Japanese Language Blog

The National High School Baseball Championship Posted by on Aug 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

Night falls at Koshien Stadium

What’s 日本 (にっぽん/Japan’s) national sport? If you answered 相撲 (すもう/Sumo), you’d be right, at least on paper. If you rank by popularity though, 野球 (やきゅう/baseball) is far and away 日本’s most popular sport. 男の子 (おとこのこ/Boys) start playing in 小学校 (しょうがっこう/elementary school) with the dream of joining one of the 12 teams in Japan’s professional league. When a 学生 (がくせい/student) joins a 野球 team in 学校 (がっこう/school), they are very serious about it, practicing up to 7 times a week! Yes, they will sometimes have scheduled practices 毎日 (まいにち/daily), especially during 休みの日 (やすみのひ/holidays) when there is no school. Those 休みの日 practices could last all day!

Once they reach 高校 (こうこう/high school), 学生 start to realize that they might not make it to the major leagues, but they have the chance to take part in the National High School Baseball Tournament. This is a long name, so most refer to it as the 夏の甲子園 (なつのこうしえん/Summer Koshien), after the stadium that hosts the tournament, 甲子園 (こうしえん/Koshien Stadium) in Hyogo, near 神戸 (こうべ/Kobe). Normally, it is the home stadium for the Hanshin Tigers professional team. For many, this will be the highlight of their 野球 life. Each 県 (けん/prefecture) has tournaments and the winning 高校 team will represent their respective 県 (with two teams from 東京 (とうきょう/Tokyo) and 北海道 (ほっかいどう/Hokkaido). That means a total of 49 teams participate!

This is the right stadium, but it's a pro match, not a high school match.

The tournament is single elimination, but still a lot of matches must be played to get through all the teams, this means up to 4 matches are played a day until the quarter finals. I don’t think batters are allowed to step out of the box once their turn begins, and pitchers aren’t allowed to spend much time between pitches either. At the end of each inning, players will sprint to their dugout or field position too. As a result, games move along pretty quickly. In most cases, teams will stick to their best pitcher for the duration of the game, for ALL games. There is no designated hitter either, so the pitcher is often the most important person on the team.

If a player is in his last year of 高校, a loss in this tournament marks the end of his 高校 career. After 夏 (なつ/summer), 学生 are expected to focus solely on getting ready for 大学 (だいがく/university) entrance exams and are not allowed to participate anymore. As a result, there are always lots of tears for the eliminated team. Most players will gather up some of the distinctly dark soil from their dugout, as it is the traditional souvenir of a visit to 甲子園 stadium. Winning this tournament is considered to be as big an achievement as winning a championship in the pro league. I’ll be cheering on my prefecture’s team, will you?

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