By Chris Greenaway
While baseball, sumo and judo have ruled the Japanese sporting scene for decades, (if not centuries in the later’s case,) there are spectator sports happening in Japan during the winter months. Professional hockey has existed in Japan for many years and the original Japan Ice Hockey League, the first true pro hockey league in Japan, was formed in 1966. This league recently admitted 2 clubs from China, 2 from Korea and one from Southern Russia and has since become Asia League Ice Hockey. At various times in it old JIHL’s history they had as many as 6 teams, but today 4 play in the Asia League. Two of these clubs play in Hokkaido, while two more play in the Tokyo area.
Unlike in North America, companies own Japanese professional sports teams and the teams have the company’s name in leu of a city name. (For instance, the Yomiuri Giants are owned by the Yomiuri publishing empire.) The only exception to this in Japanese pro hockey is the HC Nikko Ice Bucks. This is a team that lost it’s sponsors back in the late 1990′s but the city rallied together to keep the team afloat and they are mostly community owned with many different sponsors backing them.
In the Tokyo/Yokohama area, you can see the present day dynasty of the Asia League/JIHL: Kokudo. Formed in 1972, Kokudo is owned by the Prince Hotels chain but after a merger in 2003, are co-owned by Seibu Corperation. In fact, they currently sport a similar uniform and the exact same logo, as that of the Seibu Lions of Japanese pro baseball fame. The “Lions” are currently the Asia League champions, a position that they have seemingly had a permanent grip on for the better part of the last decade having won 12 L-League/Asia League championships including 4 of the last 5.
Kokudo currently plays their home games at Suntory Higashi-Fushimi Ice Arena in Higashi-Fushimi, on the Seibu-Shunjuku Line. In fact, the arena is right in front of the station and you would have to be blind to miss the wall sized advertisements for the team at that station as well as others on the line. (Including in Takadanobaba, in downtown Tokyo.) Tickets range between 4000 and 500 yen for advance seats and between 4200 and 700 yen at the gate. If you want to get advance seats, (which you should because they go fast,) these places have Kokudo tickets:
- ETicket Pia (0570-02-9999)
- Family Mart
- ESeibu Kanko Annaijyo(Shinjyuku, Ikebukuro, Nerima, Tokorozawa, Honkawagoe, Hanno, Shibuya
- EHigashifushimi SK House(0424-61-3456)
- EHockey Shop MAX( South Exit of the Higashifushimi Station ) (0424-66-4145)
If watching isn’t your thing and you wanna play, there are club teams who play hockey for the fun of it in Tokyo. The longest running rec. club is the Tokyo Canadians. The Canadians are a team for expat Canadians, (hence the name,) but also have a few Japanese players play with them. While they are a recreational team, the Canadians also play in various international tournaments all over Asia as well as a tournament in Las Vegas. The Canadians host various fundraisers to cover their tournament costs as well as to help local charities in Tokyo. The team is not just a hockey team but a social club for Canadians who miss their homeland and want to have some fun watching, discussing and playing the game they love.
For more information about the team, or to see about playing with or aganst the Canadians, you can check out their website at www.tokyocanadians.com.
While ice hockey isn’t as popular as other sports in Japan, it certainly has it’s niche here for locals and for foreigners.
Until next time, keep your stick on the ice!