National

Hiroshima Carp girls giving underfunded ball team a lift

Kyodo

While the Hiroshima Carp are often contenders for Nippon Professional Baseball’s Japan Series, the media have apparently crowned the team’s female fans as champions.

In fact, the team is so popular with women that one of the top 10 buzz phrases of 2014 was “Carp Joshi” (“Carp Girls”), the nickname used to describe the enthusiastic women.

The citizens of Hiroshima have been in love with the Carp since the team was formed over half a century ago. In its early years, it was a symbol of the A-bombed city’s reconstruction from the war.

The Carp were named after a castle in the center of the city that has since been dubbed Carp Castle.

At first, the Central League club wasn’t as popular as the Yomiuri Giants or the Hanshin Tigers because the city was so far away from the nation’s top metropolitan centers of Tokyo and Osaka. In addition, it could not compete with the richer teams because it was not bankrolled by major sponsors.

But the Carp’s fortunes have recently been looking up. Attendance at its 72 home games, played mostly at Mazda Stadium, hit a record high 1.9 million last season, up about 22 percent from a year ago.

This has brought economic benefits to the prefecture: Revenues in 2014 rose 14 percent year-on-year to ¥21.4 billion, according to an estimate by Energia Economic and Technical Research Institute.

Although the Carp haven’t won the Central League since 1991 — none of Japan’s 12 teams have gone longer without a pennant — they managed to finish third among the six teams in 2013 and 2014.

One factor behind the surge in the Carp’s popularity is its policy of vigorously training young, usually unknown, players to overcome its rather limited financial resources, which prevent it from signing established stars, said Yuichi Watanabe of the Hiroshima University of Economics, who covered regional sports for more than 30 years as a reporter for the daily Chugoku Shimbun.

“As far as I’m concerned, something incredible is happening. To my joy, the Carp are no longer a local team in Hiroshima,” he said.

“It seems that people who had no connection with Hiroshima have become a big cheering squad,” he said.

Tokyo university student Yurina Wakayama is a Carp Girl. In 2014, she watched 35 of the team’s more than 140 games.

Wakayama, 21, heads a student group that publishes “Capital,” a free magazine about all things Carp for fans in the capital. One meeting arranged by the group, formed in 2010, recently drew around 100 people, nearly half dressed in Carp gear.

“I’m attracted by the close relationship between the team, the players and the fans,” she said. Indicative of the Carp Girl demographic, about half of the group’s members are from Hiroshima, Wakayama said.

Hitomi Awaya, an associate professor at Hijiyama University Junior College in Hiroshima, said the Carp’s red uniform is another big reason for the team’s soaring popularity, as many female fans consider red fashionable. Another draw is the Carp’s “ikemen,” or good-looking players.

“Carp Girls feel as if they have raised those handsome players by themselves, including infielder Shota Dobayashi and outfielder Yoshihiro Maru,” Awaya said, although she admits they know it is the coaches who do the work.

Watanabe warns that the team must not slacken or interest may fade. “Fans think that when the Carp wins games, it’s thanks to their support.”

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5