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July 2019

Cultural Article

What is Koshien?

Japan’s Biggest Sporting Event in Summer

by Daisuke Takagi

If they heard the phrase “Summer Sports,” most Japanese people would think of the same word, "Koshien." One might ask “What kind of sport is Koshien?” However, Koshien is not the name of a sport, but the name of a baseball stadium. In Japan, the final tournament of the National High School Baseball Championships is held every August at Koshien, which is officially named the “Hanshin Koshien Stadium”. Typically, the Hanshin Tigers, one of Japan’s professional baseball teams, uses it as its home stadium, but during this term it is solely used by high school baseball teams. The tournament is a summer classic in Japan, and because it takes place during the time of year when the temperatures are at its most extreme hot, Japanese people have associated high school baseball in particular with summer. While the national high school baseball tournament at Koshien Stadium is also held in spring, summer Koshien is more popular and exciting for Japanese people.

This tournament is a very historic tournament that had its 100 th anniversary last year. About 4,000 high schools are divided by prefecture to hold preliminary tournaments, and the winning high school from each prefecture can participate in the final tournament at Koshien (but in Tokyo and Hokkaido, two schools can be represented as there are so many high schools in these prefectures. In addition, there are some prefectures where two schools can participate in the tournament in a commemorative year like 80th, 90th or 100 th anniversaries). By the way, the prefecture which has the largest number of champion high schools is Osaka Prefecture. In addition, the high school that has won the most in the past is Chukyo University Senior High School in Aichi Prefecture, which has won seven times.

Speaking of sports, “cheering” is an essential part of the sport. As it is a great honor to compete in the historic Koshien tournament and aim for the national championship, the family of players, other current students, and alumnae rush to root for and support their high school team. In addition, performances by each school’s brass band club is very common. There are various theories as to why, but it is said that it is easy to start playing various songs as baseball is divided into separate offenses and defenses. In Koshien, precise performances by dozens or hundreds of brass band club members cheers up players with standard numbers, popular numbers, and sometimes even original numbers during games.

In addition to the cheering section, there are several scenes unique to the high school baseball tournament at Koshien. One is for the winning team to remain on the grounds after the game and sing the school song. The scene of the baseball players standing in a row and singing the school song is also a sight that reminds you of summer. While the winning team sings the school song, what does the defeated school do? Their tradition is to take the soil of Koshien home. There are many players who take the soil as a memorial of their experience and expression that they will miss Koshien in their hearts. However, it is said that some high schools do not dare take the soil home with them as they are determined to return to Koshien again.

Koshien is also the gateway for professional baseball players, and many of the Japanese major leaguers have experience at Koshien. Famous past stars including Hideki Matsui and Ichiro, and those who are currently active like Masahiro Tanaka, Yu Darvish and Shohei Otani have played at Koshien.

In these hot summer months, I hope that you have a moment to see Koshien whether you are physically at the stadium or view it through other means. Once you’ve experienced Koshien, with its youthful and earnest baseball players, the boisterous and hopeful fan sections, and bittersweet victories and defeats, I’m sure that you will be hooked.

Outside of the Hanshin Koshien Stadium

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