If October 22nd, 1993’s baseball match between Keio and Waseda University is anything to go by, I do not think anyone needs reminding how fierce the rivalry between two of the most prestigious private universities in Japan is. What followed, when Keio won, was the ‘Apple Incident’, where the small matter of 200 police officials had to subdue 6,000 incensed and riotous fans.
Whilst it is not quite regarded in the same bracket as Oxford and Cambridge or Harvard and Yale, the passion and history surrounding the rivalry means it is no small matter. What is interesting about this contest is the fact that the sporting rivalry takes precedent over the academic rivalry, even though both universities are considered by many to be inferior to only Todai and Kyodai from an academic standpoint. Universities normally develop a reputation that is reflected in league tables through research, graduate prospects and entry standards, but it is the sporting aspect that shines through at Keio and Waseda.
Games between the two rivals were suspended in 1906 for 19 years, as the excitement sometime escalated too quickly and resulted in unfortunate incidents. Eventually, in 1925, a Big 6 Tokyo Baseball League was formed and the Keio-Waseda games were reinstated. Now, there are normally two baseball games between the fierce foes each year and they tend to be broadcasted on NHK, Japan’s equivalent of the BBC.
The Pacific War caused fear that the match in October 1943 could have been the last of its kind. Consequently, it was made into a film in 2008 called “The Last Game – the Final So-Kei Sen”. Luckily, however, it was restarted again after the end of the war. The importance and gravitas of the contest is shown by the fact the Emperor has on three occasions been one of the spectators – in 1929, 1950 and 1994.
Despite not being as well-known a rivalry as Oxford and Cambridge, it seems that the baseball match in particular receives a greater amount of coverage and there is a larger hype surrounding the event. Whilst the Oxbridge Boat Race is considered the equivalent, I personally do not feel there is similar emotion before, during or after the race. Whilst a sport that has major associations with the universities and the United Kingdom in general, rowing is far from being the most popular sport in the country. Varsity events for the most popular sports such as rugby and football do exist between Oxford and Cambridge, but they are neither televised nor do they receive the attention that the So-Kei rivalry does for baseball.
(Both images from http://www.global.keio.ac.jp/en/newsletter/spring2013/05.html)