Summer Koshein is the national high school baseball tournament in Japan. For those who don’t know, Japan’s biggest sport is baseball. Baseball may be the first major sport in Japan that revolved around team play. This was unique to the country, relative to traditional and native sports such as kendo, archery, or sumo. The sport existed in Japan before WW2, but it was post war where the sport took over the country. As American soldiers were based in Japan after WW2, even though the war was over. Gotta love that American imperialism. While looking through MLB rosters from across the league, you will see several Japanese names, the biggest one being Shohei Ohtana, the greatest baseball player on the planet. All these Japanese MLB players have played in the Japanese high school system where they once dreamed of playing at the national tournament.
To be honest, I’m not a baseball fan. I know the rules of the game, I live in a town with an MLB team, and I’ve even worn their team gear before but I have never in my life watched a baseball game from front to back . . . because it’s a bit slow for me. With that being said, I have watched many baseball anime from to back. Touch, Major (Shohei’s fave), Mix, Cross Game, H2, Ookiku Furikabutte, – I’ve watched a few. I love baseball anime. It’s just something about the spirit of youth, competition, and fleeting dreams. As a former athlete, I have once dreamed of entering the national tournament and winning a medal.
In Japan, youth baseball is different from youth sports here. It’s a machine over there. Kids are not treated as individuals, whereas they are treated as united members representing the larger entity of the team. It’s not so much about having fun, as it is about discipline, hard work, and collective success. Youth coaches aren’t just parents volunteering while supervising their kids, the coachs are experts in their field with years of experience. So kids understand situational aspects of the games, better than those playing youth baseball in the west. Baseball isn’t just something to do, baseball is the thing to do. And in Japan, where most kids quit sports after high school, the dream of Koshien is truly the epitome of high school sports. In essence, Koshien is where dreams live and die. And in Japan, high school is only for three years. Glory is only magnified when you’re looking to extend the legacy of your high school in such short amounts of time.
As a Canadian, in high school there just aren’t opportunities for you to reach a national tournament at that level. A tournament where 49 of the best schools in the country compete over becoming the best in the span of two weeks, is something that would be unheard of. This is a tournament where professional Japanese scouts look to find the next gem for their domestic pro league. And the cream of the crop, rise to playing overseas in preparation for the MLB. Baseball may be tough and a lot more strict at the youth level in Japan but it is a sport where young men learn to be adults. It’s where for a brief moment in a young man’s life, their passion, hard work, and talent soar to heights beyond just amateur sports. That is baseball in Japan.