Header image from the winner of the 2021-2022 Photo Contest.

One of Japan’s biggest sporting events is undoubtably the All Japan High School Summer Baseball Tournament otherwise known as “Koshien”.

The victors of the 2019 summer Koshien celebrate. Photo by Kyodo News

The tournament, taking place annually in Hyogo, is a two-week affair. Forty Nine teams, each representing their home prefecture (with Hokkaido and Tokyo sending 2 teams each), participate in a single elimination tournament all vying to hoist the championship flag.

The players that aren’t as successful traditionally collect dirt from the field to memorialize the fact that they stood on those hollowed grounds; as this truly is a life-long dream of many young boys across Japan, with many of the biggest names in Japanese baseball being born out of this tournament.

A player collecting dirt after defeat. Photo by Jiji

The tournament is back this year after being canceled in 2020 due to the corona virus. Last year was only the 3rd time in history the tournament was canceled, with the other two times being during WW2. But while the tournament is back this summer, it looks much different from those of years past.

The players stand at attention wearing masks and socially distanced at the opening ceremony on August 10th. Photo by Kyodo News

Normally a sold-out-standing-room-only affair, the stands this year are mostly empty as the general public is not allowed to attend. Each school is allowed to bring a small coalition of staff, students, and player’s family members to the games, though in a lesser number than previous years. Even the schools’ brass bands have been reduced in size. 

The Summer Koshien is usually played in front of packed stands. Photo by Hanshin Koshien

But the virus is affecting more than just fans. Miyazaki commercial high school was forced to withdraw from the tournament after 13 of its members tested positive for corona virus earlier this week. Tohoku Gakuin High School from Miyagi Prefecture also withdrew after one of their players was infected as well.

Miyazaki Commercial High school exits the tournament before even playing a game. Photo by The Yomiuri Shimbun

Nio Kinoshita, captain of the Ishikawa’s Komatsu Ohtani High School and the student selected to give the player’s oath at the opening ceremony, spoke emotionally about the corona virus’ affect on the players themselves.   

Opening Ceremony on August 10th. Photo by Natsuki Nishi

Speaking about how the events of last year greatly impacted the lives of these young students, Kinoshita said “Our school lives and club activities have become totally different to two years ago. … Last year, our senior students broke down crying because their Koshien dream was dashed. … But we did not give up. … We have progressed step by step while being encouraged by our friends’ smiles, enveloped in our families’ deep affection, and inspired by athletes across the world.”

The pandemic isn’t the only thing affecting this years Koshien. Heavy rain has resulted in 6 delayed/postponed games, the highest number in Koshien history.

Heavy rain postpones yet another day of baseball. Photo by Asahi News

Niigata’s representative team, Nihon Bunri, was one of the teams to have their first game postponed. They will take on Fukui’s Tsuruga Kehi tomorrow, August 10th, at 10:30am. 

players from Nihon Bunri practice before their first game. Photo by Nihon Bunri Baseball Club

Nihon Bunri is no stranger to the Koshien’s signature black diamond. This tournament marks their 8th visit to Koshien Stadium. They even made it all the way to the finals in 2009 but just narrowly missed a comeback victory with a 10-9 loss against a team from Aichi. Upon winning the Niigata Baseball tournament and advancing to this year’s summer Koshien, JA awarded the Nihon Bunri team a 100 kg bag of rice. Let’s hope our home grown koshi-hikari can fuel these boys to victory!

The Rice Ceremony. Photo by Nihon Bunri Baseball Club

To date, no team from Niigata, or from Hokuriku in general, has ever been able to win the tournament. Will Nihon Bunri be able to make history, or will they be bringing home dirt?

You can cheer on Niigata’s Nihon Bunri and watch all the games live on NHK or stream them online through Sports Bull.

 

Written by: Kimberly Fitzgerald

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