When the Hanshin Tigers were last declared the top baseball team in Japan, their supporters commemorated by jumping into a canal and performing an “abduction” ritual that some believe inflicted a curse on the team for almost forty years.
The Japanese baseball team, known as the “sleeping giants,” had to delay their opportunity to break a curse and win the Japan Series for the first time since 1985. They were defeated by their local rivals, the Orix Buffaloes, which means the final game of the season will be a decisive seventh game.
Hanshin was unable to clinch their first series championship in 38 years at Kyocera Dome in Osaka. Despite a strong pitching performance by Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Orix was able to tie the series at 3-3. This sets the stage for an exciting match on Sunday at the same venue, which is also Orix’s home field.
The city of Osaka would erupt in jubilant festivities if the Tigers were to win in Japan’s most beloved sport, despite their home stadium, the iconic 99-year-old Koshien Stadium, being located in the nearby Hyogo prefecture.
Hanshin and Orix, both aiming for a consecutive championship, have created an exciting finish to the first Japan Series between two Osaka-based baseball teams in 59 years. As the series hangs in the balance, the enthusiastic fans of the Tigers left the dome on a hot evening, hoping that their wait would end in just 24 hours.
In 1985, when Hanshin won the series, Japan was on the verge of its economy being inflated by assets, Margaret Thatcher was the prime minister of Britain, and Nelson Mandela was still incarcerated in apartheid South Africa.
Some supporters of the team attribute the lack of success in the following years to the extravagant festivities that occurred after winning the Central League title. Instead of just jumping into the Dotonbori canal from Ebisubashi bridge, some fans also removed a statue of Colonel Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, who happened to resemble the team’s top hitter that year, Randy Bass. They then threw the statue into the canal.
Some believe that the negative treatment he received from Tigers’ fans caused a curse on the team, which continued even after the colonel was found in 2009 without his glasses and left hand, during renovations.
Over the next 17 years, Hanshin achieved only two top-three placements and numerous last-place finishes. It wasn’t until 2003 that they were able to win the league pennant again. They managed to repeat this in 2005, but were unable to secure the Nippon ichi title (Japan’s number one).
“It’s been 38 years, so of course there are more nerves than usual,” Yuko Kawase, a Hanshin fan who watches her team about 90 times a season, said on the eve of the series. “But the fans are totally behind the players.”
A 24-year-old fan of the Tigers, Masaki Yamaguchi, expressed that Yamamoto’s pitching was the deciding factor in Saturday’s game. However, despite the outcome, he remains hopeful and eager to witness Hanshin reclaim their title as the top team in Japan, a feat he has not personally experienced.
Two teams representing the Osaka area have reached the series, which is surely a pleasant surprise for many neutral fans. This shift in attention away from the Tokyo-based Yomiuri Giants, who are supported by the powerful conservative newspaper the Yomiuri Shimbun, has not diminished their reputation as the elite of Japanese baseball. This is especially true among the media in the capital city.
In the early years of professional baseball in Japan, the Giants were the dominant team while the Osaka Tigers, who were originally formed in 1935, were seen as the second best team in the country.
However, they quickly became a symbol of optimism for the people in Kansai, the western region of Japan which encompasses the significant cities of Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe. This also resonated with sports enthusiasts across Japan who were displeased with the Giants’ dominance.
Although Hanshin has not been successful, the devotion of its fans has created a lively fan culture that is unparalleled in Japan. The noise level at Koshien Stadium during games can be overwhelming, particularly when a home run is hit and the opposing team’s pitcher is sent flying into the stands.
The significant number of police officers in downtown Osaka indicates that the canal-diving incident, should Hanshin emerge victorious in the final game on Sunday, is unlikely to happen again. Instead, the bustling city, known for its delicious street food and humorous residents, will celebrate the team’s accomplishment with discounted sales at department stores and bars/restaurants.
According to Jason Coskrey, a sports journalist for the Japan Times, a win for Hanshin in the Japan Series, which is similar to the World Series in the US, would hold significant importance for the community.
According to Coskrey, if the Tigers were to win, it would cause a major celebration in Osaka. The team has not achieved victory in a significant amount of time, so the community is eagerly awaiting their triumph. The Tigers have a devoted and enthusiastic fanbase who take great pride in their team.
As the Hanshin fans, players, and management near the end of their successful season, they have decided to refrain from saying the word “yusho” (meaning victory) out of fear that it will bring bad luck and overconfidence. Instead, they use the term “are” to refer to their desired outcome.
The fans of Hanshin, who have endured for a long time and are superstitious, will only believe that the curse of the colonel has been lifted if the team wins the Japan Series. All they can do is wait and remain hopeful.