Japanese Baseball Leagues: Top Teams and Season Info (2023)

Baseball has a long history in Japan and is very popular among sports fans. The sport was first introduced to the country in the late 19th century and has flourished ever since, remaining deeply rooted in Japanese culture. There were many Japanese baseball leagues. Today, Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) is Japan's premier professional baseball league and consists of 12 major league teams divided into the Central League and the Pacific League.

The Central League consists of the Chūnichi Dragons, Hanshin Tigers, Tōyō Hiroshima Carp, Yomiuri (Tokyo) Giants, Yakult Swallows and Yokohama Baystars. Meanwhile, the Pacific League features Chiba Lotte Marines, Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, Orix Buffaloes, Seibu Lions and Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. These leagues offer highly competitive play and their games attract legions of passionate fans who are loyal to their favorite teams.

In addition to the top NPB, Japan is also home to two smaller professional leagues, the Eastern League and the Western League. These leagues offer smaller programs designed to nurture and develop players, helping to maintain the high levels of skill and performance on the field in Japanese professional baseball.


  • History of Japanese baseball
    • origin and early years
    • Post-war period and league formation
    • Influence of American baseball players
    • international competitions
  • Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB)
    • Central League and Pacific League
    • normal period
    • interface games
    • All Star Games
    • Postseason and league series
  • Notable Japanese baseball players
    • historical figures
    • today's stars
  • Japanese stadiums and teams
    • Hiroshima Carp and Yokohama Stadium
    • DeNA BayStars and other popular teams
  • affiliated minor leagues
    • Eastern League
    • western league
  • Media and broadcast coverage
    • Japanese media coverage
    • international coverage

History of Japanese baseball

origin and early years

baseball known asyakyūin Japan it was introduced to the country in 1872 when Horace Wilson, a professor at Kaisei Gakko (now Tokyo University), taught the game to his students. By the end of the century, baseball had become a national sport, and the first professional games appeared in the 1920s.

Matsutaro Shōriki, a media mogul, played a major role in popularizing professional baseball in Japan. By inviting legendary American baseball players such as Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig and Charlie Gehringer to Japan for exhibition games in 1934, Shōriki was able to increase the popularity of the sport and eventually lay the groundwork for the creation of professional leagues.

Post-war period and league formation

After World War II, Japanese professional baseball returned to play in 1946. From 1946 to 1948, eight teams competed in a single league. In 1949, the San Francisco Seals toured Japan, led by Lefty O'Dull, and played seven games against the Japanese Professionals.

Eventually, Japanese baseball was divided into two leagues: the Central League and the Pacific League, each with six teams. These leagues include Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), the highest level of baseball in Japan.

Influence of American baseball players

The success and popularity of Japanese baseball was greatly influenced by American baseball players who played in Japan. Many notable American players competed in Japanese leagues and passed on their skills and knowledge to Japanese teams.

Also, the first Japanese-born major league champion,Masanori Murakami, played for the San Francisco Giants in 1964 and paved the way for future Japanese players such as Hideo Nomo, Ichiro Suzuki and Shohei Ohtani to join Major League Baseball.

international competitions

Japan made its presence known in international baseball games. The Japanese team has won several Asian Games gold medals and was a strong contender in the World Baseball Classic, winning the championship in 2006 and 2009. This success in international competition is a testament to the continued growth and popularity of baseball in Japan.

Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB)

Central League and Pacific League

Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) has been the highest level of baseball in Japan since the 1950s. The league consists of two circuits: the Central League and the Pacific League, each with six teams. Below these leagues are two minor-level professional leagues, the Eastern League and the Western League, which incentivize players through smaller programs.

normal period

The NPB regular season traditionally begins in late March or early April and ends in early October. It consists of 143 regular season games for each team. The season is designed for efficiency as ties end after 12 innings.

interface games

Interleague games take place when Central League and Pacific League teams compete against each other. This was introduced in 2005 and has since given fans a chance to watch exciting encounters between the two leagues.

All Star Games

The NPB All-Star Games serve as a mid-season spectacle that brings together the best players from the Central and Pacific leagues. Fans will vote on the contestants and enjoy an exciting display of their favorite players' skills and talents.

Postseason and league series

At the end of the regular season, the top teams in each league advance to a playoff system called the Climax Series. The Climax Series determines which team from each league will compete in the championship - the Japan Series.

The Japan Series is a best-of-seven match between the Central League and Pacific League champions to determine the final winner of the NPB season. The Japan Series is a highly anticipated event that attracts the attention of fans across the country and showcases the pinnacle of Japanese baseball.

Throughout the season, fans follow schedules, scores and standings to stay informed and support their favorite teams on their way to success.

Notable Japanese baseball players

historical figures

One of the most famous Japanese baseball players in history is Sadaharu Oh, who was born on May 20, 1940. A former baseball player and manager, Oh currently serves as the president of the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of Nippon Professional Baseball. Known for his incredible hitting skills, he holds the world record for most home runs, a record that still stands.

Another influential figure in Japanese baseball history is Ichiro Suzuki. Often referred to simply as "Ichiro", he played in both Major League Baseball (MLB) and Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB). With a unique and attractive batting style, he became a fan favorite and one of the best batsmen in the world. Ichiro was also the first Japanese player to play in the MLB, paving the way for other talented players from Japan.

today's stars

In recent years, the Japanese baseball scene has continued to produce outstanding talent, most notably Shohei Ohtani. A two-way player who excels at both hitting and shooting, Ohtani made his MLB debut in 2018 and has been making waves ever since. He received many awards, including:

  • 2 × All-Star (2021, 2022)
  • AL MVP (2021)
  • 2x All-MLB First Team (2021, 2022)
  • 2x All-MLB Second Team (2021, 2022)

Another outstanding player is Hideki Matsui, nicknamed "Godzilla" for his powerful presence on the court. Matsui played in both NPB and MLB, most notably with the New York Yankees, where he became a World Series champion in 2009. As one of the greatest Japanese MLB players of all time, he made a significant impact on the sport and remains an important figure in the world of baseball .

In summary, Japanese baseball has produced countless outstanding players who have shaped the sport both historically and in the game today. With exceptional talent and dedication, these individuals embody the passion and skill that characterize Japanese baseball.

Japanese stadiums and teams

Hiroshima Carp and Yokohama Stadium

Hiroshima Tōyō Carp is one of the most prominent teams in Japan's Central League. Their home base is the Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium Hiroshima in Minami-ku, Hiroshima. Carp has quite a strong presence in their league with several successful leagues and seasons.

Yokohama Stadium is another notable baseball venue in Japan. It is the home of the Yokohama DeNA BayStars, who also play in the Central League. YokohamaThe stadium has a seating capacity34,046 and is known for its unique features such as artificial grass and a retractable roof. Both the Hiroshima Carp and Yokohama DeNA BayStars are established teams that contribute to the rich history of Japanese baseball.

DeNA BayStars and other popular teams

The DeNA BayStars are a popular team in Japan, attracting fans from the Yokohama area and beyond. They have achieved achievements throughout their history, including multiple championships. In addition to the DeNA BayStars, there are several teams in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball organization that draw large crowds and have a significant fan base.

These popular groups include:

  • Tokyo Yomiuri Giants: Japan's most famous baseball club, often compared to the New York Yankees in terms of popularity and success.
  • Hanshin Tigers: Another storied franchise with a strong and long-standing rivalry with the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants.
  • Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks: A strong Pacific League team known for their outstanding performances in recent years.

It is worth noting that Japanese baseball has ties to Major League Baseball (MLB) in the United States. For example, the Greater Japan Tokyo Baseball Club, which later became the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants, was originally inspired by the American team, the Los Angeles Dodgers. This relationship between Japanese and American baseball is one of mutual respect and admiration, with many players moving between the two leagues, contributing to the growth and popularity of the sport around the world.

affiliated minor leagues

Japan has an agricultural system of affiliated minor leagues that complement Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB). These leagues are divided into two leagues: the Eastern League and the Western League.

Eastern League

The Eastern League consists of seven teams and serves as a minor league system for the Nippon Central Professional Baseball League. It was created in 1954 when the six teams of the NPB Central League formed their own minor league system known as the Shin Nippon League or "New Japan League". This was to complement the Kansai Farm League, which was formed in 1952. Since then, the league has evolved into yet another team.

Eastern League teams include:

  • The Yomiuri Giants farm team
  • Chunichi Dragons Farm Team
  • Yokohama DeNA BayStars-Farmteam
  • The Hanshin Tigers farm team

western league

The Western League is part of the Pacific League, with five teams serving as the minor league system for the NPB Pacific League. This league was designed to help develop players and be a stepping stone for those looking to advance to professional baseball.

Western League teams include:

  • Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks-Farmteam
  • Orix Buffaloes Farm Team
  • Chiba Lotte Marines-Farmteam
  • A equipe da fazenda Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters
  • Saitama Seibu Lions-Farmteam

Both affiliated minor leagues, the Eastern League and Western League, promote a high level of play and competition, offering young players the opportunity to improve their skills and advance through the ranks of Japanese baseball. Throughout the season, players from these minor league teams can be named to their respective Nippon Professional Baseball teams, giving them the opportunity to showcase their talents on a bigger stage.

Media and broadcast coverage

Japanese media coverage

Japanese baseball, particularly Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), receives extensive coverage in the local media. The NPB consists of two leagues, the Central League and the Pacific League, which have shaped the sports scene in Japan since the 1950s. The success of Japanese players in domestic and international leagues has contributed to widespread media coverage in the country their origin.

TV stations such as NHK regularly broadcast NPB games and often show special moments from Japanese players. Local news and sports sites such as JapanBall provide real-time updates, analysis and commentary on baseball games.

international coverage

As Japanese players continue to make an impact in the American major leagues, international interest in Japanese baseball has grown. As a result, NPB's international media coverage expanded and some games were also made available for streaming outside of Japan.

For example, the Pacific League partners with the sports channel For the Fans, which broadcasts over 200 NPB games between August and November. This coverage is available on several digital channels including Pluto, Xumo, Samsung Smart TV, ROKU and Zingo TV.

locations such asbaseball referenceprovide comprehensive information on Japanese baseball statistics, as well as player profiles and historical data. This extensive online resource allows international fans to follow the progress of their favorite Japanese players and teams, learn about their achievements and major sporting events.

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