Japanese people love sports. You might think that karate, Judi, sumo, and other combat sports have the most supporters, but this isn’t the case.
Sports from western countries also have a huge following in Japan. As of now, baseball is the most popular sport in the country, followed by soccer.
The History of Japanese Baseball
Horace Wilson introduced baseball to Japan in the late 19th century while teaching English at the Kaisei Academy in Tokyo.
This was during the Meiji era (1868-1012), when the Japanese found it fashionable to adopt western practices.
However, the sport didn’t gain much popularity until the end of the Second World War.
Then, during the American occupation of Japan, soldiers heavily promoted the game.
At the Time – Legends like Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio flew into the country and formed an All-star team to compete against locals.
Besides the American soldiers and baseball legends, Japanese corporations also contributed to the game’s increased popularity.
It’s why most professional baseball teams in the Nippon Professional Baseball League (NPB) bear corporate names instead of the city or regional name.
Modern Japanese Baseball
Although most baseball fans are American, a higher percentage of Japanese people watch the game.
Major League Baseball faces competition from the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLS, and other sports. In Japan, 20% of the population watch the NPB.
The key characteristics of baseball appeal to Japanese people. The games focus on discipline, perseverance, and teamwork, qualities the Japanese value.
Furthermore, baseball encourages loyalty. Most Japanese pro baseball players serve one team throughout their career, except when an MLB team makes an offer.
Some of the most notable exports to the MLB are the record-breaking Ichiro Suzuki, who holds the record of 262 hits in a season, and Shohei Ohtani, a rookie who’s surprising fans with his consistency.
High School baseball has huge support across Japan.
The 50,000-seater Koshien Stadium sells all tickets during the annual championship finals, with millions more watching on TV.
Popular Professional Baseball Teams in Japan
The following are the most popular pro baseball teams in Japan.
You can add the host cities to your itinerary if you’re visiting the country.
The league usually runs from March to October.
In the sports industry, success often results in increased popularity.
This is the case in the Japanese Professional Baseball League (NPB), as its the most popular team and is also the most successful.
Whether you’re a fan of a rival, the Yomiuri Giants, also called ‘Kyojin,’ is one of Japan’s most-followed baseball teams.
This is because the Giants have exerted dominance over other NPB teams, making them the go-to option for new fans.
Like other sports, success in baseball depends on funding, and Kyojin has a lot of money.
This enables the team to continuously attract the best players, keeping them ahead of competitors.
The team also plays its home matches at the Tokyo Dome, one of the world’s most luxurious stadiums and the only air-conditioned sporting venue of the Kanto five.
When seats are sold out, the team offers standing tickets for an affordable ¥1,000.
If you aren’t an avid baseball fan, the Tokyo Dome complex has several other attractions.
The stadium is next to the Tokyo Dome City, an enormous entertainment center with an amusement park, spa and swimming pools, and numerous cafés and restaurants.
Hanshin Tigers doesn’t owe much of its popularity to a full trophy cabinet.
Instead, the team has many fans because of its historic rivalry with the Yomiuri Giants.
Many locals consider the Tigers as the best to follow in the NPB. It boasts a lively and passionate fanbase typical of Osaka natives.
That said, the team has nationwide support that transcends the Kansai region.
Traditionally, Osaka has a rivalry with Tokyo. The city’s top two baseball teams escalate the feud.
The games involving Yomiuri Giants and Hanshin Tigers usually have many live and on-TV fans.
The Tigers play home games at the Hiroshima Municipal Stadium, the newest baseball venue in Japan.
Loud fans with drums and trumpets frequent home matches.
Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks
The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks don’t have a history as rich as the Giants and the Tigers, but they’re the third most popular Japanese professional baseball team.
Much of their following consists of new fans.
In the past 4 seasons, the team has won three league titles, and they are the current new champions.
Many fans, especially older children and teens, love the team. In addition, the Hawks have an enviable winning record for home matches.
Moreover, watching the games at the Fukuoka Yahuoku is exciting.
Like the Giants’ Dome, its roof guarantees an uninterrupted watching experience, regardless of the prevailing weather.
The Chunichi Dragons are nine-time winners of the NPB pennant.
Although they haven’t been successful over the past decade, the team still commands a substantial following across the country.
The Dragons play home games at the Vantelin Dome in Nagoya.
In 1974 – The Dragons made history by winning their first title in 20 years and preventing Kyojin from winning an unprecedented 10th league in a row.
At the time, Wally Yonamine, the first foreigner to coach a Japanese baseball team, was the manager.
The most notable moment in the Dragons’ history was in 2007 when they won the Asia Series by defeating SK Wyverns.
The team has been around but has never mounted a serious challenge for the title.
Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters
The Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters are a pro baseball team based in Sapporo.
Most of the team’s matches are held at the Sapporo Dome and a few select matches at regional stadiums like:
- and Obihiro
The Fighters’ most recent success came in 2016 when they won the Japanese Series.
However, the team has made several playoff appearances over the first decade, seemingly failing at the final stages.
Hiroshima Toyo Carp
The Hiroshima Toyo Carp, nicknamed Koi, is a pro baseball team based in Hiroshima.
It’s owned by Hajime Matsuda, a descendant of the founders of Mazda.
The team often holds its home games at the Mazda Stadium, having moved from the Hiroshima Municipal Stadium in 2008.
The Koi made four playoff appearances between 2013 and 2018. However, this impressive run resulted in zero national championships.
Therefore, the team has been waiting for its first taste of the Japanese Series since 1984.
Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles
The Tohoku Rakuten Eagles are a relatively new team founded in 2005.
Regardless, the team has won one league title and reached the playoffs five times.
It draws its name to the endangered, predatory golden eagle native to the Tohoku region.
The Eagles play home games at the Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi, a huge attraction for baseball and non-baseball fans.
The ballpark has many entertainment features, including a Ferris wheel and a merry-go-round. You can also run into Mr. Black Eagle, the team’s most famous fan.
Yokohama DeNA BayStars
The Yokohama DeNA BayStars are a peculiar team – they have many supporters, despite having an awful performance record throughout their existence.
So, how do they pull it off?
Instead of improving results, the team draws fans by organizing great pre-game and post-game shows.
During matchdays, you’ll find DJs, loud music, dance crews, and booze stands outside the stadium.
In Addition – You get special discounts for wearing the team’s merchandise or crossdressing.
The Yokohama Stadium is a comfortable place to sit while watching the games. Most people don’t usually enter the stadium, making it easy to get tickets.
Outside, you can visit the nearby Chinatown, Minato Mirai district, or Yamashita Park.
Saitama Seibu Lions
Saitama Seibu Lions have a small fanbase compared to their success.
The Lions have won the regional pennant 21 times and the national title 13 times. In 2008, the team won the Asia Series championship.
Moreover, the Seibu Dome is attractive. It was originally an open-air stadium, but the addition of a domed roof made it weatherproof.
The dome looks like a tabletop supported by the stadium’s pillars, with a huge gap between the top and the seating area.
Unlike Other Domes – The space allows fans to see outside while being shielded from adverse weather conditions.
However, the spaces trap humid air on hot days, resulting in an unpleasant watching experience.
Saitama Seibu Lions has designated nights, including family day, women’s day, and salary person-day, when fans can enter the pitch and try their hand at baseball basics.
Tokyo Yakult Swallows
Like the DeNA BayStars, the Tokyo Yakult Swallows make up for poor performances with an unrivaled fan-centric experience.
The team plays at the Meiji Jingu Stadium, a historic ballpark where baseball legends Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio have played.
Swallows fans have the most famous celebration in Japanese baseball. Whenever their team scores, they open up umbrellas and sing ‘Tokyo Ondo,’ a traditional folk song.
These umbrellas also protect fans against the rain, as the stadium doesn’t have a roof.
After watching the Swallows, you can visit the famous Meiji Jingu Shrine to learn more about Shintoism and Ninjas.
Alternatively, you can shop in the ever-busy Roppongi and Shibuya districts.
It’s advisable to book a rail pass during your stay in Japan, as it helps you travel to various cities without incurring additional expenses.
Also, most stadiums allow you to bring food from outside, ensuring you get the best of Japanese cuisine while enjoying the games.