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
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
News
UK Border Control
i100
Sport
boxing
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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: E-Commerce Manager - Fashion Accessories

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Senior / Assistant Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Exciting new position available at an independ...

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Credit Controller

£20000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The successful candidate will h...

Recruitment Genius: Office Junior / Assistant

£7800 - £13455 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A career opportunity has become ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn