50 Japanese Baseball Vocabulary Words for Hitting a Conversational Home Run
There’s no denying Japan’s passion for 野球 (やきゅう) — baseball.
The sport and the professional league are major parts of Japanese culture.
Even the National High School Baseball Tournaments are a yearly ritual. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese gather in front of the TV to watch the games and catch a glimpse of the stars of the future.
Learning some Japanese baseball terms can only benefit you, then! They’ll help you blend in and sound more natural in Japanese conversations.
Read on for a glossary of the most useful Japanese baseball vocabulary, plus an overview of the sport in Japan.
- Basic Japanese Baseball Vocabulary
- Japanese Baseball Terms for Officials and Positions
- Japanese Baseball Terms for Hitting and Pitching
- Japanese Baseball Vocabulary in Idioms
- Japan’s Love Affair with Baseball
- And One More Thing...
Basic Japanese Baseball Vocabulary
(にっぽん の やきゅうじょう の なか で いちばん すばらしい やきゅうじょう は どこ だ と おもいます か？)
Of all the ballparks in Japan, which one do you think is the best?
Japanese Baseball Terms for Officials and Positions
(たなか とうしゅ、もう ひゃっきゅう こえてる の に なんで ぴっちゃー こうたい して くれない？ よく わからない かんとく だ な。)
Tanaka has already thrown over 100 pitches, so why don’t they take him out? I don’t get this manager at all.
(にほんぷろやきゅうしじょう、さいこう の くろーざー は やはり ささき かづひろ です。)
The best closer in the history of Japanese pro baseball is obviously Kazuhiro Sasaki.
(ぱりーぐ は しめいだしゃせい を さいよう して いる。)
The Pacific League adopts the Designated Hitter rule.
(こども の ころ の ゆめ は、めじゃー の しんぱん に なる こと だった。)
My dream when I was a kid was to grow up to become a Major League Baseball umpire.
Japanese Baseball Terms for Hitting and Pitching
|Runs batted in
Interestingly, though the first characters are different, the kanji for “walk” and “beanball” (pitching to intentionally hit the batter) are pronounced the same.
The first kanji in “walk” actually means “four”—four balls equals a walk! Meanwhile, the first kanji in “beanball” is “death.” Perhaps this is why they picked up the katakana version, based on the English “dead ball.”
(いちろー は にせんよねん の しーずん で にひゃくろくじゅうに あんだ を うって、しん きろく を たっせい しました。)
In the 2004 season, Ichiro set a new record with 262 hits.
(この しあい、すずき とうしゅ は こんとろーる うまく いってない な。しきゅう ばかり だして いる。)
Suzuki doesn’t have good control over his pitches in this game. He’s getting nothing but walks.
Japanese Baseball Vocabulary in Idioms
There are some baseball terms that show up in Japanese idioms. Knowing these common ones can help you understand more when you listen and sound more fluent when you speak.
A breaking ball is called a 変化球 (へんかきゅう) in Japanese. 変化球 is sometimes used idiomatically to respond to something that you weren’t expecting (e.g. a proposal or recommendation).
(えっ！へんか きゅう しないで よ！)
What? Are you serious? Don’t throw me a curveball like that!
Also from the pitching world, Japanese uses the English word “strike,” only it’s pronounced ストライク (すとらいく). Idiomatically, a ストライク is something that hits a target or is right on the money:
(ことし の なつ の きゃんぺーん は すとらいく だ。)
This year’s summer campaign is right on target.
Finally, although athletes in Japan are generally more low-key and don’t like to gloat, you’ll occasionally see a fist-pump or two when a player comes up big in the clutch.
This is called a ガッツポーズ (がっつぽーず), which comes from the English “guts” and “pose.” Non-athletes will sometimes pull a ガッツポーズ when they do something that goes down well—like a funny joke at the bar, or an idea that gets approved at an informal meeting.
Japan’s Love Affair with Baseball
Baseball has been around in Japan since the late 19th century. Whereas American baseball emphasizes getting big hits at big times, the Japanese style of play is more focused on speed and strategy.
For example, imagine the first batter in an inning gets on base. The next batter will almost always lay down a 送りバント (おくりばんと) — sacrifice bunt (literally “sending bunt”) rather than try to knock the ball over the wall—even if he’s the team’s top slugger!
A major reason for this is 和 (わ). 和 is the spirit of togetherness which is the foundation of Japanese society. Japanese are taught from childhood to prioritize the needs and aims of their group rather than their individual desires. In so doing, they preserve group harmony, and get closer to achieving the group’s goals.
The slugger may really want to go for a home run, but the chances of bringing the runner home are greater if he plays the 送りバント instead. Plus, he doesn’t want to disagree with what his coach says! Hence, he calls up his 和 and lays down the bunt.
Robert Whiting’s excellent book “You Gotta Have Wa” delves into this concept in more detail and also explores the role of 和 in other organizations outside of baseball, such as business companies.
Japanese High School Baseball
In Japan, high school baseball is called 高校野球 (こうこうやきゅう).
Incredibly popular, it rivals the Japanese professional league in popularity during spring and summer tournaments. The high school level tournaments are played at 甲子園球場 (こうしえんきゅうじょう), Hyogo prefecture’s Koshien Stadium, a mecca for baseball fans in Japan.
The 甲子園 tournaments symbolize the purity and fleeting nature of youth for many Japanese, and scenes of players weeping onto each other’s shoulders after striking out are iconic.
Japanese Professional Baseball
Called 日本プロ野球 (にほんぷろやきゅう), or Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB for short), this is the Japanese pro league.
The two halves are the Central League and the Pacific League, which together comprise just 12 teams total. Of them, the 巨人 (きょじん), or the Yomiuri Giants, are by far the richest, most powerful and most popular.
Though the Giants are based in Tokyo, they have fans all over the country, and have provided the backdrop for several household-name dramas, movies and manga, such as 巨人の星 (きょじん の ほし) — “The Star of the Giants.”
U.S. Major League Baseball
Major League Baseball (MLB) is メジャー (めじゃー) in Japanese, and it has an immense following in Japan.
Fans particularly enjoy keeping tabs on the Japanese who play in North America. Many feel a sense of kinship and pride in watching players who they saw star in the 甲子園 tournaments grow up to succeed in the big league—and abroad, at that.
Many former international MLB stars have also gone to Japan to play, with some even continuing on to settle in the country. This experience was dramatized (somewhat stereotypically, albeit comically) in the ’90s film “Mr. Baseball.”
You can expand your new Japanese baseball knowledge by consuming native materials about the sport: Think Japanese comics, novels, podcasts and films.
On FluentU, for example, you can search any of the above terms to find a variety of authentic Japanese video clips containing that word.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
If you’re watching a game and recognize one of the terms you learned here, or use one in conversation, give yourself a ガッツポーズ (like a “guts”-and-“pose” pat on the back)!
And One More Thing...
If you love learning Japanese with authentic materials, then I should also tell you more about FluentU.
FluentU naturally and gradually eases you into learning Japanese language and culture. You'll learn real Japanese as it's spoken in real life.
FluentU has a broad range of contemporary videos as you'll see below:
FluentU makes these native Japanese videos approachable through interactive transcripts. Tap on any word to look it up instantly.
All definitions have multiple examples, and they're written for Japanese learners like you. Tap to add words you'd like to review to a vocab list.
And FluentU has a learn mode which turns every video into a language learning lesson. You can always swipe left or right to see more examples.
The best part? FluentU keeps track of your vocabulary, and gives you extra practice with difficult words. It'll even remind you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You'll have a 100% personalized experience.
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