Players and public hit out as baseball season begins

It's an old and often angry debate: during a national tragedy with thousands displaced, a nation traumatised and bodies still being counted, should athletes retire from the field in respectful silence – or play on? Japan's most popular sport has become the latest casualty of the country's worst disaster since the Second World War after baseball officials postponed the start of the season in one of the two professional leagues.

But the decision by the more powerful Central League to go ahead and start the season this week has angered many players and fans in this baseball-mad country. The head of the sport's union, Takahiro Arai, called the decision a mistake. "The players' consensus is that it is inappropriate to start the season when we think of those who were killed, those who are still missing and those who are staying in shelters," he told the Kyodo news agency. "It's just too early."

Nearly 9,000 people have been confirmed dead, 13,000 are missing and an estimated 400,000 are homeless following this month's quake/tsunami, while the battle to save a crippled nuclear power plant and stop it leaking radiation continues. The postponed Pacific League includes the Rakuten Golden Eagles based in Sendai, the largest big city close to the quake's epicentre and effectively ground zero of the disaster.

Most of the richer teams in the Central League have been unaffected by this month's disaster, including the powerful Tokyo-based Yomiuri Giants – the Manchester United of Japanese baseball. Giants spokesman Hidetoshi Kiyotake tried to throw cold water on the dispute, saying the athletes are playing for everyone. "Through baseball, we can make profits and send the proceeds from games to the quake-hit areas," he told Kyodo. The Giants and other teams have promised to dim lights and play shorter games.

A similar debate raged in the US as the country licked its wounds following the 11 September attacks in 2001. The controversy was resolved when President George W Bush delivered the first pitch in the Yankee Stadium at the 2001 World Series, as 56,000 fans cheered "USA! USA!" The pitch is now considered a key symbolic moment in the country's recovery.

Such scenes of nationalistic fervour are unlikely in Japan, but many fans believe that the sport could help to bring some light to a nation struggling to get back on its feet after an epic tragedy. "The country wants to maintain some sort of normality," said Ross Mihara, a baseball commentator for national broadcaster NHK. "But it's a fine line. I think it makes sense for them to postpone the Pacific League until everything settles down."

Baseball has been played in Japan since the 1870s and survived the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake, which levelled much of Tokyo, and even the Second World War, during which much American culture was outlawed.

This month's quake left Tokyo largely untouched, striking the Pacific north-east coast, especially Iwate and Miyagi prefectures. One of the game's biggest stars, Yusei Kikuchi, who grew up in that region, summed up the feelings of many players this week: "I cannot think about encouraging people by playing baseball now. The field I used to practise at, the beach I visited with my family, everything is gone now."

Some athletes have been quietly helping. Japan's most famous baseball star, Ichiro Suzuki, who plays in the US for the Seattle Mariners, announced this week he is donating 100 million yen (about £760,000) towards relief for the quake victims. The team's owner, Nintendo, has pledged another $3.7m (£2.3m) in financial help.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
News
Businessman at desk circa 1950s
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Linux Systems Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of UK Magento hosting so...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Development Manager - North Kent - OTE £19K

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A unique opportunity has arisen...

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Tradewind are working with this secondary s...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: We are working with a school that needs a t...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea