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'Cricket city' in Tochigi to start using cricket handbooks in schools

An international cricket tournament takes place in the city of Sano in Tochigi Prefecture in this November 2016 file photo. The spacious 360 degree zone around the two sets of wickets in the center is an attractive feature of the sport. (Mainichi)

SANO, Tochigi -- When one hears the word "cricket," images of enthusiastic youngsters in India, where the sport is hugely popular, or a picturesque village green in England might spring to mind. But it is fairly unlikely that many people would make an association between the sport and Japan.

    The Tochigi Prefecture city of Sano, however, may alter this perception. It has teamed up with the Japan Cricket Association to produce a cricket handbook that will be used in 26 elementary schools here from April, providing the opportunity for the town to become a cricketing hotspot.

    At first glance, the game of cricket seems very similar to baseball -- which of course is hugely popular in Japan, with a bowler throwing a hard ball toward a batsman.

    Certainly, it is no secret that the sport is not particularly widespread in Japan. Nevertheless, cricket is considerably popular in U.K. and Commonwealth countries such as Australia and India, and it is also believed to be the second most played sport in the world, behind soccer.

    In Japan, the city of Sano is particularly serious about the sport. The head office of the Japan Cricket Association is based here, and the municipal government is in the process of establishing Sano as a city that "utilizes cricket." The city boasts a total of five cricket grounds which are qualified to host regular matches, and it is one of the most passionate "cricket spots" in Japan. In the future, it plans to redevelop a playing field at the now defunct Tanuma High School into a cricket ground that would comply with international cricketing standards -- the first of its kind in Japan.

    With these kinds of developments unfolding in the city, it seemed natural for the city to work with the Japan Cricket Association and create a cricket handbook so that the sport can be studied and played in elementary schools across the city.

    According to a local elementary school teacher, Tatsuya Hayashi, 33, one of the benefits of cricket is that it helps children develop their throwing and batting skills, in a similar way to baseball.

    In the recently produced cricket handbook, there is a section called "cricket lesson plans for beginners," which introduces the basic rules of cricket using reader-friendly photos and charts.

    As the Japan Cricket Association looks to the future, 38-year-old secretary-general Naoki Miyaji says, "We want to get cricket introduced into as many school as possible, and increase the number of Japanese people playing the sport. In the future, we would like to create elementary and junior high school cricket tournaments."

    If the new cricket handbook takes off, then who knows what kind of boundaries might be broken.

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