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Is Japan Asia's new Tiger economy?

From CNN Tokyo Bureau Chief Rebecca MacKinnon

A lingerie maker has introduced a 'Hanshin Tigers Bra' to cash on the baseball excitement.
A lingerie maker has introduced a 'Hanshin Tigers Bra' to cash on the baseball excitement.

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TOKYO, Japan (CNN) -- Is Japan's economic recovery tied to the fate of a professional baseball squad?

It may sound far-fetched, but it is a theory that has the support of at least one of the nation's top politicians.

Fans of Osaka's Hanshin Tigers based in southwestern Japan are considered unique for their undying loyalty and faith in their team -- faith that does not change whether the Tigers win or lose. You might even call it a religion.

Last time the Hanshin Tigers won the championship was in 1985, when Japan's economic power was on the rise. Now many people believe that the Hanshin Tigers' comeback is an omen for the comeback of Japan.

With Japan's best manager and a former pitcher from the U.S. Major Leagues, the Tigers are poised to win the Central League pennant, one of the two professional baseball league championships in Japan, for the first time in 18 years. And fans are in a nationwide frenzy.

Tokyo bar owner Ryuji Inoue started life as a Yomiuri Giants fan, then saw the light and converted to "Tiger-ism" at age 18.

Business at his Tiger fan bar is booming this year. But what is really priceless, he believes, is the one-word motto of manager Senichi Hoshino: dream.

His patrons agree. "Japan is Hanshin's country," according to one college student. "A strong Japan will return," said another.

As college kids, they are too young to remember the last Tigers' victory. They came of age in the middle of Japan's decade-long recession.

But now they practise "Tiger economics" -- the belief that anything is possible, if you have the right attitude.

Local media has reported even Financial Services Minister Heizo Takenaka as saying that Japan's ailing economy may see a turnaround this year if the Tigers win the pennant.

The Tigers can win the league championship as early as Saturday night if game results go their way.

Whether Japan's economy can pull off a similar feat remains to be seen.

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