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The baseball tournament kicked off at the Tokyo Olympics on Wednesday. The sport is particularly popular in Japan, more than a century after its introduction by an English teacher from the United States. Absent since the Beijing Olympics, this sport is making a comeback in competition, along with softball, reserved for women.
The Japanese baseball team kicked off their competition on Wednesday July 28 with a victory over the Dominican Republic (4-3). In a country where this sport is a true religion, all eyes are on these players and expectations are high.
More than a century after the sport was introduced by an English teacher from the United States, Japan made baseball its own. Sign of this popularity, it was reintroduced in the program of the Games after having been withdrawn since two Olympiads. In the land of the rising sun, “all children play baseball,” Itaru Kobayashi, a former Lotte Marines player from Chiba, a suburb of Tokyo, who became a teacher at Oberlin University, in the Japanese capital, told AFP . The sport “was invented in the United States, but we fell in love with it,” he adds.
According to him, this sport is particularly suitable in Japan, because it is “like a ritual” and that it is characterized by “uniformity and obedience to orders”: “Work as a team, be united by the team. love it. “
The sport that inspired Murakami
Even Japan’s most famous writer does not fail to underline his love for the sport. In an interview with the Telegraph, Haruki Murakami had said that baseball was at the origin of his vocation. As he watched a Japanese league game in 1978, he had a revelation: “I still remember the exact feeling. It seemed like something was floating in the sky, and I had literally grabbed it off. my hands. I didn’t know why it was lucky enough to fall into my hands. (…) All I can say is that my life was radically and definitively changed at that moment. ” As a result of this gesture, Murakami wrote his first novel, “Listen to the Song of the Wind”, which won the Gunzo Prize in 1979.
Baseball was first introduced as a school sport in 1872 by Tokyo teacher Horace Wilson, but it became popular thanks to a game where a high school team from the capital beat a group of foreign residents in 1896.
The victory made headlines in Japan, igniting a wave of passion for the sport and other encounters against American teams. “These matches had symbolic importance, because the Japanese were behind (the Americans, Editor’s note) in many aspects, such as trade and industry,” said Robert Whiting, a baseball expert who lived in Japan for several decades. “The message was: ‘if we can beat the Americans at their own game, we can surely overtake them in other areas,” “he said.
A professional league developed in the 1930s, but it was after World War II (when Japan was defeated by the United States) that baseball became the national pastime, with amateur baseball in particular being worshiped for. its “purity” because not being moved by money. This flame is still fiery, as the crowd of fans and cheerleaders gathered recently for a match of “Tokyo 6”, a league of six of the main universities of the capital.
Tensions with South Korea
As Le Monde explains, rivalry with the United States has now given way to that with South Korea. “It must be said that baseball is the number one sport in both countries. And, as a result, it crystallizes, even more than judo, football or volleyball (…) the persistent tensions between two neighbors whose Relations, delicate on memorial issues, are at their lowest since the election in 2017 of South Korean President Moon Jae-in “, describes journalist Philippe Mesmer.
These tensions surround the issue of compensation for Koreans who were forced to work for Japanese industry during the war and “comfort women” forced to prostitute themselves for the Japanese army. Tensions also emerged after “the inclusion of the Liancourt rocks, a group of islets called Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan, on the map showing the route of the Olympic flame,” said Le Monde. These islets are occupied by Korea but claimed by Japan.
In this tense context, the South Korean delegation stood out on its arrival in Tokyo by hanging banners referring to a 16th century war on the balconies of the apartments it occupies in the Olympic Village.e century between the two countries. After the protests from Japan, the International Olympic Committee declared that these banners went against the Olympic charter.
🏅 – South Korea’s #Olympic committee said Saturday it removed banners at the Olympic athletes’ village in #Tokyo that referred to a 16th-century war between Korea and Japan after the International Olympic Committee ruled they were provocative. (AP) pic.twitter.com/uOG6RunkgX
– Melvis (@The_Melvis) July 17, 2021
In exchange for their withdrawal, the South Koreans would have received a promise that the Japanese flag “of the rising sun”, on which appears a red circle with 16 rays and perceived by some as a symbol of the occupation of the peninsula, would not be brandished during the Olympics.
While their relations are not in good shape, the two countries could meet in the semi-finals of the baseball competition. Japan for its part already has a first victory. The Japanese players won the softball tournament, the women’s version of baseball, Tuesday, July 27, by beating the United States in the final (2-0).