It was a sign of appreciation, not one of a conquering nation, as Japanese players paraded their own flag and then the United States flag around Lamade Stadium on Sunday after winning the Little League World Series championship.
But after watching the Kitasuna Little Leaguers dominate Goodlettsville, Tenn., 12-2 in five innings, who could blame them if they felt that way just a little?
"It was thanks to the USA because we could have this kind of game on this soil," second baseman Noriatsu Osaka said through an interpreter. "We had a good game with this team, and a thanks on the diamond."
When Japan is good, its teams are hard to beat. When Japan is great, it's near unbeatable.
This Japan team started good, finished great, and Osaka was a big part. He hit three home runs, tripled, and scored four times in one of the best-ever individual LLWS championship-game performances.
Japan arrived with a 7-0 win over Caribbean titlist Willemstad, Curacao, a city that produced the 2004 LLWS champion and perennially brings International bracket powers. Japan followed that with a 2-0, nine-inning victory over Asia Pacific champ Taoyuan, Taiwan, that established this team as the leaders of the International field.
Consecutive victories over Latin America Region champ Aguadulce, Panama, 4-1, and then 10-2 in the International title game, put Japan into Sunday's game as a favorite even before Southeast Region champ Goodlettsville's 24-16 victory over West titlist Petaluma, Calif., reminded Tennessee fans football season is starting.
Japanese Little League World Series teams have become like the Yankees, Lakers or Patriots. You might beat them this year if you play your very best, but they'll be back next year.
Kitasuna manager Yoichi Kubo exemplifies that, as this was his second title in the last 12 years. His 2001 Kitasuna team beat Apopka, Fla., 2-1, in the first scheduled primetime final. His 2007 team lost to Warner Robins, 3-2 in eight innings.
"This team has the most balance," Kubo said through an interpreter. "The 2001 and 2007 teams were good, but this has both the pitching and the hitting."
It's worth noting that the last four Japanese teams to lose a LLWS final did so by one run. Hamamatsu City lost 2-1 last year to Huntingdon Beach, Calif.; Kitasuna in 2007; Kawaguchi City lost 2-1 in 2006 to Columbus, Ga.; and Sendai lost 1-0 to Louisville, Ky., in 2002.
But when Japan wins, it wins big. Edogawa Minami beat Waipahu, Hawaii, 4-1, in 2010. Musashi-Fuchu, of Tokyo, beat Boynton Beach, Fla., 9-0 in 2003 when players from both teams ran around the field together after the game, once they sprinted to center field and bowed to Howard J. Lamade's bust. And, in 1999, an Osaka team beat Phenix City, Ala., 5-0.
Asian teams dominating the Series is nothing new. They won two of every three titles from the late 1960s through the turn of the century. But most of those titles were from Taiwan, which dropped out of Little League in the late 1990s after it said it couldn't enforce residency requirements. Taiwan is back, but its deepest showing since returning in 2004 is a runner-up finish in 2009.
That leaves Japan as the flag-bearer for the International field. It has reached the International title game 10 times in 12 years, reached eight finals and has now won four of them.
And for all the talk of television increasing the pressure, as if 25,000 people in Lamade Stadium doesn't do that already, Japan simply went out and played baseball on a sunny Sunday afternoon. That's been a hallmark of good Japanese teams in the past, and Kubo made sure this team did it, too.
"I just said one thing, please play as usual," Kubo said. "I tried to manage as if it were the national tournament. There can't be too much drama, even on live TV or whatever."
That didn't mean Kubo couldn't produce his own moments, saying postgame player hugs brought him to tears here for the first time ever.
Yes, there was crying in baseball. Japan must settle for great. It isn't perfect.
Brigandi is the Sun-Gazette sports editor and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.