Japanese television programs love putting all sorts of text and graphics on-screen. It’s something sports broadcasts have always been especially fond of, and even since long before overseas broadcasters adopted the practice, baseball on TV in Japan resembled a video game, with a constant display of the score, inning, pitch count, and baserunner status.
So when this year’s summer Koshien national high school baseball tournament opened last Sunday, people tuning in to watch it on TV naturally expected to see lots of telops, as Japan calls the onscreen overlays. But things took a surreal turn as one specific type of overlay kept showing up.
See the first three characters in the above overlay, 熱中症? Those are the kanji for nechuusho, or heatstroke. Japan is currently in the middle of a severe heat wave, and the temperature in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, where the Koshien tournament takes place, hit a daytime high of 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) on Sunday. And no, this wasn’t a dry heat – like most of Japan, Hyogo is both hot and humid in the summer. So throughout the game, viewers saw overlays notifying them of a heatstroke caution (熱中症警戒).
Things got even more surreal when national broadcaster NHK put up an overlay, seen in the photo below, saying “In principle, let’s suspend or postpone outside exercise” as the two teams of teens continued the contest.
In its coverage of the opening game between Ibaraki Prefecture’s Tsuchiura Nihon University High School and Nagano Prefecture’s Ueda Nishi High School, NHK put up different overlays for different parts of the country. For Hyogo, it went beyond the “heatstroke caution” to “heatstroke caution alert” (熱中症警戒アラート)
One of the warnings also included the unsettling, though wise, advice of “In the case of severe symptoms such as loss of consciousness, call an ambulance.”
With this summer being especially hot, the tournament has introduced a 10-minute “cooling time” period after games’ fifth inning, roughly the half-way point. The teams’ benches also have cooling fans installed behind them, and ice vests and neck coolers are also available. None of that has much effect when the players are playing the game, though. Just after the end of the sixth inning, when Tsuchiura Nihon University High had been fielding, one of the team’s players collapsed and had to be carried off the field on a stretcher. The team’s coach later said that the boy had fallen because of a leg or foot cramp, a condition that can be triggered or intensified due to dehydration. The coach said that the boy’s body temperature at the time was measured at around 45 degrees Celsius.
Tsuchiura Nihon University High would go on to win the game by a score of 8 to 3.
Self-sacrifice and playing through pain are big parts of Japan’s sports ethos, especially for youth sports and especially for baseball. Still, the jarring juxtaposition of being told “It’s too dangerously hot to exercise outside” at the same time as “Watch these kids competing in the midday sun!” is prompting social media reactions such as
“This makes no sense at all.”
“Are [the organizers’] brains functioning?”
“Shouldn’t this qualify as abuse?”
“There’s something wrong about this.”
“You wouldn’t still have a baseball under a storm warning [so why would you under a heatstroke alert], right?”
“I’m not just worried about the players, I’m worried about the people in the stands too.”
With representative teams from all of Japan’s 47 prefectures gathering for the tournament, and families, faculty, and classmates also attending, one could argue that Koshien, logistically, can only be held during the summer vacation period. What seems like it could be done, though, is to play at least some of the games at night. For this year’s tournament, the earliest game start time is 8 a.m., and no game has a starting time later than 3:45 p.m. It’s still blisteringly hot at 3:45 in the afternoon, though, and shifting some games back a few hours, say, one starting at dusk and another completely after sundown, would go a long way in preventing heatstroke.
Such a shift wouldn’t be without difficulties, though. All of the Koshien games are played on the same field, which means they have to be played one at a time. With Koshien Stadium being such hallowed ground, coaches, fans, and players too would likely react very negatively to having their game moved to an alternate site. With four games a day being played in the tournament’s early rounds, and roughly two and a half hours allotted for each, there’s not enough time to fit them all in after sunset without expanding the number of total days in the tournament.
That’s easier said than done for two reasons. First, as mentioned above, many family members and students travel with the team, and a longer tournament means they’d have to spend more on hotel and other travel expenses. In addition, Koshien Stadium is ordinarily the home ground of the Hanshin Tigers professional baseball team. The Tigers vacate Koshien Stadium during the tournament, playing games either on the road or at their alternate quasi-home stadium, Kyocera Dome Osaka. Much like with families needing to make longer hotel reservations for a longer Koshien tournament, though, If the Tigers were to extend their summer stay at Kyocera Dome Osaka, additional fees for the team would be involved.
None of those scheduling concerns would be much of an obstacle, though in rescheduling the tournament’s later-round games, when fewer are played each day, or its championship game, to after sundown. There is still the issue of night games themselves being more expensive, though, since lighting up a professional-grade stadium, which Koshien is, isn’t cheap.
All of those potential problems seem like they could be worked out, though. While the Koshien tournament is an amateur sports competition and NHK a public broadcaster, the games’ broadcasts draw huge television viewership numbers and comparably sized sponsorships from companies that see value in having their name seen by the combined millions of people at the stadium and watching from home. The tournament itself is regularly presented as a showcase of exemplary determination and perseverance by the young players, so it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect the adults who organize it to work a little harder at making it safer and better for the kids on the field.
Sources: Tokyo Sports Web via Yahoo! Japan News via Jin, Nikkan Gendai, Goo Weather, Koko Yakyu News, Twitter
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