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[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Superstar Shohei Ohtani to Join the Dodgers

Two-time American League MVP Shohei Ohtani agrees to a 10-year, $700 million deal, the biggest contract in Major League Baseball history.

Shohei Ohtani has decided to remain in Southern California. His new team: the Los Angeles Dodgers.

After six seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, Major League Baseball's most coveted free agent will join the Dodgers, moving from the American League to the National League in a blockbuster 10-year deal worth $700 million USD (¥101.4 billion JPY).

Nez Balelo, Ohtani's agent who announced the superstar's decision in a news release on Saturday, December 9, shared his perspective on the significance of the blockbuster deal.

"This is a unique, historic contract for a unique, historic player," Balelo, who works for CAA Sports, said in a statement. "Shohei is thrilled to be a part of the Dodgers organization. He is excited to begin this partnership, and he structured his contract to reflect a true commitment from both sides to long-term success. Shohei and I want to thank all the organizations that reached out to us for their interest and respect, especially the wonderful people we got to know even better as this process unfolded."

Shohei Ohtani
Shohei Ohtani in an October 2022 file photo. (KYODO)

A Message from Shohei Ohtani

The 29-year-old Ohtani announced his decision to join the Dodgers on Instagram around 5 AM JST on Sunday, December 10.

"To all the fans and everyone involved in the baseball world, I apologize for taking so long to come to a decision," Ohtani posted on his Instagram account.

"The six years I spent with the Angels will remain etched in my heart forever," he said. "And to all Dodgers fans, I pledge to always do what's best for the team and always continue to give it my all to be the best version of myself.

"Until the last day of my playing career, I want to continue to strive forward not only for the Dodgers but for the baseball world. There are some things that cannot be conveyed in writing, so I would like to talk more about this again at a later press conference."

The Dodgers Make a Pitch to Ohtani

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts met face-to-face with Ohtani at Dodger Stadium recently? Was it a big deal?

Roberts delivered the bombshell news at the MLB Winter Meetings on Tuesday, December 5.

"It was just a pleasure to get to spend some time with him," Roberts said, according to

The Okinawan-born skipper added, "Clearly, Shohei's our top priority."

What else did the Dodgers have in mind to entice Ohtani besides a winning tradition and a large paycheck?

Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly, who wears jersey No 17, was reportedly asked to give up his uniform number if the team signs Ohtani.

Ohtani has worn 17 on the back of his jersey for his entire MLB career.

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Blue Jays Pursue Ohtani

Before Ohtani and his agent confirmed the Toronto Blue Jays were no longer in the running for the pride of Iwate Prefecture for the next decade, Canada's MLB team was viewed by many as the frontrunner. 

In addition, Toronto general manager Ross Atkins met with Ohtani at the club's spring training headquarters in Dunedin, Florida on Monday, December 3.

Several days passed without an official announcement. Which could have meant something ― or nothing.

Or as the Toronto Sun observed on Friday: "The good news for the Jays and their over-the-top excited fan base — such as it is, anyway — is that Ohtani reportedly has yet to publicly choose his suitor, that a decision appears imminent and that the Blue Jays remain a finalist and likely a favorite."


Kei Nishikori (KYODO)


Nishikori to Skip Australian Open

Kei Nishikori, who has been sidelined since the Atlanta Open in July due to a left knee injury, will not meet his target of returning to competition at the 2024 Australian Open.

Nishikori said on Thursday, December 7 that he is pushing back his comeback attempt.

"I think it will take another week or two [to be ready]," Nishikori was quoted as saying by Sports Hochi.

Speaking at a news conference, Nishikori also outlined his adjusted target for 2024.

"I want to be back in February or March, I've started seeing light at the end of the tunnel," the Shimane Prefecture native said, according to The Asahi Shimbun.

As he looks ahead to his comeback, the 33-year-old told reporters he's aiming to compete in some ATP Challenger Tour Tournaments in February, followed by the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, or the Miami Open in Florida in March.

Osaka Gets Ready for Return

The Australian Open gets underway on January 14, and Naomi Osaka is set to make her Grand Slam tournament comeback there in Melbourne. Up first: Osaka plans to compete in the Brisbane International, which starts on December 31.

Osaka, who gave birth to her first child, daughter Shai, in July, discussed her career in a recent interview with NHK. The four-time Grand Slam singles champion has not played in a tournament since September 2022.

"In the first chapter of my tennis I kind of got away with just being myself and playing with my instincts," Osaka told the Japanese broadcaster. "I think I want to be someone that understands the game a lot more."

She added: "I definitely want to win more Grand Slams and I guess put in more time in the French Open and Wimbledon, and play the Paris Olympics."

Yuri Yoshida and Mao Saigo display commemorative signs on December 6 after qualifying to play on the LPGA Tour in 2024. (KYODO)


Saigo, Yoshida Earn LPGA Tour Cards for 2024 Season

Japanese golfers Mao Saigo and Yuri Yoshida have qualified to play on the LPGA Tour in 2024. They are among 50 golfers who received their LPGA Tour cards after the challenging rigors of the six-round LPGA Q-Series, which wrapped up on December 5 at Magnolia Grove in Mobile, Alabama.

Saigo finished tied with South Korea's So Mie Lee for second place with a 26-under 404. 

Australia's Robyn Choi was the tournament winner with a 29-under 401. Choi shot under 70 in each of the six rounds.

Yoshida earned her spot on the United States-based golf tour by placing tied for 17th at 19-under 411. 

Also for Japan, Saki Baba, 18, missed the cut, finishing tied for 62nd at 5-under 425, including 74s in the second and sixth rounds.


Kyoko Maekawa smiles on December 7 at a news conference in Ritto, Shiga Prefecture, after passing the Japan Racing Association's trainer license exam for the 2024 fiscal year. (SANKEI)

Horse Racing 

Maekawa Becomes JRA's First Female Trainer 

Kyoko Maekawa achieved a big career goal on Thursday, December 7, becoming the Japan Racing Association's first female trainer.

An assistant trainer since 2004, Maekawa, 46, was one of nine applicants who passed the license test, according to published reports. Initially, there was a pool of 133 applicants.

"There have only been a small number of female applicants so far. I hope more women will enter the horse racing industry," Maekawa was quoted as saying by Kyodo News at the JRA Ritto Training Center in Ritto, Shiga Prefecture.

Maekawa also spoke about the increased weight that will fall on her shoulders as she begins working as a trainer.

"I'll be in a position with bigger responsibilities and I'm bracing for it," Maekawa said, according to Kyodo News before adding, "I want the horses I'm associated with to be treasured and live long. To achieve that, I want to help them win big races."

Jockey Yusuke Fujioka stands next to a commemorative sign after winning his 1,000th career race on December 3 at Hanshin Racecourse in Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture. (ⒸWEEKLY GALLOP/via SANKEI)

Jockey Fujioka Reaches Career Milestone

Yusuke Fujioka won his 1,000th JRA race on Sunday, December 3 at Hanshin Racecourse.

He rode Travelog to victory in the 3-Year-Old & Up Allowance race, which was contested over 1,400 meters on turf.

The 37-year-old jockey has now competed in 11,420 races, and he is the 43rd JRA jockey to reach the 1,000-win milestone.

"I knew I was close to this mark and I had rides on well-fancied horses," Fujioka said, according to Daily Sports

He added, "I am relieved and I am grateful to be able to race in front of these amazing fans."

Saitama Wild Knights player Shota Horie speaks during a news conference on December 6 in Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture. (ⒸSANKEI)


Horie Announces Retirement Plans 

Shota Horie, one of the most popular Japanese rugby players of the past few decades, has decided the 2023-24 Japan Rugby League One campaign will be his last season.

The 37-year-old Horie announced his retirement plans at a news conference on December 6 in Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture.

"I had a good rugby career; I realize that I have come this far thanks to the support of many people," Horie was quoted as saying by Reuters.

"About a year and a half ago, I thought I would retire after this season, regardless of whether the result of the World Cup (this autumn) was good or bad." 

Shota Horie scores a try for the Sunwolves against South Africa's Lions in a February 2016 Super Rugby match in Tokyo. (ⒸSANKEI)

Horie, a hooker, has played for the Saitama Wild Knights, formerly known as the Panasonic Wild Knights, since 2010. In addition, he appeared in the last four Rugby World Cups, starting in 2011. He also had stints with Super Rugby's Melbourne Rebels and the Sunwolves, Japan's former Super Rugby squad in a notable career.

In the 2015-16 Top League season, Horie was named league MVP. The Top League was rebranded as Japan Rugby League One in 2021.


Kawasaki Frontale players celebrate after winning the Emperor's Cup final on December 9 at Tokyo's National Stadium. (ⒸSANKEI)


Frontale Earn Shootout Victory over Reysol in Emperor's Cup Final

Kawasaki Frontale defeated J.League rival Kashiwa Reysol 8-7 in a penalty shootout on Saturday, December 9 to claim their second Emperor's Cup title.

A shootout was held because neither team scored during 120 minutes of play.

In a unique ending to this edition of the Emperor's Cup, which was first held in 1921, Reysol goalkeeper Kenta Matsumoto took the 10th and final penalty shot for his club. This pressure-packed moment pitted Matsumoto against Frontale goalie Sung Ryong Jung. And Jung maintained his poise and made the save to seal the dramatic win.

Frontale manager Toru Oniki's squad placed eight out of 18 teams during the J.League's 2023 season.

The Emperor's Cup final reminded him of the team's determination throughout the season.

"It epitomized our season as we fought patiently, kept a clean sheet, and did not give up at moments when we easily could have," Oniki was quoted as saying by Kyodo News.

Oniki, who became manager in 2017, led Frontale to J.Leauge titles in 2017, 2018, 2020 and '21. Without a title in any competition in 2022, the veteran boss noted how vital it is for the team's growth to return to winning ways.

"I believe the players have matured as much as we've suffered," Oniki said, according to Kyodo. "There are things you only get to know by continuing to win titles, so we hope to keep doing that."

In 2020, Kawasaki won its first Emperor's Cup title.


Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven.


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