Fans of baseball’s Hanshin Tigers hoped to exorcise a 24-year “curse” Thursday by honoring a repaired statue of Colonel Sanders at Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine in Osaka.
A turnaround by the team may also boost business in the region, an Osaka-based economist said.
Fans jumped into Osaka’s Dotonbori canal to celebrate the Tigers’ first Japan Series championship in 1985. Some then threw in a statue of the Kentucky Fried Chicken founder to honor cleanup hitter Randy Bass, who sported a Sanderslike beard.
The Tigers have yet to win a second Japan Series title.
A Sanders statue recovered from the canal in March, thought to be the one tossed in 24 years ago, was returned to its original owner, Kentucky Fried Chicken Japan Ltd. The fast-food chain revealed it to the public for the first time Thursday as part of an annual blessing at the shrine in Sumiyoshi Ward.
The statue will be put on temporary display at events such as Osaka’s water festival this summer and locations around the Tigers’ home stadium at Koshien, Masao Watanabe, Kentucky Fried Chicken Japan’s president, said at the ceremony.
A reversal of fortunes for the Tigers, languishing in fifth place in the Central League, would have a positive impact on regional business, according to Katsuhiro Miyamoto, an economics professor at Kansai University.
“People here are crazy about the Tigers, and there is a close relationship between the team’s performance and the local economy,” Miyamoto said. He estimates there are about 8.5 million Tiger fans in the Kansai region, an area encompassing Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto and comprising the nation’s second-biggest population center.
The Tigers, who play at Koshinen Stadium in Nishinoymiya, Hyogo Prefecture, are one of Japan’s most popular teams. The team is known for its fanatic fans.