What is Koshien? High School Baseball in Japan Summer 2023

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If you are living in or visiting Japan, you may have heard the word ‘Koshien’ either on TV, other media or in conversation. But what actually is Koshien? Koshien is a baseball tournament held every spring and summer in Japan and is very popular among Japanese people because of how competitive and exciting it is. However, unlike other traditional events in Japan, not too many people worldwide actually know about it. In this article we would like to dig into what Koshien is, its history, and how you can watch it this summer!  

What is Koshien?

Koshien is short for the name of a baseball stadium called the Hanshin Koshien Stadium in Hyogo prefecture, which is where the Hanshin Tigers (professional baseball team) play. However, when many people say the word ‘Koshien’ they are talking about the nationwide high school baseball tournament that takes place in the spring and summer at the Koshien Stadium biannually. Both tournaments are very popular, with up to about 50,000 spectators watching in person as well as a live broadcast of every game on Japanese TV and on the radio. Let’s have a look at how the Koshien tournaments are organized and why they are so popular in Japan. 

Kentaro Iemoto, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In the spring, 32 high school baseball teams that had a good record or played well in several regional tournaments in the previous fall season are invited to join the National High School Baseball Invitational Tournament, known as the Spring Koshien. The teams for the Spring Koshien tournament are carefully selected by the Japan High School Baseball Federation and the Mainichi Newspaper, the organizers and the sponsors of the tournament. In the summer, around 3,500 high school baseball teams in Japan compete in their prefectural tournament, and the winners in each prefecture (49 teams total) are invited to the National High School Baseball Championship, known as the Summer Koshien tournament. On a side note, while Japan has 47 prefectures, Tokyo and Hokkaido are divided into two regions for the prefectural tournaments because they are too big and have too many teams for one tournament, making for 49 teams total that qualify for the Summer Koshien. 

The Summer Koshien tournament is the last chance for the third year students (last year of high school in Japan) to shine and is the biggest and most sought after nationwide tournament every year. The tournament is single game elimination, meaning the losing team of every game in each prefectural tournament is out, which is one of the main reasons it is such an exciting and thrilling tournament for both players and viewers.  

The History of Koshien

DX Broadrec, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The National High School Baseball Championship, which is now called the Summer Koshien tournament, started over 100 years ago in 1915. At the time, the tournament was held in other baseball parks and stadiums and was not called ‘Summer Koshien’. When the tournament started to become popular, the committee advocated for the need of a new stadium to accommodate the increasing number of spectators. The Hanshin Electric Railway Company proposed the concept of urbanizing the area along the railroad line, which would mean developing the north side of the main line as a residential area and the south side as an amusement park and sports center. The Hanshin Koshien Stadium was built as part of the development project along the railroad line in 1924, and thereafter was used for the National High School Baseball Championship (the Summer Koshien). Later on, the Spring Koshien was added, and while the tournaments have been canceled several times over the years due to things like WW2, COVID-19, etc, this year marks the 94th Spring Koshien and the 104th Summer Koshien. 

Famous Past Players

Keith Allison, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons (Hideki Matsui)

In the past, there have been a number of players who have gone on to play professional baseball both in the Nippon Professional Baseball league as well as overseas in America as Major League Baseball players. To name a few, Daisuke Matsuzaka who won his team a championship, Hideki Matsui, Ichiro Suzuki, Masahiro Tanaka, Yu Darvish, and Shohei Ohtani all took their teams to the tournament in their high school days. 

Koshien Traditions

As one of the most historical sports events in Japan, Koshien has many traditions that have developed among players and fans over the years. Let’s look at a few of these traditions!

Koshien Stadium Dirt

DX Broadrec, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

After every Koshien game, the losing team and their players each rake up a handful of dirt from the field and put it in a bag to take home with them. This became a tradition starting in the 1949 tournament after one losing pitcher crouched down in disappointment and unintentionally put some of the soil from the field into his pocket. This quickly spread, with many teams throughout the country following suit. This custom is especially seen in the summer tournament because the third year players will never have another chance to play in the tournament again. This now legendary tradition of taking dirt from the sacred Koshien stadium is a commemoration of having had the honor of participating in the tournament. 

The ‘Alps Stands’ Cheering Section

DX Broadrec, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Another big tradition is cheering on each school’s team in the sections on the first and third base side of the field that are called the ‘Alps Stands’. These seats are on a steep slope, and each team has their fan base on one side or the other. The school’s baseball players who didn’t make the first team, brass band members, cheerleaders, other students, and alumni of each school all play a central role in cheering on the players. Each school has their own song or anthem that everyone in the stands cheer along to, as well as a song for each player when they are up at bat, among other cheers. This passion and wholehearted spirit motivates the players to play their best and is one of the highlights of every tournament.  

Who To Keep An Eye On This Summer (2023)

This year’s tournament will be held from Saturday, August 6 to Monday, August 22 at the Hanshin Koshien Stadium. Every year there are a few teams that lead the pack and tend to stand out. In this year’s tournament, there are a few players and teams you should know about. 

Chiben Gakuen (Nara Prefecture)

Dominating the Spring Kinki Tournament’s summit and capitalizing on that triumphant momentum as they transition seamlessly into the revered Koshien is none other than Chiben Gakuen, representing Nara Prefecture. Noted for its impressive track record of nurturing exceptional talent, including the likes of Kazuma Okamoto, who delivered a game-changing home run in the 2023 WBC matchup against the United States, Chiben Gakuen has firmly established itself as a leading school of promising athletes.

In this year’s Nara Prefecture tournament, they executed a strategic one-shot offensive approach to perfection, notching up an impressive tally of 12 home runs, a feat that matches the team record and stands as the highest in the entire tournament. Embracing the upcoming summer journey with a resolute determination to overturn their setback from two years ago in the Koshien finals, Chiben Gakuen sets the stage for a compelling narrative of redemption and advancement.

First Base Rintaro Sasaki (Hanamaki Higashi High School, Iwate Prefecture)

Rintaro Sasaki is the first baseman for Hanamaki Higashi High School, where his father serves as the coach. Big talent such as Shohei Ohtani of the Angels and Yusei Kikuchi of the Blue Jays are graduates of this school as well. During his junior high school years, he played for Kanegasaki Senior, under the coaching of Shohei Ohtani’s father.

His appeal stems not only from his remarkably advanced power for a high school student, but also from his ability to hit to all parts of the field. Undoubtedly, he is a top candidate for an early selection in the draft, and he is likely to hit some dingers at Koshien as well. His total of 140 home runs in high school ranks as the all-time highest.

How To Watch The Koshien Tournament

If you are living in or visiting Japan this August, and have the time and money to spare, it could be a lot of fun to catch a high school game at Koshien Stadium. The atmosphere in the Alps Stands is especially incredible. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes to get to the stadium from Osaka Umeda Station on the Hanshin Main Line, and tickets will cost you anywhere from 1,000 to 4,200 yen per adult depending on where you want to sit. You will have to buy tickets in advance (can’t be purchased at the stadium), so we recommend purchasing them through either Ticket Pia or on the Koshien Ticket Store site (both in Japanese only).

For those who won’t have the chance to go see a game in person, you can see the games on TV in Japan. TV Asahi broadcasts all the games and related programs, so be sure not to miss this once a year tournament!

As one of the most popular sports events in all of Japan, Koshien attracts many people every spring and summer. We hope you have the chance to go to either a game or watch the Koshien tournament from home. This year’s Summer Koshien is sure to be another exciting tournament! 

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Shota Yasuraoka was born in Tokyo Japan, and lived in Indonesia and Kyoto in his childhood due to his father’s job. In the fall of 2022, he is off to a US university to broaden his global perspective while studying Computer Science. He loves traveling and working on his English skills.

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