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Fanatic fans oblivious to sleazy side of Koshien high school baseball

53 Comments

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

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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.

Really, do any of the revelations about Koshien really suprprise any one who really understands the truth about Japan --that beneath that thin veneer of a wonderful, friendly, orderly society lies beavior that would be judged criminal in many advanced societies? Child abuse, bullying, sexual harrassment, un-reported crime -- a pretty impressive list. But, as usual, as the article states, J-Inc. glosses over, or just ignores all this, due to the money involved, and the fact that the tournament supposedly demonstrates the qualities that Japan would like to still believe about itself. A strong case of self-deception.

13 ( +25 / -12 )

It's a resurrection of Japan's past imperial military pageantry. The marching, shaved heads, male choral music, unison drums, etc., were taken from Nazi Nuremberg rallies. The postwar Americans of course banned such fascist displays, but that only left hole in the heart of the Japanese public.

The young players are treated like boot camp army recruits, denied water in the summer, relentlessly bullied, etc. Back in the 80s, organizers tried to mandate the use of aluminum bats only, because most wooden bats were made in the US, and organizers didn't want this sacred ground tainted by the presence of foreign objects. They also banned the Okinawans from using native drums. Only Yamato drums allowed!

Man, I should have written this article. Good to hear some of the Japanese media question why a spectacle like Koshien exists in a modern liberal democracy.

8 ( +20 / -12 )

During the 2012 summer tournament, seven players were arrested for breaking into a recycling shop.

What is a "recycling shop" and why would anyone break into one...?

-4 ( +3 / -7 )

There is only one solution to this! High school baseball should not be televised. If you want to take the business element out of it then that's what must be done. No cameras. NHK is in fact making a profit off the faces of young baseball players because there is no contract for image royalties.

At the core of this is socialism and mild aftertaste of communism. A star athlete in Japan is NOT his own. He has no rights to collect royalties from his own image being used in television. As the devil might say "You're soul is mine".

If Koshien could be shown commercial free that might be a different solution. Unfortunately we know that to be impossible. Sponsors would decorate the stadium with their banners.

I agree with the statement It's not education, it's business.

1 ( +9 / -8 )

"Sleazy"? Please, this magazine article appears a bit desperate and sometimes illogical trying to prove it's point.

13 ( +19 / -6 )

I agree with paulinusa: with the "sleazy" description I was expecting some sexual scandal. Definitely desperate and over the top article.

More to the point, however, watching the games you would notice that the stadium is filled to the rafters. Whatever the tired, lazy author of this article says, there is surely a lot of interest in Koshien and where there is interest it's not unexpected to have advertising yen flowing.

11 ( +16 / -5 )

What is a "recycling shop" and why would anyone break into one...?

Basically, a second-hand shop where people go to sell stuff they don't want and buy stuff that other people didn't want. A good proportion of the stuff is essentially brand-new (still in the original box, seals unbroken etc.).

The Japanese custom of gift-giving twice a year means lots of folk have good-quality stuff that doesn't suit their taste or style, or that they already have plenty of and would rather have cash for.

If you have one near you, it's probably worth a wander around every so often. You can pick up some real bargains from among the chaff. Brand-new quality towels, bedding and tableware, but also other stuff - brand-name bags, kimono, game soft/hard, sports gear, jewellery. In recent months I bought a new air-purifier/humidifier at less than a third of the retail price, and for years now have been using an exercise bike I bought for ¥2,000 (retail price pushing 100,000yen) - not brand-new, but whoever had it before me hadn't used it much.

I suppose breaking into one is a bit like breaking into a pawnbrokers...?

11 ( +12 / -1 )

All that aside, some of the games really are worth watching--one of the hallmarks of a Koshien game is you truly never know how one might end, last-minute upsets being a regular feature. Sure, some games are boring, lopsided affairs, and sure, you feel for the kids when they're out there in the peak of the summer heat, but after almost a century it's not as though they (or their guardians) don't know what getting to, and staying in contention at Koshien involves. And believe it or not, many of the schools who compete have done a lot to clean up their training methods in the past decade or so--all the attention from social media practically demands that they do so.

8 ( +12 / -4 )

It has always surprised me why anyone would be interested in high school sports, unless they were attending the school in question. It's bizarre that NHK can show this rubbish for days yet they cannot spare one minute to report on the Japanese rugby team and their performance in the rugby world cup.

It's also ridiculous to hold the tournament in one of the hottest parts of Japan at the hottest time of the year. Why not have it in Hokkaido or in one of these indoor stadia? Are the organisers so thick that they cannot understand the constant warnings about heat stroke? Or do they not care about the health of these children?

And what's with the shaven heads? Why is it compulsory for the boys to shave their heads; they aren't monks. Professional players don't shave their heads, nor do those who play other sports. Maybe it's one of those Japanese "rules" that have no logic, but must be followed without question. If you won't conform you can't be in the team, no matter how good a player you are. I wouldn't let my son be in a team that carries on with such nonsense.

3 ( +10 / -7 )

Really, do any of the revelations about Koshien really suprprise any one who really understands the truth about Japan --that beneath that thin veneer of a wonderful, friendly, orderly society lies beavior that would be judged criminal in many advanced societies? Child abuse, bullying, sexual harrassment, un-reported crime -- a pretty impressive list.

Excellent comment. "Thin veneer" indeed, and getting thinner by the day.

1 ( +9 / -8 )

It's not "sleazy". It's just BORING.

-5 ( +5 / -10 )

Look, sleazy is just a poor translation, or a word chosen by a non-native speaker. Give it a break. The article raised a lot of valid points. Apparently, the lack of titillating sexual content is enough to discredit the entire article to some.

4 ( +9 / -5 )

Man these kids aren't conscripts. They know what they're getting into when they join their high school's baseball club. (Unless their parents force them into playing ball.)

Japan has a lot of old cultures that it's holding on to but this is one of the better ones. It's strict and not easy but these boys are a lot tougher than the delicate flowers I see zombie walking around with gigantic hair.

I would definitely spend more time watching it if I didn't have to work all day.

7 ( +11 / -4 )

For Japanese youngsters, although their personalities are far more relaxed than most of the older generations, still are taught to be impassive in public, be it a graduation, or a baseball championship. But to win at Koshien, and to bring home not only the huge first place flag but that glass jar of earth, simply breaks up most of the players.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

@JeffLee yes i was also telling my wife that the opening ceremony looks more like a military cadet parade, than a baseball tournament, youd thing theyd at least teach them to march properly

1 ( +5 / -4 )

While I dislike the militaristic elements of Koshien and the obvious abuse of young arms, as a whole the tournament is interesting and often engaging. It's reality television at its best; no script or predictable ending. Also, it's no more exploitive of youngsters than American NCAA football or basketball. At least these kids are actually going to class...

7 ( +10 / -3 )

Koshien is simply JAPAN in miniature, shows all the aspects so prevalent in larger J-society, a lot not so nice!

As one who played LOTs of sports growing up in school & on weekends & summers which I have many great memories, I am pretty sure I would have HATED to do the same here in Japan, the bullying & BS from "coaches" etc is just nuts very very primitive outdated stuff for sure!

And its criminal whats done to some pitchers arms here, clearly child abuse!

While there are lots of positives with Koshien, there is very clearly a large dark side(just like the rest of J-society) that the locals etc just pretend aint there, but it is!

2 ( +11 / -9 )

It's a resurrection of Japan's past imperial military pageantry. The marching, shaved heads, male choral music, unison drums, etc., were taken from Nazi Nuremberg rallies. The postwar Americans of course banned such fascist displays, but that only left hole in the heart of the Japanese public. -

Resurrection? I think not, this tournament has been going on a heck of a lot longer than you may realize. This year is the 90th tournament, do the math.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Some posters here are taking this baseball thingy even more seriously than the players do. And yet they don't even see the irony...

4 ( +5 / -1 )

No discussion of the gambling on Koshien games?

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Robert Whiting in his book You Gotta Have Wa devotes a chapter to the underside of Koshien, more or less the description he wrote in the 1980s sounds about the same as what this article describes (although his book has a bit more sleazy bits in it). Kind of sad that things haven`t changed much in 30 years.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

"I wouldn't let my son be in a team that carries on with such nonsense."

And what boy wouldn't sacrifice the chance of playing at Koshien for the joys of filial piety?

"No discussion of the gambling on Koshien games?"

Shh!

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Look, sleazy is just a poor translation, or a word chosen by a non-native speaker.

Exactly, I was expecting to read about raunchy cheerleader moves, wild parties thrown the winning teams. But I just ended up feeling bad for the people involved in the tournament.

Kids belonging to sport teams in Japan not just baseball seem to put in so much hours into practise, it just takes the fun out of the game. It might be worth if for the ones who make it into the pros but for those who don't?

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

The marching, shaved heads, male choral music, unison drums, etc., were taken from Nazi Nuremberg rallies.

Wow, what utter nonsense. It took all of two comments to make a comparison between high school baseball and Nazis. Serious folks, do you think before you hit submit?

The kids participate because they want to compete and love the sport. People watch it because they love the competition. That's it. There are no other undertones. It's a high school sports competition, and one with a very long and storied history. Kids who play baseball in Japan fall into one of two categories - those who played at Koshien and cherish those memories forever and those who wish they did.

Go ask the kids, and go ask the adults who competed at Koshien as kids. You will find precious little of the handwringing seen in this ridiculous article and many of the comments.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Here is Kuroda's story:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/06/sports/baseball/in-japan-yankees-hiroki-kuroda-was-molded-by-pain.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Things have apparently changed a lot since he was in high school. These kids are definitely not denied water during practice nowadays and the opening ceremony was not taken from the "Nazi Nuremberg rallies". What bonehead suggested that? For people who like baseball, the games are exciting and played with emotion. Many Japanese people like to support the team from their home prefecture. It doesn't really matter to them if some players come from other prefectures. That's the way with professional sports teams, too. After all, how many New York Yankee players come from New York state?

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Right,

My friend works for one of the schools who competed in this, this year. She had a lot of interesting info to tell me about this, regarding the boys who compete and the coaches who deal with the team. Not all of it was bad, but to summarize, the boys were given that dangerous privilege of being allowed to get away with murder in the school, and passed through all of their academic classes, purely for being on the baseball team. This meant that they were often disruptive, to the detriment of the other students. Probably a tip here; unless your kid is directly involved in the baseball team, don't for the love of God sent your child to one of these baseball focused schools, or they will get sidelined and ignored.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

I'm a bit turned off by the regimentation, the boy's "marubozu" haircuts, and the inexplicable slides headfirst into first base, even when they've been thrown out by several seconds. What is the purpose of this, except maybe to soil their uniforms??

1 ( +3 / -2 )

the boys were given that dangerous privilege of being allowed to get away with murder

Impossible.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Bogus article written by people who were in nothing more than their high school computer club.

I played all star baseball and AAA hockey back in the 80's. I guarantee anyone else on here who did as well or played Pop-Warner football in the US will say the same thing. BOGUS...nonsense article.

These kids will look back on this time of their lives with pride. For many it will define who they become as adults. Look at their faces...they are having a blast.

These team sports teach you to internalize and self evaluate which is something that is being totally lost on the latest "Me" generation.

As for the arm damage....hogwash. Consecutive days during a tournament is going to have no ill effects on the future of a 17 year old arm. There will be plenty of opportunity to wreck the arm once he enters Japanese pro baseball.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

very good points, Bpoint

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Hey bpoint how is Sapporo?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

My favorite part of Japanese high school athletics is watching the losing team dramatically cry like 4 year olds when the game is over.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Crying isn't a bad thing - especially if you worked really hard for something that didn't work you.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

I don't think they cry like 4 year olds. They cry like high schools students who worked so hard to achieve their dreams since they were very little, and are shattered.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

@Gogogo...

I'm sure Sapporo is fine. You must have me mixed up with someone else. Lived near Asahikawa many years ago but never Sapporo.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Tokiyo and @tinawatanabe There are many things in life that we can cry about. Crying because you didn't win a game is not on that list. High school students are old enough to be able to control themselves and put things in perspective. Grow up.

Plus, to quote Tom Hanks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cx2Sps9aMcY

-6 ( +0 / -6 )

@The Original Wing Who cares what Tom Hanks says. Even Olympic athletes cry. Would you tell them "Grow up"?

3 ( +4 / -1 )

@tinawatanabe Yes. Because most of them don't, and the few who do need to grow up. Skill level has nothing to do with acting like a child. Being able to graciously handle both winning and losing is an important part of maturity.

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

@The Original Wing It may have something to do with different mentalities. They are not attacking the winning teams after the games, rather they always praise the other teams. So, they are handling graciously. Unlike Olympics, Koushien kids cannot have a second chance. I'm not sure "Grown up" can be measured by whether or not you cry after serious games to which you devoted yourselves.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

To those mocking the tears of the losing teams... did you watch the FIFA World Cup this year (that's 'soccer' to the colonials)? Players who saw their dreams shattered wept openly... are they spoilt kids? No, they are genuinely upset, just like the Japanese teenagers playing in this and other tournaments.

Just because Yanks and stiff upper lipped chaps from my own land think it unmanly to weep doesn't mean people are immature and need to grow up, or man up. I agree with Tinawatanabe's comment.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

Thank you Thunderbird2. I have seen US HS baseball kids asking why Japanese teams cry. Maybe US kids have many other things they enjoy in their lives.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

sleazy

adjective ( sleazier , sleaziest ) 1 (of a person or situation) sordid, corrupt, or immoral. (of a place) squalid and seedy: a sleazy all-night cafe. 2 dated (of textiles and clothing) flimsy. DERIVATIVES sleazily - adverb, sleaziness - noun ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: of unknown origin.

Sleazy is a perfectly good adjective to use in the context of this story. Perhaps some people misunderstand it's meaning and use, or listen to too much Kesha.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

No Yardley, because HS baseball is neither sordid, corrupt, nor immoral. Poor word choice.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

These HS baseball kids have collective responsiblity to each other in their team. If one student caused some trouble, the entire team could not participate in the national games (Koshien). Nothing sleazy about it. In fact, the Koshien is one of the best things Japan has.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

As a sports lover I have no problem with the Koshien games - the excitement, the boredom, the tension, the joys, the downs, the endeavours, the guts, the cries(well???) - in short I can enjoy the sport.

But I'm under no illusions that the image portrayed is somewhat anachronistic. Traditions, heritage - I'm all for it.

The 21st C sports world has moved on. Different styles, different music, different training, different communities, different thinking in oh so many ways. Buzzcut boys marching in unison to dated music, led by the token girls(nadeshiko) in dated costumes, with the obligatory "spirited" speech just smacks of the good old days when boys were men and were proud of it. And hiding under the tradition flag doesn't cut it with me either.

A 1,000 boys with crewcuts - or you don't play - surely is an example of imposed conformity which seems to still fit neatly into the social narrative of Japan.

For me I like the game and the challenge and look forward to the day when a champion Koshien pitcher emerges with hair touching his collar and his fringe pushed backed.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

The point about the players coming from different prefectures and not being made up of only local boys rings hollow. Hardly any teams in the pros have a player from their local area. The area that the team represents is what people cling to.

What makes the tournament exciting is that the level of play has not risen enough to the point where the outcome of the games are certain even before the games end.

A team losing 6-0 may easily come back in the 9th inning. Rallies explode way more often than they do in pro ball.

Errors often occur, bad pitches are thrown and get by the catcher, throwing arms aren't as strong as they are in the pros so runners go for it when there's even a slight possibility of making another base etc. making for unexpected drama and flip-flop in scores which make Koshien a lot of fun to watch.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

It is excellent baseball and a hell of a lot less boring than watching MLB. I admire the fine sportsmanship. If that's some Japanese aberration, I'm all for it.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Sleazy, really? Koshien tournament is awesome.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Thunderbird: "Just because Yanks and stiff upper lipped chaps from my own land think it unmanly to weep doesn't mean people are immature and need to grow up, or man up. I agree with Tinawatanabe's comment."

It's not really an issue of being unmanly, I'd say, and I'm also not saying whether actually getting emotional to the point where you cry at losing is a good or bad thing, but it's almost like they are all EXPECTED to cry when they lose at Koshien or other sporting events. I'm pretty sure if none of them broke down crying they'd be portrayed in the media here as not caring enough and/or not reflecting the disappointment (like they should!) of the crowd. You do see some other nationals cry here and there at losing (more often if they've been wronged and lost as a result, like in the Olympics or due to bad calls in other tournaments), or even winning!, but you don't see a whole team ball on cue like that.

Anyway, I was talking to an old guy I know during a break yesterday and he asked me about my summer vacation and what not and if I watched Koshien. I said my TV isn't really hooked up so I don't watch J-TV at home save for when I hook it up for big sporting events (Koshien not a priority for me, nor is baseball in general), but that I watch parts of games if they are being played while I'm at the gym and working out. We talked about how nostalgic it could make you feel, even though it was not part of my own youth, and how much fun it must be for the kids to get there and carry out certain rituals. But man, when I mentioned that I didn't like the commercial aspects of it, or the cases of abuse (ie. hazing and sleazy things mentioned in this article and by posters), he got pretty angry and said none of that actually happened, etc. So, I changed the topic, even though he was still visibly angry at the suggestion there was any kind of corruption or that the kids suffered any kind of abuse through hazing rituals, coaching, from peers in general, or just being forced to play in some cases more than one game in brutal heat (and for the pitcher having to throw so many pitches as such).

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

It's business... nothing more.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The only thing TV viewers like to see more than dazzling success is the shattering of other peoples' dreams. So Koshien makes for great entertainment. You have the kids' happy faces when they win and their tears when they lose. Everyone wants to stop and look at the train wreck.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I'm pretty sure if none of them broke down crying they'd be portrayed in the media here as not caring enough and/or not reflecting the disappointment (like they should!) of the crowd.

No. Please read about the high school from Yamagata.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

the boys were given that dangerous privilege of being allowed to get away with murder in the school, and passed through all of their academic classes, purely for being on the baseball team.

Football....coughs....

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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