(photo courtesy of Asahi)
*This post is a bit of a re-do from my old blog, but if you don’t want to go there, I’ve re-done it here as well.
Kokoyakyu doesn’t stop, even for snow. Well, maybe it does, but not for long.
So, we know that high school baseball in Japan is religion, but what exactly is their calendar?
Well, the dividing line is the Natsu Koushien tournament, and is where they saying “last summer” comes around. For the 3rd years (seniors), once their team loses that’s it. Their kokoyakyu career is over and the baton is passed on to the underclassmen.
So the first part of the calendar actually might start while Natsu Koushien is going in and that is the Aki Taikais (秋大会), or fall tournaments. The aki taikais are basically in effect qualifiers for the Haru Koushien the following year and run from late-August to mid-November when the Meiji Jingu Taikai ends.
Working backwards, in general 32 teams are invited with regions of Japan receiving bids.
- Hokkaido (1)
- Tohoku (2)
- Kanto ex Tokyo (4 + 1 floating bid w/Tokyo)
- Tokyo (1 + 1 floating bid w/Kanto)
- Hokushinetsu (2)
- Toukai (2)
- Kinki (6)
- Chuugoku (2 + 1 floating bid w/Shikoku)
- Shikoku (2 + 1 floating bid w/SChuugoku)
- Kyushu (4)
There is also a bid given to the super-region who wins the Meiji Jingu Taikai, which is a tournament of all the super-region champions. The final 3 bids are for 21st century schools, which exhibit some quality that warrants the team receiving in effect a “sponsor’s invite”.
But back to the super-regional tournaments, prefectures (or regions in Hokkaido’s case) will send several teams to the super-regionals. The tournaments may not be single-elimination as is generally the case. Some have round-robin play in regionals, others have repechages which mean that you can lose a game and still qualify for the next stage.
After the Aki Taikais is basically when teams have their break. Though when I say break, I mean there’s a break from tournaments. That does not mean that practice for schools stop just because it’s winter. The above picture from Hokkaido proves that point. Instead, there’s non-stop practicing and possibly scheduled games against other schools.
One thing to remember about kokoyakyu is that there are no leagues, no divisions. Instead there are the tournaments and any game a school can schedule with another team. So practices and scheduled games are the only way a team can get work in.
Come the new year and in January, the JHBF makes their selection of teams for the Haru Koushien. And thanks to the power of the internet and streaming, that process can be viewed live (and allows someone like me to make judgment of how asinine their selections can be, but that was the topic of another article).
March comes around and so does the Haru Koushien occurs and we get our spring Koushien champion.
Soon after, and like the Aki Taikai possibly during, the Haru Taikais occur. The difference here is that the Haru Taikai doesn’t necessarily qualify teams for anything in particular. It might be used for seeding come the summer or fall taikais, but in general it is my impression it’s used in lieu of leagues to get schools actual game experience. As such games can start as early as late March (ex. Kyushu) and go until June (ex. Tohoku).
Once the Haru Taikais are done, there may not be much turnaround until the Natsu Koushien qualifying begins in mid-June down in Kyushu. This is the big one where teams get one shot. Lose, and go home knowing your summer is over.
If you are able to win and move on to claim your prefecture, you get to punch your ticket to Natsu Koushien in August where the stories are endless and maybe, just maybe, you can write a story of your own.
And whether or not your summer ends here, the calendar turns over to the next year and the next group of people looking for that one chance to step onto the grounds at Koushien.