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The Japanese softball team’s gold medal victory over the United States was a definite highlight for the locals in Beijing—it had a nail-biting climax and some gutsy pitching from star hurler Yukiko Ueno. Though the sport has been cut (along with baseball) from the lineup for the London Olympics in 2012, the dramatic win gave a boost to the Japan Softball League. You can catch one of the final regular season games at Hodogaya Stadium in Kanagawa Prefecture on October 25 and 26.

See sports listings for details. FV

775: Soccer’s Back!
773: Looking Forward
769: Heroes of 2008
767: FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2008
765: K-1 World Grand Prix Final
763: World Karate Championships
761: Super GT Finale
759: Top League
757: Japan Scottish Highland Games
755: Toray Pan Pacific Open & AIG Japan Open
753: World Wrestling Entertainment
751: Surf’s Up
749: Ultimate and Guts
743: Takeshi Okada
741: Interleague Baseball
739: Classic All Blacks
737: Volleyball Olympic Qualifiers
735: FC Tokyo’s UK Day
733: Indy Japan 300
731: K-1 World Grand Prix
729: Kimiko Date
727: J. League
725: Kosuke Kitajima
723: The Return of Okada
721: 2008 Preview
717: That was 2007
715: Arima Kinen
713: Futsal Rising
711: Golfing Climax
709: Volleyball World Cup
707: Yokohama Blues
705: AIG Japan Open
703: And1 Mixtape Tour 2007
701: Rugby World Cup
699: The Gospel According to Moses
697: Tokyo Metropolis League 4.0
695: The Lotte Revolution
693: Asian Cup Soccer
691: IFAF World Championship
689: K-1 Max
687: Snooker
685: Interleague Baseball
683: FC Tokyo’s UK Day
681: Rugby Dreams
679: 2007 Bridgestone Indy Japan 300
677: Opening Day
675: World Figure Skating Championships
673: J. League 2007
671: Tokyo Marathon
669: Toray Pan Pacific Tennis
667: New Year Sumo Tournament
663: FA Coaching Courses
661: K-1 Grand Prix Final
659: J. League comes down to the wire
657: All-Japan Kendo Championship
655: Volleyball World Championships
653: Japan F1 Grand Prix
651: Seiko Super Track Meet
649: PRIDE: Final Conflict Absolute
647: Top League rugby
645: FIBA World Championship
641: Tsuyoshi Shinjo and Kazuhiro Kiyohara
639: 2006 JOMO All-Star Soccer
637: World Cup alternatives
635: Japan vs. Italy
633: Japan Open Figure Skating
629: Bridgestone Indy Japan 300 Mile
627: 48th YCAC
625: Japan Baseball 2006
623: Auto Racing 2006
621: Xerox Super Cup and J.League
619: World Baseball Classic
617: Toray Pan Pacific Tennis
613: Comeback Kids of 2005
611: FIFA Club World Championship
609: Japan Cup Dirt and Japan Cup
607: Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie
605: Nabisco Cup Final
603: Japanese Golf Gets Friendly
601: AIG Japan Open
599: Harlem Globetrotters Still Trotting
595: A league of gentlemen
593: NFL tokyo 2005
591: Bayern Munich
589: Kawashima vs. Tokuyama—again
587: PRIDE battles on
585: Battle for the Bottom
583: Zico’s Long Hot Summer
581: High hopes for rugby
579: Searching for a Sumo Star
577: Follow the ponies
575: The Final Crush
573: Japan Pro Baseball
571: Big Changes for J. League
569: Xerox Super Cup
567: World Cup Qualifying
565: Toray Pan Pacific
563: Asia League ice hockey
560: Year-end fighting
558: J. League Championship
556: K-1 World Grand Prix Final
554: Dunlop Phoenix Open
552: Nabisco Cup Finals
550: Japanese Grand Prix
548: Asian Hockey League
546: K-1 World Grand Prix 2004
544: Top League rugby
542: J. League
540: Soccer: Europe vs. J League
538: Tokyo Metropolis League
536: Japan vs. Italy
534: Masamori Tokuyama
532: Japan vs. India
530: Miracle training
528: World Cup Cricket
526: Pride Grand Prix 2004
524: Yuriko Ito
522: Hideki Matsui
520: Soccer: 2004 Olympic Qualifiers
518: Japan Ice Hockey League
516: Ahn Jung Hwan
514: Toray Pan Pacific Tennis
512: The Tokyo Metropolis Football League
509/10: Diamonds and Tigers in 2003
508: Masami Ihara
506: K-1: 2003 World Grand Prix Final
504: Japan Cup
502: Pacific League All-Star Game
500: Nabisco Cup: Reds vs. Antlers
498: Tigers roar back
496: Samantha Head and Nikki Campbell
494: Top League rugby
492: Brendan Jones
490: J. League speeds ahead
488: The power of PRIDE
486: American forces
484: Star-spangled baseball
482: One Korean, one mission
480: Pearl bowl
478: The right touch
476: Taking the hard road
474: Tigress on the prowl
472: World Cup replay
470: Giants among men
468: Welcoming the MLB
466: Sumo spreads its wings
464: The battle for East Asia
462: Asian Invasion
460: Making a racket
457/458: 2002's ups and downs
456: On thin ice
454: K-1's Final KO
452: Real Madrid, Olimpia in clash of the champions
450: Golf's Young Turks tackle Taiheiyo Masters
448: Big guns back in Japan Series
446: The Zico era kicks off
444: Ryder Cup golfers do battle at The Belfry
442: Toyota Princess Cup 2002
440: 2002 J.League Stage 2

By Fred Varcoe

Japan Ice Hockey League

There is a sad tendency among the foreign community in Japan to denigrate Japanese versions of foreign culture. Yes, gaijin may have a point with the likes of Ayumi Hamasaki, but when it comes to sport, the Japanese should be given full credit for trying. Of course, they're never going to match the NFL, NBA or the England rugby team, but to put them down for not being in Premier League, so to speak, is unfair. Take ice hockey. Anyone who was at the Kokudo Bunnies-Nippon Paper Cranes game on February 1 will tell you it was a cracking spectacle. Kokudo was up 5-3 with less than two minutes to go, the Cranes pull their goalie, get a goal back, restore the goalie, get the tying goal and then win it 6-5 in overtime. Good skill, good speed, good crowd and a damned fine example of what competition's all about.

But hockey is struggling in Japan at the moment. The league now has only four teams (it was six), and they're trying to boost the sport's popularity with an international Asian league. The reason is simple, says hockey journalist Mikiko Kato. "It's the economy. With the economy being so bad for the last five years, two major company-owned teams-Furukawa and Snow Brand-folded." Furukawa re-emerged as the Nikko Ice Bucks (still struggling), but Seibu merged its two teams into one (Kokudo), and the league was stuck with four teams. "This season, one Korean team has joined in to form the Asian League, but the Japan Ice Hockey Federation wants to expand the league with some other teams, such as a Russian team from Khabarovsk, a Chinese team and possibly another team from Korea," Kato says.

In order to spice up this year's domestic league, the season was split into two halves. Kokudo won the first half and could become the overall champion if it wins the second half. If not, there'll be a best-of-five playoff series starting March 2. The crunch games come on February 28 and 29 when Kokudo plays twice against Oji Paper while Nippon Paper Cranes face the Ice Bucks-the only team with no chance of making the playoffs-in the final league games.

The playoffs come at an opportune moment, just a few weeks after the start of the TV drama Pride, which is about an ice hockey player. Canada-born Japanese Olympic star Ryan Kuwabara of the Paper Cranes says the program is already having a positive effect. "The fans are coming out more, which is good, but I think the league has to play off it and make a push to make it a major sport here."

Talent is not a problem. A few Japanese are playing in minor leagues in North America, and Kato says Kokudo goalie Yutaka Fukufuji has been scouted by NHL teams and has a good chance of making the grade. Fukufuji's teammate, former Hartford Whaler Chris Bright, believes the prospects for the sport here should be good. "There is some great talent here. All of the players are excellent skaters and are very coachable. I hope more players continue to go overseas to gain international experience.ÊThe game has a huge upside in Japan, and I wish the current ownership of the teams would market the sport better to show the many Japanese fans who have not yet seen our product the great excitement that goes with the game of hockey."

Kuwabara, who was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens but has played most of his career in Japan, is also upbeat. "The guys here have great skill and speed and just need to play more and get better competition. It's great that guys are now going over to North America to play. They should get better there and then bring that level back to Japan. I think the future of hockey here looks good."

For information in English on Japanese hockey, visit

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