The loyal baseball fans of the Hiroshima Toyo Carp embody the community spirit of a city. Mazda Stories investigates.

Dating back to the 1920s, Mazda’s relationship with the modern city of Hiroshima is synonymous with community, innovation, and a true hospitable omotenashi spirit. Found everywhere from local coffee shops to burgeoning factories, and rippling through its hard-working community, Hiroshima’s uplifting disposition can be felt by anyone lucky enough to visit.

Yet, of Hiroshima’s population of over a million, there are a group of passionate citizens that capture Hiroshima’s spirit more passionately — and more colourfully, owing to the swarms of red baseball jerseys seen on any game day — than anyone else: the dedicated fans of the Hiroshima Toyo Carp baseball team. Watching Hiroshima Toyo Carp play up to six games a week at MAZDA Zoom-Zoom Stadium Hiroshima, their home ground, both the team spirit and the stadium itself have become shining examples of Hiroshima’s local community, as endemic to the city, and its hardworking people, as Mazda itself.

Cheered on by their fans, famously the most passionate in the game, Hiroshima Toyo Carp are one of 12 teams divided into two separate leagues: the Central and Pacific Leagues. From Hokkaido in the north to Fukuoka in south, the teams battle it all out throughout the regular season, which is followed by the most anticipated Japan Series championship playoffs to decide the ultimate season winners.

Daichi Osera, left, and Takato Hiraoka, right, pose for a photo with a Hiroshima Toyo Carp fan before a game. (Photo taken on 23rd November 2018, ©HIROSHIMA TOYO CARP)

“The ambience inside the stadium was simply overwhelming with all the avid fans chanting.”

Daichi Osera

For the team, of which there are 70 players under contract, a fan-to-player relationship is vital. Daichi Osera, Hiroshima Toyo Carp’s pitcher, is all too happy to confirm.

“After I finished university baseball in 2013, I visited Hiroshima on holiday and had a chance to watch the Hiroshima Toyo Carp at the MAZDA Zoom-Zoom Stadium Hiroshima,” Osera recalls. “The ambience inside the stadium was simply overwhelming with all the avid fans chanting so loud for their team. I thought I knew the Carp fans were special, but it was obvious that I had underestimated it. Having experienced that first-hand, I started thinking that I would like to play professionally for a team like Hiroshima with so much love from the fans like them.”  

Osera’s wish to play for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp was granted immediately thereafter, and he’s now cemented his status as the team’s unquestionable ace pitcher. Staying at the top of the game as a pro athlete is, however, far from easy.

Eitetsu Hoshino, Erina Oshita, Kodai Nakamura and Akiho Okamura in their Hiroshima Toyo Carp-inspired kimonos.

Local fans Daisuke Fujii and Masatomo Imazawa cheer in the bleachers.

“There are more downs than ups for sure; to the point where I sometimes feel like I just want to hang my glove right there,” says Osera jokingly. “But, when I fall on hard times, I try to think that I’m playing not for myself but for the fans, teammates, staff and others working very hard behind the scenes for the team. This way, I can work myself even harder and boost my motivation to become a better player tomorrow than today.”

This beautiful relationship between the team and the fans is also true beyond the walls of the home stadium. Osera continues; “Away from the ground, we have fantasy camps and talk events organised throughout the year to mingle with our fans. What was memorable for me from last year was a particular camp where we invited the kids from the single-parent families. This season, we went ahead and invited those same kids to an actual game with their parents, hoping that it would help further strengthen their parent-child tie through baseball.”

With history, legacy, the past and current runs of form, it’s almost impossible to pinpoint what makes the Hiroshima Toyo Carp fans so unique, compared to the rest of the pack. One theory has it that the Hiroshima Toyo Carp came to prominence in tandem with the city’s recovery from the war, which most likely plays a part in the narrative. There is, however, more to it than that.

Friends Yuta Hashimoto, Chiharu Nagai and Hikaru Sato at the MAZDA Zoom-Zoom Stadium Hiroshima.

Ryosuke Muta, CEO of a yakitori grilled chicken skewer restaurant chain Carpdori, is the perfect example of a steadfast and resolute Hiroshima Toyo Carp fan. Founded in 1980 by Muta’s father, Carpdori is most famous for having its chicken skewer dishes named after the Hiroshima Toyo Carp players. If, for example, you were to place an order for Osera, you would get a plate of grilled chicken skins, one of Carpdori’s most popular dishes. This restaurant always has a special place in the hearts of like-minded fans, and plenty of them make a pilgrimage to it whenever they have a chance.

“Our everyday life revolves around the
Hiroshima Toyo Carp.”

Ryosuke Muta

“The very existence of the Hiroshima Toyo Carp is woven into the fabric of the city,” says Muta. “For us, it’s not a conscious choice [to support Hiroshima Toyo Carp]. It’s rooted in the collective conscience of the people in Hiroshima. If you turn on the television, you will always see news about Hiroshima Toyo Carp. If you walk through the city, you will see the streets adorned with the posters and billboards of the players. If you want a baseball cap, then it would have the logo on it. Our everyday life revolves around the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. Nothing less, nothing more, and it feels only natural for us.”

In fact, if you visit the MAZDA Zoom-Zoom Stadium Hiroshima on a game day and speak to the fans there, you will see what Muta has revealed is nothing but the truth. “Anything about Carp always gets us talking at home and everyone in the family joins in,” says Yasunori Shimizu, who was at the stadium with his family to watch Hiroshima Toyo Carp play Tokyo’s Yomiuri Giants, their arch-rivals from the capital. “It’s something that runs deep in the family through the generations.”

Then his daughter, Yui, jumps in. “I love [Hiroshima Toyo] Carp because my grandpa and grandma loved them,” she exclaims. “Not only that, the whole team feels very close to us both physically and spiritually, with the players and even the Slyly [the team’s mascot] acknowledging us in the stadium whenever they have a chance, making sure we’re all well entertained and looked after. That really shows how special our mutual relationship is at [Hiroshima Toyo] Carp.”

This seems to be the consensus among the Hiroshima Toyo Carp fans, whoever you end up speaking to in and around the stadium. The love for the baseball team is a multi-generational, family affair that has forged an unbreakable bond over the years. So unbreakable, in fact, that Hiroshima Toyo Carp doesn’t receive financial sponsorship, as many professional sports team do, from a corporate sponsor. Rather, it was a multitude of generous donations from Hiroshima locals that saw the team both survive financial hardship in 1952 and adopt a community-funded approach. The only baseball team in Japan to do so, Hiroshima Toyo Carp now remain without third-party sponsorship some 70 years later.

Kimi Komiyama and Yumeno Imada cheer on the Hiroshima Toyo Carp before a game (above). A fan wears a towel with embroidery of Kikuchi Ryosuke’s uniform number as a kimono Obi band (below).

Yet, it’s Erina Oshita, a fan clad in a custom-made Hiroshima Toyo Carp kimono, who sums it all up for everyone involved in the baseball team, including fans, young and old; and players, from new signings to seasoned athletes. “If I’m to describe what the Hiroshima Toyo Carp means for us, then I say this: they are the soul of the city.”

As with any sport, seasons change; trophies are won and lost, and athletes come and go. The only constant, however, is the loyal fans that will cheer, celebrate, and commiserate while sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in the stadium. Rain or shine, win or lose — Hiroshima’s community spirit always triumphs.

Words Shogo Hagiwara / Images Keisuke Ono, main image ©HIROSHIMA TOYO CARP

find out more

The spirit of Hiroshima