TOKYO -- The biggest sporting event of the year in Japan is a high school baseball tournament held each August at the Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya, near Kobe, on the north shore of Osaka Bay. Watched by crowds of up to 50,000 per game over two weeks, with live nationwide telecasts reaching millions more, the National High School Baseball Championship has been likened to America's World Series baseball. It is also the closest thing Japan has to a national festival.
Throughout Japan, excitement is already building about this year's competition, due to start on Aug. 6. As usual, the knockout tournament will feature 49 teams that have won regional championships. But how and why a schoolboy competition has become so popular is a story deeply entwined with Japan's turbulent modern history.