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Japan's Subtropic Island a Powerhouse of Excitement

June 1, 1999

Okinawa Shogaku High School celebrates their national baseball championship. (Tokyo Chunichi Sports)

"Sorry to keep you waiting for so long. . . ." So begins the hit song "Nagai Aida" (A Long Time), by popular Okinawan female duo Kiroro, which was used as the opening theme of the seventy-first spring high school baseball tournament held from late March through early April 1999. These words foretold how the tournament would culminate--in the first victory by an Okinawan high school since the island prefecture began to participate in this twice-yearly event in the summer of 1958. Okinawa Shogaku High School's team finally brought home the trophy that had been awaited for 41 years.

Spring and Summer Koshien
Baseball, including high school baseball, is one of Japan's most popular spectator sports. National high school tournaments are held every spring and summer at Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, where teams from across the country vie for the national high school championship. The two tournaments differ in character. While only those teams that have won the qualifying rounds in each prefecture can compete in the All-Japan High School Baseball Championship Tournament, commonly known as the "summer Koshien," teams to participate in the National Invitational Senior High School Baseball Tournament (the "spring Koshien") are selected by the Japan High School Baseball Federation based on the results of the fall regional tournaments and other competitions.

Pride of Okinawa
Until Okinawa was reverted from U.S. to Japanese administration in 1972, Koshien athletes from the island had to carry passports when entering mainland Japan. Because of the Plant Protection Law, they were not even allowed to bring home the handfuls of soil they had taken from the stadium, a traditional memento for those who play in the prestigious tournament. The best they could do was to sprinkle the soil into the ocean on their way back by ferry or at Naha Airport, near the prefectural capital.

Previously the highest standing for Okinawan schools was second place, achieved twice at the summer Koshien. Watching 21 Okinawan schools play in the spring Koshien and 31 in the summer tournament, Okinawa's 1.29 million residents dreamed of winning the national title.

Local newspapers gave extensive coverage on the long-awaited triumph. At Naha Airport the young players were greeted by some 1,700 local citizens, and 2,500 gathered at their school to hear the team report on their victory. Even Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi expressed his congratulations, saying, "This is big news, and I'm sure the Okinawan people are delighted."

Trendy Okinawa Looks Ahead
Heat waves from Okinawa have actually been sweeping across Japan for a couple of years now. In addition to the above-mentioned duo Kiroro, many popular singers from the prefecture have won national fame, including Namie Amuro and the groups Max and Speed. Previously the public impression of Okinawa had been tinted strongly with images of war and U.S. military bases. But now Okinawa has transformed itself into a land full of vitality, always on the cutting edge. It is no exaggeration to say that Japan's popular culture and trends nowadays often originate in Okinawa. Now that it has been chosen as the site of the Group of Eight summit meeting in 2000, Okinawa Prefecture is attracting even more attention. In the song "Mirai-e" (Into the Future), Kiroro sings, "Come, look ahead of you; this is your future"--lyrics that seem to describe Okinawa as it gets ready to spread its wings and fly out into the world. The Okinawa summit can be expected to send some passionate messages to the world, too.

Trends in JapanEdited 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.