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Baseball is by far Japan’s most popular sport. It has been played here for over 120 years with the Japanese professional baseball league beginning in 1937. In 2006 the national team won the World Baseball Classic, illustrating the high standard of Japan’s baseball. The Nippon Professional Baseball League (NPB) is comprised of two leagues, Central and Pacific, with six teams each. The winner of each league meets in November for the Japan Series to determine the champion. The teams are often called by the corporations that own them and all of them have nicknames.

There are many differences between American and Japanese games. Not all games end with a win or loss like in the Major Leagues. Traditionally, any game tied after 12 innings remains a tie. There is no inter-league play except for the Japan Series and three all-star games. There is also no minor-league baseball system in Japan. Instead, there are hundreds of company teams from which players can make it to the Japan League.

Japanese baseball stadiums have a special section for cheering called the oendan where fans do choreographed chants at different parts of the game – well worth trying once.

High School baseball is extremely popular and competitive, with tournaments dating back to the Meiji Era. The National High School Baseball Championship Tournament, held each summer since 1924 in Koshien stadium near Osaka, is an extremely prestigious event. One team from each of the 47 prefectures competes in a single elimination tournament to determine the national champion. These games are televised nationally and draw huge crowds of supporters, (often middle-aged women with an unhealthy interest in the high school stars) as well as Japan League professional scouts.

Where to see it: The Fukuoka Softbank Hawks play in the Pacific League and are managed by Koji Akiyama, 11-time Golden Glove winner and 2-time Nippon Series MVP. They won the Japan Series in 2001 and 2003 and are usually ranked in the top three of the Pacific League every year. The Hawks play in the Yahoo Dome, an artificial turf stadium by the sea with tickets ranging from ¥1000-8000. Tickets can be bought at convenience stores, the OMC Plaza at Daiei in Tenjin, or at the stadium on game day. Yahoo Dome is accessible by bus and subway. By Nishitetsu bus, take routes #68, #300, #301, #303, or #305 from Hakata or Tenjin. From outside of Fukuoka, special Nishitetsu highway bus services operate on game day. If coming by subway, take a Meinohama/Karatsu-bound Kuko line train to Tojin-machi and the Yahoo Dome is a ten-minute walk from the station. See the Fukuoka-shi section for more information.