Nippon Professional Baseball is set to return behind closed doors next month ©Getty Images

Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) appears set to begin its season on June 19, almost three months to the day when it was supposed to start.

The NPB season was unable to begin on March 20 as initially scheduled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, with new cases on the decline in Japan and the state of emergency now lifted in all areas including the capital Tokyo, NPB is aiming for an opening day on June 19.

The decision was made after a meeting of representatives from each of the competition's 12 teams, although fans will not be allowed to attend games once they begin.

"If possible, we hope to lift the spirits of everyone suffering from a feeling of hopelessness, and pave the way for other sports to be held," NPB commissioner Atsushi Saito said, as reported by news agency Kyodo.

"Our discussion concentrated on opening the league even without spectators.

"It's conceivable to let spectators come if the circumstances improve, but we haven't discussed any details yet."

The regular season will now contain 120 games for each team rather than 143, although there is no longer a need to take a break for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which should help with the scheduling.

The All-Star Game and all inter-league matches have been scrapped.

The Yomiuri Giants are the reigning Central League champions ©Getty Images
The Yomiuri Giants are the reigning Central League champions ©Getty Images

NPB is split into two six-team leagues, the Central League and Pacific League, and the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks are the defending champions.

Japan's iconic National High School Baseball Championship - often known as "Koshien" - will not be held for the first time since the Second World War this year due to the coronavirus crisis and was cancelled last week.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe today lifted the state of emergency in the five prefectures where it was still in place - Tokyo and neighbouring Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama, as well as the northern island of Hokkaido - allowing for baseball games to now be played behind closed doors. 

Practice matches are set to begin on June 2 and the schedule is to be arranged in a manner which reduces how often teams have to travel.

Baseball seasons elsewhere in Asia have been able to start already.

In Taiwan, the Chinese Professional Baseball League began its season more than a month ago, with up to 2,000 fans now even allowed to attend games.

The Korea Baseball Organisation League has also begun behind closed doors.