The World Kusayakyu Classic (WKC) was held three times last year on the Tama Campus of Chuo University. A total of 81 players from 16 countries and regions competed.
Pitcher Bendiuł Zuzanna from Poland
The WKC was held last year on June 18, July 16, and December 20 in 2017. This was the same year that all of Japan was excited for the Japanese national baseball team finishing in the top four of the World Baseball Classic 2017 (March).
The WKC is held by the International Kusayakyu Association (a voluntary student group). The Association is a club which seeks to spread international exchange and baseball through kusayakyu (sandlot baseball).
There are three ways in which the WKC differs significantly from kusayakyu tournaments which are often held along the banks of the Tama River in Tokyo.
The first way is that about 50% of players are non-Japanese. Players come from a wide range of countries in Europe, North America, Asia, and Oceania. Indeed, the purpose of the WKC is to promote international exchange through kusayakyu.
So, why is kusayakyu chosen? Unlike sports like soccer and basketball in which players move freely around the field or court, baseball is a sport based on “designated spaces.”
A specific range is assigned to each position. The batting order is also predetermined. All players have their own role. During breaks in the game, players instruct each other on rules/techniques and cheer for their teammates. This makes kusayakyu extremely well-suited for interaction.
The second difference is that all players are really bad. We fall down and yell. Games are a never-ending series of strange plays. Women account for about 40% of all players. The majority of female players have never played any kind of sports before, let alone baseball.
Players from overseas come from countries where baseball is not popular; for example, European countries such as Switzerland and Poland, as well as China, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, etc.
Less than 20% of all competitors have ever played baseball before. The tournament purposefully gathers this small number of experienced players in order to convey the joy of baseball to people who are unfamiliar with the sport.
The third difference is that games are played in a relaxed atmosphere.
Of course, there is no intense play or fierce competition like that found at the Koshien Summer High School Baseball Championships.
However, the WKC is so much fun. Many people may worry if games are truly possible due to the large numbers of players with no baseball experience and female players. In actuality, the large number of unexperienced players eliminates any advantage due to physical strength or gender. Fun games are also achieved through effective measures such as applying special rules, using tennis balls, etc.
First time playing baseball in his whole life
Nico Zanetti from Switzerland stands in the batter’s box
For Nico Zanetti from Switzerland, it was the first time he had ever played baseball.
“Of course, I had heard of baseball before,” says Nico. “But, it’s not a popular sport in Switzerland. I had never played before competing in the WKC.”
However, Nico was a standout player once the games began. He is built like a foreign player brought in to bolster the batting power of a Japanese baseball team. With one swing of his bat, the ball disappeared into the left-center gap like a ping-pong smash. That is…as long as he could hit a ball.
“Before participating in the WKC, I had no idea if I would be a good baseball player,” explains Nico. “So, I was worried if I would really be able to enjoy playing. But, once the games started, I had a blast! I got to try something new and make lots of friends. I couldn’t be happier. My favorite part of baseball is batting.”
It seems like Nico really enjoyed himself. Thanks to his passionate appeals, the WKC schedule was changed from biannually to include another competition in the first half of 2017.
“I can’t wait to play baseball again,” gushes Nico. “I will definitely play again the next time I come to Japan.”
In this way, the seeds of baseball are sewn throughout the world.
Self-training in a batting center
It was also the first time to play baseball for Bendiuł Zuzanna from Poland.
Bendiuł was looking forward to the WKC so much that she visited a local batting center many times to practice.
“I knew absolutely nothing about baseball,” says Bendiuł. “But, I had seen a baseball game once before.”
So, why did Bendiuł decide to play in the WKC?
“I thought that it would be a good opportunity to have some fun with Japanese students and other foreign students at Chuo University,” she explains. “I also like exercising, so I wanted to try a new sport.”
On the day of the tournament, Bendiuł even tried practicing pitching before the start of the game. When batting, she hit sharp balls into center field.
“I’m really happy that I decided to play in WKC,” says Bendiuł. “It was my first time to play baseball, but I was able to enjoy baseball with everyone else. I also learned many things from my more experienced teammates.”
Yu Tamefuji is a junior at the Faculty of Economics.
From left: Yu and a foreign student from Taiwan
“I have always wanted to study abroad,” says Yu. “I felt like summer of this year (2017) was my last chance.”
Faced with the challenge of an upcoming job search, Yu decided to study abroad so that she wouldn’t have any regrets upon graduating from university. At the same time, she learned about the WKC.
“I enjoy watching baseball,” she explains. “Also, I felt that I could make deeper friendships through interaction based on sports.”
Even though the WKC was her first time playing baseball, she flawlessly handled fielding duties in left field. Yu also made friends with lots of foreign students from countries such as Switzerland or Taiwan.
“Although it was my first time playing baseball, it was a great experience,” says Yu. “I had fun cooperating with my teammates. It was a great time.”
Based on her experience interacting with foreign students at the WKC, Yu fulfilled her dream of studying abroad during summer vacation.
After returning to Japan, Yu expanded the range of her activities, including speaking at a forum on globalization.
“By studying abroad, I was able to encounter a variety of values and study the importance of acting independently,” she reflects. “I will continue to study English while valuing encounters and relations with people.”
For Yu, the WKC was a first step in embracing the world.
Experiencing the possibilities of baseball
From left: Maoko playing shortstop together with a foreign student from South Korea being the runner on second base
Maoko Yokouchi is a 2nd-year student at the Faculty of Law. Since entering university, Maoko has engaged in a wide range of activities such as town planning and international exchange. But she had never played baseball before.
“To be honest, I was worried whether I would be able to play baseball well,” admits Maoko.
Of course, her ultimate purpose wasn’t to play baseball. She had been invited to participate by her friends from international exchange activities.
However, once she set foot on the baseball Diamond, Maoko was a star. She displayed the athleticism which she had honed as a former member of the volleyball team. Maoko smashed liners when batting and fielded with ease.
“I was surprised at how much fun I had,” she exclaims. “I really never expected that I would be able to help my team win this much.”
No matter what reason players have for participating in the WKC, one thing is always true: everyone enjoys themselves once the games start.
“Normally, my interaction with foreign students is limited to daily conversation,” says Maoko. “But, playing baseball together helped me make even deeper friendships. I really felt the possibilities held by baseball.”
Sports can be enjoyed by people throughout the world. The rules of sports enable people to overcome boundaries such as language and ethnicity.
I hope that the WKC will allow even more people to experience the joy of baseball and the power of sports that overcomes national boundaries.
Group photograph of participants
Tell Me More! International Kusayakyu Association
Started at Chuo University in April 2017. Aims to spread international exchange and baseball through kusayakyu (sandlot baseball). Main activity is holding the World Kusayakyu Classic (WKC), an international kusayakyu tournament which fosters global exchange. Players gather from both inside and outside Chuo University.
Please send inquiries by using the email address below.