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Where EAST meets the Northwest

UNDEFEATED AT THE WBC. Japan’s World Baseball Classic (WBC) team manager Hideki Kuriyama, second right in front, with his players and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, front right, gesture together at the latter’s official residence in Tokyo, Japan, on March 23, 2023, after winning the WBC final against the United States. Pitcher Roki Sasaki is seen at third left in front. (Kimimasa Mayama/Pool Photo via AP)

From The Asian Reporter, V33, #4 (April 3, 2023), page 10.

Japan’s winning WBC team drops in on Prime Minister Kishida

By Mari Yamaguchi

The Associated Press

TOKYO — Prime Minister Fumio Kishida might have had his most enjoyable day in office when Japan’s winning World Baseball Classic (WBC) team paid a visit.

Kishida was beaming when a gold medal from the winning team was placed around his neck, and he also received a large card in a frame containing each player’s signature.

"To all the members of Samurai Japan, congratulations on your victory in the WBC," Kishida said, thanking them for their courtesy visit to his office after their long flight back from the United States.

Japan finished undefeated — only the second team to do that in the World Baseball Classic — after beating the United States 3-2 in the deciding game.

"I thank you for giving tremendous courage and energy to all of Japan. Your huge achievement was possible because the power of each individual and the power of the team as a whole were combined, and I sincerely appreciated it," Kishida said.

Players wore suits — not baseball uniforms — and posed for photos, including one imitating Lars Nootbaar’s pepper-grinder gesture. Players like Nootbaar who compete in Major League Baseball did not return to Japan.

Kishida said he did not get to watch the two final victories over Mexico and the United States because he was in Ukraine holding talks with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Japan manager Hideki Kuriyama said he’d "hardly seen such an excellent team" and encouraged the prime minister to praise them — which he did.

"I told my players that history is the history of winners," Kuriyama said. "There are things that cannot be communicated unless we win. I’m really happy that the players really worked hard and won."

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From The Asian Reporter, V33, #4 (April 3, 2023), page 10.

Pepper-grinder move unwelcome in Japan high school tourney

By Yuri Kageyama

The Associated Press

TOKYO — Lars Nootbaar’s imaginary pepper-grinder was the talk of World Baseball Classic (WBC) games in Japan, but the fun-loving gesture by the St. Louis Cardinals outfielder does not appear welcome in Japan’s popular high school baseball tournament.

When a player for Tohoku High School twisted his two fists together — imitating Nootbaar — after getting on first base, the umpire told him to stop.

Hiroshi Sato, manager for Tohoku High School, defended his player. Tohoku lost to Yamanashi Gakuin Senior High School 3-1 at Koshien Stadium in Osaka.

"It’s so popular the whole nation is talking about it," Sato was quoted as saying in the nationally circulated Mainichi newspaper and other Japanese media.

"The children are just having fun. Why do adults have to put a stop to it," said Sato, who played for Tokyo’s Yomiuri Giants.

"We should be thinking more about how children can freely enjoy baseball."

High school baseball tournaments are extremely popular in Japan. Major leaguers Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Matsui got their start in the tournament. San Diego Padres pitcher Yu Darvish, who was on Japan’s team in the WBC, played for Tohoku.

High school baseball regulations tend to curb expressions of emotions, such as making a clenched fist after scoring.

"We have always asked high school baseball to abstain from unnecessary performances and gestures. We understand the players’ feelings of wanting to have fun, but the federation believes the fun should come from the game," the Japan High School Baseball Federation said in a statement.

Taro Kono, who is in the cabinet of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, raised the issue of the strict rules in a Twitter post. Kono was a leading candidate for prime minister when Kishida was chosen late in 2021.

Nootbaar’s pepper-grinder imitation was a hit in Japan’s five games at the Tokyo Dome, with television cameras often focusing on Nootbaar’s teammates making the gesture, or his mother Kumiko as she watched from the stands.

Nootbaar was born in California and is the first to play for Japan’s national baseball team by virtue of ancestry. His mother is Japanese.

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