post

Ryo Ishikawa

Japan. The land of the eccentric – a country bathed in the history of an incredibly varied culture, both modern and ancient. An Asian country that has made its impact in international sport like few others and has surprised many with its mastery over competitive sports ordinary dominated by the western countries. In both football and baseball, Japan has been a force to be reckoned with, and more recently, the nation has set its sights on raising more talent to bring into the prestigious sport of golf.

And in that endeavor, the Land of the Rising Sun has been rather successful, producing several names that have gained recognition and success in one of the most international sports played across the world. One of those names is Ryo Ishikawa who has the moniker of Hanikami Ōji – “the bashful prince.”

 

Born in 1991, Ishikawa is literally young enough to be the son of some of the older veterans that compete in professional golf, assuming of course that they had given birth at a fairly young age. Ishikawa exploded onto the scene in 2007, making his name known by becoming the youngest winner ever of an event part of the men’s Japan Golf Tour. He won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup at the tender age of 15, an age most teens struggle with the awkwardness of puberty instead of winning professional golf tournaments. What was all the more impressive was his entry into the tournament as an amateur, also making it his very first tour appearance. Of course, one has to keep in mind that the player with the highest rank on the Official World Golf Ranking was only ranked in the lower part of the 100s, meaning that Ishikawa wasn’t up against the best in the world – or even the very best in Japan – still, a highly impressive feat that garnered a lot of attention.

A short year later and Ishikawa decided to turn into a pro golfer, managing to win another Japanese tournament in the same year, managing to become the youngest player to ever break into the top 100 of the Official World Golf Rankings.

Another year later and Ishikawa began competing in the PGA Tournaments at the tender age of 17. Of course, here he wouldn’t be able to simply come onto the field and beat out the best the world had to offer, but only 2 years later he had gained enough experience on large tournaments to start placing high in the tournaments, continuing his streak of becoming the youngest ever golfer to break into the top 50 rankings.

First image by act.golfme.cn

Second image by blog.golfonline.co.uk

post

Tokyo Yakult Swallows

When one thinks of Yakult, one generally has the picture of one of those small bottled, milk-based, healthy products in mind. Rightfully so, as the drink is extremely popular across the world for its relatively cheap price and high level of health benefits if consumed regularly. If one lives outside Japan, the association between Yakult and Baseball is likely to be non-existent – rightfully so, as the Tokyo Yakult Swallows are probably the single most overlooked baseball team in the Land of the Rising Sun… and the land where Baseball is the single most popular sport.

Baseball in Japan is played at its highest level nationally in the Central League, which along with its counterpart, the Pacific League, make up Nippon Professional Baseball. The Tokyo Yakult Swallows are part of the Central League and compete against five other teams for the title. Should they win enough games to be the champion of the Central League, they’d get the opportunity to play against the winning team of the Pacific League for the title of All-Japan Baseball champion.

The team’s history is rather extensive, being established in 1950. Over the decades the team’s ownership changed twice, initially being owned by Kokutetsu, the Japanese Railway Corporation. Following that the team was sold to a newspaper firm, the Sankei Shimbun until Yakult finally acquired the team in the 1970s.

The Tokyo Yakult Swallows can be considered as one of the most overlooked teams in the world of professional Japanese baseball simply due to the fact that they consistently have to endure standing in the shadow of their rivals who happen to hail from the same city – the Yomiuri Giants, which attract a huge following. Tokyo is a large city of many sights and areas, as such is also big enough to have more than one team to compete at the highest level. The Swallows do have their own dedicated fanbase, however, it pales in comparison to the size of the Giants supporters. Unfortunately, this also results in not all of the Swallows games being televised, until they either play against the Giants, who televise all their matches, or until they play at their home-stadium, the Meiji-Jingu Stadium.

The home stadium of the Swallows is the second oldest ballpark still in use in Japan, its construction dating back to the 1926 – one of the very few to have survived the Second World War. This is another reason the Swallows are considered perpetual underdogs, always on the back burner due to financial difficulties and not being able to outbid the richer teams, forcing the team to become innovative in its talent acquisition. Regardless, they still manage to win games and enjoy what they do.

First image by ootpdevelopments.com

Second image by simcentral.com

post

Hiroshima Toyo Carp

Baseball is the ultimate sport in Japan. The American ball-and-bat sport has taken the nation by storm, reigning supreme as the most popular national sport for decades running now. The highest level of the sport is played in the Nippon Professional Baseball league, comprised of the nation’s top teams and players. The division is further split into two conferences, the Central and the Pacific leagues.

The Hiroshima Toyo Carp are a team that competes in the Central League of the NPB leagues. An interesting aspect to consider when talking of the team is that it is owned more or less privately by the Matsuda family, headed today by Hajime Matusda. The Matsuda family is related to the founder of the well-known car brand, Mazda. However, unlike many other professional sporting teams in Japan, this does not mean that there is a company as a parent company to the team – a double edged sword as there is likely more individual control among the owners, whereas other teams often operate on the principles of shareholdership-based management, as other teams are often owned by larger companies or subsidiaries. The Matsuda family owns around 60% of the team while the Mazda company only owns around 35%. Despite that, Mazda is still the namesake of the team, since the company was formerly known as Toyo Kogyo Co. Ltd. in the 1980s.

Another interesting facet of the team is that back in its earlier days of competing in the high leagues of Japanese baseball, the team could not afford to scout international talent and entice them to play in Japan as they lacked the necessary funds to do so. Instead, they invested in opening an academy in the Dominican Republic around 1990, which would scout for local talent, train it, and then send to play in Japan. This proved rather successful as the club has managed to pick up and develop some great players at a fraction of the cost that would have been incurred in scouting overseas.

Like many other teams, the Hiroshima Toyo Carps have had their ups and downs, to such extreme that they were called both the golden and dark times of the club. The golden times started in 1975 when the club managed to win its first ever League championship, followed by a streak of triumphs, including the first ever team to break the 200 homerun mark. The dark times, however, started soon after in the early 1990s, following the team’s last championship. Ever since the team has been mediocre at best, attempting to regain its former glory.

First image by yujodomeicosplay2008.blogspot.com

Second image by japantimes.co.jp

post

Vissel Kobe

An interesting fact about Japanese culture is that, in fact, football has not managed to rise to become the most popular sport of the nation. That spot is firmly held by the american sport of baseball, relegating football to a close second in terms of overall popularity. Football in Japan is played at the highest level in the J. League’s Division 1, which is made up of the 18 best teams in the country.

One of the 18 competing teams is Vissel Kobe. The team hails from Kobe, located in the Hyogo Prefecture, where they play their home games at either the Kobe Wing Stadium or the Kobe Universiade Memorial Stadium.

The club has a fairly long history, going all the way back to 1966 when the club was known as Kawasaki Steel Soccer Club, which competed in semi-professional leagues and tournaments. In 1986 it rose through the ranks to make it into the J. League Division 2, where it stayed and accumulated competitive experience until making it into the Division 1 in 1997. Prior to that, the club reached an agreement with the city of Kobe, representing each other in the goal of entering the highest professional league. Therein lies the namesake of the club’s moniker, the term “Vissel” being a combination of the words “victory” and “vessel,” a somewhat obvious nod to Kobe city’s significant history as being a port city.

In 2004 when the team was acquired by Crimson Group, whose president is a native from the city of Kobe. Under his management the team started its decline due to rather questionable decisions which were met with much dissatisfaction of fans, including the changing of the team’s base colors as well as signing weak foreign talent.

This led to a poor finish in the league during 2005, resulting in relegation, back to the second division. It took them two years to fight their way out of the second division, a time wherein the management changed head coach six times, a clear sign of desperation. It took until the end of 2006 season for the team to get a shot at qualifying again for the first division, which they did successfully. Following this was a period of 4 seasons, all wherein Vissel Kobe finished in the bottom half of the table. In 2012, the team managed to get relegated once again after another 16th place loss.

Last year, the team managed to finish 3rd place in the second division once more, qualifying them for another attempt in the first division in the 2014 season, giving fans hope once more that the team may amount to something worth being a fan of.

First image by 99sportslogos.com

Second image by vissel-kobe.co.jp

post

Ventforet Kofu

Football, or soccer, is the single most popular sport on the face of this planet. However in Land of the Rising Sun, the otherwise popular sport has only managed to take hold over the title as the second most popular sport played in the nation as Japan has taken an even greater liking to the American bat-sport, Baseball.

Regardless, football does have its place among the Japanese and is taken very seriously, so seriously in fact that the Japanese compete at the highest possible international levels and have nationally formed their own leagues. The highest level of soccer in Japan is played in the J-League Divsion 1.

The Ventforet Kofu, is one of the teams competing in the J-League’s premier division, originating in Kofu, located in central Japan, representing it similarly to how many sports teams represent different parts of a nation in other forms of sport. An interesting fact to note is that Kofu is considered a “Special City,” meaning it has a population right around the 200,000 mark and is delegated a subset of the functions of a major city.

The name of the team is quite obviously derived from the French language and has a bit of history to it. The terms the name is made up of are “Vent” and “Foret” which mean “wind” and “forest” respectively. The inspiration behind the club’s name comes from a famous ruler of the area by the name of Shingen Takeda of the Sengoku period. In his time he often had the phrase Fū-rin-ka-zan painted on his banners, which is interpreted as “Swift as the Wind, Silent as a Forest, Fierce as Fire and Immovable as a Mountain.” This phrase represents the values the team tries to embody in their competitive play.

Unfortunately, the Ventforet Kofu aren’t always quite capable of upholding their values. Since joining the J. League Division 2 in 1999 when it was formed, the team has always been in-between the first and second leagues, normally at the top of the first and the bottom of the second. A particularly rough time came right after joining the J. League, until the year of 2001 – in these 2 short years, the team managed to incur a 25 game loss-streak as well as financial difficulties. In the following years, they managed to both get promoted to the first league as well as relegated to the second league numerous times.

First image by nippon-ganbare.com

Second image by sidomi.com

post

Hideki Matsuyama

When one thinks about popular sports, ball-based sports such as football, basketball or even baseball may come to mind immediately. That holds true for Japan as well, with their fascination for western sports dominating the rankings in terms of popularity, the top two being baseball and football. One sport that many often tend to forget about however, is golf – and interestingly enough, said sport is also a strong contender for the number 3 in the list of most popular sport across the Land of the Rising Sun.

Some don’t consider golf as a sport – well those that do have most likely never played a full round of 18 holes themselves or they wouldn’t make such claims. Golf is a more exclusive sport, a fact that also holds true for Japan as the sport is marketed more towards the middled-aged, corporate-class of men. Despite that, Japan has also given birth to some of the most exciting talent on the youth circuit of the sport, as evidenced by none other than Hideki Matsuyama.

Born in 1992, Matsuyama is young enough to be the son of some of the current veteran golf pros, assuming they had started parenthood early enough. He pretty much exploded onto the golf scene out of nowhere, managing to win the Asian Amateur Championship at the tender age of 18, two years below the legal age of alcohol consumption in his home country. Following his surprise victory, Matsuyama was given the chance to compete in the 2011 Masters Tournament, wherein the best of the best across the world compete for one of the major titles in golf. Matsuyama entered the tournament as an amateur, in turn going down in history as the first Japanese amateur to compete in the prestigious event. He put down an incredible performance – and while not winning the tournament as a whole, managed to achieve the lowest score as an amateur across the board, winning the Silver Cup in doing so – rather easily too, as he was the only amateur who made the first round cut, which eliminates all competitors who had not achieved an adequate score, from further competing in the competition.

From there, his golf career just began, followed by a gold medal in the 2011 World University Games and successful defense of his title in the Asian Amateur Championship.

Matsuyama comes from the city of Matsuyama which is the capital of the Ehime Prefecture, both of which in turn are located on the island of Shikoku, a popular tourist destination.

First image by golf.com

Second image by abcnews.go.com

post

Rakuten Golden Eagles

Baseball is a big deal in Japan, there’s no other way to say it. The American sport has been the single most popular sport in the nation for over 3 decades now, trailed by the ever popular sport of soccer. Like many other sports, Baseball is a huge spectator sport, filling stadiums across the country on the regular.

The Rakuten Golden Eagles are one of the teams competing in the nation’s Pacific League, which is one of the two confederations that make up the Nippon Professional Baseball league, of which the winning team will go on to compete against the winners of the Central League to play for the title of league winner.

The Golden Eagles, referred to as simply “Rakuten” by fans, is one of the younger teams to compete in the highest level of national baseball, having made their debut in the first division only about 10 years ago in 2005. Their entry into the Nippon Professional Baseball league came as a result of the merger of two previously existing teams, leaving a void to be filled. This merger was anything but conventional, endangering the structure of the two-league system which has been the status quo for a significantly long time. This resulted in the first-ever Japanese professional baseball player strike until the issue was resolved.

The team is at home in Sendai, located in the Miyagi Prefecture and is owned by the company Rakuten, which dabbles in online shopping and shipping. This is in the Tohoku region, a north-western part of Japan. Their namesake comes from the golden eagles living in the nearby mountaing ranges. The team’s home games are played in the Kleenex Miyagi Stadium, which is located less than two hours away from Tokyo by the means of the high-speed bullet trains. Despite being a somewhat new team in the league, it has been rather impressive so far – in fact, they are the currently reigning champions of the NPB, winning the 2013 finals against the Yomiuri Giants, a formidable opponent. An interesting contrast to the team’s apparent youth was that at the time of joining, they were headed by Katsuya Nomura, who was the oldest manager in the history of Japanese baseball.

Two of the team’s active players, Hisashi Iwakuma and Masahiro Tanaka are currently on transfer to American teams competing in the Major League Baseball competition, the premier grounds if baseball around the world.

First image by japantimes.co.jp

Second image by sportsroadtrips.blogspot.com

post

Shimane Susanoo Magic

An interesting cultural development over time in Japan is its fascination with western sports. Baseball is, of course, the most obvious example of this – after all, Japan is the second best nation in the world at the sport, following only the masters of it, the USA themselves. Football is another western-dominant sport that has taken the spot of being the second most popular sport in the Land of the Rising Sun. The question then remains why Basketball, a sport that Japan’s neighbor, the Philippines, has fallen in love with, gained only a comparatively smaller amount of following in the country.

Regardless of its popularity, Basketball does have its own niche in the Japanese sports industry, and is played nationally at the highest level in the BJ League. Whether the league is deserving of a less unfortunate name is debatable, however it is structured fairly similarly to the world-famous American league, the NBA. There are two conferences, Eastern and Western which then proceed to play in a play-off type tournament.
One of the teams competing in the BJ League is Shimane Susanoo Magic. As the name implies, the team represents the the Shimane Prefecture with their home stadium being in Matsue City. The BJ League itself is rather young, only 10 years old, and the team of Shimane Susanoo Magic joined in 2010, making themselves the first team from the region and prefecture to compete at the highest level of national Basketball.

The team’s name originates in Japanese folklore, the mythical legend of Izumo to be precise. In addition to that comes the word Magic, a reference to the region’s reputation as mythical and birthplace of various folklore myths. Blue, black and silver make up the team’s colors, which are also an ode to its hometown, each color representing a different popular landmark in the region. These all come together in the team’s logo, which is meant to signify a sense of strength and speed, two of the most important attributes for a basketball player.

Interestingly, at a point in time, the team had been under the leadership of head coach Zelkjo Pavlicevic, who had also been the coach for the Japanese team sent to the 2006 Basketball World Championships. Currently however, the team is led by Vlaikidis Vlasios, and isn’t performing as well as they were previously, pulling a record of 11 wins to 41 losses in the 2014-15 season. The team employs a dominant amount of foreign talent, however still does not manage to progress in the league.

First image by 7m.cn

Second image by japantimes.co.jp