A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

Joso brings back SOIL OF KOSHIEN after disappointing early exit

It’s a summer ritual here that I immediately took to. Watching the Koshien (甲子園) High School Baseball Tournament which takes place in sweltering Osaka. In my hometown New York, I had always closely followed The Boys of Summer, and by that I mean Major League Baseball. Since my first summer in Japan, however, more than watching the professionals, I have joined the millions of Japanese who, with beer or barley tea in one hand and a hand-held fan in the other, spend the dog days of August cheering on the Bozu of Summer (bozu, 坊主, is a term used to refer to a young boy), the high school baseball players who have made it into the Koshien Finals. There are 49 teams (representing each prefecture, with 2 teams from both Tokyo and Hokkaido) in all who battle it out in single elimination. If you are not a baseball fan, now is probably the time to become one, because no matter what, if you turn on the TV during the next couple of weeks that is about all you are going to see. In fact, I have a game on in front of me right now, and it’s so exciting that I can hardly type!

Koshien is a perfect way to show hometown spirit, and many of your friends who live in Tsukuba now are probably rooting for their home prefecture team. Native Ibarakians and others who have grown to love the Land of Hitachi (Hitachi no Kuni) have always had a lot to cheer about since this prefecture has often fielded very strong teams. The most famous of these is Joso High School which is located just near Tsukuba City. Once again (for the 3rd straight year) their manager Yukio Kiuchi, who is now 77 years old, has taken them to Osaka for the finals after an incredible extra-inning win in Mito on July 27th. This is a very impressive feat considering the hundreds of schools in the prefecture. Maybe attribute this success to what has been dubbed KIUCHI MAGIC.

Holy cow! This game that I’m watching! The Tokushima team has just come from behind to win! Incredible! Pandemonium! Unbridled joy! Tears (looks more like sobbing) of defeat! Slouching, bent over players. Dirty, sweaty uniforms. Wait! This is the part I love best. The winning team belting out their school song, singing with their bodies and souls making it known to the world that they are making an effort!! They go into their victory sprint. And now, the losing team is scooping up some soil from the infield, a memento of their fleeting moment on the Big Stage. Certainly the game will be replayed in their heads over and over again, probably for their whole lives, with thoughts of how it would have been if things had gone the other way.

Sorry for the digression. Let me get back to my main point. High school baseball fans in Ibaraki have been looking forward to watching Joso play and maybe even win the tournament and some people I know even went down to watch today’s game. Unfortunately, things did not go as expected and our local boys were blown away in their first game, by a Tokyo team (even more frustrating). Thus, Kiuchi’s bozu, as with all losing teams, could be seen after the game, scooping up the Sacred Soil of Koshien. So much for Kiuchi Magic. But… wait till next year!

Don’t be surprised then if you see more than the usual depressed, sulking Ibarakians this week. They were hoping to see their team do better.

And of course there are other ways of looking at this High School baseball madness. I, myself often cringe when I hear about the boys’ PURE SPIRIT. Like everyone else they are in it for the glory (and the girls?).

Another aspect to think about is the PROFESSIONALIZATION of the game in a similar way to what has happened in college sports in the US. Thus many teams, including Joso recruit players using certain incentives.  Many students DO NOT get the high school education they should be getting, and will be stuck after graduation. So the coaches, administration, etc., come out ahead, but what happens to the boys who have spent their school years playing ball and not preparing for exams?

Anyway, they sure WANT to play, and they do it well! That’s what makes it so much fun to watch.

For Koshien games just turn on your TV and flick through the channels.

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