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  • "I Was Happy Just to Be Able to Play Baseball"Members of the Japanese Women's National Team Reflect on Their Playing Days
  • Maki Itoh (bio), Mary A. Hums (bio), and Glenna G. Bower (bio)

Baseball has grown its international reach over the years. One country where baseball has a storied history and captures the imaginations of its citizens is Japan. Although its beginnings are primarily rooted in participation by men, women in Japan are now establishing themselves in the sport as well, and there is a current movement to increase participation by girls and women in the sport they have grown to love. In order to establish some strategies to do so, it is essential to understand the history of women's baseball in Japan, its present status, and some direction for the future. After first providing background on the development of women's baseball in Japan, the authors discuss the present status and future outlook for women's baseball in Japan by utilizing insights from one particular group of female baseball players who know the sport well—current and former members of "Madonna Japan"—the Japanese Women's National Baseball Team. This group willingly shared their reflections on their sport and their place in it.

history and development of women's baseball in japan

The first girls' baseball team in Japan was established at Ehime Imabari Girl's High School in 1917,1 and girls' teams from several schools later got together for the first baseball tournament in 1919. Shortly after World War II, in 1950, the Women's Baseball Federation of Japan (WBFJ) was established, and a league was formed with four women's professional teams2. This league made the transition from a professional league to a corporate league and continued until 1971 when it ceased operations. In 1980s to 1990s, Women's Rubber Baseball became popular. The game uses a hard rubber ball rather than a traditional leather baseball. The Japan Rubber Baseball Association permitted registration of girls in 1987 and launched its first National Tournament in [End Page 179] 1990. Meanwhile, Women's traditional baseball in Japan has made continuous progress from the 1990s up to the present time. High school, university, and corporate teams were established, and professional teams soon followed. The first Japan High School Girls' Hardball Baseball Tournament was held in 1997. The number of female players gradually increased as more women developed the passion to play baseball and people grew increasingly eager to support them. As a result, various women's baseball tournaments began to be held3.

The Girls Professional Baseball League was founded in August of 2009, and shortly thereafter a women's professional baseball league started up in April 2010 with two teams from the Kansai area. Companies such as WAKASA SEIKATSU Co., Ltd., a supplements and cosmetics manufacturer in Kyoto City, contributed to the operation of the league. The league was founded to offer an environment where women players could devote themselves to the sport and improve their level of performance. The average number of spectators for the opening season of the women's professional baseball league in 2010 was 1,535 per game. In the 2011 season, the average number of spectators was 1,109. However, the league still had many challenges to address.

While these opportunities were growing in Japan, the sport of baseball was working to extend its presence on the international stage, although there were setbacks along the way. When men's baseball was excluded from the 2012 London Olympic Games, the International Baseball Federation (IBF) revealed that it aimed to win back their place on the Olympic Programme and also temporarily suggested that they try to promote women's baseball to become an Olympic sport. The IBF and International Softball Federation, which both aimed to win back their places in the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, exchanged a memorandum of understanding in October 2012 in order to move forward by establishing an international organization to take overall control of both sports. However, when the International Baseball Federation and the International Softball Federation merged to form a single governing body, the World Baseball Softball Confederation, baseball was designated as a men...