Sakae Suzuka was a shopkeeper in Kyoto when he invented a rubber baseball in 1913. This invention has been credited with greatly expanding the popularity of baseball in Japan. Soft baseball, known as nankyuu or kusa-yakyuu, has remained very popular in Japan and has shown signs of gaining popularity in the United States. Kusa-yakyuu literally means "Grass Baseball". It gained this nickname since it was often played in bombed out vacant grass fields left after World War II. Rubber baseballs are cheap, safe for children, and an alternative to hardball which is often outlawed in crowded urban areas.
Suzuka was inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003.