[From April Issue 2012]
Koshien is officially called Hanshin Koshien Kyujo (stadium). This ballpark was built in 1924 in Hyogo Prefecture as the first state-of-the-art baseball stadium in Japan. It’s the home ground of the professional baseball team, Hanshin Tigers, and is also the location for the Japanese national college American football championships. In addition, Koshien is a sacred spot for high school baseball. The national high school baseball championships are held there every spring and summer. Teams participating in the summer championship get especially fired up because only the schools that have qualified – 49 high school teams out of over 4,000 nationwide – get to play in the stadium.
Baseball is the national sport, and high school baseball is exceptionally popular. NHK airs all the championship games, and some of the players become such celebrities that fans and media chase them around. There is even a magazine dedicated to high school baseball.
“When they see teammates coming together to fight it out, baseball has the power to move the hearts of Japanese people. The dedication high school players show, and the unique qualities of each team, makes it especially interesting for the spectators,” explains ISHII Makoto, deputy general manager of the card division of Epoch Co., Ltd.. Epoch sells baseball trading cards and started to sell Koshien Stadium models in August 2011. The price of a stadium model, at 15,750 yen, is not cheap. Nevertheless Ishii says, “Our customers have expressed their gratitude that we are selling this item.”
“The reason we decided to sell these models was that we thought that adults whose sons had played at Koshien, or who had themselves wanted to make it to Koshien when they were young, would probably like to get their hands on one. It is made out of Polystone and hand painted by craftsmen. This adds to the price, but we wanted the models to be high quality,” adds Ishii. “It’s a special place to which only a handful of teams, successful in local tournaments, can go. A strong bond between teammates grows as, covered in sweat and mud, they strive towards Koshien. And that’s why Koshien represents an irreplaceable memory of youth that money can’t buy,” says Ishii, explaining the importance of Koshien.
The National High School Baseball Championship celebrated its 93rd tournament in 2011. Since the 10th championship, the event has mostly been held at Koshien. Most Japanese alive today grew up absorbing news and images from Koshien, for this reason it’s a subject that most Japanese, regardless of age, can relate to.
Because of this Koshien has now begun to host tournaments unrelated to professional and high school baseball. Anyone who is into baseball – that includes the elderly and women, along with parents and children playing catch ball – can participate in the Masters Koshien, an event that has been going since 2004. The attraction is that participants can experience baseball on the iconic Koshien baseball field.
Putting the name Koshien at the end of any national event related to high school students has become an established custom. It seems new national competitions for liberal art clubs are often named “Something, Something Koshien.” Some of these events are linked to machi-okoshi (promotions to jump-start the economies of local towns). Another characteristic these events have in common is that they are generally events in which teams compete, rather than individuals.
For example, a supercomputer contest established in 1995 is known as Den-no (cyber) Koshien. This contest is hosted by the Tokyo Institute of Technology and mainly attracts high school students who use their skills, techniques, and supercomputers to compete. In Aomori Prefecture the Fashion Koshien has been held since 2001. This contest assesses the design, manufacturing process, fit, and overall impression of the garment. It also aims to boost the local apparel industry. Some other Koshien events include haiku, flower arrangement, general knowledge contests, and Japanese calligraphy performances.
In Kochi Prefecture, the local authorities, local companies, and residents have collaborated to host the Manga Koshien since 1992. This event is similar to the summer high school baseball championships in various ways. Firstly, student teams are formed according to the school they attend, with team members cooperating to create a manga. Secondly, only teams that win the preliminaries can actually go to Kochi Prefecture. Thirdly, the event is held every August.
“We started this event when we heard that Kochi High School students wanted an event in which they themselves could participate. Just like with the baseball played at Koshien, we wanted to create an event where participants cooperate with teammates. We hope that Kochi becomes a sacred spot for high school comic fans. That is why we named the event Manga Koshien,” says NAKAOKA Yuji, the head of the Manga Division of Kochi Prefecture’s Cultural Lifestyle Department. “The reason why it has continued to be held after 20 events is because the local people have given it their warm support.”
“The best part of this job is that we can actually see high school students cooperate and strive toward one goal,” says Nakaoka. “Everyone is so devoted; they cry when they win, and become very frustrated when they lose. Also, it seems friendship grows not only within teams, but between teams as well. During the Manga Koshien, participants need to complete their manga within the given time. When one team ran out of paint, I saw another team lend them some.”
In the past few years, the number of Koshien events in which adult’s participate has risen. One of them is Kaigo Koshien. This is a contest where kaigo, or care givers, compete to show their devotion to their work. Another event is called the Izakaya (or Japanese-style pub) Koshien. In this event, which started in 2006, eateries form teams to compete against other eateries in terms of food, service, and dedication to their work. The aim of this event is for pubs to compete, and share stories with other pubs, in order to improve their own business, and to energize the izakaya industry.
“Participants of the baseball Koshien put all their effort into single-mindedly striving towards their dream of becoming the best in the country. We adults could learn something from that, so the event is named Izakaya Koshien. Also Koshien has associations with building strong bonds between team members. Teamwork is also very important at izakaiya,” says SHIMIZU Kaori, a member of the NPO group Izakaya Koshien Secretariat. “When members tell me things like, ‘It made me remember goals I’d lost sight of,’ or ‘I will follow my dreams once again,’ it makes me feel really happy.”
To Japanese people, Koshien is not merely a stadium name; it is a word that has come to mean a contest in which teammates work together as they fight to make their dreams come true.
Text: SAZAKI Ryo