The most recent instance of the Hanshin Tigers being declared the top baseball team in Japan resulted in their supporters jumping into a canal and performing an “abduction” ritual, which some believe has caused a curse lasting nearly 40 years.
The Japanese baseball team, known as the “sleeping giants”, had to postpone their opportunity to break the curse and win their first Japan Series championship since 1985. This was due to a loss against their local rivals, the Orix Buffaloes, which means that the final game of the season will be a decisive seventh game.
Hanshin was unable to win their first series title in 38 years at the Kyocera Dome in Osaka. Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s impressive pitching led Orix to tie the series at 3-3. This sets the stage for an exciting game on Sunday at the same location, which is also Orix’s home field.
A win for the Tigers in Japan’s top sport would lead to excited celebrations in Osaka, despite the fact that their home stadium, the renowned 99-year-old Koshien stadium, is located in the neighboring Hyogo prefecture.
The Hanshin and Orix teams were both aiming for their second consecutive victory as they faced off in the first Japan Series between two Osaka teams in 59 years. As the series hung in the balance, the energetic fans of the Tigers left the stadium on a humid night, eagerly anticipating a potential win in just 24 hours.
In 1985, Hanshin achieved victory in the series. This was also a time when Japan was facing an inflated asset bubble in its economy, Margaret Thatcher was serving as Britain’s prime minister, and Nelson Mandela remained imprisoned in apartheid South Africa.
The team’s supporters believe that the years of poor performance can be attributed to the wild celebrations that took place after winning the Central League title. Some individuals went as far as to jump into the dirty waters of Osaka’s Dotonbori canal from Ebisubashi bridge while fully clothed. In addition, a group of people even removed a statue of Colonel Sanders, who bore a striking resemblance to the team’s top hitter that year, Randy Bass, from a nearby KFC and threw it into the canal.
It is believed by many that the rough treatment he received from Tigers’ fans resulted in a curse on the team. This belief persisted even after the colonel was found in the canal, missing his glasses and left hand, during renovation in 2009.
After 17 years, Hanshin only had two finishes in the top three and many finishes in last place. They finally won the league pennant again in 2003, and then repeated the feat in 2005. However, they were unable to win the series or earn the title of Nippon ichi (Japan’s number one).
“It has been 38 years, so understandably there is a heightened sense of nerves,” commented Yuko Kawase, a devoted Hanshin fan who attends about 90 games per season, on the eve of the championship series. “However, the fans are fully supportive of the players.”
A 24-year-old fan of the Tigers named Masaki Yamaguchi watched the match on TV and expressed that Yamamoto’s pitching was the determining factor. However, he remains hopeful and has not lost faith. He stated, “I have not witnessed Hanshin being the top team in Japan during my lifetime, so I am eager to see it happen.”
The fact that two teams from the Osaka area have reached the series is likely to please many people who are tired of the constant attention given to the Tokyo-based Yomiuri Giants. The team is supported by the conservative newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, and despite their recent decline in performance, they are still seen as a top team in Japanese baseball, particularly among the media in the capital.
In the beginning of professional baseball in Japan, the Giants were the dominant team while the Osaka Tigers, who were established in 1935, were considered the secondary team in the country.
However, they became a symbol of optimism for the people of Kansai, which encompasses major cities such as Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe in western Japan. This also sparked enthusiasm among sports fans throughout Japan who were frustrated by the Giants’ dominance.
Despite not achieving much success, the fans of Hanshin have created a lively and dedicated fan culture that is unparalleled in Japan. The noise level at Koshien Stadium during games can be overwhelming, especially when an opposing team’s pitch is hit out of the park for a home run.
Due to the significant number of police officers in downtown Osaka, it is unlikely that there will be a repetition of the canal-diving celebration if Hanshin wins the series on Sunday. Instead, the city known for its love of carb-heavy street food and sense of humor will commemorate the team’s success with sales at department stores and discounted offers at local bars and restaurants.
According to Jason Coskrey, a writer covering baseball for the Japan Times, a win by Hanshin in the Japan Series, comparable to the World Series in the US, would have significant impact on the local community.
According to Coskrey, if the Tigers were to win, it would cause a great celebration in Osaka. The team has not achieved victory in a significant amount of time, so the community would be overflowing with excitement. The Tigers have a devoted and proud fanbase.
As the end of their successful season draws near, Hanshin supporters, athletes, and leadership have implemented an informal restriction on saying the term “yusho” (win), concerned that even the slightest hint of overconfidence may bring bad luck. Instead, they refer to their desired result as “are” (you know what).
Hanshin’s devoted and superstitious fans will only be convinced that the curse of the colonel has been lifted if the team wins the Japan Series. All they can do is wait and remain hopeful.