Former Yomiuri Giants sluggers Shigeo Nagashima, 77, and Hideki Matsui, 38, will get the People’s Honor Award, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday.
Their selection, however, apparently highlighted the opaque way the recipients are chosen: The award is often seen as a political tool to boost the government’s popularity.
Nagashima was a legendary Giants batter who later managed the team, owned by one of the nation’s biggest media conglomerates. Matsui, nicknamed “Godzilla,” went on to play for the New York Yankees after his popular career with the Giants.
He recently announced his intention to retire.
Suga faced a number of questions from reporters over why the two were selected for the award at the same time.
They asked why the two men from the same team — long the most popular club — were chosen, and not other top players on other teams or athletes from other sports.
Suga said Nagashima was picked as he is “an undisputed national hero” and Matsui due to his great achievements as well as the pair’s “mentor-disciple relationship.”
The award, to be given by the prime minister, is designed to honor a national hero or heroine who “is widely loved by the people” and “made remarkable achievements that gave bright hope to society.”
In 2011, the national female soccer team received the award.