Home Page

Baseball Analysis Home   the japanese insider

Japanese Baseball Primer

the japanese insider page gives access to all our stuff (daily game summaries, stats and analysis) as well as numerous links to Japanese baseball. This "Introduction to Japanese Baseball" was written collaberatively by our Japanese gurus: Jim Albright (stats and japanese baseball history guru) and Gary Garland (news and all around japanese baseball guru) and edited by Craig Tomarkin.

*   *   *

Fans in the U.S. would have no trouble recognizing baseball in Japan. There are two six teams leagues, the Central and the Pacific forming the Nippon Professional Baseball League (NPB). The Pacific League uses a DH, while the Central League does not. The winner of each league meets in the Japan Series to determine the champion.

A Very Brief History

Japanese professional baseball as we think of it, began in 1937 with one league of eight teams. The first two years were divided into spring and fall seasons. In 1950, the league expanded to fourteen teams and was divided into two leagues with some teams from the original league going to each new league.  

Several teams have changed their nicknames over the years. The Bay Stars were once the Whales, the Swallows started out with that name, changed to Atoms (from 1966 to 1973), and changed back. The Marines were once the Orions, the Buffaloes were once the Pearls, the Blue Wave were once the Braves, and the Fighters were once the Flyers. Confused? Jim Albright compiled a map of franchise histories if you want the complete story.  

Current Teams

Central League Pacific League
Yomiuri Giants Daiei Hawks
Hiroshima Carp Seibu Lions
Yokohoma BayStars Chiba Lotte Marines
Yakult Swallows Nippon Ham Fighters
Hanshin Tigers Kintetsu Buffaloes
Chuncihi Dragons Orix Blue Wave

Teams have nicknames like in the States, but instead of being called by their cities, they are called by their corporate owners as follows:

Yomiuri Giants: Owned by the Yomiuri media conglomerate that publishes the most popular daily newspaper, the Yomiuri Shimbun. Also owns NTV, its flagship tv station in Tokyo among many other holdings.
Hiroshima Toyo Carp: A lot of its capital comes from the Toyo Tire company and some of it is held by the city of hiroshima, itself, I think. I'll have to check into that further.
Yokohama Bay Stars: Had been owned up until this year by Maruha, a fisheries and seafood company. Now owned by TBS, a Tokyo based tv station (their offices, in fact, are right across the street from the Imperial Palace).
Yakult Swallows: Owned by the Yakult Corporation, a yogurt maker.
Hanshin Tigers: Owned by Hanshin Railways.
Chunichi Dragons: Owned by the Chunichi media group that published the Tokyo Chunichi Sports newspaper as well as the Chunichi Shimbun among others.
Daiei Hawks: Owned by the Daiei supermarket chain.
Seibu Lions: Owned by the Seibu Department store chain.
The Chiba Lotte Marines: Owned by the Korean Lotte foods conglomerate.
Kintetsu Buffaloes: Owned by the Kintetsu rail and travel company.
Nippon Ham Fighters: Meat products firm.
Orix Blue Wave: Owned by Orix, a financial services company based in Toyko.

Teams are allowed to have up to four foreigners on the roster, two position players and two pitchers.  Each team has one minor league affiliate, which is part of either the Eastern League or the Western League. They are permitted as many foreigners as they wish on their minor league team.

What's A Season Like?

Through 2000 they usually played 130-135 games per season. The 2001 season went to 140 games. Not all games end with a win or loss like in the U.S. Major Leagues (MLB). Traditionally, any game tied after 12 innings remains a tie. There is no interleague play except for the all-star games and the Japan Series.  

All-Star Games

Japanese baseball does not have one set of “all-stars” who play in one game with a home run derby event warm-up, as we have grown accustomed to in the States. Although they do use fan balloting for eleven players for the Central League squad and twelve for the Pacific League (twelve because they vote for a designated hitter). The managers, then choose 17 and 16 players respectively to fill out the 28 man rosters. The final results are usually given out in the beginning of July. Unlike the U.S., they play two or three all-star games in different stadiums over a two or three day period. And, different players play in some games from other games. However, they do assign their annual “Best Nine Awards,” which are given to the best player at each position for each league as voted on by between 100 and 200 experts.  

Patrick Gary compiled a list of Star Players from each franchise with their key stats for anyone interested in perusing them. Also of interest are the career batting records and career pitching records of the star players as compiled by Jim Albright.  


As in the MLB, there are some familiar awards, such as the Gold Glove , the MVP and the Rookie of the Year. One you may not know is the Sawamura Award, going to the best starting pitcher, assuming he measures up to the voters' standards,(usually high innings pitched and high number of wins) but it and the Rookie Award have been given to no one if no one is deemed deserving. Interestingly, despite the existence of the Sawamura Award, the MVP goes to a pitcher roughly 40% of the time. The MVP award is usually limited to players from championship teams, especially in the Central League, like the tradition in the MLB.  

Seeing A Game

It may seem obvious, but Japan is not a sprawling country like America. It does not have enough large cities to accommodate one team per city. Most teams play in or around Tokyo or Osaka. Most stadiums don't even have parking. Fortunately, they are accessible by subway. Because of their relative proximity, fans of each team can see them play live on the road, most of the time. Unfortunately, this means that people living in the countryside would not likely attend games and have no home team. To address this problem, all teams play 10-15 of their home games on the road, where rural dwellers can see the games in person. These small, remote parks do not have electronic scoreboards and often do not have lights to accommodate night games. It is an intimate experience.


Seven of the eleven stadiums (the Giants and Fighters share the Tokyo Dome) were built from 1988 through 1999. Six of them were built with a turf, playing surface. Overall, three of the parks have grass outfields with dirt infields, the rest are turf. All of the parks conform to a symmetrical design. Typical dimensions are 309-320 feet down the lines, 340-350 feet to straightaway right or left, 360-365 feet to the gaps, and 400 to dead center. A typical fence is 13 feet high. They commonly have much wider foul areas than Major League parks, which decreases scoring because it creates more foul outs. Most stadiums have chain link fences separating the fans from the playing field. This obstructs the view of anyone not seated at least ten feet above the field, so box seats are not always preferred. Click on the link for the complete story on ballparks.

What Else is Different?

The first thing you notice is that the ball is smaller and lighter weight than a Major League official ball. Speaking of official balls, the NPB does not have one. Each team gets to select its own official ball. While there is potential for abuse, the balls chosen by each team conform to league specifications. Rest assured, the batter won’t be surprised to find he is facing a MLB ball one game and a smaller one the next.  

Style of Play

Managers take full advantage of the difference in the parks and equipment. For one thing, there is a lot of bunting. One thing you can count on from any Japanese player who comes to the U.S. is that they will know the fundamentals. Managers spend literally five times as much time drilling the players on bunting, fielding and base running during spring training, than their Major League counterparts.  

There is no way to make a direct comparison of the bunting strategy of the NPB versus the big inning strategy of the MLB to determine with certainty which strategy is better. Although, an interview with Bobby Valentine, manager of the New York Mets and former manager of the Chiba Lotte Marines (1995) could enlighten us. Historically, games in Japan are lower scoring by an average on one run per game. Specifically, an average NPB game has 7.81 runs scored by the two teams, while MLB games score and average 8.81 runs.  The difference can largely be explained by the wide foul areas. Another notable difference is that triples are significantly more rare in Japan than they are in the majors.  Historically, a NPB game has less than 0.4 triples per game, while the majors have 0.6.  If we look at this issue from an at bat basis, the difference is even more stark—in Japan, there is one triple in less than 0.6% of at bats historically, while the majors have triples in 1.8% of at bats.  

Enjoying a Japanese Baseball Broadcast

Gary Garland translated some basic Japanese into English, so that you can listen to a Japanese ball game and follow the action.  

We begin with words for the pitcher and fielders:  

Senshu (player): When you hear this word, you will usually hear someone's name before it. For example, "Ichiro-senshu,"
"Matsui-senshu," etc.

Toshu (pitcher): Same as above. So you will hear "Ishii-toshu," "Nomo-toshu," "Miura-toshu," etc.
Ichirui (First base): Self-explantory, as are all the below. Pronouced "eechi roo-ee."
Nirui (second base): Pronounced "Nee-roo-ee."
Sanrui (third base): Pronounced "sawn-roo-ee"
Honrui (home): Pronounced "Hohn-roo-ee"
Dasha (hitter): Pronounced "dah-shaw."
Daseki (at bat): Pronounced "dah-seh-kee"
Safe: You know the meaning of this one, but Japanese pronounce it "say-fu."
Out: Will be prounced "ow-toh"

Hit Terminology:

Anda (prounced "ahn-dah"): a basehit.
Naiya Anda (pronounced "nye-ya-ma-eh"): Infield hit.
Niruida (pronounced "nee-roo-ee-dah"): a double. Also often called a "tsu-beesu" (pronounced "tsu-bayss")
Sanruida (pronounced "sawn-roo-ee-dah"): a triple.
Honruida (pronounced "hohn-roo-ee-dah): a homer. Also, often called a "homu-ran."
Raito-mae (pronounced like "righto-ma-eh"): basehit to right.
senta-mae (pronounced "sentah-ma-eh"): basehit to center.
senta backscreen (pronounced "senta-baku-skreen"): any home run to center. They will also just say "backscreen"
Refuto-mae (pronounced "reh-fu-toh-ma-eh"): basehit to left.
Haitta! (pronounced "high-tah"): It's gone!
Gisei Furai (pronounced using the "gee" as in "McGhee," it's "gee-say-fu-rye"): sacrifice fly.
Gida "pronounced "gee-dah"): a sac bunt.

Pitch Terminology:

Streto (pronounced "streh-to"): fastball.
Kaabu (pronounced "kah-bu") Curve.
Fohku (pronounced "fo-ku"): Forkball
Henkakyuu (pronounced "hen-kah-cue"): breaking ball.
Suraida (pronounced "su-rye-dah"): Slider
Hikume (pronounced "hee-ku-meh): A pitch that is down.
Takame (pronounced "tah-kah-meh): A pitch that is up.
In koosu (pronounced "een-koh-su," "in course") a pitch heading for the inside corner.
Out koosu (pronounced "out-koh-su, like "out course"): a pitch headed for the outside corner.
Screw: a screwball.
Shuuto (pronounced "shoo-toh"): a running fastball or a changeup that is turned over so that it has a little bit of a screwball
Amai booru (pronounced "ah-my-boh-ru): a fat pitch; when you attach the name of breaking pitch to it, a hanger.
Four ball: a walk.
Dead booru (pronounced "dedo-boh-ru"): a pitch that hits a batter. Also, "shikyuu" (pronounced "shee-kyu").
Kikenkyuu (pronounced "kee-ken-kyu"). A brushback pitch, a pitch that almost hits a batter.

Whew! That’s it for now.

Also worth a visit: Jim Allen's Page. His comments on roster compositon are most interesting, especially its impact on the game.

Return to the japanese insider

HomeGuru's Baseball Book StoreLink to UsBraintrust & Mailing ListsEmail the GuruContact InfoBaseball Analysis Home