High school baseball is really, really popular in Japan. It’s not just that lots of boys play it, although that’s certainly true; the annual national competitions are televised live, and are often the main news items while they are happening. There are two, one in spring and one in summer, and the summer one is, I believe, the main one. This year’s has just finished.
The competitions are held at Koshien (ç”²ååœ’), a place near Osaka. One team represents each prefecture, so before the main contest there are competitions in each prefecture to choose the team that will go to Koshien. Just going is a difficult goal for many high schools.
There are a number of private high schools, and a few state ones, with famous baseball clubs. They recruit from all over the country, with baseball scholarships, to build the strongest team possible. Indeed, a couple of months ago some of them got in trouble for being a bit too enthusiastic, and breaking the rules limiting what they are allowed to do. It’s very competitive, and one of these schools nearly always wins. Naturally, as they draw from across the country, they are mostly located in the major metropolitan areas. Waseda High School, in Tokyo, is one such, and they won last year.
This has led to popular manga featuring the tournament. The plot is as follows. A completely ordinary state high school somewhere out in the sticks (Tohoku, Shikoku, Kyushu) puts a baseball team together under difficult conditions (no proper club house, for example), and wins its way to Koshien. At the main tournament, they have to fight hard through all the rounds, but make it to the final. In the final, against a very strong school, they go three points behind. In the bottom of the ninth innings, the main character hits a home run with all the bases loaded, gaining them four points at once and meaning that they win Koshien.
This year, North Saga High School, a perfectly ordinary state high school from northern Kyushu, where the baseball club uses a shipping container as a storeroom, won Koshien after being three points behind in the final. In the bottom of the eighth innings, one player hit a home run with the bases loaded, so they won when they got the other team out for nothing in ninth.
As you might expect, such a storybook ending made the news in a big way.