The Differences Between American And Japanese Baseball
A Little History
It would surprise many Americans to know that Nippon Professional Baseball, or as it is colloquially known in Japan as Puro Yakyū (プロ野球), has had almost as long of a history as the MLB. When baseball was imported to Japan from America in 1872, it was done so efficiently that some Japanese citizens consider it their nation’s pastime. So much so that the word for the game was completely translated into Japanese as opposed to being transcribed into katakana (i.e the foreign word alphabet), as is commonly seen with foreign imports. Baseball is one of the most popular participatory and spectator sports in Japan and is particularly prevalent in high school. The Japanese High School Baseball Championship is a highly anticipated, nationally broadcasted event. High school baseball in Japan is arguably more popular than professional play.
Some Differences in Gameplay
While the basic concept of the game is the same for American and Japanese baseball, there are some significant differences. Perhaps the most unusual is the differences in ball size. One would think that there would be a global standard of the size of a baseball (though it may surprise some baseball fans to know that the MLB did not standardize the baseball until 1934). Yet, surprisingly, the ball which the NPB uses is slightly smaller.
Another significant difference is the ability for NPB games to end in a tie. Game length during the regular season is limited to 12 innings and 15 innings during the playoffs. Therefore, if neither team takes the lead in the designated extra innings, the game ends in a tie. For American fans, this may seem ludicrous as one of the staples of American baseball is the excitement of potentially unlimited extra innings.
The NPB teams also are only permitted to have at most four gaijin, or foreign players. Considering the extremely homogenous and arguably xenophobic society in Japan the lack of foreign players is representative of cultural values. It is also quite different to the MBL where a considerable number of players are foreign-born.
Differences in Fans
Cultural differences between Japan and American inevitably lead to differences in the atmosphere of baseball. Based on personal experience, the feeling of Japanese baseball games is somewhat ironic. While there are many aspects based on typical Japanese’s social norms of being respectful, there are some aspects of Japanese spectators which would be considered rude to Americans. For example, Japanese spectators never heckle the other team and do not get into scuffles with one another. Though this would be difficult as the oendan, fan clubs, sit in a designated area. Not only that but the fans generally only cheer designated chants. However, Japanese fans, and the biiru no uriko or beer girls constantly walk up in down the aisles and in front of other spectators. For an American, this is particularly frustrating as within the MLB there is an unspoken rule that people only get up to leave between plays. If someone was extremely polite in America, they would only move between innings.
The Different Uses Of Women (Particularly of the Attractive Variety)
Somehow, no matter what country or culture, displaying physically attractive women to sports fans is necessary. In Japan, there is the biiru no uriko as mentioned previously. These attractive young women run around the stadium with 30-pound pony-kegs on their backs while serving the spectators the beer of their choice, all the while keeping a perky smile on their face. It is undoubtedly an admirable joband their legs are ridiculously fit, but one must wonder at the implications of young women running around selling beer in colorful tiny shorts and highly feminized jerseys. It is also rumored that the beer girls are fired and replaced by their 25th birthdays.
However, it should be noted that in America, there are similarities in MLB rally girls, dance teams, ball girls, etc. As compared to the beer girls in Japan, American “cheerleaders” if you will, are much less sexualized. However, there is a similar undertone that attractive women are a necessary adornment in stereotypically masculine atmospheres like sporting events.
The Decline Of “America’s Pastime”
Sadly, within America baseball’s its popularity has been on an evident decline. This is largely due to the decreased interest in younger generations. Comparatively, within Japan, baseball has only gained in popularity. Perhaps America is “losing” its pastime to a country which so readily and easily adopted it to their own culture. To me, that is a wonderful thing about baseball. That is can be enjoyed by many and is applicable to a variety of cultures. Even those who are not typically baseball fans still enjoy their experiences at games, whether it be American or Japanese.