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Softball: Nojima (Kanto Area)

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Softball: Nojima (Kanto Area)
I play for just one team now, a local softball team from the community I live in. This softball team means a great deal to me, as it has basically allowed me to fully integrate into the community in more ways than just calling Nojima home.

After getting married and moving to Nojima, my wife and I were following the omikoshi (shrine carried on shoulders) during the annual matsuri (festival) on Nojima, a small island in southern Yokohama. My wife was pregnant at the time, and just starting to show. Many people came out and offered us food and drinks at each stop of the omikoshi on its rounds. In talking with some of the native Nojimans, I mentioned that I liked baseball, and one said that they have a baseball team - I should join them some Sunday!

Well, most of the people we talked to had quite a bit of alcohol in them, and the invitation to join the baseball team didn't seem to stick in anyone's mind after the matsuri. Then, at the end of September, a kairan (information passed house to house about community events) came by with sign-ups for a Sports Day softball face-off between Nojima and Ottomo, the two townships on the island of Nojima. Well, I put my name down and anxiously awaited October 10.

Sports Day came and I went to the grounds for the game. Some of the people did remember me from the matsuri, and I knew others' faces from passing by their houses every day to and from work. They let me play the whole game, despite my miserable performance. And after the game, they told me that practices were every second and fourth Sunday at the same grounds. Right then and there, I became a member of the team.

What I learned afterwords, though, is that this isn't just a softball team. This is the community leaders. The entire team got up early one February morning to host a mochi (rice paddy) pounding event at the chonai kaikan (community center). The weeks before the annual matsuri, the baseball team cancels practice and spends the weekends polishing the omikoshi, setting up lanters throughout the township, and other preparations for matsuri. When one of the elders of the community passes away, the Nojima Yakyu Bu goes to the wake as a group, as the recently deceased had spent time on the team - maybe up to a few years earlier, maybe decades earlier.

While there are some teams that are having trouble fielding a full team with a couple of spares, the Nojima team has no such problems. In fact, we usually have a "Nojima A" and "Nojima B" team for most tournaments. The "A" is the "young" team and the "B" team is the older team. At least one of the tournaments allows teams with all members over 35 to use a DH as a type of handicap measure. I've been with the young team up until recently, despite having been over 35 for a number of years now. I'm still border-line, depending on how many young-uns can make it. (Several serve with the Self Defense Force and don't have much control over their schedules.)

Overall, our two teams have an age range from the low 20's to 80. Our best pitcher has been playing in an "Over 65" league for many years. I've commented that if I'm in half as good shape as him when I'm 40 I'll be doing well. He can throw a riser, curve, his fast ball isn't as fast as the young pitchers on other teams, but fast enough to make his change-up very effective.

Softball in Japan is with 9 players, not 10 like in some parts of the U.S. Also, I've never seen any of that slow pitch stuff where the ball gets lobbed to the plate in Japan. It's all "fast pitch," although not all pitchers have that much speed. In fact, I find the ones who throw slower a lot harder to hit. I always ground out to the third baseman on the first pitch with them - must be more patient!

Tournaments generally go five innings or 50 minutes. The 50 minute rule is because a given tournament will either be one or two days, depending on the size, and there are generally between three (if seeded) to eight rounds to decide the tournament champion. So, yes, we'll play four games in a day to claim the Cup, and have done so on several occasions.

More than winning championships, though, softball has really made me a part of this community. I don't just watch events in the neiborhood, I participate in their preparation and the events themselves. This participation has made me known to the neiborhood to the point that I was asked to be the vice-chairman of the local elementary school's PTA. Kanazawa Shogakko is a 132 year old elementary school. Most of the guys on the team went there, some before and during The War. This is a Japanese school with a history almost as old as the Japanese educational system itself. If it weren't for my participation with the softball team, I would probably be apathetic to any kind of participation, but I don't. I feel honored to be able to serve the community in any capacity I can. And will do the best job I can.

Hai. Gambarimasu.
Re: Softball: Nojima (Kanto Area)
[ Author: Dodgers/Mariners/Lions/Giants | Posted: May 27, 2005 2:40 AM | SL Fan ]

Arigato Westbay-san,

Thank you for sharing your story, I feel like I know you a little better already. Looks like you're having fun at the same time as being a great part of your community. Hope others will also share with us their baseball experiences and team info as well. Who knows, if we can find enough of us playing on teams, maybe we could have a kusa-yakyu tournament.
Re: Softball: Nojima (Kanto Area)
[ Author: Chiroman | Posted: May 27, 2005 3:13 PM ]


Domo Arigato.

It's great to hear that softball has made you part of your community. Did you accept the job as the vice-chairman of your local elementary school's PTA? A 132 year old elementary school. That's pretty old!

I hope you will continue to serve your community in any capacity you can. Keep us posted.

Re: Softball: Nojima (Kanto Area)
[ Author: westbaystars | Posted: May 27, 2005 7:45 PM | YBS Fan ]

- Did you accept the job as the vice-chairman of your local elementary school's PTA?

Yes, I did. And we have our undo-kai ("Sports Festa") tomorrow. It's been in the Fall in previous years, but several schools in the area moved it to the Spring this year. We yakuin (board members) have a lot of various responsibilities (like policing for trash, asking smokers to go outside the grounds, and making sure bicycles aren't obstructing exits and the roads), and sponsor one of the events. I'm also in charge of opening and closing the gym for lunch. I just went over everything with the other vice-chair at my door a few minutes ago.

I'll be very relieved when this is over. Talking with other yakuin, the general consensus is that the undokai is the biggest event of the year as far as PTA participation goes. It's been both fun and stressful. Fun learning about how things work, stressful in that we had very little time to prepare.

This is a site about Pro Yakyu (Japanese Baseball), not about who the next player to go over to MLB is. It's a community of Pro Yakyu fans who have come together to share their knowledge and opinions with the world. It's a place to follow teams and individuals playing baseball in Japan (and Asia), and to learn about Japanese (and Asian) culture through baseball.

It is my sincere hope that once you learn a bit about what we're about here that you will join the community of contributors.

Michael Westbay
(aka westbaystars)

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