MLB vs. NPB: A playoff primer for Japan’s beloved baseball

MLB vs. NPB: A playoff primer for Japan’s beloved baseball

by Jun Sakahira
Stripes Japan

As the MLB postseason began, Nippon Professional Baseball’s (NPB) playoffs are also right around the corner. Japan’s 12-team league has a regular season schedule similar to that of MLB, but once October hits, that’s where the similarities end.

As a huge baseball fan from Japan, I visited 17 different MLB stadiums while I attended high school and college in the United States. Not only did the MLB players’ techniques and power amaze me, but I also enjoyed visiting different beautiful ballparks. Also, with the geographical separation, I felt as if all the audiences were rooting for the home team, which is different than in Japan.

In contrast, NPB first-timers will be astonished by how differently a game is watched once they step into the NPB stadium. Seating sections are divided depending on the home and visiting teams, and fans can only wear a certain team’s outfit in designated sections.

Fans use megaphones for chanting, some teams use items such as jet balloons or umbrellas during the 7th inning stretch, or “Lucky 7” as it’s called in Japan.

“The main differences between Japanese baseball and American baseball are the fans,” Senior Airman David Bumhoffer from Yokota said. “Americans love baseball, but Japanese fans get a lot more into the game than American fans do. We don’t really do any chants or sing any songs when players score or get a home run, unlike at Japanese games.”

If you yell, “Hey, beer-man!”, in an NPB stadium, chances are you won’t get served. In Japan, the beers are served by young women in bright uniforms and a mini-keg on their back.

“If I could tell anything about Japanese baseball to my American friends, it would be that they would have a lot more fun at Japanese baseball games because of how great the atmosphere is and how loyal the fans are to their team. Now I love going to Japanese baseball games,” Bumhoffer said.

The ball park setup and fans are definitely different compared to the U.S., but the playoff format is almost nothing like MLB.

It was only 14 years ago (2004) when NPB implemented playoffs with the current 12-team structure. In the current format, the top 3 teams from both Central and Pacific Leagues participate in their own two-stage playoff, called the Climax Series (CS).

In the 1st Stage, the No. 2 and No. 3 teams face off in a best-of-three series. The winners then advance to the Final Stage (2nd), and play a best-of-six series against the top-seeded league champion.

In this Final Stage, the No. 1 seed is spotted one win, and therefore only needs to win three games, while the opponent needs four to advance. Also, in both the first and final stages, the higher seed plays every game at home. They don’t alternate home fields as is done is all major professional sports in the U.S.

The winners of the Final Stages in each league then advance to the Japan Series, which is the equivalent of the World Series in MLB. Here, the format goes to a 2-3-2, best-of-seven series (one team hosts the first two and last two games, while the other hosts the middle three). The home field advantage is determined by year: the Pacific League winner hosts Game 1, 2, 6, 7 in an odd numbered year and the Central League winner hosts four games in an even numbered year.

The CS for both leagues begins Oct. 13 and the Japan Series begins Oct. 27. For more information on NPB schedules, visit

Given the fact that there are only 12 teams and half of them make the playoffs, winning the pennant is less meaningful than in MLB. There are still opposing opinions to the CS, but like the Wild Card in MLB, it keeps teams fighting for the final playoff spots and a shot at the NPB Championship.

The regular season may be ending, but it is also the beginning of a new and exciting month. Let’s watch the postseason unfold, not only for MLB, but also NPB - the most beloved professional sport in Japan.

Climax Series tickets go on sale to the general public on the hosting teams’ official website and at various convenience stores. The tickets, which go on sale at various times, likely sell out within the first hour. Secondary market tickets may be available near major stations in the host cities at Kinkenya. Ticket prices will run more than the standard face value.

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