Baseball-Fans rejoice in Tokyo as Japan's WBC victory accompanies cherry blossom bloom

Fans react after Japan won the World Baseball Classic final game against the United States, in Tokyo, Japan March 22, 2023. REUTERS/Issei Kato

TOKYO (Reuters) -With cherry blossoms reaching full bloom in Tokyo, Japanese sports fans erupted in jubilation on Wednesday after their countrymen defeated Team USA to win the World Baseball Classic (WBC).

Over a hundred people gathered near Shimbashi Station in the city centre to get special newspaper editions celebrating the victory. The scene quickly turned chaotic, with police officers jumping in to help hand out copies.

"I am so proud as a Japanese national," said Yuji Takeno, a 33-year-old company worker who was among those gathered in Shimbashi. "I also play baseball for leisure and it makes me want to work harder, that's how well they played."

Two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani struck out his Los Angeles Angels team mate Mike Trout to seal a 3-2 victory for Japan in the WBC finale on Tuesday evening in Miami. Japan has now won three of the five global tournaments.

"Thank you, Ohtani, thank you, Samurai Team Japan!" shouted 29-year-old company worker Sho Ishii, who watched the game at a public viewing near Tokyo Tower.

"Nihon yusho", or "Japan victory", was the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter, with baseball-related hashtags rounding out the top 10.

Ohtani was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament, with two wins and a save, leading a dominant roster of Japanese pitchers. Japan pitchers set a WBC record for strikeouts throughout the series, according to Fox Sports.

"One could argue that Samurai Japan has the three best - or three of the best - pitchers in the world, in the charismatic Ohtani, 21-year-old fireballing sensation Roki Sasaki and the veteran Yu Darvish," said Robert Whiting, who has written about Japanese baseball for decades.

TV viewer ratings of previous WBC games exceeded 40% of Japanese households, and for the finale, hundreds of fans gathered at viewing parties in the home towns of star players, according to domestic media reports.

Chief government spokesperson Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters the win was "an incredible achievement that greatly excited the Japanese people".

With sublime serendipity, Japan's victory comes as Tokyo cherry blossoms reached their zenith, bathing the city's parks and streets in pink and white.

Warm weather ushered in full bloom nine days sooner than usual in the capital and one of the earliest in recorded history, national broadcaster NHK said on Wednesday, citing the weather agency.

(Reporting by Akiko Okamoto, Chris Gallagher, Issei Kato, Mariko Katsumura, and Rocky Swift; Editing by Peter Rutherford and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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