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Nippon Professional Baseball or NPB is the highest level of baseball in Japan. Locally, it is often called Puro Yakyū (プロ野球), meaning Professional Baseball. Outside of Japanmarker, it is often just referred to as "Japanese baseball". The roots of the league can be traced back to the formation of the in 1934 and the original Japanese Baseball League. NPB was formed when that league reorganized in 1950.

Some notable Japanese players who have gone on to play in North America's Major League Baseball include Hideo Nomo, Kazuhiro Sasaki, Ichiro Suzuki, Tadahito Iguchi, Kenji Johjima, Hideki Matsui, So Taguchi, Hideki Irabu, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideki Okajima, Kazuo Matsui, Kazuhito Tadano, Hiroki Kuroda, Akinori Iwamura, Kosuke Fukudome, Koji Uehara, and Kenshin Kawakami.

League structure

Nippon Professional Baseball consists of two leagues, the Central League and the Pacific League. There are also two secondary-level professional minor leagues, the Eastern League and the Western League, that play shorter schedules.

The season starts in late March or early April and ends in October with two or three all star games in July. In recent decades, the two leagues each scheduled 130, 135 or 140 regular season games with the best teams from each league going on to play in the "Nippon Series" or Japan Series.

Comparison to Major League Baseball

NPB ball.
Play in the Pacific League is similar to that in American League baseball, with the use of designated hitters, unlike the Central League. Unlike North American baseball, Japanese baseball games may end in a tie. If the score is tied after nine innings of play, up to three additional innings will be played. If there is no winner after 12 innings, the game is declared a draw, except in the postseason, where games that are tied after 15 innings must be replayed. Other differences from MLB are that the general play is less aggressive, there are fewer home runs, the strike zone is larger near the batter but smaller away from the batter, and the ball is slightly smaller and wound more tightly.

Unlike American pro teams, Japanese professional baseball teams are usually named after their corporate owners/sponsors rather than the cities or regions in which they play. This is because franchising does not have strong territorial requirements as in the Major Leagues; the teams used to locate in clustered metropolitan areas in Japan's center (Tokyo, Nagoya) and south (Osaka, Fukuoka) areas. The current trend is to include the place names as well as owners/sponsors in an attempt to gain support from the franchised communities. Currently, only the Giants, Tigers, Dragons and Buffaloes do not include a place name, and Maruha Corporation, owner of the Yokohama BayStars, has chosen not to include the company name in its team name, a first in Japanese baseball. Nevertheless, mass media still tend to choose the sponsor names in abbreviations on standing tables.

Financial problems

Financial problems hinder the league as a whole, but the problem is not a simple one to solve. It is believed that with the exception of the Yomiuri Giants and the Hanshin Tigers, all teams are operating with considerable subsidies, often as much as ¥6 billion (about US$50 million), from their parent companies. A rise in the salaries of players is often blamed, but, from the start of the professional league, parent companies paid the difference as an advertisement. Most teams have never tried to improve their finances through constructive marketing. Until Nippon Ham Fighters moved to Hokkaidōmarker, there were six teams in Tokyomarker and its surrounding area and four teams in the OsakaKōbe region before Nankai Hawks (now Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks) moved to Fukuoka. The market was flooded, but this was considered acceptable, as there were no professional team sports challenging baseball's popularity.

Until 1993, baseball was the only team sport played professionally in Japan. In that year, the J. League professional association football league was founded. The new football league placed teams in prefectural capitals around the country - rather than clustering them in and around Tokyo - and the teams were named after their locations rather than after corporate sponsors. Some Japanese baseball teams responded to the success of the J. League by de-emphasizing the corporate sponsors in their marketing efforts and/or by relocating to outlying regions of the country.

The wave of players moving to Major League Baseball, which began with Hideo Nomo "retiring" from the Kintetsu Buffaloes, then signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers, has also added to the financial problems. Attendance suffered as teams lost their most marketable players, while TV ratings declined as viewers tuned into broadcasts of Major League games. To discourage players from leaving to play in North America, or to at least compensate teams that lose players, Japanese baseball and MLB agreed on a posting system for players under contract. MLB teams wishing to negotiate with a player submit bids for a "posting fee", which the winning MLB team would pay the Japanese team if the player signs with the MLB team. Free agents are not subject to the posting system, however.

When the Boston Red Sox signed Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2006, he became the most expensive trans-Pacific transfer ever. While details remain undisclosed, several sources cite Matsuzaka as having received a guaranteed $52 million for a six-year contract (with elevator clauses potentially bringing the value up to $60 million), in addition to the $51.1 million posting fee that the Red Sox paid his former team, Seibu Lions, to release him.

On September 18, 2004, professional baseball players went on a two-day strike, the first strike in the history of the league, to protest the proposed merger between the Orix BlueWave and the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes and the failure of the owners to agree to create a new team to fill the void resulting from the merger. The strike was settled on September 23, 2004, when the owners agreed to grant a new franchise in the Pacific League and to continue the two-league, 12-team system. The new team, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles began play in the 2005 season.


Prior to 1950, professional baseball in Japan was the Japanese Baseball League. Before the 1950 season, the team owners reorganized into the NPB.

From 1973 to 1982, the Pacific League employed a split season with the first half winner playing against the second half winner in a mini-playoff to determine its champion. Then in 2004, the Pacific League played five fewer games than the Central League teams during the regular season and used a new playoff format to determine its champion. The teams in third and second place played in a best two of three series (all at the second place team's home ground) with the winner of that series going on to play the first place team in a best 3 of 5 format at its home ground. In the end, the Seibu Lions finished in second place, defeated Nippon Ham 2 games to 1, went on to take 3 of 5 games in Fukuoka against the Daiei Hawks and then defeated the Chunichi Dragons in the Japan Series, 4 games to 3, capping off their grueling playoff drive with a well-earned championship. The System was proved successful when Pacific League's team continues to win the Japan Series in the following two seasons, until this playoff system was applied to both leagues as the "Climax Series" starting in 2007, which Chunichi Dragons from Central League beat Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters from Pacific League in Japan Series.

The two leagues began interleague play in 2005, with each team playing two 3-game series (one home, one away) against each of the six teams in the other league. This was reduced to two 2-game series in 2007. All interleague play games are played in a 7-week span near the middle of the season. Currently Pacific League's teams won all the interleague titles.

Current NPB teams

Central League

Team City Stadium Capacity
Chunichi Dragons Nagoya, Aichimarker Nagoya Dome 38,414
Hanshin Tigers Nishinomiya, Hyōgomarker Koshien Stadiummarker 50,454
Hiroshima Toyo Carp Hiroshima, Hiroshimamarker MAZDA Zoom-Zoom Stadium Hiroshimamarker 30,350
Tokyo Yakult Swallows Tokyomarker Meiji Jingu Stadiummarker 37,933
Yokohama BayStars Yokohama, Kanagawamarker Yokohama Stadiummarker 30,730
Yomiuri Giants Tokyomarker Tokyo Domemarker 45,600

Pacific League

Team City Stadium Capacity
Chiba Lotte Marines Chiba, Chibamarker Chiba Marine Stadiummarker 30,200
Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks Fukuoka, Fukuokamarker Fukuoka Yahoo!marker Japan Domemarker 35,773
Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters Sapporo, Hokkaidōmarker Sapporo Domemarker(main)/Tokyo Domemarker(semi) 40,572
Orix Buffaloes Osaka and Kobe, Hyōgomarker Kyocera Dome Osakamarker(main)/Skymark Stadiummarker(semi) 36,477/35,000
Saitama Seibu Lions Tokorozawa, Saitamamarker Seibu Domemarker 35,879
Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles Sendai, Miyagimarker Kleenex Stadium Miyagimarker 23,000

Defunct Japanese baseball teams

Former Japanese Baseball League teams:

Former Central League teams:

Former Pacific League teams:



Single Season Batting

Player Year
Batting Average
Randy Bass .389 1986
Ichiro Suzuki .387 2000
Ichiro Suzuki .385 1994
Home Runs
Sadaharu Oh 55 1964
Tuffy Rhodes 55 2001
Alex Cabrera 55 2002
Randy Bass 54 1985
Makoto Kozuru 161 1950
Robert Rose 153 1999
Hiromitsu Ochiai 146 1985
Stolen Bases
Yutaka Fukumoto 106 1972
Ralph Bryant 204 1993
Ralph Bryant 198 1990
Ralph Bryant 187 1989
Ralph Bryant 176 1992
Orestes Destrade 165 1990

Single Season Pitching

Player Year
Hideo Fujimoto 0.73 1943
Masaru Kageura 0.79 1936 fall
Eiji Sawamura 0.81 1937 spring
Victor Starffin 42 1942
Kazuhisa Inao 42 1961
Jiro Noguchi 40 1942
Yutaka Enatsu 401 1968
Kazuhisa Inao 353 1961

Career Batting

Player Year
Batting Average
Leron Lee .320 1977–1987
Tsutomu Wakamatsu .31918 1971–1989
Isao Harimoto .31915 1959–1981
Home Runs
Sadaharu Oh 868 1959–1980
Sadaharu Oh 2170
Stolen Bases
Yutaka Fukumoto 1065 1969–1988
Koji Akiyama 1712

  • Ichiro Suzuki hit .353 for his Japanese career (1993–2000), but did not have enough at-bats to qualify for career leadership.

Career Pitching

Player Year
Hideo Fujimoto 1.90 1942–1955
Masaichi Kaneda 400 1950–1969
Tetsuya Yoneda 350 1956–1977
Masaaki Koyama 320 1953–1973
Keishi Suzuki 317 1966–1985
Takehiko Bessho 310 1942–1960
Victor Starffin 303 1936–1955
Masaichi Kaneda 4490

ERA champions

Perfect games

Date Pitcher (Club) Score Opponent Ballpark
June 28, 1950 Hideo Fujimoto (Yomiuri Giants) 4–0 Nishi-Nippon Pirates Aomori Stadiummarker
June 19, 1955 Fumio Takechi (Kintetsu Pearls) 1–0 Daiei Stars Ōsaka Stadiummarker
September 19, 1956 Yoshitomo Miyaji (Kokutetsu Swallows) 6–0 Hiroshima Carp Kanazawa Stadium
August 21, 1957 Masaichi Kaneda (Kokutetsu Swallows) 1–0 Chunichi Dragons Chunichi Stadium
July 19, 1958 Sadao Nishimura (Nishitetsu Lions) 1–0 Toei Flyers Komazawa Stadiummarker
August 11, 1960 Gentaro Shimada (Taiyō Whales) 1–0 Ōsaka Tigers Kawasaki Stadiummarker
June 20, 1961 Yoshimi Moritaki (Kokutetsu Swallows) 1–0 Chunichi Dragons Korakuen Stadiummarker
May 1, 1966 Yoshiro Sasaki (Taiyō Whales) 1–0 Hiroshima Carp Hiroshima Municipal Stadiummarker
May 12, 1966 Tsutomu Tanaka (Nishitetsu Lions) 2–0 Nankai Hawks Heiwadai Stadiummarker
September 14, 1968 Yoshiro Sotokoba (Hiroshima Toyo Carp) 2–0 Taiyō Whales Hiroshima Municipal Stadiummarker
October 6, 1970 Koichiro Sasaki (Kintetsu Buffaloes) 3–0 Nankai Hawks Ōsaka Stadiummarker
August 21, 1971 Yoshimasa Takahashi (Toei Flyers) 4–0 Nishitetsu Lions Korakuen Stadiummarker
October 10, 1973 Soroku Yagisawa (Lotte Orions) 1–0 Taiheiyo Club Lions Miyagi Stadiummarker
August 31, 1978 Yutaro Imai (Hankyu Braves) 5–0 Lotte Orions Miyagi Stadiummarker
May 18, 1994 Hiromi Makihara (Yomiuri Giants) 6–0 Hiroshima Toyo Carp Fukuoka Domemarker
November 1, 2007 Daisuke Yamai and Hitoki Iwase (Chunichi Dragons) 1–0† Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters Nagoya Dome
  • †: 5th game of Nippon Series; In NPB, no-hitters or perfect games achieved by multiple pitchers in one game are considered unofficial.

See also


  1. Letter from Japan: Go West, Young Man


External links

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