The city of Shimanto in the prefecture of Kochi, Japan, where the 1st U-23 Men’s Softball Asia Cup was held on Sept 2 and 3rd and the 11th Men’s Softball Asia Cup which began today, has won the hearts of the visiting players and officials alike. 

It was a long journey to reach the destination of this small fishing industry and rice fields city, but it has nothing but a spectacular drive from airport of Kochi (2 hours by road) or Haneda (7 hours).

I came through Kochi after almost a two-hour flight, after a transit in Narita, and another 2 hour drive to Shimanto City was not what I looking forward too.

But what a pleasant drive it was, with mountains all around you, passing through small townships which had rivers running through them and the many bridges, beautiful laid cemeteries in many places, lime stone quarries, rice fields and above all, cutting through the mountains with the endless number of tunnels (easily more than 40 tunnels ranging from shorts one of 150 metres to 3km ones, displaying amazing technology in building these tunnels). 

The highway was just a single carriage for two-way traffic, but it was smooth flowing with excellent roads.

And welcoming to the natural setting city of Shimanto, was the open sea. What a two hour joyful ride it was.

While the U23 players who had played in the inaugural tournament which served as a World Cup qualifier, prepared to leave after their two day tournament ended on Thursday, the seniors began their tournament today.

Yesterday evening, after a team managers meeting chaired by Softball Asia president Datuk Low Beng Choo, who is also the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) secretary-general, the officials were treated to an official dinner, before the tournament rolled out this morning.

The prefecture of Kochi which is known as the ‘mecca of softball’ as it was widely played until lately, through Tomoaki Okamoto the Executive director of Japan Softball Association (JSA) who was born in Shimanto, is making an earnest effort to popularise the game here again. 

The international U23  and Men’s Asia Cup tournaments is certainly hoping to rekindle the softball fire and spirit in Kochi. They have also organised two local national tournaments here.

During the U23 tournament, hundreds of schoolchildren turned up to watch and cheer the teams on

“I grew up here and played softball here and it was a very popular game here. I hope to bring back that spirit for the game here again,” said Okamoto who is also the organising chairman for both the tournaments here. 

“With our JSA president, Yutaka Miyake’s vision to continuously popularise and develop the game of softball, it is my small role to do the same in Kochi.”

Together with JSA secretary general Shinsuke Yabata and the other members of JSA, Japan has indeed been an inspirational body for the sport of softball. 

And with great support from Kochi Govenor, Seiji Hamada, Shimanto Major, Masahiro Nakahira, President of Kochi Sports Association, Masanori Tomori and the Superintendent of Shimanto City Board of Education Yoshitaka Kubo, softball is certainly back on the rise in Kochi.

All were present at the official dinner for the visiting team officials and umpires last night.

All of them pledged their continuous support for softball in their speeches, and presented souvenirs of Kochi and Shimanto City to team managers from Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, India, Thailand, Singapore, Philippines and host Japan.

The night saw a sumptuous dinner laid out with traditional dances of Kochi performed to entertain all present.

It is now time for ‘Play Ball’ and the tournament began this morning on  two pitches – the Shimanto Stadium and Yasunami Field.

Japan beat India 14-0 after 4 innings with a run-ahead victory at the Shimanto Stadium, while Hong Kong plays Chinese Taipei at the Yasunami Field. 

The tournament also serves as a World Cup qualifier where the top two teams will qualify for the tournament to be held in Auckland, New Zealand in December.