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Year in Review: Japan's Top Sports Highlights in 2023

Baseball held our attention with Shohei Ohtani's achievements and the WBC, but there were top sports highlights in many fields up to the last days of the year.



top sports highlights
Samurai Japan players, including Shohei Ohtani (center), celebrate the team's victory over the United States in the World Baseball Classic final on March 21, 2023, in Miami. (KYODO)

Read the full story on SportsLook - Year in Review: Japan's Top Sports Highlights in 2023

A steady flow of banner achievements produced Japan's top sports highlights in 2023.

From Samurai Japan's title-winning performance at the World Baseball Classic in Miami on March 21 and notable accomplishments in basketball, figure skating, track and field, golf and boxing, among other sports, fans had plenty of exciting highlights throughout the past 12 months.

Baseball provided a continuous pulse to the year's overall sports narrative ― with the WBC plus the NPB and MLB seasons and Shohei Ohtani becoming the unanimous American League MVP for the second time. Offseason contract news kept the sport in the spotlight.

top sports highlights
Takakeisho is surrounded by supporters after winning the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament on January 22. (ⒸSANKEI)


Running: In a non-Olympic year, from the get-go, there was no shortage of other sporting events to grab people's attention, including the Hakone Ekiden, officially known as the Tokyo-Hakone Round-Trip College Ekiden Race. It is held annually on January 2 and 3 and was first staged in 1920. The televised spectacle covers 107.5 kilometers on the first day and 109.6 km on the second.

Sumo: In sumo, Takakeisho triumphed in the New York Basho,  posting a 12-3 record to claim his third Emperor's Cup.

Basketball: Also in January, Washington Wizards forward Rui Hachimura was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. It marked the first time in his NBA career that the Toyama native, a first-round draft pick in 2019, switched teams. 



Fencing: Women's sabre fencer Misaki Emura reached No 1 in the world rankings, it was announced on February 13. She became the first Japanese female to be a top-ranked fencer in an individual discipline.


Figure skating: Competition at the World Junior Figure Skating Championships began in late February in Calgary, Canada. Japan's junior stars shined throughout, led by men's and women's gold medalists Kao Miura and Mao Shimada, with Nozomu Yoshioka and Ami Nakai earning bronze medals in their respective events. 

Later in the month, Saitama Super Arena hosted the World Figure Skating Championships (March 22-26). Shoma Uno and Kaori Sakamoto defended their men's and women's world titles, respectively. Adding to Japan's medal haul, Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara triumphed in pairs.

Grand Prix Series
Two-time world champions Shoma Uno and Kaori Sakamoto. (ⒸSANKEI, KYODO)

Sumo: In the Spring Basho, aka the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament in Osaka, then-sekiwake Kiribayama was the winner in a playoff to earn his first makuuchi division title. The Mongolian-born wrestler was promoted to ozeki, and with it came a name change (Kirishima) on May 31.

Baseball Fever Thrills the Nation

Baseball: For two full weeks, the World Baseball Classic, which started on March 8, was the biggest sports story in Japan. Even exhibition games in the run-up to the tournament received major news coverage on TV networks and in the Japanese-language sports newspapers. 


And then Japan rattled off wins against China (8-1), South Korea (13-4), the Czech Republic (10-2) and Australia (7-1) at Tokyo Dome to advance to the quarterfinals.

In the quarterfinals, a 9-3 win over Italy manager Mike Piazza's squad booked a spot for Japan in the semifinals in Miami. A 6-5 win over Mexico followed, pitting Japan against the United States in the final. Japan's Munetaka Murakami and Kazuma Okamoto homered in the final but Team USA then pulled within 3-2 in the eighth inning. 

Samurai Japan's Shohei Ohtani fires a pitch to United States superstar Mike Trout in the WBC final in the ninth inning on March 21 in Miami. (KYODO)

Then Samurai Japan manager Hideki Kuriyama called on Ohtani to pitch the ninth. The move seemed to come straight from the pages of a Hollywood script.

Ohtani walked the first batter he faced, then got Mookie Betts to hit into a double play. Up next: Mike Trout, Ohtani's Los Angeles Angels teammate. And Trout struck out swinging, giving Japan its third WBC title (after championships in 2006 and '09).

"I've seen Japan winning, and I just wanted to be part of it," Ohtani told MLB.com.

Continue reading the full story on SportsLook.


Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven


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