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Nagoya Chunichi Dragons

The dream of most amatuer baseball players in Japan is to make it to the big leagues and play as a pro – which in Japan happens in the Nippon Professional Baseball League, which in turn is divided into the Central and Pacific leagues. Each league is made up of six teams, allowing there to be a total of 12 professional teams playing at the highest level.

One of the teams participating in the Central League are the Nagoya Chunichi Dragons. As their name implies, the team hails from Nagoya, which is the chief city of Chubu, the center-most region of Japan. The Chunichi Dragons are one of the oldest teams in the league, with their origins going back to 1936 under the name of Nagoya Club. The club changed names five times within 20 years after foundation before becoming the Dragons they are known as today. Coincidentally, the team won their first Japan Series Championship in the year they chose the name, cementing it for permanent use.

The Japan Series Championship is the single most coveted title in the scope of professional Japanese baseball, as in order to qualify it one must first win their respective Pacific or Central leagues. The two winners of said leagues compete in a best of 7 competition to determine the All Japan champion. The Dragons won this the first time in 1954 and it took them just over 50 years to repeat that feat, managing to do so once more in 2007. Prior to that they did manage to win the Central league on six occasions, but in the instances they did, they fell short in beating the winning team of the Pacific circuit. In taking 53 years to win the All Japan title again, the Dragons actually managed to set a record of longest time in between such victories – perhaps not the most crowning achievement of such a club. Their 2007 win was actually even more impressive due to new play-off rules, meaning the Dragons first had to beat the second or third place of the Pacific League prior to facing the Central League winners.

Image by kosukefukudomefan.blogspot.com

 

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Orix Buffaloes

The Orix Buffaloes are one of the older teams that compete today in the highest level of baseball in the country wherein baseball is one of the most important forms of sport. Japan is the country which loves baseball the most, reflected in the statistics which indicate that the American ball and bat sport has been firmly cemented as the most popular sport in the Land of the Rising Sun.

 

Baseball in Japan is serious business and is played at the highest level in the Nippon Professional Baseball league, segmented into a Pacific and Central league, separated depending on the home location of each team, which will then battle it out to find the All Japan champion.

Interestingly enough, the Orix Buffaloes aren’t like many other teams, which are noteworthy for their extraordinary performances and repeat wins of titles – quite the contrary, as the Buffaloes are more known for the ability to lose instead of win. Founded in 1950, the team has managed to set one of the most single impressive achievements in professional baseball, in the form of 103 consecutive losses between 1950 and 1968. Given the average length of the NPB pro league, this streak would have spanned several years before being broken. Due to the team’s lack of success, the team has been struggling to maintain a solid fanbase, making its life all the less useful. Attendance was at an all time low just prior to the millenia.

Unlike some other baseball teams, the Orix Buffaloes also struggle financially. One of the most shown examples in regards to this is the fact that that the Buffaloes is also known to be stingy with their money and subsequently overworking players, resulting in frequent roster swaps and other teams offering more money to the Buffaloes’ rising stars, leading them to leave the club in pursuit of money.

Orix Buffaloes managed to overcome their financial difficulties when they actually took the name of Orix, signifying the merger with the company as the team had priory been owned by  BlueWave. However, the team still suffers in points and the team’s home court only accommodates up to a small amount of players.

Image by behance.net

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2014 Japan Grand Prix Disaster

The Japanese Grand Prix is one of the stops the Formula 1 racing circuit makes in Asia along its international tour each season. The event is ordinarily hosted at the Suzuka Circuit in the city of the same name located in the Mie Prefecture. In a regular season, the Japanese Grand Prix is often one of much excitement and intensity as the circuit has a long stretch of straight road allowing for speedy overtaking manoeuvres and a rapid series of curves to test the ability of all competitors.

 

The 2014 race at the Suzuka Circuit wasn’t as joyful of an occasion as fans have come to expect it to be. Instead, it was overshadowed by the severe injury of Jules Bianchi, a competitor hailing from France, driving for the Marussia F1 team.

 

His injury is the most severe one to have happened since Felipe Massa’s head injury from 2009. The circumstance surrounding Bianchi’s crash is fairly unlucky and highlights the danger of the sport – he crashed into a recovery truck which had been on the track in order to recover a stranded Sauber car.

The Suzuka Circuit team extracted Bianchi from his car unconscious and immediately moved him to the Mie General Hospital wherein the received immediate treatment. According to the officers in charge at the hospital, their CT scan revealed severe damage done to his head, with his chances of recovery being unknown as of the moment. His family released a statement hoping for the best, but nothing is certain for now.

The accident stopped the race and the winners’ celebration on the podium was very much muted with all his fellow drivers being concerned more with his health than their success. The winners merely clinked their champagne bottles and immediately left to support their colleague and his family in this trying time.

Bianchi is a graduate from a young driver’s academy ran by the illustrious Ferrari brand and is the first ever driver to score points in the F1 for the Marussia team. Despite his young age he had already made a name for himself and experts placed his as one of the best drivers in the near future.

Image by express.co.uk

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The Women’s National Football Team of Japan

Football, or soccer in some parts of the world, is the single most popular sport across the globe. Interestingly enough, the sport has not quite managed to also reign in the number one spot in Japan in terms of popularity, trailing in second place behind the even locally more popular sport of Baseball. Regardless, Japan has taken a great liking to the sport and is widely considered as one of the top asian teams – for both the male and female sides of the sport.

In Japan, sports are generally a mixed gender affair, as in, both men and women partake in most sports. Of course, there are some sports that women seem to hold very little interest in, including Sumo wrestling among others, but the ones that are popular among the fairer gender do hold serious competitions. Football is one of the sports that the women of Japan have taken a liking to, as evidenced by the success of the Japan Women’s National Football Team.

The team features the very best of Japan’s female soccer players and has history dating all the way back to the 1970s, wherein the country saw an influx of women wanting to play in organized teams. Quickly regional leagues were established and the first Japanese women’s international team was established in 1981 with players selected from some of the regional leagues. Only a few years later in 1986 did the first “All Japan” women’s football team form, spearheaded by their coach Ryohei Suzuki. Unlike the very first version of the team, this one was nationally recognized as having players from all leagues of Japan, and the team made its international debut in a game against Indonesia, coincidentally also suffering its first loss.

Due to the formation of the team and its international acknowledgement, football gained significant momentum throughout the Land of the Rising Sun, especially among the female demographic. A few short years following the formation of the team, the Japan Women’s Football League, or L.League for short, was established as the highest form of national competition for the professional female football players of the nation.

It’s worth noting that Japanese women have been more and more involved in previously male-dominated sports. This is certainly a mark of modernization, with Japanese women no longer seen as simply subservient to men; women have come a long way in Japan, especially since the government apologized and atoned for war atrocities such as the Japan comfort women in the early 1990s.

An interesting point to note is that the Japanese Women’s National Football Team has been more internationally successful than its male counterpart team. The team managed to win the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup held in Germany by defeating the USA Team in a penalty shootout, making the Japanese women the first Asian team to have won a world cup title.

First image by soccer.fakesigi.com

Second image by ilsussidiario.net

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Cerezo Osaka

There are many popular forms of sport played in Japan – and since the Japanese are all about ranking this by popularity (as seen with TV series and manga/anime), they have also ranked their sports and do so on a regular basis. Interestingly enough, association football is not the most popular sport in Japan, despite being the most popular sport across the world by far. In Japan, football has taken foothold as second place behind baseball, trailing behind closely.

 

Highest level football in the Land of the Rising Sun is played in the J. League, specifically its Division 1. One of the teams competing in said division is Cerezo Osaka, which as their name implies, hails from Osaka. Their logo features a pink flower – appropriate, given that Cerezo is also the name of the Flower of Osaka.

The team is 57 years old and plays its sport at a variety of different venues. Most of its home games are played the Nagai Ball Gall Field, with the bigger games such as its derby, being held in the Nagai Stadium instead due to a higher seating capacity.

Historically, Cerezo Osaka’s performance has been somewhat shaky, plagued with a variety of ups and downs. In 1995 the team managed to get promoted into the Division 1, also managing to reach the finals of the prestigious Emperor’s Cup. Six years later in 2001, the team finished last and got relegated to the second division, followed by promotion after only one season in the lower league.

2005 was arguably the most intense year to date as a Cerezo Osaka fan. The team stood in line to win the J. League Division 1 title, playing their last match against F.C. Tokyo, only for Tokyo to equalize in the last minute and force a draw. Given the state of standings at the time, Cerezo Osaka was tied with a variety of other teams for the lead and unfortunately ended up as 5th place due to a bunch of last-minute goals being scored in the final matches around the country.

Since then, the team has been demoted and subsequently promoted a further two times, and most recently managed to draw the prolific Manchester United team to a 2-2 draw in an exhibition match.

Image by wikipedia.org

 

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Isao Aoki

Many sports that stem from the west have found another home in Asia’s industry through Japan and the nation’s fascination of many foreign activities, including, in this case, the art of golfing. Culturally, the Japanese prioritize a variety of values, many of which are embodied in the sport of golf, as seen through the high popularity the sport enjoys among the middle aged adults. Values such as patience, precision, persistence, power and passion are all required to be excel in the sport of golf, many of which are historically integral to success in Japanese history – which are also responsible for Golf in Japan being played differently to the rest of the world.

The country has given birth to quite a few different successful names in the industry, especially in the youth circuits, with there having been quite a few Japanese pro golfers that have virtually exploded onto the professional golf scene – well, exploded as much as possible in a sport such as golf, wherein experience is one of the most valuable assets to have, and talent alone does not gain victories.

Isao Aoki is one of the older names that has made its ways around the professional circles, representing Japan for a fairly long amount of time. He is, in fact, one of the single most successful golfers to have ever come out of Japan. Born in 1942, his introduction to golf was as a caddy himself in his time as a schoolboy to earn some extra pocket money. At the age of 22 he became a pro and would turn out to be one of the most celebrated names of the Japan Golf Tour, winning over 50 events over the span of his career. For five years in his career he also topped the Japan Golf Tour Money list, with a total estimated earnings of almost 1 billion Japanese Yen, which at the time was worth even more than it would be today. Aoki also saw a bit of international success, bagging a win in the PGA and European Tours each, as well as numerous Champion Tour wins. He even represented Japan in the Champions Tour playoffs, with limited success.

Image by zimbio.com

 

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Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters

The Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters have one of most amusing names in the world of professional baseball. They compete in the Pacific League, which is makes up half of the Nippon Professional Baseball league along with the Central League. The team hails from Hokkaido, Sapporo, where they also play most of their home games in the Sapporo Dome stadium. Some of their home games they host in different stadiums across Hokkaido in order to offer fans living in different parts of the prefecture a chance to see them in action.

“Nippon Ham” is the name of the team’s major owner, one of the largest food processing companies in Japan, something fans of opposing teams like to joke about as it is a rather peculiar name for pro baseball team.

Aside from that, the Fighters are one of the oldest teams around, established in 1946 in Tokyo, right after World War II saw its violent end. Since its establishment, the Fighters have won the Japan Series two times, once in 1962 and once in 2006, which is a significant amount of time in between wins. One of the few teams that has taken even longer to repeat a victory of the kind are the Chunichi Dragons, which took over 50 years to reclaim the title.

The Fighters name might be quite appropriate for the team however. The team is not unused to struggle and overcoming difficulties, facing difficulties  In the mid 90s, the team was consistently scarping the bottom of the ladders, despite putting out some great domestic talents, which would leave the club as soon as they got a better offer from a competitor. In the early 2000s, the team faced struggles to fill stands due to changes in rosters, management and general lack of success. It wasn’t until the Fighters picked up a rising star pitcher. Coupled with intelligent marketing and promotions, including dirt cheap tickets and beer, creating a significant rise in popularity. In 2005, the fighters managed to break the 1 million mark of ticket sales, becoming a major name in people’s minds again.

Currently, the Fighters have two of their players competing in the mecca of baseball, the MLB in the United States. The team is currently managed by Hideki Kuriyama

Image by ootpdevelopments.com

 

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Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks

The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks are one of the twelve baseball teams that compete at the highest attainable level in Japan, the Nippon Professional Baseball league. In the NPB, the SoftBank Hawks participate in the Pacific League, which represents half of the NPB with teams from similar demographic locations battling it out to be the best, similar to how the American NBA has an Eastern and Western confederation.

Prior to being known as the SoftBank Hawks, the team was known as the Nankai Hawks. As the name implies, the team hails from Fukuoka, despite originally being from Osaka. However the team previously representing Fukuoka, the Lions, moved away from the region which allowed the Hawks to fill the gap. Before changing names to SoftBank, the Nankai Hawks won the Pacific League three times, not overly underwhelming given that the team is significantly younger than many others in the field, not becoming the SoftBank Hawks until 2005 when the previous owners had to sell their 60% stake in the team due to financial reasons. This sale made the team one of the richest in the league, however didn’t guarantee immediate success.

As the SoftBank Hawks, the team’s most impressive success so far has been to win the 2011 Japan Series. The Japan Series is a competition to determine the best team in Japan, by pitting the winners of the Central and Pacific leagues against each other in an epic best of 7 match – which the Hawks won in that year, putting them on everyone’s radar again. They were really impressive.

The club went into heavy criticism in the early 2000s due to controversial instructions given by the club’s manager, Sadaharu Oh. During this time, strong foreign talent was being drafted into Japan to play in the NPB, two of which came extremely close to beating the all time league record of most home runs scored in a season. The record holder, Oh himself, gave unethical instructions to his players to prevent the opposing team’s foreign players from breaking the record, compromising the integrity of the sport, resulting in heavy media and professional criticism of the club.

Image by japantimes.co.jp

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Omiya Ardija

The J. League Division 1 is the highest attainable level to play football at in Japan. Filled by 18 teams, the league is likely the most exciting one to follow in Asia due to its highly competitive nature and somewhat balanced teams – every team has been relegated at some point as a rule of thumb, not something many other leagues across the globe can say for themselves.

 

Relegation in itself is an interesting thing in Japan – most teams which I have covered have an interesting history of being relegated and promoted on a somewhat regular basis, giving a feeling of every season really being hit-or-miss for Japanese football teams.

 

Omiya Ardija is one of the teams competing in the J. League Division 1 and actually doesn’t have that much of a relegation history. In 2004, ten years ago, the team was promoted from J. League Division 2 into Division 1 and have managed to stay in the division ever since then, a feat not all that many teams can brag about. Previous winners of the league have managed to get themselves relegated only one or two seasons following their success.

The team is based in Omiya-Ku, Saitama. Interestingly enough, The J. League considers all of “Saitama” the team’s hometown, which they share along with Urawa Red Diamonds, another team that competes in their league. Given the geographic sharing of territory, both Omiya Ardija and the Red Diamonds consider each other bitter rivals, with the games between them referred to as the Saitama Derby. The team’s logo features a squirrel, which quickly became their nickname – the Omiya Squirrels. They play their home games in the Nack5 Stadium Omiya, which is definitely one of the smaller ones around, capable of only housing around 15,000 spectators.

In the previous (2013) season, the club finished at an overall 13th place, which isn’t the relegation zone yet, but getting close to it. Whether the team remains as one of the longest non-relegated teams is yet to be determined, but if there is one thing for sure is that their course throughout the J. League 1 is one of the most entertaining to watch.

 

Image by soccerway.com