Baseball is one of the popular sports in Japan. Especially, the Tokyo Big6 University Baseball League has a long history, and when we think about the origins of Japanese baseball, we realize what an important role the Big6 League played in the early 20th century. It began with the first match between Waseda University and Keio University in 1903. And the first “tournament-style” competition was held among Waseda, Keio and Meiji in 1914. And 1926 saw the completion of Jingu Stadium in Tokyo, which since then has been a sacred ground for the Big6 League.
When we look at the history of Japanese professional baseball, we will notice the present-day Yomiuri Giants team was founded in 1934, and the current competition style of professional teams, which we Japanese call a “pennant race”, started in 1936, with the foundation of the forerunner of the current Nippon Professional Baseball Organization (NPB).
So now you understand that the Tokyo Big6 League is as old as (or even older than) the Japanese professional baseball. Maybe it can be said that Japanese baseball started with the birth of the Big6 League, which currently competes two times a year, in the spring and fall, at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium. Although a professional baseball team, the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, plays at Jingu Stadium, for many people the stadium is more closely associated with the Big6 League. Actually the Japanese imperial family once visited Jingu Stadium to watch a game between Waseda University and Keio University in the spring of 1994.
I myself visited Jingu Stadium on a hot day in mid-May. A friend and I walked a few minutes from Gaiemmae Station to Jingu Stadium to see a game between Waseda and Rikkyo in the sixth week of the Tokyo Big6 University Baseball Spring Championship. The stadium was crowded with people and full of shops, and we paid the 1,500 yen admission fee. The number of spectators seemed large for a student competition; even at this stage of the championship, it was still unclear which one would win. Rikkyo appeared to have the strongest team, and Keio had the second best. Some people also thought Waseda would win.
When we were seated among the students of Waseda University behind the protective net behind the home plate, we noticed a familiar figure just several meters away from us. It was Takeshi Okamura, the former head coach of the Waseda baseball team, who was replaced by the current head coach, Hiroshi Takahashi, in January 2015. Okamura’s presence added extra significance and made it a game they were not allowed to lose.
Photographs: taken at Jingu Stadium in Tokyo,
by Koji Ikuma, with Fuji X-T1 & Hexanon 50mmF1.7