Among the numerous obsessions of the Japanese, there is none as striking as the one with sports; visitors of Japan in an Olympic year will have every reason to wonder if the Games are being held in this country. To thwart any misunderstandings, this is not the usual world-wide hysteria for medals and first places: the Japanese, almost in their entirety are interested in all sports, professional and amateur, twelve months a year. And I don’t think there is a more undeniable testimony to this fact than the public’s reaction to the summer national high-school baseball tournament that takes place in the Koshien Stadium in Kobe, home of the professional team “Hanshin Tigers”.
It isn’t only that the, particularly popular Tigers reschedule their games amidst the professional tournament season to accommodate the high-school tournament –even though this alone accounts for something. It isn’t the full broadcast (radio and TV) from the national network NHK, either. And it isn’t that the 80,000 seats of Koshien are filled almost daily, obviously not just by parents, or that in this period the very popular professional baseball scorers forfeit their place in the newspapers’ first pages in favor of teenagers who managed to push their school one step up in the way to the finals. It’s all of the above, plus the surrounding atmosphere: Summer Koshien (there’s one more school tournament held in spring) is present in every conversation, among parents and non-parents alike.
Koshien aspirations are obvious every weekend, even during the suffocating Japanese summer: hundreds of children teams get together early in the morning in neighborhood, municipal or prefectural fields and practice or compete in games between schools, neighborhoods or cities. And everyone, from the flawlessly equipped youngsters to their coaches, their parents and their neighbors hope that someday young Hiroshi will stand on the legendary stadium’s bases and score the home run that will bring victory to his school and make him a king for the rest of the school year. Either that, or that he will return bringing with him a fistful of dirt from the Koshien, a mark that he lost doing the best he could and a keepsake from the most important summer of his short life; Koshien, a trademark of the Japanese summer is probably the only sport event in the world where losers and winners cause the same amount of emotion.
Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years.