, appeared as players in tournaments at Koshien. There is no baseball experience quite like it anywhere in the world. It is definitely worth a trip to Koshien.
Please enjoy the original article by David Maher, along with his fantastic pictures, for Japan Tourist (July 7, 2012). He has definitely captured the “Koshien Stadium Experience”!