Baseball in Japan – How Popular is It?

Sports vary in popularity from country to country, even town to town. In some parts of the world, you will find that cricket is more popular than soccer. The latter is the most popular sport in the world and the former, the second most popular. With these statistics in mind, surely there are other sports which are as popular, but in different countries?

Japan has its own culture, obviously, and sports there are different in terms of popularity. For example, Japan is known for its love for baseball. It is one of the most popular sports in Japan. Let us just examine how much.

The Early History of Baseball in Japan

Baseball came to japan in 1872, introduced by Horace Wilson. He was a professor in Tokyo, in the Kaisei Academy. It was introduced as a school sport. The first kind or organized baseball was seen in 1878, in the form of Shimbashi Athletic Club. In 1896, baseball saw a growth in popularity after a high school team from the Ichigo school beat the Yokohama Country & Athletic Club seasoned players. This paved the way for baseball to become one of the most iconic sports in Japan, particularly in high schools and college. 

In 1920, Japan had its first professional baseball teams. The success of baseball wasn’t secured until 1934, when the Shiroki All-Stars team played against an American All-Star team which had Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig as players, among others. This match propelled baseball as a sport in Japan.

Professional Baseball in Japan

Since baseball became professional in 1936, with the formation of the Japanese Baseball League, the highest league of baseball in Japan, its popularity grew steadily. With that in mind, the league grew so much that it was divided into two leagues, the Central League and the Pacific League in 1950. Together, they are known as Nippon Professional Baseball, the name they carry to this day. In Japan, teams are not named after the cities they come from, but rather the corporations that own them. Only recently have the teams started having their home town names included, as well as the corporate names. There are twelve teams in the NPB, six in each of the leagues.

Is Baseball That Popular in Japan?

Baseball is the most popular participatory sport in Japan. Its level of popularity can be compared to that of college basketball and football in the US. For those that do not follow the US collegiate scene, that means baseball is really popular in Japan.

Japan also has minor leagues called the Eastern and Western League. There are seven teams per league, all owned by the larger NPB teams. 

High school and college baseball is a very good career choice in Japan, but it is also very competitive. Baseball in Japan follows the rules of the MLB, but to an extent. Their field is smaller and they also have a time limit on their matches. Ties are allowed in Japan. 

Japan loves baseball, so much so that all the giant corporations are invested in it, they practically own all the teams. That speaks for itself, but even more so the fact that baseball is popular in schools and colleges in Japan. If a sport is popular at that level, as well, it is dominating the market, at least in terms of participative sports.