In addition to being a starting pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays, Yusei Kikuchi is an accomplished karaoke crooner who prides himself on his energetic version of the fight song of his former team in Japan, the Seibu Lions. When he was asked on an off day between starts if he knew the words to a more popular song, “Eikan ha Kimi ni Kagayaku,” or “The Crown Will Shine on You,” his competitor took over.
Standing in full uniform in the visitors’ dugout in Minnesota, he smiled broadly and began singing in Japanese (loosely translated):
As the clouds disappear, sunlight fills the sky
On this day especially, the pure white ball flies high
Answer the joy around you, oh our youth
With your playful smiles
The crown will shine on you
As the cherry blossoms arrive, “The Crown Will Shine on You” is the tune of summer in Japan. It was composed by Yuji Koseki in 1948 for the very popular National High School Baseball Championship. And on Sunday, as has been the case for the past 75 years, players from 49 prefectural champions will march into Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya to open the single-elimination summer tournament, raising their knees and marching to the song of Koseki.
“This is the sound of summer,” Kikuchi said. “For sure, the sound of summer baseball. You won’t just hear it if you’re lucky enough to advance to Koshien Stadium for the national tournament, it’s played throughout the prefectural round as you try to advance to the national stage as a way to motivate you to play your best . .”
Kikuchi marched in Koshien Stadium as a sophomore and senior. Kenta Maeda, a starting pitcher for the Minnesota Twins, marched as a sophomore.
“It’s a tune that gets stuck in your head,” Maeda said. “I think every Japanese person thinks of the summer baseball tournament when they hear it. For me, it reminds me of my high school years and going there one summer, for sure.
Koseki was born in 1909 in Fukushima, a small city 180 miles north of Tokyo. He joined Nippon Columbia, the licensee for the American label Columbia Records, as a composer in 1930. Despite little interest in sports, he became involved in team fight songs because the marching element appealed to him. .
He probably never imagined that his career would be intertwined with the most famous sporting event in Japan.
The annual event, created in 1915 as the National Middle School Championship Baseball Tournament, was halted for four years during World War II. Play resumed in 1946, and under the Allied occupation Japan underwent many social and economic reforms. Among them was a revision of its education system that created a new three-year curriculum called high school.
For the annual summer baseball extravaganza in Koshien, this meant an official name change, referring to it as the National High School Baseball Championship, beginning with the 30th edition in 1948. To celebrate the change, organizers sponsored the national competition for a theme song. Koseki, who was 38 at the time, won.
In his autobiography, Koseki wrote that he drew inspiration from the end of the war – the continuation of the contest meant the continuation of peace. The soothing sounds of basted balls and youthful exuberance will replace the tension of the blaring air raid sirens that have become the norm.
He wanted an uplifting, thoughtful song. He explained his process.
“For inspiration, I went to Koshien when it was completely empty and stood on top of the mound,” Koseki wrote. “As I thought about what it would be like to be immersed in the emotions of intense competition, the melody of the song naturally arose in my mind. Standing on that mound is really the right way to understand it.”
Koseki’s influence on Koshien Stadium goes beyond the tournament, as he also composed “Rokko Oroshi,” a fight song for the stadium’s home team, the Hanshin Tigers.
Koseki was commissioned to compose the song when a professional league was formed in 1936. Originally titled “Song of the Osaka Tigers,” the march has evolved into the longest-running team game song in Nippon Professional Baseball and is synonymous with Tigers as the team team. black-and-gold pinstriped uniform.
The song even developed a cultish following Harry Caray’s rendition of “Take Me Out To The Ball Game,” which still has the Wrigley Field faithful clamoring for celebrity renditions during the seventh inning stretch 25 years after Caray’s passing.
Countless musicians and celebrities have recorded versions of “Rokko Oroshi,” but perhaps the most famous came from one of Hanshin’s players. Tom O’Malley, a former Mets infielder, spent four years with Hanshin, hitting over .300 each season, but his most lasting impression came from the field.
He recorded a version of “Rokko Oroshi” in Japanese and English in 1994. True to Caray, it appealed to the masses for being interestingly off-key. The original recording sold more than 100,000 copies and a remastered digital version was released in 2014, 18 years after O’Malley’s career in Japan ended.
Koseki was posthumously inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame last month for his musical contributions to both professional and amateur baseball. Twenty years earlier, he received an even more surprising endorsement from Sadaharu Oh, who was Japan’s home run king and played for the rival Yomiuri Giants. Before the 2003 Japan Series, Oh, then in charge of the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks, was asked about the song he would once again be forced to hear as an opponent.
“‘Rokko Oroshi’ really has a good rhythm and is a lovely song,” Oh told reporters. “Even though this is a fight song of the opposition, the truth is that it inspires us all. The fight songs created by Mr. Koseki has a way of motivating everyone who plays sports.”