• Japan In Focus

Osaka: Hanshin Tigers Fans’ Love for Team Never Fades

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Hanshin Tigers fans cheer at Kyocera Dome Osaka during a Japan Series game on Nov. 5.

OSAKA — The Hanshin Tigers and the Orix Buffaloes — two baseball teams from the Kansai region — battled it out for the championship in the Japan Series, resulting in the Tigers lifting the trophy for the first time in 38 years.

Osaka was ecstatic over the long-awaited victory.

However, if the Tigers’ home stadium is Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, why are they so beloved in Osaka?

Rivalry

When the Tigers beat the Yomiuri Giants on Sept. 14 at Koshien Stadium, Hanshin players rushed the field and surrounded the mound after relief pitcher Suguru Iwazaki struck out the last batter to clinch the Central League pennant. The players then tossed manager Akinobu Okada into the air to celebrate. The team claimed the league title for the first time since 2005.

Kenichiro Takahashi from Osaka has been a Tigers season-ticket holder for 20 years and has been cheering them on from left field.

Nicknamed “left fielder Takahashi” by Tigers fans as well as the team’s cheer squad, the 51-year-old was overjoyed and praised the manager, who had previously led the team to clinch the 2005 pennant, for leading the team to win the championship in his first year back at the helm.

Courtesy of Kenichiro Takahashi
Kenichiro Takahashi poses for a photo holding a Hanshin support placard at the Koshien Stadium stand in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, in September.

“Thank you, God! Thank you, Buddha! Thank you, Mr. Okada!” Takahashi cheered.

The Tigers, founded in 1935, were the first professional baseball team in the Kansai region. The team’s original name was the Osaka Tigers.

When the Tigers played against the Giants in a legendary 1959 game — which was broadcast live on television — in the presence of Emperor Showa, the image of the Tigers as an Osaka team took root.

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Slugger Fumio Fujimura hits in his Osaka Tigers uniform in 1950.

Sportswriter Ko Hiroo believes the “Tigers’ popularity grew as the team embodied the Osaka people’s sense of rivalry with the Giants in Tokyo.”

The team’s name was changed to the Hanshin Tigers in 1961, but the love the people of Osaka had for the team remained unchanged.

In 1985, when Okada was still playing for the team, the Tigers won the Japan Series for the first time in the team’s history.

The Japan News

Loved despite losses

In the 1990s, when the team wasn’t doing well, the Tigers were being referred to as the “Helpless Tigers.” The fans lamented the poor performance but were also able to laugh it off.

“Tigers fans have an ethos of enjoying themselves by reflecting the negative feeling — that is ‘We’ll never be as good as Tokyo’ — onto the team,” Hiroo said.

“If they won all the time, we wouldn’t appreciate the victories,” said Takahashi, who goes to Koshien Stadium for most of the Tigers’ home games. “I’m happy whenever they win, and that’s why I can’t stop being a fan.”

Takahashi added: “The team gives me the energy to work hard again tomorrow. The Tigers are a part of my life.”

Fans of 3 Kansai teams now cheer for just 1: Buffaloes

The Buffaloes clinched their third consecutive league pennant with a brilliant come-from-behind victory over the Chiba Lotte Marines on Sept. 20 at Kyocera Dome Osaka.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Orix Buffaloes fans cheer at Kyocera Dome Osaka during a Japan Series game on Nov. 4.

Hiroto Miyagawa, 48, a fan from Osaka, was at the stadium high-fiving everyone around him.

“I never thought I’d live to see this since they were doing so badly for so long,” he said.

While Tigers fans are incredibly enthusiastic, fans of the Buffaloes, which is a combination of three teams, are more of a hodgepodge.

In 1988, the Hankyu Braves, which had won 10 Pacific League pennants, were sold to become the Orix Blue Wave. In 1995, when the Great Hanshin Earthquake hit Kobe, the Kobe-based Blue Wave won the season’s pennant race and used the slogan, “Gambaro Kobe” (You can do it, Kobe). The team went on to win the Japan Series in 1996.

However, the team’s performance started to decline after Blue Wave star Ichiro Suzuki went to the major leagues, among other changes. In 2004, the team merged with the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes as a result of financial difficulties.

The Buffaloes’ name changed several times, leading some fans to abandon the team. Miyagawa, who was a Kintetsu fan, said he was heartbroken for a bit when the team’s red-based uniform changed to blue.

“I think there is still a rift between the fans,” said longtime Hankyu fan Yasushi Fujimoto, 56, from Sanda, Hyogo Prefecture. “But I’m sure deep down, they all hope to feel united as fans.”

The Japan Series, which pitted the team against the incredibly popular Tigers, created the perfect opportunity to unite the hearts and minds of Buffaloes fans everywhere.