(JAPAN)The latest sensation on the baseball diamond here is a five-foot-tall, 114-pound, dimpled high school girl who throws a nasty knuckle ball.
Eri Yoshida, who left a line of male batters hitless in tryouts in November, recently signed on to become the first woman to play in professional baseball in Japan. Her drafting into pro ball has catapulted her from little-known high school jock to media darling, with camera crews following her daily rounds from calligraphy class to the dugout. Clips of her quirky side-armed pitch seem to be stock footage on nightly sports and news programs.
Yoshida’s spot on the bench of the new team, the Kobe 9 Cruise in the Kansai Independent League, which launches its inaugural season in April, has many women here hoping that she is more pioneer than token.
“She is a symbol of the changing status of women in Japan,” says Machiko Osawa, an economist at Japan Women’s University and an expert on women in the workplace. “She’s been accepted in sports, a very conservative world.”
Indeed, the United Nations’ Development Fund consistently ranks Japan as the most unequal of the world’s richest countries when it comes to gender equality. Women are not only barred from participating in Japan’s national sport, sumo wrestling, they can’t even step foot into the sumo ring, which is considered sacred and, therefore, off limits. Japan’s other national pastime, Kabuki theater, also remains an exclusively male domain.