HIROSHIMA - Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui was there in person at Tokyo Dome to see the Carp capture the Central League pennant. The baseball-mad residents of his city might make it hard for him to do the same should the Carp be on the verge of a Japan Series title.
“I wish I could go, but I don’t have a ticket,” Matsui told The Japan Times from the 10th floor of the Hiroshima City Hall building on Friday afternoon. “Hopefully I’ll cheer (on the Carp) on television.”
Those tickets are hot commodities around Hiroshima, where Japan Series fever is taking hold. All around the city are signs posted on businesses and other buildings congratulating the Carp on their first pennant since 1991 or urging the team to continue on and capture the Japan Series crown, or both.
“The Hiroshima Carp are the pride of Hiroshima,” Matsui said. “And we hope the Carp embrace our hopes and achieve their first Japan Series championship in 32 years. And we the citizens will support the way they compete.”
Matsui said the team enjoys a special relationship with its fans, one that perhaps runs deeper than in other cities.
“In 1949, the Carp ballclub was born, after the war,” Matsui said. “Four years after the atomic bomb was dropped. Ever since then, this team has been considered a team that belongs to the citizens. This is a homegrown baseball team, and it makes people feel as if their families win when the team wins a championship. So the relationship between the citizens and the team is closer than for other teams, that how I think at least.”
Baseball has a special place in Hiroshima’s history. The popularity of the sport was given a boost when high schools in the prefecture won Summer Koshien titles in 1924, ’29, ’30, and ’34. Baseball gained more popularity in 1934 during the U.S. tour of Japan, when U.S. legends such as Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were part of an All-Star team that played in 12 cities around the country.
The Carp were established in 1949, while the city was still trying to recover from the atomic bomb, which had been dropped five years earlier.
“Many people were suffering because of the atomic bomb and the city was trying to put itself back together,” Matsui said. “Those who had roots in the city were looking for something that could possibly bring everyone together during the restoration, and that was baseball. So the Carp grew along with the recovery of Hiroshima.”
Matsui was born in Hiroshima Jan. 8, 1953, nearly eight years after the bomb dropped. His mother, Reiko, was a hibakusha and his father, Akio, was part of the Japanese military in Manchuria during the war. Matsui’s father didn’t have much interest in sports, he was a craftsman and spent much of his time making things.
Matsui was a baseball fan as a child and attended games on occasion. The Carp didn’t have much success during his youth and he was a college student by the time the club won its first pennant.
“The first time was back in Showa 50 (1975) and I was a university student then,” he said. “I was in Kyoto. Players like Koji Yamamoto and (Sachio) Kinugasa were playing for the team then, and I have vivid memories of that time.”
After graduating from Kyoto University, Matsui joined the Ministry of Labor in 1976 and held several positions in government before becoming mayor of Hiroshima on April 11, 2011.
He’s presided over a historic period in the city’s history this year, and not because of the baseball team. On May 27, Matsui helped welcome U.S. President Barack Obama to Hiroshima. Obama, who made a speech at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, is the first sitting U.S. president to visit the city.
“He came to a place where the entire city was gone in a moment as president of the country that caused it as it dropped the atomic bomb,” Matsui said. “He made a speech saying the world should overcome all the past wars and reach a new stage and create a peaceful world.
“We cherish that. We think it was important that the president made a speech saying you have to create a world where you try to establish trust rather than threatening your opponents with atomic weapons. You have to have courage to make that happen. I hope many political leaders also think that way, as do the citizens who elect the political leaders. We want to create that kind of society.”
Matsui is hopeful others follow Obama’s example.
“I would certainly like other leaders of the world to come here,” Matsui said. “We want them to come to Hiroshima and see the reality of what happened and express their feelings here in Hiroshima.”