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Shohei Ohtani and Japan: It is way more than simply baseball

TOKYO (AP) — He’d paid about $80 for his ticket. He wore a Japan cap above a blue Los Angeles Angels jersey. And as he enthused about the sensation that is Shohei Ohtani, baseball fan Hotaru Shiromizo was talking about far more than sports.Shiromizu, 23, was part of the quilt of thousands of colorfully dressed

Shohei Ohtani and Japan: It is way more than simply baseball

TOKYO (AP) — He’d paid about $80 for his ticket. He wore a Japan cap above a blue Los Angeles Angels jersey. And as he enthused concerning the sensation that’s Shohei Ohtani, baseball fan Hotaru Shiromizo was speaking about way over sports activities.

Shiromizu, 23, was a part of the quilt of 1000’s of colorfully dressed followers exterior the Tokyo Dome on Thursday afternoon. They paced, they camped out, and so they mentioned their hopes of seeing Ohtani pitch — and hit — towards China in Japan’s opening sport within the World Baseball Basic.

“He’s a legendary participant, however he’s greater than only a good participant,” Shiromizu stated, utilizing his translator app to assist make clear a number of ideas in English. “His aspirations — his achievements — have had a optimistic affect on all Japanese individuals.”

He added: “All the children need to be like Ohtani.”

Today, Japanese tradition and politics really feel extra tenuous than a number of a long time in the past. The economic system is stagnant. The birthrate is among the many world’s lowest. A former prime minister was assassinated a number of months in the past on the road. And regardless of the “Cool Japan” picture overseas, the nation faces uncertainty on many fronts, a corruption scandal surrounding the pandemic-delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and an enormous Asian rival in neighboring China.

For a lot of, Ohtani is the antidote.


He does issues fashionable gamers don’t do. He’s a throwback who pitches, bats and may play within the discipline. Many name him the best participant within the main leagues. If that’s the case, then he’s higher than Individuals — Latin Individuals, too — at what they take into account their very own sport.

He’s the end result — to date, no less than — of an evolution in Japanese baseball that started when the sport was launched to the nation in 1872 by an American professor. And his fame has now surpassed that of players like Ichiro Suzuki and Hideo Nomo, who got here earlier than him.

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One in all them might hit very well. One might pitch the identical manner. However Ohtani? He does each, and with extra energy — on the pitcher’s mound and at bat — than both Ichiro or Nomo.

“I suppose the idolization of Ohtani in Japan displays its personal inferiority complicated vis a vis the fatherland of baseball that’s the U.S.,” stated Koichi Nakano, who teaches politics and tradition in Tokyo at Sophia College.

“Baseball is so main right here, however it has lengthy been stated that Japanese baseball, known as yakyu, is completely different from `actual’ baseball in America. Books have been written and revealed on the subject,” Nakano stated. “So every time the place there’s a Japanese `export’ that was massively profitable in MLB, the Japanese are enthralled.”

The wait to see Ohtani play once more in Japan can be driving the excitement round him — and the sellouts on the Tokyo Dome.

It had been virtually 2,000 days since Ohtani performed his final inning in Japan on Oct. 9, 2017, for the Nippon Ham-Fighters earlier than leaving for California. That look drought resulted in a observe sport on Monday when Ohtani hit a pair of three-run homers off the Hanshin Tigers.

Keiichiro Shiotsuka, a businessman ready exterior the stadium, known as Ohtani “a treasure of Japan.”

“I don’t know if such a participant like him will ever exist sooner or later, so I’m completely satisfied he’s now enjoying in Japan,” he stated.


Atop all of the expertise, Ohtani has a sterling popularity. No scandals. No tabloid tales about his social life. He’s overflowing with $20 million in endorsements, greater than every other main leaguer. And he might signal the biggest contract in baseball historical past — the quantity $500 million has been kicked round — when he turns into a free agent after this season.

“He’s very genuine,” stated Masako Yamamoto, standing in a ticket line exterior the Tokyo Dome together with her 12-year-old son Shutaro and different members of the family. Going through her was a pulsating billboard with Ohtani’s picture flashing.

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“As a human, he’s well mannered and really charming and good to individuals,” she stated. “He’s particular. His persona is so even. He appears to make the ambiance.”

Ohtani got here out of Japan’s regimented baseball system at Hanamaki Higashi Excessive College in largely rural Iwate prefecture in northeastern Japan. Blue Jays pitcher Yusei Kikuchi attended the identical highschool a number of years earlier. The military-like system has its critics, however Ohtani is making it look good.

“Ohtani was raised on this Japanese, martial arts-inspired coaching system the place you be part of a baseball crew and also you play year-round,” Robert Whiting, who has written a number of books on Japanese baseball and lived right here on and off for 60 years, stated in an interview final 12 months with The Related Press.

“Ichiro, in his first 12 months in highschool was in all probability the perfect participant on the crew, however he couldn’t play. He needed to do the laundry and prepare dinner the meals. He’d stand up in the course of evening and observe his swing,” Whiting stated. “The identical factor with Ohtani. He was cleansing bogs in highschool throughout his first 12 months.”

Ohtani is the polar reverse of Ichiro, who had an edge. The Japanese phrase “deru kugi wa utareru’” captures Ichiro: “The nail that sticks up will get hammered down.”

In explaining how baseball took root in Japan, Whiting and others have pointed to the significance of a sport in 1896 in Yokohama between Japanese and Individuals. Japan received 29-4, and lots of the gamers have been from Samurai households.

The consequence was front-page information in Japan. The victory is believed to have given Japan confidence because it was modernizing, popping out of centuries of isolation, and confirmed it might compete towards the industrially superior West.

On Thursday evening, so a few years later, Japan bought itself extra front-page baseball information. Ohtani allowed one hit within the 4 innings he pitched and struck out 5, ending up because the profitable pitcher in an 8-1 Japan victory. He additionally doubled off the left discipline wall within the fourth to attain two. So followers like Shiromizu bought what they got here for — Ohtani pitching, hitting and never disappointing the 41,616 who confirmed up.

“Ohtani is the most recent of those idols, however he could be even larger than any earlier than him,” stated Nakano, the political scientist. He famous that solely Ohtani hits and pitches each — similar to the old-timers used to, which provides him a singular profile. “He’s ‘Made in Japan,’ however extra actual now than America gamers.”

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Video journalist Koji Ueda contributed to this report. Comply with Japan-based AP sports activities author Stephen Wade on Twitter at


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