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The 96th National High School Baseball Championship, better known as Summer Koshien, is now underway in Hyogo Prefecture. In other words, Japan is once again swept up by baseball fever.

The championship takes the form of a single elimination tournament between the regional champions from each of Japan’s 47 prefectures (Hokkaido and Tokyo are both allowed two teams each). One of the teams this year, which hails from northern Japan’s Yamagata Prefecture, has become an especially hot topic online, even though they were recently knocked out in the third round. The reason for their popularity is not only because of their skill, but also for their unbelievably well-mannered conduct off of the field. Introducing the team that has now become known as the most polite high school baseball team in all of Japan.

Yamagata Chuo High School (“Yamagata Central High School”) is this year’s representative team from Yamagata City, Yamagata Prefecture. They made their summer Koshien debut in 2010, so this is the second time they’ve qualified for the nationwide tournament. Funnily enough, their school has an impressive track record when it comes to sports–it’s also the same school that speed skater and Olympic medalist Joji Kato attended.

In this year’s tournament, Yamagata Chuo won their first match against Ehime Prefecture and their second against the team from southern Hokkaido, but unfortunately lost their third match to Gunma Prefecture. Throughout the duration of the tournament, they’ve garnered lots of attention in the media for their incredibly respectful attitude and all-around good manners, despite being usually unruly teenagers. To top it off, they’ve perfected the art of beautiful in-sync bowing before and after each game they play (Japanese baseball players from opposing teams bow to one another instead of shaking hands as they do in many other countries). Apparently, the team’s motto is “The spirit of gratitude,” and their coach continuously stresses the importance of this idea both on and off the field.

▼Before every practice, Yamagata Chuo’s players line up in a single row while sitting in seiza position for greetings and to express thanks that they can play baseball.

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The team is famous throughout their home prefecture for their good manners and considerate use of sports equipment. Hometown fans posted anecdotes online about how if you run into them during practice, the team members will stop jogging to remove their hats and bow in greeting. The team also picks up trash around their school practice grounds and keeps their equipment impeccably clean and well-organized. A visitor to Koshien wrote that she ran into the team in a hotel lobby and they gave her an energetic morning greeting of “Ohayou gozaimasu!”.

We’ve even got photographic evidence of some of their admirable conduct during the tournament itself:

“Yamagata Chuo’s left fielder, Takahashi-kun, picks up a plastic bag and stuffs it in his pocket. The audience in that section applauds. Takahashi-kun bows to them. The audience claps even louder.”

“Yamagata Chuo used this room the other day. The day before yesterday, they came from behind to win against Komatsu High School. I know this isn’t everything, but this is how they cleaned up after practice. I want it to be a long summer.”

In addition, others commented on how refreshing it was to see the team’s wonderful sportsmanship during their games and how they refrained from celebrating good plays or making silly poses, as some teenagers are apt to do.

Let’s now take a look at some of the tweets relating to Yamagata Chuo that have been taking over Twitter during this year’s Koshien tournament. You can see from the pictures just how perfectly the players line up and bow all together. Even eventual defeat didn’t change their wonderful etiquette.

After their first game against the team from Ehime Prefecture:

“The Koshien participant Yamagata Chuo High School is gaining lots of attention for their beautiful bowing technique.”

After their second game against the team from southern Hokkaido:

“Yamagata Chuo’s etiquette is wonderful!”

After their third game against the team from Gunma Prefecture (and elimination from the tournament):

“Yamagata Chuo’s deep and orderly bowing at the start of the game. But Gunma’s Kendai Takasaki High School’s bowing was also very good!”

“The fourth game [of the day] has started. Batting first is Yamagata Chuo, and taking the field first is Kendai Takasaki. (Yamagata Chuo’s bowing is really beautiful!)”

“Yamagata Chuo’s line formation really is spectacular.”

“Yamagata Chuo (3) vs. Kendai Takasaki (8). Great work, Yamagata Chuo! You really moved me. Thanks for being so cool. Not only Yamagata Chuo, but Kendai Takasaki was also very good at bowing. Thank you, Chuo.”

“Yamagata Chuo, you were awe-inspiring until the end. Thanks for all your hard work.”

“I had heard that Yamagata Chuo’s bowing was No. 1 in the tournament, and it’s true.”

“Yamagata Chuo’s final thanks. I love seeing them line up and bow.”

“Yamagata Chuo’s supporters in the stands were amazing. As soon as the game ended they began clapping. Then they removed their hats and bowed with the players. They had the best fan presence of any of the games I’ve been to.”

Twitter users also took note of another interesting point–traditionally, when a team is eliminated at Koshien, they will usually collect a small sample of soil from the stadium as a memento. The players of Yamagata Chuo, however, refrained from doing so to the surprise of spectators both in the stands and on TV:

“Yamagata Chuo didn’t take any soil? Or did I just miss it?”

“It was refreshing to see them not cry, and cool that they didn’t take any soil with them.”

“They didn’t take any soil back with them because they’re already looking ahead to next year and don’t want to make this into only a memory.”

“It’s really too bad Yamagata Chuo are done. They didn’t cry or take back soil, even though they lost. And their bowing was perfection. I was moved by their refreshing actions!”

“Everyone from Yamagata Chuo was so polite until the very end. Watching interviews, their coach seems like a very good person, too.”

…And that’s only the tip of the iceberg! If we gathered all of the tweets, you’d be reading this all day long.

I personally lived in Yamagata City for two years, and I couldn’t be happier to hear such uplifting news about a team from my second home. One of the current third years on the Yamagata Chuo baseball team also happens to be a former junior high student of mine, and I couldn’t be prouder about the way that he and his teammates have represented the prefecture during their time in the tournament.

Shingo, I hope you continue to be an inspiration to those around you, both on and off the field!

Source: Naver Matome