High School Baseball in Japan
Despite the popularity of pro baseball in Japan, Japan’s most avidly followed sporting event is the All-Japan High School Baseball Tournament (aka National Senior High School Baseball Tournament), first held in 1915. Played in August at Hanshin Koshien Baseball Stadium near Osaka, it draws almost one million spectators to a tournament of the 49 regional finalists that survived local tournaments involving over 4,000 schools. After winning their respective prefectural championships, similar to a State title in the United States, teams then vie for the coveted national championship. With national and each teams’ local media covering the tournament, players and coaches become overnight celebrities and heroes with success. This year’s champions from Hokkaido successfully defended their championship from 2004, placing them in an elite group of teams to win back-to-back titles. Used as springboard to the pros, popular MLB stars such as Ichiro and Hedeki Matsui have played in the tournament before being drafted onto Japanese clubs.