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Promoting International Exchange Through Sport (March 10, 2005)

A ugandan player receives instruction from Ishige. (Shimomura Yasuki)
Several Japanese pioneers are fostering international exchange with African countries through the medium of baseball. In 2004 a former star of Ghana's national baseball team trained as a coach with a Japanese professional team; a group of youths from Uganda visited Japan to watch Japan's national high school tournament; and Zimbabwe's national team took part in an exchange project with Kwansei Gakuin University. All of these initiatives were the result of seeds of friendship planted in Africa by representatives of such groups as the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV).

The Association for Friends of African Baseball
In September 2004, Paul Manoma, a former star of the Ghanaian baseball team, visited Japan to participate in practices with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, during which he wore a uniform sporting the number 123. "Japanese people are very punctual. I was most surprised by how precisely they do everything," said Manoma, who became the first African ever to undergo full-fledged coaching training in Japan. The person who made Manoma's visit a reality was Tomonari Shinya, who founded the non-profit Association for Friends of African Baseball (AFAB) in January 2004.

Ugandan players pose with a local youth team in Nagano. (Association for Friends of African Baseball)

Tomonari, an alumnus of Keio University's baseball team, works for the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). He served as manager of Ghana's national team when he was assigned to the country nine years ago. In 1999, Tomonari led a team that competed in the African qualifiers for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Though the team lost in the semi-finals, he formed the AFAB upon his return to Japan after receiving a letter from the commissioner of the African Baseball Association requesting that he continue to play a role in promoting cultural exchange with Africa through baseball. His efforts since then include sending baseball equipment to Africa and forming a baseball team comprised of Africans residing in Japan. Furthermore, a visit to Japan by boys and girls from youth baseball teams in Uganda last summer was made possible thanks to Tomonari and Konno Toru, who works in Africa as a JOCV. In addition to receiving instruction from former Orix BlueWave manager Ishige Hiromichi, the young Ugandan ball players engaged in a variety of baseball-related exchange activities, including watching high school and pro games.

Africa's Own Field of Dreams
Meanwhile, former Kwansei Gakuin University student and baseball player Ito Masuro initiated an exchange project between the university and the Zimbabwe national team. Along with former JOCV participant Murai Yosuke, who taught baseball in Zimbabwe's capital Harare after retiring from his corporate team, the two developed the Zimbabwe national team. Seven years ago, Ito realized a long-cherished dream by building Harare Dream Park, Africa's own "field of dreams," with his own hands in the nation's capital.

The level of play in Africa lags behind that of Japan, which has a much more extensive baseball tradition. But if efforts by such pioneers as Tomonari and Ito continue, a team from Africa may one day be able to compete for an Olympic medal. Paul Manoma also embraces this hope: "My dream is to lead a team to a place in the Olympics."

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Copyright (c) 2005 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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