Love of the game: Enjoying Japanese baseball an experience you can’t miss

Photos by Cole Greenhouse
Photos by Cole Greenhouse

Love of the game: Enjoying Japanese baseball an experience you can’t miss

by Cole Greenhouse
Stripes Okinawa

There is a saying that those who have been stationed in Japan and have not climbed Mt. Fuji are destined to come back. For me, my Mt. Fuji is Japan’s baseball stadiums.

I was originally stationed in Sasebo, Japan from 2017 to 2019. After completing my time stateside in 2021, my wife and I desired to come back, and I was able to secure orders to Yokosuka.

Part of the draw that called me back was getting wrapped up in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), Japan’s professional baseball league, while stationed in Sasebo. To say that I am a fanatic for Japanese baseball is an understatement. I’ve informed Japanese nationals on their own domestic league and have been called an otaku (Japanese for someone obsessed with a hobby).

In the nearly five years I have been stationed here, I have managed to visit 13 NPB ballparks, from Hokkaido to Kyushu. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the Major League Baseball (devout Cardinals’ fan) and grew up playing the sport, but the fan interaction in Japan is a completely different animal. Home team fans have a personalized cheer for every one of their players and they cheer only when the team is up to bat, allowing the away team’s fans to cheer at the top of the inning.

The respect between the fans is apparent in Japan and was on display earlier this year at the World Baseball Classic. When a fan caught a ball hit by MLB and Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani, she passed the ball to others sitting by her to share the moment. After they got to hold the ball, they happily returned it to the owner. In the United States however, I’ve seen grown men steal a foul ball from a child.

Foreign players

Unlike MLB, NPB has the “gaikokujin waku” rule that allows a maximum of four foreign players on the active roster. Today there are approximately 80 international players on rosters across the league, many of them American-born. Americans in NPB come to Japan for different reasons. Some have not made it in the MLB system and jump across the Pacific because they are offered a contract. Others use it as a retirement league, as they were not able to obtain a contract in the U.S. and are not quite ready to hang up their spikes. Then there are those that use it as a steppingstone back into MLB. Play well in Japan, and there is hope that the majors will come calling.

Different rules

The MLB has adopted the pitch clock to lessen game lengths and appeal to new audiences. NPB has not adopted the pitch clock, as professional baseball is the number one spectator sport in Japan. Unlike in the MLB, games in Japan can end in a tie. The longest MLB game in history went 31 innings to determine the winner. NPB games can go no longer than 12 innings to allow spectators at night games to be able to catch the train home before it shuts down for the evening.

Team apparel

MLB has a contract with one vendor to outfit all teams in the league with uniform and hats. As a result, they have a dedicated shop to cater to the fans of all 30 teams. The 12 NPB teams individually obtain vendors to supply uniforms, workout attire, and hats. Subsequently there is no league-shared store, instead each team has their own dedicated online shop.

Ex-pat baseball fanatics

Most people are probably not aware that there is an American ex-pat group centered around Tokyo that promotes Japanese baseball, including a sports editor for the Japan Times and an Army brat who was raised in Japan and the U.S. due to his mom being Japanese and father serving in the Army. If this draws your interest these are the X, formerly Twitter, handles for English language news on Japanese baseball:

@yakyucosmo @Jcoskrey @JapanBall @GaijinBaseball @JBWPodcast @JballAllen @NPB_Reddit @japanball.

How to get tickets

If you are interested in attending a game while in Japan, you’re probably wondering how to obtain a ticket. The easiest way, but also the most expensive (usually paying double or more the amount the ticket is worth), is to use the website Just send an email with the team you want to see and the date, and, will take care of acquiring the tickets and send them to your address. I suggest this option as a last resort.

Tickets are also available to purchase from convenience store machines. The only drawback is that you can select the price point and number of tickets but not the seat location. Another option is Viagogo, a ticket reseller similar to Stubhub in the U.S.

To purchase online, there is no centralized NPB website for game tickets. Visit the team’s website, set up an account (usually free but also offer a premium option), check the schedule and make your purchase. Team’s sites are not all created equal, so navigation will vary.

Stationed overseas while forward-deployed I needed to find a new hobby or interest to connect to the culture. I was introduced to the world of Japan baseball and was instantly hooked. Additionally, I enjoy the differences, peculiarities, and the increased fan interaction associated with NPB. Once I transfer back stateside, I am excited to watch those that made the leap to MLB because I originally watched them play in Japan. As I have purchased the MLB package while in Japan, I will do the same thing purchasing a streaming service to view NPB games when I transfer back to the U.S. before the season starts.

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