High school baseball team a symbol of recovery
First time in 46 years for Ishinomaki Technical High from Miyagi Prefecture to take part in one of the biggest tournaments in Japan


One year after their lives were torn apart by Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami, players from Ishinomaki Technical High School are preparing to compete on one of the biggest stages in Japanese baseball.
On March 11, to mark the first anniversary of the tragic disaster, the team flied to Osaka to prepare for the March 21-April 1 spring invitational high school baseball tournament, where they will be a symbol of resilience and recovery to the people of Ishinomaki and the prefecture of Miyagi.
Ishinomaki, a city of 150,000 on Japan's northeast coast, was one of the hardest hit towns in the earthquake and tsunami that left 19,000 dead. Approximately 46 percent of the city was inundated by several tsunamis up to 10 meters (32 feet) high.
After suffering so much, the people of Ishinomaki will draw hope for the future and have reason to cheer when their team takes the field.
Ishinomaki is taking part in the spring invitational as a 21st Century team. The Japan High School Baseball Federation each year selects three teams to take part that have served as a model school in some way. With a second-place finish in autumn prefectural qualifying tournaments after all they had been through, Ishinomaki was an obvious choice.
The spring and summer high school baseball tournaments enjoy tremendous popularity in Japan. All of the games are telecast live on national broadcaster NHK and fans gather around TV's when their local team takes the field at Koshien Stadium, home of the Hanshin Tigers of Japanese professional baseball.
"Going to Koshien is about the biggest honor a school can bring to its town,'' said author Robert Whiting, who has written several books on Japanese baseball. "There are 4,000 high school teams in Japan so it's a huge honor to go. It's up there with sending an astronaut into space.''
The star players of the championship team achieve a degree of celebrity status. Many -- like MLB stars Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish -- have gone on to play in the professional leagues.
"Players who have played in Koshien are coveted by companies because of the training and effort they've put in to make it all the way to Koshien. It shows they've got character and fighting spirit,'' added Whiting.

(Read the whole story at AJW by The Asahi Shimbun)