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.

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
football
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
News
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
i100
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Travel
travel
Life and Style
The veteran poverty campaigner Sir Bob Geldof issues a stark challenge to emerging economies at the Melbourne HIV/Aids conference
health
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich talk Penguins of Madagascar at Comic-Con
comic-con 2014Cumberbatch fans banned from asking about Sherlock at Comic-Con
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
filmGuardians Of The Galaxy should have taken itself a bit more seriously, writes Geoffrey Macnab
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Digital Content Officer - Central London - £33,000

£28000 - £33000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive (Digital Marketi...

SSIS/ORACLE DBA

£400 - £401 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SSIS Administrat...

The benefits of being in Recruitment at SThree...

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: SThree, International Recruitme...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform