Nippon Professional Baseball

Nippon Professional Baseball (日本野球機構, Nippon Yakyū Kikō) or NPB is the highest level of baseball in Japan. Locally, it is often called Puro Yakyū (プロ野球), meaning Professional Baseball.

Nippon Professional Baseball
Upcoming season or competition:
2023 Nippon Professional Baseball season
FormerlyJapanese Baseball League (JPBL)
FoundedJPBL, February 5, 1936 (1936-02-05)
Pacific League, November 26, 1949 (1949-11-26)[1]
Central League, December 15, 1949 (1949-12-15)[2]
CEORyozo Kato
CommissionerSadayuki Sakakibara
No. of teams12
Headquarters5-36-7 Shiba, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Most recent
Orix Buffaloes
(5th title)
Most titlesYomiuri Giants
(22 titles)
QualificationAsia Series (2005–2013)
TV partner(s)
  • Japan
  • Broadcast
  • Fuji TV
  • NHK
  • TV Asahi
  • J Sports
  • TBS
  • Gaora Sports
  • Sports Live+
  • Live streaming
  • DAZN
  • United States
  • Post-game Streaming
  • For the Fans (Pacific League)
  • International
  • Live streaming
  • Pacific League TV

Outside Japan, it is often just referred to as "Japanese baseball". The roots of the league can be traced back to the formation of the "Greater Japan Tokyo Baseball Club" (大日本東京野球倶楽部, Dai-Nippon Tōkyō Yakyū Kurabu) in Tokyo, founded in 1934, and the original circuit for the sport in the Empire two years later – Japanese Baseball League (1936–1949), and continued to play even through the final years of World War II. The league that is today's NPB for Japan was formed when that sports organization reorganized in 1950, creating two leagues with six teams each in the Central League and the Pacific League with an annual season-ending Japan Series championship play-off series of games starting that year.

The NPB also oversees the Western League and the Eastern League, NPB's minor leagues.

Since the first Japan Series in 1950, the Yomiuri Giants have the most championships with 22, and the most appearances with 37. Entering the 2023 season, the Orix Buffaloes, who defeated the Tokyo Yakult Swallows 4-2-1 in the 2022 Japan Series, are the reigning champions. The Japan Series has been contested 73 times as of 2022, with the Pacific League winning 37 and the Central League winning 36.

League structure

Nippon Professional Baseball consists of two leagues, the Central League and the Pacific League, which each have six teams. There are also two secondary-level professional minor leagues, the Eastern League and the Western League, that play shorter schedules for developing players. NPB teams are allowed to have more than one minor league team as long as they are outside of the established minor league system, with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and Yomiuri Giants being the only teams taking advantage of this. As of 2023, the Hawks have three minor league teams,[3] the Giants have two, and the other ten teams only have one minor league team each. Teams below the Eastern and Western Leagues play exhibition matches against various collegiate, industrial, Shikoku Island League Plus, and other NPB minor league teams.

The Central League and Pacific League operate as separate entities, unlike the four major professional sports leagues of North America whose leagues operate as one singular entity. TV rights for games are always held by a game's home team. The Pacific League has used the designated hitter (DH) rule since 1975, while the Central League has not used the DH outside of interleague play where a Pacific League team is the home team and in the 1985 Japan Series.

The season starts in late March or early April, and ends in October, with two or three all-star games in July. In recent decades prior to 2007, the two leagues each scheduled between 130 and 140 regular season games, with the 146 games played by the Central League in 2005 and 2006 being the only exception. Both leagues have since adopted 143-game seasons, 71 or 72 each at home and on road, facing their five respective intra-league opponents 25 times each and facing their six interleague opponents three times each in late May to early June in interleague play, with a separate champion being crowned for the team with the best record through the 18 games of interleague play. In general, Japanese teams play six games a week, with every Monday off (except on specific occasions, such as a game being played outside of the home team's primary stadium or if a rainout forced a game to be postponed to a Monday).[4] Unlike in Major League Baseball, doubleheaders have not been featured in NPB since the late 1990s.

Following the conclusion of each regular season, the top three teams from each league go on to play in the Climax Series championship play-off tournament, with the winner of each play-off tournament facing off in a best-of-seven championship series known as the Japan Series (known locally as the Nippon Series). Implemented in 2004 by the Pacific League (then known as the Pacific League Playoffs) and in 2007 by the Central League, the Climax Series is a two-stage system; in the "First Stage", the second and third place ranking teams face off in a best-of-three series played entirely in the second place team's home stadium. In the case of an instance where the series ends 1-1-1, the higher seed always advances to the Final Stage. In the "Final Stage", the winner of the First Stage will face off against the league's pennant winner in a best-of-six series played entirely in the pennant winner's home stadium. The higher seed always starts with a "ghost win", or a 1-0 advantage in the series before any games have been played, meaning the higher seed only has to win three games whereas the lower seed has to win four games. In the event of a tie, the higher seed would subsequently only need to win two games. The winners of each league's Final Stage then face off in the Japan Series, a best-of-seven series mirroring the format of the World Series. In the rare instance where the series ends 3-3-1 after seven games, a Game 8 will be played with unlimited innings at the stadium with home-field advantage. Hypothetically, a Japan Series can go up to 14 games in length if each of the first seven games resulted in a 12-inning tie. Since its inception, home-field advantage alternates from year to year between the CL and PL, with the CL representative getting home-field advantage in even years and the PL representative getting home-field advantage in odd years.

Since its adoption by both leagues in 2007, Climax Series does not determine who won each league's pennant, rather the team with the best regular season record in each league wins the pennant, regardless of their result in the Climax Series. This has led to four occasions where the Japan Series champion did not win their league's pennant that year, with those being the 2007 Chunichi Dragons, 2010 Chiba Lotte Marines, and the 2018 and 2019 Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. However, from 2004 to 2006, the winner of the Pacific League Playoffs was given the Pacific League pennant for that year.

Financial problems

Financial problems plague many teams in the league. It is believed that with the exception of the Yomiuri Giants, Hanshin Tigers, and Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, all teams are operating with considerable subsidies, often as much as ¥6 billion (about US$73 million), from their parent companies. A raise in the salaries of players is often blamed, but, from the start of the professional league, parent companies paid the difference as an advertisement. Most teams have never tried to improve their finances through constructive marketing. In addition, teams in the Central League historically saw much higher profits than the Pacific League, having popular teams such as the Giants and Tigers.[5]

The number of metropolitan areas represented in the league increased from four to five in 1988, when the Nankai Hawks (now Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks) were sold to Daiei and moved to Fukuoka, nine years after the Nishitetsu Lions moved from Fukuoka to Tokorozawa to become the Seibu Lions, and from five to seven between 2003 and 2005, as the Nippon-Ham Fighters moved from Tokyo to Sapporo prior to the 2004 season. The Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes merged with the Orix BlueWave (becoming the Orix Buffaloes) in the middle of 2004, which caused a player strike that eventually resulted in the creation of the Tōhoku Rakuten Golden Eagles being founded in Sendai to maintain the 12-team balance before the 2005 season. [6]

Until 1993, baseball was the only team sport played professionally in Japan. In that year, the J.League professional football league was founded. The new football league placed teams in prefectural capitals around the country—rather than clustering them in and around Tokyo—and the teams were named after their locations rather than after corporate sponsors, despite many clubs in the J.League still being owned and subsidized by corporate entities.

The wave of players moving to Major League Baseball, which began with Hideo Nomo "retiring" from the Kintetsu Buffaloes, then signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers, has also added to the financial problems. Attendance suffered as teams lost their most marketable players, while TV ratings declined as viewers tuned into broadcasts of Major League games.[7] To discourage players from leaving to play in North America, or to at least compensate teams that lose players, Japanese baseball and MLB agreed on a posting system for players under contract. MLB teams wishing to negotiate with a player submit bids for a "posting fee", which the winning MLB team would pay the Japanese team if the player signs with the MLB team. Free agents are not subject to the posting system, however, and some teams almost never post their players.[8][9]



The first professional baseball team in Japan was founded by media mogul Matsutarō Shōriki in late 1934 and called the Dai Nippon Tokyo Yakyu Kurabu ("the Great Japan Tokyo Baseball Club"). After matching up with a team of visiting American All-Stars that included Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, and Charlie Gehringer, the team spent the 1935 season barnstorming in the U.S., winning 93 of 102 games against semi-pro and Pacific Coast League teams. According to historian Joseph Reaves, "The only minor drawbacks to the team's popularity in the States were their kanji characters and their cumbersome Japanese name. They rectified both by renaming themselves the Tokyo Kyojin ['Tokyo Giants'] and adopting a uniform identical to the New York Giants…"[10]

From 1936 to 1950, professional baseball in Japan was played under the banner of the Japanese Baseball League (JBL). The league's dominant team during this period was the Tokyo Kyojin, which won nine league championships, including six in a row from 1938 to 1943. (The team was officially renamed the Yomiuri Giants in 1947.)

NPB establishment

After the 1949 season, the JBL team owners reorganized into the NPB; Daiei Stars owner Masaichi Nagata promoted a two-league system, which became the Pacific League (initially called the Taiheiyo Baseball Union) and the Central League. (Nagata became the first president of the Pacific League.)[11] The league now known as Nippon Pro Baseball began play in the 1950 season.

Four JBL teams formed the basis of the Central League: the Chunichi Dragons, the Hanshin Tigers, the Yomiuri Giants, and the Shochiku Robins (formerly the Taiyō Robins). To fill out the league, four new teams were formed: the Hiroshima Carp, the Kokutetsu Swallows, the Nishi Nippon Pirates, and the Taiyō Whales.

Four JBL teams formed the basis of the Pacific League: the Hankyu Braves, the Nankai Hawks, the Daiei Stars, and the Tokyu Flyers. To fill out the league, three new teams were formed: the Kintetsu Pearls, the Mainichi Orions, and the Nishitetsu Clippers.

Matsutarō Shōriki, the Giants' owner, acted as NPB's unofficial commissioner and oversaw the first Japan Series, which featured the Mainichi Orions defeating the Shochiku Robins 4 games to 2.

Expansion and contraction

The Central League's Nishi Nippon Pirates existed for one season—they placed sixth in 1950, and the following season merged with the Nishitetsu Clippers (also based in Fukuoka) to form the Nishitetsu Lions. This brought the number of Central League teams down to an ungainly arrangement of seven. In 1952, it was decided that any Central League team ending the season with a winning percentage below .300 would be disbanded or merged with other teams. The Shochiku Robins fell into this category, and were merged with the Taiyō Whales to become the Taiyō Shochiku Robins in January 1953. This enabled the Central League to shrink to an even number of six teams.

In 1954 a new Pacific League team was founded, the Takahashi Unions, to increase the number of teams in that division to eight. Although the team was stocked with players from the other Pacific League teams, the Unions struggled from the outset and finished in the second division every season. In 1957, the Unions were merged with the Daiei Stars to form the Daiei Unions (and again bringing the number of Pacific League teams down to seven). The Unions existed for a single season, finishing in last place, 43-1/2 games out of first. In 1958, the Unions merged with the Mainichi Orions to form the Daimai Orions. This enabled the Pacific League to contract from the ungainly seven-team arrangement to six teams.

After these various franchise developments, by the end of the 1950s Nippon Professional Baseball had contracted from the initial allotment of 15 teams down to the current number of 12.

1960s and 1970s

On September 1, 1964, Nankai Hawks' prospect Masanori Murakami became the first Japanese player to play in Major League Baseball[12] when he appeared on the mound for the San Francisco Giants; he returned to Japan in 1966. Disputes over the rights to his contract eventually led to the 1967 United States – Japanese Player Contract Agreement; it would be almost 30 years before another Japanese player played in the Major Leagues.

Continuing their dominance from the JBL, the Yomiuri Giants won nine consecutive Japan Series championships from 1965 to 1973.

The Black Mist Scandal rocked Nippon Professional Baseball between 1969 and 1971. The fallout from a series of game-fixing scandals resulted in several star players receiving long suspensions, salary cuts, or being banned from professional play entirely; the resulting abandonment of baseball by many fans in Japan also led to the sale of the Nishitetsu Lions and the Toei Flyers.

From 1973 to 1982, in a forerunner to today's Climax Series playoff rounds, the Pacific League employed a split season with the first-half winner playing against the second-half winner in a mini-playoff to determine its champion. In 1975, the Pacific League adopted the designated hitter rule. These were implemented in an attempt to draw fans back to Pacific League, as the Pacific League was hit significantly harder by the Black Mist Scandal than the Central League, with only the Hankyu Braves not having players involved in the incident.

1980s and the "Invincible Seibu"

After being a second division team for much of the 1960s and 1970s, in 1983 the Seibu Lions began a period of sustained success. The team gained the moniker "Invincible Seibu" during the 1980s and 1990s due to their sustained domination of the league, winning 11 league championships and eight Japan Series championships between 1982 and 1994. The Lions had a powerful lineup in this period, loaded with sluggers such as Koji Akiyama, Kazuhiro Kiyohara, and Orestes Destrade. Their defense also benefited from the services of skilled players such as Hiromichi Ishige, Hatsuhiko Tsuji and catcher Tsutomu Ito. Among the pitchers employed by the Lions in this period was "The Oriental Express" Taigen Kaku, Osamu Higashio, Kimiyasu Kudoh, Hisanobu Watanabe, and relievers Yoshitaka Katori and Tetsuya Shiozaki.

American expatriate players made their mark in NPB in the 1980s, with players like the Lee brothers (Leron Lee and Leon Lee), Greg "Boomer" Wells, Randy Bass, and Ralph Bryant playing key roles on their NPB teams.

Hideo Nomo and the exodus to MLB

In 1995, star pitcher Hideo Nomo "retired" from the Kintetsu Buffaloes and signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Nomo pitched over the span of 14 seasons in the Major Leagues before retiring in 2008. He won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1995. He twice led the league in strikeouts, and also threw two no-hitters (the only Japanese pitcher to throw a no-hitter in Major League Baseball until Hisashi Iwakuma achieved the feat in August 2015). Nomo's MLB success led to more NPB players moving to Major League Baseball,[13] and eventually led to the creation of the "posting system" in 1998.[14]

Since Nomo's exodus, more than 60 NPB players have played Major League Baseball. Some of the more notable examples include:

  • Ichiro Suzuki – after nine years with the Orix BlueWave, in 2001 Ichiro was posted by the BlueWave and claimed by MLB's Seattle Mariners. The first Japanese-born position player to be signed to the major leagues,[15] Ichiro led the American League (AL) in batting average and stolen bases en route to being named AL Rookie of the Year and AL Most Valuable Player. Ichiro, a member of MLB's 3,000-hit club, has established a number of MLB batting records, including the single-season record for hits with 262. He had ten consecutive 200-hit seasons, the longest streak by any player in history. Between his career hits in Japan's and America's major leagues, Ichiro has the most all-time top-flight hits. On August 27, 2022, Ichiro was enshrined in the Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame.[16]
  • Hideki Matsui – the slugger played ten seasons for the Yomiuri Giants, and then in 2003 moved to MLB, where he starred for the New York Yankees for seven more seasons, including being named the Most Valuable Player for the 2009 World Series. He was the first power hitter from Japan to succeed in Major League Baseball.
  • Kazuhiro Sasaki – a closer famed for his splitter, known as "The Fang". In 2000, he won the American League Rookie of the Year Award after saving 37 games for the Mariners. In 2001, he was a vital contributor to the Mariners' extremely strong team that won an American League record 116 games, of which he saved 45. In 2001 and 2002, he was an All-Star. After 2003, he returned to Japan to pitch in the NPB until his retirement in 2005.
  • Kazuo Matsui – after eight stellar seasons with the Seibu Lions, Matsui signed with the New York Mets on December 15, 2003, in 2004 becoming the first Japanese infielder to play with a Major League Baseball team.[17] His seven seasons in Major League Baseball were not as successful, and he later returned to NPB. Matsui now resides as the manager of his former Lions team.
  • Shohei Ohtani – a two-way player who was a five-time All-Star while playing for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters.[18] Ohtani holds the record for fastest pitch in NPB history at 165 km/h (102.5 mph).[19] After signing with the Los Angeles Angels, Ohtani won the 2018 AL Rookie of the Year award. In 2021, he became the first player in MLB history to be named an All-Star as both a pitcher and a position player.[20] After the conclusion of the season, Ohtani was unanimously named the AL Most Valuable Player.

Merger and strike of 2004

In September 2004, the professional Japanese players went on strike for the first time in over 70 years. The strike arose from a dispute that took place between the owners of the 12 professional Japanese baseball teams and the players' union (which was led by popular Yakult Swallows player-manager Atsuya Furuta), concerning the merging of the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes and the Orix BlueWave. The owners wanted to get rid of the financially defunct Buffaloes, and merge the two baseball leagues, since teams in the Central League saw much higher profits than the Pacific League, having popular teams such as the Yomiuri Giants and Hanshin Tigers. After negotiations, the owners agreed to guarantee the survival of the Chiba Lotte Marines and the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks, leaving the Central League with six teams and the Pacific League with five.

A battle escalated between the players union and the owners, and reached its height when Yomiuri Giants owner Tsuneo Watanabe controversially remarked that Furuta was "a mere player",[21] implying that players had no say in what league would look like the next year. The dispute received huge press coverage (which mostly favored Furuta and the players' union) and was dubbed one of the biggest events in the history of Japanese baseball. Proposals and amendments concerning interleague games, player drafting, and management were also discussed between the players union and the owners during this period.

The strike was originally planned for all Saturday and Sunday games that month, starting from September 11, but was pushed back due to the agreement of another meeting between the union and the owners on September 10. The players decided to strike on September 18–19, 2004, when no progress was made in the negotiations, as there was insufficient time left in the season to hold discussions.

The dispute officially ended after the two groups reached consensus on September 23, 2004. As part of the agreement, the Buffaloes were allowed to merge with the Blue Wave (forming into the Orix Buffaloes); in addition, the Rakuten Golden Eagles were newly created (at a reduced "entry fee") to keep the former six-team league structure. Other agreements included the leagues adopting interleague play to help the Pacific League gain exposure by playing the more popular Central league teams. All these changes took place before the 2005 season.

Interleague play

The two leagues began interleague play in 2005, with each team playing two three-game series (one home, one away) against each of the six teams in the other league. This was reduced to two two-game series in 2007. All interleague play games are played in a seven-week span near the middle of the season.

As of the end of the 2017 season, the Pacific League has won the most games in interleague play since it began in 2005 twelve times, with 2009 being the only time that the Central League has won more games.

League championship series/Climax Series

After 2004, a three-team playoff system was introduced in the Pacific League, dubbed the "Pacific League Championship Series". The teams with the second- and third-best records play in the three-game first stage, with the winner advancing to the five-game final against the top team. The winner becomes the representative of the Pacific League to the Japan Series.

Since the Pacific League won every Japan Series after introducing this league playoff system, an identical system was introduced to the Central League in 2007, and the post-season intra-league games were renamed the "Climax Series" in both leagues. Player statistics and drafting order based on team records are not affected by these postseason games.

Recent history

In 2011 Miyagi Baseball Stadium, home of the Rakuten Eagles, was badly damaged by the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.[22]

The 2013 season featured a livelier baseball which was secretly introduced into NPB, resulting in a marked increase in home runs league-wide.[23] Tokyo Yakult Swallows outfielder Wladimir Balentien broke the NPB single-season home run record of 55, previously held by professional baseball's all-time home run leader Sadaharu Oh in 1964, Tuffy Rhodes in 2001, and Alex Cabrera in 2002.[24] Balantien finished the season with 60 home runs. Three-term NPB commissioner Ryōzō Katō was forced to resign over the scandal when the changed baseball was revealed.[23]

Former Prime Minister Shinzō Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party has proposed expanding NPB to 16 total teams by adding two expansion franchises in each of the country's top-tier professional baseball leagues. The goal of such a move would be to energize the economies of the regions receiving the new teams. Okinawa, Shizuoka, Shikoku, and Niigata have been identified as regions that could play host to said teams.[25]

The 2020 NPB season was delayed numerous times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially preseason games were set to be played without spectators, but with opening day of March 20 remaining unchanged.[26] With the lifting of states of emergency over major Japanese cities, NPB announced that it would begin its regular season on 19 June behind closed doors. "Warm-up" games began 26 May.[27] The shortened 120-game regular season began on 19 June.[28] On 10 July NPB began allowing a limited number of fans to attend games, with plans to further ease restrictions in the near future.[29] On 19 September, attendance was expanded to a maximum of 20,000 fans per game, or 50% of stadium capacity.[30]

Expatriate baseball players in Japan

For most of its history, NPB regulations imposed "gaijin waku", a limit on the number of non-Japanese people per team to two or three—including the manager and/or coaching staff.[31] Even today, a team cannot have more than four foreign players on a 25-man game roster, although there is no limit on the number of foreign players that it may sign. If there are four, they cannot all be pitchers nor all be position players.[31] This limits the cost and competition for expensive players of other nationalities, and is similar to rules in many European sports leagues' roster limits on non-European players.

Nonetheless, expatriate baseball players in Japan have been a feature of the Japanese professional leagues since 1934. Hundreds of foreigners—particularly Americans—have played NPB. Taiwanese nationals Shosei Go and Hiroshi Oshita both starred in the 1940s. American players began to steadily find spots on NPB rosters in the 1960s. American players hold several NPB records, including highest career batting average (Leron Lee, .334), highest single-season batting average (Randy Bass, .389), and the dubious record of most strikeouts in a season by a hitter (Ralph Bryant, 204). Americans rank #3 (Tuffy Rhodes, 55) and #5 (Randy Bass, 54) on the list of most home runs in a season, and #2 in single-season RBI (Bobby Rose, 153). CuraçaoanDutch outfielder Wladimir Balentien holds the NPB single-season home run record with 60 round-trippers in 2013.

Koreans have had an impact in the NPB as well, including such standout players as Lee Seung-yuop, Sun Dong-yol, Baek In-chun, Lee Jong-beom, and Dae-ho Lee. Venezuelans Alex Ramírez, Alex Cabrera, Bobby Marcano, and Roberto Petagine all had long, successful NPB careers. The Dominican third baseman José Fernández played eleven years in the NPB, compiling a .282 batting average with 206 home runs and 772 runs batted in.

Many of the most celebrated foreign players came to Japan after not finding success in the Major Leagues; see "Big in Japan".

Since the 1970s, foreigners have also made an impact in Nippon Professional Baseball's managing and coaching ranks, with Americans Bobby Valentine and Trey Hillman managing their respective teams to Japan Series championships.


Team City Stadium Capacity Coordinates Founded Manager
Central League
Chunichi Dragons Nagoya, Aichi Vantelin Dome Nagoya 40,500 35°11′15.36″N 136°56′57.119″E January 15, 1936[32] Kazuyoshi Tatsunami
Hanshin Tigers Nishinomiya, Hyōgo Hanshin Koshien Stadium 47,757 34°43′16.34″N 135°21′41.84″E December 10, 1935 Akinobu Okada
Hiroshima Toyo Carp Hiroshima, Hiroshima Mazda Stadium 32,000 34°23′33″N 132°29′2.4″E December 5, 1949 Takahiro Arai
Tokyo Yakult Swallows Shinjuku, Tokyo Meiji Jingu Stadium 37,933 35°40′28.3″N 139°43′1.4″E January 12, 1950 Shingo Takatsu
Yokohama DeNA BayStars Yokohama, Kanagawa Yokohama Stadium 30,000 35°26′36.34″N 139°38′24.36″E December 15, 1949 Daisuke Miura
Yomiuri Giants Bunkyō, Tokyo Tokyo Dome 46,000 35°42′20″N 139°45′7″E December 26, 1934 Tatsunori Hara
Pacific League
Chiba Lotte Marines Chiba, Chiba ZOZO Marine Stadium 30,000 35°38′42.86″N 140°1′51.32″E November 26, 1949 Masato Yoshii
Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks Fukuoka, Fukuoka Fukuoka PayPay Dome 38,561 33°35′43″N 130°21′44″E February 22, 1938 Hiroshi Fujimoto
Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters Kitahiroshima, Hokkaidō ES CON Field Hokkaido 35,000 42°59′23″N 141°32′58″E November 6, 1945 Tsuyoshi Shinjo
Orix Buffaloes Osaka, Osaka
Kobe, Hyōgo
Kyocera Dome Osaka
Hotto Motto Field Kobe
34°40′9.48″N 135°28′33.97″E
34°40′53.37″N 135°4′24.3″E
January 23, 1936 Satoshi Nakajima
Saitama Seibu Lions Tokorozawa, Saitama Belluna Dome 33,921 35°46′6.6″N 139°25′13.8″E November 26, 1949 Kazuo Matsui
Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles Sendai, Miyagi Rakuten Mobile Park Miyagi 30,508 38°15′22.34″N 140°54′9″E November 2, 2004 Kazuhisa Ishii

Note: The Tokyo Yakult Swallows have plans to build a new stadium, located next to its current stadium, in 2030.

Defunct Clubs
Team City Stadium Founded Ceased Operations Notes
Nishi Nippon Pirates Fukuoka, Fukuoka 52 stadiums in 29 prefectures across Japan[33] 1950 January 30, 1951[34] Merged with the Nishitetsu Clippers to form the Fukuoka Nishitetsu Lions (now known as the Saitama Seibu Lions)
Shochiku Robins Kyoto, Kyoto Kinugasa Stadium 1936 January 1, 1953[35] Merged with the Taiyo Whales to form the Taiyo-Shochiku Robins (now known as the Yokohama DeNA BayStars)
Takahashi Unions Kawasaki, Kanagawa Kawasaki Stadium 1954 February 25, 1957[36] Merged with the Daiei Stars to form the Daiei Unions
Daiei Unions Bunkyō, Tokyo Korakuen Stadium 1946 November 24, 1957[37] Merged with the Mainichi Orions to form the Daimai Orions (now known as the Chiba Lotte Marines)
Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes Osaka, Osaka Kyocera Dome Osaka 1949 December 1, 2004 Merged with the Orix BlueWave to form the Orix Buffaloes

Franchise locations

Locations are listed from north to south. Only the most prominent names of each franchise are listed.

Locality 1950 1951–1952 1953 1954 1955–1956 1957 1958–1972 1973–1977 1978 1979–1988 1989–2003 2004 2005–present
Sapporo   Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters (PL), 2004–present
Sendai   Lotte Orions (PL), 1973–1977   Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (PL), 2005–present
Greater Tokyo Kokutetsu Swallows / Sankei Atoms / Yakult Swallows (CL), 1950–present
Yomiuri Giants (CL), 1950–present
Toei Flyers / Nippon-Ham Fighters (PL), 1950–2003
Mainichi/Daimai/Tokyo/Lotte Orions (PL), 1950–1972   Lotte Orions / Chiba Lotte Marines (PL), 1978–present
  Takahashi Unions (PL), 1954–1956 Daiei Unions (PL), 1957   Saitama Seibu Lions (PL), 1979–present
Daiei Stars (PL), 1950–1956
  Taiyo Whales / Yokohama BayStars (CL), 1955–present
Nagoya Chunichi Dragons (CL), 1950–present
Greater Osaka Hanshin Tigers (CL), 1950–present
Hankyu Braves / Orix BlueWave (PL), 1950–2004 Orix Buffaloes (PL), 2005–present
Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes (PL), 1950–2004
Nankai Hawks (PL), 1950–1988
Shochiku Robins (CL), 1950–1954
Hiroshima Hiroshima Toyo Carp (CL), 1950–present
Shimonoseki Taiyo Whales (CL), 1950–1952
Fukuoka Nishitetsu Lions (PL), 1950–1978   Fukuoka Daiei/SoftBank Hawks (PL), 1989–present
Nishi Nippon Pirates (CL), 1950


Team Champions Runners-up Winning seasons Runners-up seasons
Yomiuri Giants22141951, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1961, 1963, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1981, 1989, 1994, 2000, 2002, 2009, 20121956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1976, 1977, 1983, 1987, 1990, 1996, 2008, 2013, 2019, 2020
Saitama Seibu Lions1381956, 1957, 1958, 1982, 1983, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1992, 2004, 20081954, 1963, 1985, 1993, 1994, 1997, 1998, 2002
Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks1191959, 1964, 1999, 2003, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019, 20201951, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1961, 1965, 1966, 1973, 2000
Tokyo Yakult Swallows631978, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2001, 20211992, 2015, 2022
Orix Buffaloes591975, 1976, 1977, 1996, 20221967, 1968, 1969, 1971, 1972, 1978, 1984, 1995, 2021
Chiba Lotte Marines421950, 1974, 2005, 20101960, 1970
Hiroshima Toyo Carp341979, 1980, 19841975, 1986, 1991, 2016, 2018
Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters341962, 2006, 20161981, 2007, 2009, 2012
Chunichi Dragons281954, 20071974, 1982, 1988, 1999, 2004, 2006, 2010, 2011
Yokohama DeNA BayStars211960, 19982017
Hanshin Tigers1519851962, 1964, 2003, 2005, 2014
Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles102013
Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes041979, 1980, 1989, 2001
Shochiku Robins011950


  • Nippon Professional Baseball Most Valuable Player Award
  • Nippon Professional Baseball Rookie of the Year Award
  • Nippon Professional Baseball Comeback Player of the Year Award
  • Eiji Sawamura Award (starting pitcher of the year)
  • Mitsui Golden Glove Award
  • Golden Spirit Award
  • Matsutaro Shoriki Award
  • Japan Series Most Valuable Player
  • Nippon Professional Baseball All-Star Game Most Valuable Player


Single season batting

Central League Pacific League Overall
Player Year Player Year Player Year
Batting Average
Randy Bass .389 1986 Ichiro Suzuki .387 2000 Randy Bass .389 1986
Warren Cromartie .378 1989 Ichiro Suzuki .385 1994 Ichiro Suzuki .387 2000
Seiichi Uchikawa .378 2008 Isao Harimoto a .383 1970 Ichiro Suzuki .385 1994
Home Runs
Wladimir Balentien b 60 2013 Tuffy Rhodes 55 2001 Wladimir Balentien 60 2013
Munetaka Murakami 56 2022 Alex Cabrera 55 2002 Munetaka Murakami 56 2022
Sadaharu Oh c 55 1964 Katsuya Nomura 52 1963 Sadaharu Oh 55 1964
Hiromitsu Ochiai 52 1985 Tuffy Rhodes 55 2001
Alex Cabrera 55 2002
Makoto Kozuru 161 1950 Hiromitsu Ochiai 146 1985 Makoto Kozuru 161 1950
Bobby Rose 153 1999 Katsuya Nomura 135 1963 Bobby Rose 153 1999
Makoto Imaoka 147 2005 Norihiro Nakamura 132 2001 Makoto Imaoka 147 2005
Matt Murton 214 2010 Shogo Akiyama 216 2015 Shogo Akiyama 216 2015
Nori Aoki 209 2010 Ichiro Suzuki 210 1994 Matt Murton 214 2010
Alex Ramírez d 204 2007 Tsuyoshi Nishioka 206 2010 Ichiro Suzuki 210 1994
Stolen Bases
Tadashi Matsumoto 76 1983 Yutaka Fukumoto 106 1972 Yutaka Fukumoto 106 1972
Jiro Kanayama 74 1950 Yutaka Fukumoto 95 1973 Yutaka Fukumoto 95 1973
Yoshihiko Takahashi 73 1985 Yutaka Fukumoto 94 1974 Yutaka Fukumoto 94 1974
Munetaka Murakami 184 2019 Ralph Bryant 204 1993 Ralph Bryant 204 1993
Akinori Iwamura 173 2004 Ralph Bryant 198 1990 Ralph Bryant 198 1990
Teruaki Sato 173 2021 Ralph Bryant 187 1989 Ralph Bryant 187 1989

a Harimoto is a Korean citizen who was born and grew up in Japan (see Zainichi Korean).
b As all Curaçaoans have Dutch citizenship and Balentien has represented the Netherlands internationally, he is listed here as Dutch.
c Despite being born in Japan, Oh was a citizen of the Republic of China (his father's nationality) instead of Japan.
d Ramirez did not have Japanese citizenship until 2019 and so is listed as the nationality he was during his playing career.

Single season pitching

Central League Pacific League Overall
Player Year Player Year Player Year
Minoru Murayama 0.98 1970 Kazuhisa Inao 1.06 1956 Minoru Murayama d 0.98 1970
Minoru Murayama 1.19 1959 Masahiro Tanaka 1.272 2011 Kazuhisa Inao 1.06 1956
Minoru Murayama 1.20 1962 Masahiro Tanaka 1.273 2013 Minoru Murayama 1.19 1959
Juzo Sanada 39 1950 Kazuhisa Inao 42 1961 Kazuhisa Inao e 42 1961
Hiroshi Gondo 35 1961 Tadashi Sugiura 38 1959 Juzo Sanada 39 1950
Takehiko Bessho 33 1952 Kazuhisa Inao 35 1957 Tadashi Sugiura 38 1959
Hitoki Iwase 46 2005 Dennis Sarfate 54 2017 Dennis Sarfate 54 2017
Kyuji Fujikawa 46 2007 Dennis Sarfate 43 2016 Hitoki Iwase 46 2005
Kazuhiro Sasaki 45 1998 Dennis Sarfate 41 2015 Kyuji Fujikawa 46 2007
Yutaka Enatsu 401 1968 Kazuhisa Inao 353 1961 Yutaka Enatsu 401 1968
Masaichi Kaneda f 350 1955 Tadashi Sugiura 336 1959 Kazuhisa Inao 353 1961
Yutaka Enatsu 340 1970 Kazuhisa Inao 334 1958 Masaichi Kaneda 350 1955

d The Japanese record is 0.73, set by Hideo Fujimoto in the 1943 Japanese Baseball League season, which is also the world record ERA, surpassing Tim Keefe's 0.86 of the Troy Trojans in 1880.
e The Japanese record is shared between Inao and Victor Starffin, who also recorded 42 wins during the 1942 Japanese Baseball League season.
f Despite being born in Japan, Kaneda did not become a Japanese citizen until 1959 and was instead a South Korean citizen.

Career batting

Player Years played
Batting average[38]
Norichika Aoki .325 2004–2011, 2018–present
Leron Lee .320 1977–1987
Tsutomu Wakamatsu .31918 1971–1989
Isao Harimoto .31915 1959–1981
Home Runs
Sadaharu Oh 868 1959–1980
Katsuya Nomura 657 1954–1980
Hiromitsu Kadota 567 1970–1992
Isao Harimoto 3085 1959–1981
Katsuya Nomura 2901 1954–1980
Sadaharu Oh 2786 1959–1980
Sadaharu Oh 2170 1959–1980
Katsuya Nomura 1988 1954–1980
Hiromitsu Kadota 1678 1970–1992
Stolen Bases
Yutaka Fukumoto 1065 1969–1988
Yoshinori Hirose 596 1955–1977
Isao Shibata 579 1962–1981
Kazuhiro Kiyohara 1955 1986–2008
Motonobu Tanishige 1838 1989-2015
Koji Akiyama 1712 1981–2002
Sadaharu Oh 1.080 1959–1980
Hideki Matsui .995 1993–2002
Alex Cabrera .990 2001–2012

Career pitching

Player Years played
Hideo Fujimoto 1.90 1942–1955
Masaichi Kaneda 400 1950–1969
Tetsuya Yoneda 350 1956–1977
Masaaki Koyama 320 1953–1973
Keishi Suzuki 317 1966–1985
Takehiko Bessho 310 1942–1960
Victor Starffin 303 1936–1955
Masaichi Kaneda 4490 1950–1969
Tetsuya Yoneda 3388 1956–1977
Masaaki Koyama 3159 1953–1973
Keishi Suzuki 3061 1966–1985
Hitoki Iwase 407 1999–2018
Shingo Takatsu 286 1991–2003, 2006–2007
Kazuhiro Sasaki 252 1990–1999, 2004–2005

Perfect games

DatePitcher (Club)ScoreOpponentBallpark
June 28, 1950Hideo Fujimoto (Yomiuri Giants)4–0Nishi-Nippon PiratesAomori Stadium
June 19, 1955Fumio Takechi (Kintetsu Pearls)1–0Daiei StarsŌsaka Stadium
September 19, 1956Yoshitomo Miyaji (Kokutetsu Swallows)6–0Hiroshima CarpKanazawa Stadium
August 21, 1957Masaichi Kaneda (Kokutetsu Swallows)1–0Chunichi DragonsChunichi Stadium
July 19, 1958Sadao Nishimura (Nishitetsu Lions)1–0Toei FlyersKomazawa Stadium
August 11, 1960Gentaro Shimada (Taiyō Whales)1–0Ōsaka TigersKawasaki Stadium
June 20, 1961Yoshimi Moritaki (Kokutetsu Swallows)1–0Chunichi DragonsKorakuen Stadium
May 1, 1966Yoshiro Sasaki (Taiyō Whales)1–0Hiroshima CarpHiroshima Municipal Stadium
May 12, 1966Tsutomu Tanaka (Nishitetsu Lions)2–0Nankai HawksHeiwadai Stadium
September 14, 1968Yoshiro Sotokoba (Hiroshima Toyo Carp)2–0Taiyō WhalesHiroshima Municipal Stadium
October 6, 1970Koichiro Sasaki (Kintetsu Buffaloes)3–0Nankai HawksŌsaka Stadium
August 21, 1971Yoshimasa Takahashi (Toei Flyers)4–0Nishitetsu LionsKorakuen Stadium
October 10, 1973Soroku Yagisawa (Lotte Orions)1–0Taiheiyo Club LionsMiyagi Stadium
August 31, 1978Yutaro Imai (Hankyu Braves)5–0Lotte OrionsMiyagi Stadium
May 18, 1994Hiromi Makihara (Yomiuri Giants)6–0Hiroshima Toyo CarpFukuoka Dome
November 1, 2007Daisuke Yamai and Hitoki Iwase (Chunichi Dragons)1–0†Hokkaido Nippon-Ham FightersNagoya Dome
April 10, 2022Rōki Sasaki (Chiba Lotte Marines)6–0Orix BuffaloesZozo Marine Stadium
  • †: 5th game of Japan Series; In NPB, no-hitters or perfect games achieved by multiple pitchers in one game are considered unofficial. However, it is recognized by the WBSC (World Baseball Softball Confederation, the international governing body of baseball) as a perfect game.

International play

Since 1986 an All-Star team from Major League Baseball (MLB) is sent to a biennial end-of-the-season tour of Japan, dubbed as MLB Japan All-Star Series, playing exhibition games in a best-of format against the All-Stars from NPB or recently as of 2014 the national team Samurai Japan.

The 2014 series also celebrated the 80th anniversary of the establishment of Japan's professional baseball by holding an exhibition game of a joint team of Hanshin Tigers and Yomiuri Giants against the MLB All-Stars at the Koshien Stadium on November 11, 2014.

Agreement and systems

  • Nippon Professional Baseball Agreement
  • Nippon Professional Baseball rosters
  • Registration of players under control
  • Developmental player system
  • Nippon Professional Baseball draft

See also


  3. "【ソフトバンク】来季から球界初「4軍制」創設へ 20日ドラフト会議で育成選手を大量指名(スポーツ報知)".
  4. Waldstein, David. "Ace Favors Fewer Starts to Protect Pitchers' Arms: Rangers' Yu Darvish Pushes for a Six-Man Pitching Rotation," New York Times (July 21, 2014).
  5. "Tokyo Yomiuri Giants | Team Information". Retrieved 2022-03-13.
  6. "Orix Buffaloes up and running". 2 December 2004.
  7. McKillop, Peter (18 May 2001). "Letter from Japan: Go West, Young Man". TIME. Archived from the original on March 22, 2005.
  8. Axisa, Mike (29 October 2016). "Focus shifts to Shohei Otani posting decision after Fighters win Japan Series".
  9. "Hawks ace Kodai Senga can't persuade club to post him, gets raise instead". December 26, 2020.
  10. Reaves, Joseph A. Taking in a Game: A History of Baseball in Asia (U. of Nebraska Press, 2002), p. 77.
  11. "Nagata, Masaichi". Hall of Famers List. The Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Archived from the original on 1 January 2020. Retrieved 24 September 2011.
  12. Kleinberg, Alexander (December 24, 2001). "Where have you gone, Masanori Murakami?". Major League Baseball. Archived from the original on August 18, 2002. Retrieved November 13, 2008.
  13. "Nomo Retires from Baseball", News,, The Associated Press, July 17, 2008, archived from the original on 23 May 2016
  14. Whiting, Robert (April 2004). The Meaning of Ichiro: The New Wave from Japan and the Transformation of our National Pastime. Warner Books. ISBN 0-446-53192-8. p. 146.
  15. "Players by birthplace: Japan Baseball Stats and Info". Baseball-Reference. Retrieved 2009-08-23.
  16. "Ichiro joins exclusive company in Mariners Hall of Fame". Major League Baseball. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  17. "The Official Site of The Colorado Rockies: Official Info" (Press release). Archived from the original on October 7, 2012. Retrieved December 22, 2011.
  18. "Shohei Ohtani first Japanese player voted to start in All-Star Game since 2010". The Japan Times. July 2, 2021. Retrieved July 26, 2021.
  19. Wertheim, Jon (April 6, 2017). "Shohei Ohtani is a two-way superstar who could change the face of baseball". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved July 26, 2021.
  20. Salvador, Joseph (July 4, 2021). "Ohtani Makes History as MLB Finalizes All-Star Rosters". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved July 26, 2021.
  21. "He's Back, We're on TV, and Your Reading Assignment". 13 June 2005. Archived from the original on 2007-08-16.
  22. Kスタ宮城の復旧工事開始 完了まで約5週間 [Restoration work for K-STA Miyagi started, approximately 5 weeks until completion]. Sports Nippon (in Japanese). March 22, 2011. Retrieved August 4, 2021.
  23. "Ryozo Kato resigns as commish," (September 19, 2013).
  24. Berry, Adam (September 15, 2013). "Balentien breaks Oh's Japanese home run record". Retrieved September 15, 2013.
  25. "Japan's new plan to beat deflation – more baseball". thestaronline. 2014-05-20. Retrieved May 20, 2014.
  26. "Japanese baseball to play remainder of preseason without spectators due to virus fears". The Japan Times Online. 2020-02-26. ISSN 0447-5763. Retrieved 2020-04-20.
  27. Tarrant, Jack (May 25, 2020). "Baseball-Japan's baseball league to start on June 19". National Post. Reuters. Retrieved May 25, 2020.
  28. "After three-month virus delay, Japan opens its shortened baseball season". Associated Press. 19 June 2020. Retrieved 20 June 2020.
  29. "お待たせ!プロ野球7・10に6球場一斉観客解禁…上限5000人". June 23, 2020. Retrieved July 21, 2020.
  30. "NPB 19日にも観客上限緩和へ 2万人、または収容50%の少ない方(デイリースポーツ) - Yahoo!ニュース". Archived from the original on 2020-10-06. Retrieved 2020-11-28.
  31. "Foreign Player Restrictions?". Japanese Baseball.
  32. "Index by team". NPB. NPB. Retrieved 1 September 2022.
  33. 【記録員コラム】29都道府県、52球場を駆け巡った西日本パイレーツ(日本野球機構)
  34. 中日ドラゴンズ, ed. (2006). 中日ドラゴンズ70年史. 中日新聞社. p. 50. ISBN 4806205141.
  35. ホエールズ&ベイスターズ60年の軌跡. B.B.MOOK スポーツシリーズ. ベースボール・マガジン社. 2009. p. 66. ISBN 9784583616179.
  36. Yomiuri Shimbun, February 26, 1957, page 4, "Daiei and Takahashi to merge in Pacific League this year, 7 team system, Owners' Meeting Fails to Realize Six Team System"
  37. Mainichi Shimbun, November 25, 1957, page 7 [Pacific's 6-team system realized; Mainichi and Daiei to merge in the middle of next month]
  38. Ichiro Suzuki hit .353 for his Japanese career (1993–2000), but did not have enough at-bats to qualify for career leadership.

Further reading

  • Fitts, Robert K. (2005). Remembering Japanese Baseball: An Oral History of the Game. Southern Illinois University Press. ISBN 0-8093-2630-2.
  • Johnson, Daniel (2006). Japanese Baseball: A Statistical Handbook. McFarland & Company. ISBN 0-7864-2841-4.
  • Whiting, Robert (2005). The Samurai Way of Baseball: The Impact of Ichiro and the New Wave from Japan. Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 0-446-69403-7.
  • Whiting, Robert (1990). You Gotta Have Wa. Vintage. ISBN 0-679-72947-X.
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