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Origins of Baseball in Japan

Discussion in the Pro Yakyu History forum
Origins of Baseball in Japan
One question that has come up a number of times, here and via e-mail, is "When was the first baseball game in Japan?" Or something to that effect. My answer is usually, "I can't find my 'Wa' right now, but you should check it out of your local library."

Well, I have my copy of "Wa" with me now, so let me quote from the leading source on the matter, Robert Whiting:

Baseball in Japan can be traced back to the early days of the Meiji Era (1867-1912), when a young American named Horace Wilson, teaching history and English at Tokyo's Kaisei Gakko, handed his students a ball and a bat and introduced them to the fundamentals of America's new national pastime.

Albert Bates, another American teacher at Kaitaku University in Tokyo, is said to have organized the first formal game in 1873, while Hiroshi Hiraoka, a railway engineer who had become an ardent Red Sox fan as a student in Boston, established Japan's first team, the Shimbashi Athletic Club Athletics, in 1878. His players were railway engineers, station workers, and foreign technicians who used makeshift gloves and ran the bases wearing geta (wooden sandals).

You Gotta Have Wa, 1989, Robert Whiting, Vintage Books, page 27, ISBN 0-679-72947-X.

Researchers, "Wa" is the place to start, as well as these other books.

Back on topic, though. I think I remember reading somewhere that Whiting's history of the first game had been challenged. But I don't remember the details. Has anybody else seen such a thing?

Re: Origins of Baseball in Japan
[ Author: torakichi | Posted: Oct 9, 2002 10:51 AM | HT Fan ]

I'm not sure whether this involves the very origins of the Japanese game, but I found it to be interesting nonetheless.

One of the 2002 All Star games was held at Botchan Stadium in Matsuyama. At that time, a man known as Koki Tadaoka (1867-1902) who hailed from Matsuyama was inducted into the Japanese baseball Hall of Fame.

The story told on television was to the effect that Tadaoka, a poet among other things, was one of the pioneers of yakyu. Most importantly, they said, he helped to spread the game among the people. If I remember correctly, they said that this guy first coined the term "yakyu."

Many of his poems were about baseball, and the prose was always signed "Nobooru" (a take on the common boys' name Noboru) using the kanji characters for "yakyu". The first character (which means field or meadow), "ya," can also be read "no"; the second character, "kyu," means ball, the Japanese pronunciation of which is "booru." Therefore yakyu=nobooru=Noboru (a popular name for boys, as I mentioned earlier).

The TV stories went into a lot more detail, and I've forgotten most of it, but there appears to be a good amount of information available in Japanese on the net.
Koki Tadaoka
[ Author: westbaystars | Posted: Oct 9, 2002 2:14 PM | YBS Fan ]

That was such a great story, I spent my lunch hour looking for some of those references on the Net. A quick Google search (in Japanese) revealed quite a few links. From the first page, there were three that really stood out:

- News of the cerimony on the JPBPA site
- A human special story on Tadaoka from Mainichi Interactive
- A documentary on Ahime-ken on TBS with a segment featuring Tadaoka.

And like I said, there are many more (all in Japanese). If any of you students out there are interested in learning Japanese, and love baseball, these could make for some interesting self-lessons in Kanji and culture.

Thanks Torakichi-san for that great story.
Re: Origins of Baseball in Japan
[ Author: pbourgo | Posted: Apr 14, 2015 6:19 PM | HAN Fan ]

I realize that this is an old thread, but I just need to add this.

I believe that the person referred to in the above post is Masaoka Shiki (正岡 子規) the famous haiku poet, not Tadaoka Koki. I think that there was a mistake in translating his name into English. His pen name was Masaoka Noboru (正岡 升).
Re: Origins of Baseball in Japan
[ Author: Guest: Robert Whiting | Posted: Oct 10, 2002 11:17 AM ]


An article written by Akio Nikaido in the Mainichi Shimbun on May 7, 2000, cited a claim by private baseball historian named Masanori Hirota that the first baseball game was played September 30, 1871 -- between foreign residents living in Yokohama and the crew of the U.S. battleship Colorado.

Hope this helps.

Bob Whiting

This is a site about Pro Yakyu (Japanese Baseball), not about who the next player to go over to MLB is. It's a community of Pro Yakyu fans who have come together to share their knowledge and opinions with the world. It's a place to follow teams and individuals playing baseball in Japan (and Asia), and to learn about Japanese (and Asian) culture through baseball.

It is my sincere hope that once you learn a bit about what we're about here that you will join the community of contributors.

Michael Westbay
(aka westbaystars)

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