A couple of weeks ago a couple of the "important guys" (name, rank unknown) from work came to me during work and asked me if I liked baseball. Such a question was unexpected from these strangers but I responded in the affirmative, and they signed my wife and I up for a seat on the company bus for one of Seino's very important ball games.
[My wife] already had a previous engagement and hence could not accompany me which was disappointing because the ballgame was quite a cultural experience. After an hour and a half on the road, my bus arrived during the closing innings of another company baseball game, Toyata vs. JR, I think it was. I was amazed at what I saw. It seemed like there was much more focus on the entire "show" then there was on the actual game itself. And when it was Seino's turn to play against NTT, I observed the exact same phenomenon once again.
It appears that companies in Japan, if they are to be recognized as companies by their peer companies, must own baseball teams. It is [a] sign of pride and [essential] for company spirit, just as any noteworthy American college must have a football team. This is, I suppose, reallly the best way to describe the Japanese baseball team. They are as important for the pride of a company as a football team is to a college.
And wow! Is the team now more important than ever -- to Seino at least. Last week they [won] a game that clinched their position as prefecture champions. They will go on to the playoffs at the Tokyo dome. On that same day at the end of work, more people than usual stayed for overtime, and I wondered why. They were all so proud of their team that they stayed late just so they could greet the players when they returned.
An announcement came over the company loudspeaker, and soon everyone started running out to the parking lot, forming human walls on either side of the driveway. When my wife and I went to join them, I noticed that people were standing in naturally formed groups, and I looked across the street to see Sonku-san and Takai-san waving me over to them. Sonku-san said, "You stand here with us." Takai-san was very surprised that I hadn't gone home yet.
I asked what was going on, and this is what Sonku-san taught me, in no particular order:
It was a reception for the baseball team, which was to arrive shortly. The team had just won a game that clinched their position as "prefecture representatives" for the playoffs in Tokyo dome. There are about 30 teams in the ken. Not every company has a baseball team; ownership is a distinguished mark of the greater companies. Seino's team doesn't just represent Seino only, but also Oogaki-shi, for the team is very popular among the townspeople, and the city is very proud to be the home of Seino. Sonku pointed out a group of people across the street from us (standing in the other "human wall") and indentified them as people from schools, shops, city hall, etc.
The band players and cheerleaders for the team are regular employees at the company and mostly practice after work on their own time, while the baseball players get half their work off everyday to practice, when the sport is in season. When the players get old or tire of baseball, they become regular employees just like everyone else. Owning and participating in the team is a great source of unification for the company and helps draw it together as one large family, a company virtue which is highly esteemed in Japan.
I also have gathered that the baseball team is also a great tool for earning respect from society and from the other companies. And I suspect that this benefit is even more important to the company than is the "company unification" that Sonku spoke of. However, for some reason, Sonku never mentioned anything about company pride.