From August 9, things began to heat up as they do every summer at the National High School Baseball Tournament. Forty-nine teams from around the nation, flags a-flying and marching on the baseball diamond at Koshien stadium with military precision, prepared to compete for the glory of their alma mater.
All games are broadcast live on NHK. Moreover the total gate for the duration of the tournaments is said to number some 800,000 spectators -- considerably more than the fans who pay to watch certain unpopular teams in Japan Pro Baseball.
Whatever else you may think, opines Jitsuwa Bunka Taboo (Oct), Koshien high school baseball is, in reality, nothing more than the club activities of certain high schools that are organized into a national tournament. So what is it, the magazine wonders, that makes grownups such fanatical enthusiasts for this "sport" that they want to watch it on TV all day long?
"Reisei ni kangaete Koshien ni miryoku ga nai" (if you think about it calmly, Koshien has no appeal), reads the subhead that follows.
Koshien's main appeal, it would seem, is that there are enough dopey people willing to cheer for a school's team simply because it happens to be from their home prefecture. But this too is supremely ironic, because so many of the top baseball schools recruit players from all over the country, it's possible that only a few, if any, of the boys on the team for which the fans are cheering are actually natives of the prefecture.
The tournament's second appeal to emotions is eked out of the sense of do-or-die desperation, since a loss means immediate elimination.
The third appeal is the intense excitement generated from the punishing schedule of several games played each day. Those for whom winning is everything see no problem in teenage boys' being made to play games on consecutive days under punishing weather conditions. Many pitchers, in particular, suffer permanent damage to their shoulders for the sake of fans' "excitement." The crippled youth who are by-products of the brutal way the game is played are hardly any different from wounded war veterans.
Is it really worth it, the magazine demands, just to please those fans who vicariously feed on the action at Koshien in order to massage the fleeting memories their own past youth?
High school baseball, the magazine alleges, has very little to do with education and a lot to do with business. Players on successful teams, whether they take up baseball as a career or engage in other endeavors, are essentially PR shills for promoting their schools. They are also helping to sell newspapers for the two companies that sponsor them: the Mainichi Shimbun for the spring tournament and the Asahi Shimbun for the summer.
Needless to say, the regimentation, bullying and abuse to which the players are subjected go completely against the grain of "democracy" that these newspaper companies ostensibly support.
The irrational nature of Japanese high school baseball also provides foreign media with plenty of grist for the mill. Pitcher Hiroki Kuroda of the New York Yankees has related to reporters about how, during his years as a high school player, he was forbidden from drinking a drop of water during prolonged practice sessions; he was forced to take part in punishing drills that went on until players dropped from exhaustion, as well as bullying meted out by coaches and upperclassmen -- like being forced to drink water from a toilet.
Upon hearing Kuroda's tales of woe, one American remarked to him, "Anybody who did that to a kid in this country would be treated as a criminal."
Speaking of crime, that has also reared its ugly head in the past. During the 2012 summer tournament, seven players were arrested for breaking into a recycling shop. In 2008, the manager of the team from Shizuoka, which made it to the tournament semifinals, was placed under house arrest for sexual harassment of two female journalists. Although both women, reporters for the Asahi and Mainichi newspapers, allegedly suffered post traumatic stress disorder at the hands of the manager, neither newspaper company reported the incident, so as not to risk tarnishing their status as corporate sponsors of the event.
When it's all said and done, behind the excited drumbeats and cheers of Koshien is a sleazy system rampant with abuses; one that takes the flower of Japanese youth and, we quote here, "squashes it to a quivering pulp." Whew! Jitsuwa Bunka Taboo certainly swings a mean bat.© Japan Today