It's pretty well-known that Japan loves its baseball. But how the heck did Japan become a baseball mecca?
A professor at what is now the University of Tokyo, Horace Wallace (a good baseball name, in itself) is generally believed to have taught his students the rules of the game sometime between 1867 and 1912. The Japanese called it "yakyu," or field ball. By 1936, the initial Japanese Baseball League was established, but it disbanded during World War II. In the '50s, large corporations decided to support teams as a show of enthusiasm after the war. Soon after, two leagues were formed. Each league had six teams (and still does). The Central League follows pretty traditional rules. And just like the U.S., the Pacific League has that designated hitter position that's so hotly debated in Major League Baseball and employed in the American League.
The game is different in a couple ways. Umps might call a bigger or smaller strike zone. The games end after 12 innings, so ties are allowed. Umpires may huddle to discuss a call and reverse it -- even if it takes a half hour -- as the idea of one individual having the final say doesn't sit right with a Japanese audience. And unlike the U.S., umps have to endure jawing and harassment from the players without an automatic "yer outta here."