Have you ever been to Japan during summer? If you have, I’m sure you’d agree that it is unbearably hot and humid! Someone like me who is not athletic can’t even think about moving in the heat. However, one of the most popular sports events in Japan takes place during this mercilessly hot season. It is高校野球 (Koko Yakyu; the baseball tournament for high schools). The proper name is 全国高等学校野球選手権大会 (zenkoku kotogakkou yakyu senshuken taikai! Wow, that’s a mouthful.) It started in 1915, and this year marks the 100th anniversary of Koko Yakyu. The Koshien stadium (甲子園球場), the only stadium used for this tournament, was completed in 1924, nine years after the tournament started.
There are spring and summer tournaments, but the one in summer is by far the more exciting one, because the participating schools need to win through the Prefectural tournament. Only one school per prefecture is allowed (although, for Tokyo and Hokkaido, 2 schools are allowed due to the large number of schools). The tournament usually starts on August 8th, and continues for 2 weeks. When it starts every summer, it is just like Wimbledon; you cannot help noticing that it has started, as it is always on TV whenever you turn it on! And again, just like Wimbledon, when it finally comes to an end with the excitement of the final game, it feels so sad. From the next day, the TV feels like it’s missing something very important.
In Japan, I think it’s safe to say that the most popular sport of all is baseball, not football. So many boys join a baseball club/team during junior high and high school. For those, the Koshien stadium is a dream; only the best teams who survived the Prefectural tournament can participate in Koko Yakyu at the stadium. During the summer tournament, once you lose, you need to go. So, you will often see the team members of the losing team collecting the soil from the baseball field, crying heavily. It is very moving. The boys at Koko Yakyu, unlike professional baseball players, are so pure, so genuine; no money involved, no greed involved, they just do their very best at each game. That’s the beauty of Koko Yakyu, and that’s the reason people will never stop loving it.
When the tournament is over, it is approaching the end of August, and the long school summer holiday is nearing an end. Although it is still hot for a while in Japan, you will notice a subtle change in the air. Autumn is coming.