Japanese and American Baseball: Part 4

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The conclusion of my essay on how Japanese and American culture plays itself out through the sport of baseball.

It was during this time that Japan as an individual nation was looking for a place among the countries of the growing market. In an age of perceived Social Darwinism, Roden writes that “many assumed that only the fittest nations could survive and flourish in a hostile world” and that “athletics, patriotism, and the ideology of manliness were inseparable” (512). The victory by Ichikō gave the Japanese at least symbolic status among the elite, and served as an elementary example of the country being able to compete among traditional superpowers, even though it was merely through sport. With such an importance on the uniting factor of the sport in Japan, it is no surprise that the game developed differently in Japan than it did in the United States. There were no direct allusions to the capitalistic motifs portrayed by the American sport. The individual did not have the power. Rather, it was the team. The individual, on the other hand, came to symbolize great heroes of Japan’s past- the samurai. The introduction of baseball and an increase in population occurred in the Meiji period, a period of relative decline of the old and gradual importation of foreign ideals. Baseball provided a new type of samurai warrior, and a nostalgic reversion to moral ideals of the past. Roden notes that many “compared the skilled batter to samurai swordsmen and embellished descriptions of the game with poetic allusions to medieval warrior epics” (520). In addition, baseball “reputedly nourished traditional virtues of loyalty, honor, and courage and therefore symbolized the ‘new bushido’ spirit of the age” (520). In a time in which modernization may have caused the forgetting of the past, the nostalgic attachments to bushido aided in the creation of the unique version of baseball the Japanese play and ultimately live.

The American influence of the game had led to a dilemma among the Japanese. As Roden points out, the Japanese “were also torn between playing baseball to project the image of the cosmopolitan, man of the world, and playing to revive the stoic virtues of the feudal warriors” (532). The dedication to the ideals of the past is still seen in Japanese baseball today. Robert Whiting’s book, The Chrysanthemum and the Bat, discusses the numerous aspects of the game which still characterize it as dependent upon the ideals of the samurai despite living in a modern, technologically advanced world far removed from the feudal system. One of Whiting’s first observations is a fundamental difference in how professional teams are run. He writes that “American pro-baseball teams are run like corporations… not so in Japan, where a baseball team is more like a cohesive extended family unit” (20). The argument is strengthened by the observable “paternalism” which is “most evident in the relationship between the manager and his players” (21). This is why Japanese players do precisely what the manager asks, because it is a sense of familial duty. There is no room for the public locker room bickering which is seen in American sports. In addition, the fatherly managers are very much a part of the personal lives of their players. Whiting provides a revealing confrontation between star Koichi Tabuchi and his manager, where the manager lectures, “We are providing an example for the youth of Japan to follow and what you do in your private life reflects on the good name of this team” (23). The American ballplayer’s concern for individual image and the Japanese ballplayer’s disregard for the same factors (and conversely having a concern for the image of the team) serve as observable differences between the two countries, and how their ballplayers ultimately represent their respective societies through social dispositions.

If concern for the team as a collective unit can be interpreted as a nostalgic observance of past Japanese values, perhaps it is not too farfetched for the Japanese baseball player to serve as a symbol of past Japanese society. The most immediate representation of the past is the samurai warrior, and parallels between ballplayer and samurai have been made for numerous years. The connection between baseball player and samurai was initially a construct of contemporary interpretation during the game’s rise in popularity during the early twentieth century. A formal introduction of the bushido-inspired Samurai Code of Conduct for Baseball Players made the allusion a reality- and more often than not, it was a harsh dose of physical reality (Whiting, 36-7). The code is comprised of twelve rules regarding conduct for baseball players. Article 2, which states, “A player must follow established procedure,” provides the area for greatest contrast between American and Japanese ballplayers (Whiting, 40). This article of the Code emphasizes the Japanese obsession with routine and fundamentals. Whiting uses the samurai motif to describe the importance of fundamentals in baseball, as he writes that “there is a right and wrong way to attack an opponent with a sword, to arrange flowers in a vase… and to throw a curve ball” (41). Having the correct fundamental form serves as the ultimate foundation of a player. All other enhancements of skill follow in time. While here in the United States we may hear about famous baseball players hitting hundreds of balls off tees, the Japanese spends just as many hours on fundamentals. Whiting writes that even “the batter who looks good striking out is praiseworthy, while the stubborn individualist who insists ‘I know what’s best for me’ is not tolerated” (41). Lastly, Whiting notes the difference in the American and Japanese camp. The American training regimen is often individual. It is the player who decides what is best for him, and how much time he should spend doing drills and conditioning. The manager in Japan is the quintessential leader. It is he who decides what is best for his team. The team trains together, instead of individual workouts. Clearly, in the world of Japanese baseball, not much room is left for the emergence of the individual. Instead, the success of a player is sincerely attributed to his fellow teammates and his manager.

It is clear that events in both American and Japanese history have framed how the sport of baseball developed in the cultures of the two countries, as well as the literal philosophies regarding strategy and lifestyle. Baseball has remained an aggressive game in the United States due its historical utilization as a tool of Americanization, which emphasized increased entrepreneurship and antagonistic diplomacy. The historical development of the game in Japan has always had its roots in the promotion of nation and team, allowing for the baseball player to assume the metaphorical role of the samurai warrior. Despite the differences in ideology and tradition which have developed between the cultures, baseball continues to be an area of common ground between the Japanese and Americans, and functions as an area of reconciliation even after the events of World War II.

Thanks for reading.

smallheap.jpg image by jmooser

The Heap Presents: The Top 10 Ways to Know You Are On a Flight To/From Latin America

I have just returned from my lovely across the state trek to the Orlando airport to pick up my grandfather who was flying in from Puerto Rico. This list came to mind when we first dropped him off a few days ago, when we had to check him in and watch him ride off into the security line on his wheelchair. It has been a long time since I have gone to PR myself, and I have not been able to adequately enjoy these traits of Latin flights. So, here it is, the top 10 clues that you are on a flight from a Latin country.

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10. The parking lot is full at “off-peak” hours. This also includes making the “Arrivals” waiting/pick up area a parking lot. We all know we don’t follow directions to well- especially if it has to do with driving. Most flights going to or coming from destinations of Latin nature are either very, very early, or very, very late. So if you are wondering why the airport is full at that time, it’s because a caravan of people came to see off / pick up a loved one. This is explained in great detail at #2.

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9. There are no formal lines, just hoards of people waiting to be called on. If you arrive at the counter/ security area and all you see is a disorganized mob, chances are you are going to/leaving a Latin destination. We are practical people. Lines limit space. The Heap’s advice is to keep pressing forward and shuffle your feet. Don’t be alarmed if you bump into someone or you are bumped into. This is part of the process.

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8. All you hear is Spanish. Duh. What use is English? Chances are even the employees are going to be native speakers and will have just basic English skills. Plus, we like to speak Spanish in English speaking places, because we can!

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7. People are either overdressed or under dressed. This is quite noticeable. Most people of Latin decent tend to overdress for flights, treating it as some semi formal occasion. The amount of preparation that goes into traveling day is unprecedented. So if you notice people heading back to their country, there’s a good chance they will be dressed nicely. Then of course you have the other extreme, which include (but not limited to): sleeveless T-shirts, Underarmor, ridiculously thuggish clothes, curve accentuating tops and bottoms, lots of bling

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6. You see card board boxes being checked or retrieved from baggage claim. I feel that this is perhaps the second most telling clue that you are flying to/from Latin America. It is a familial duty to bring back all sorts of goodies from the Motherland. And since we love to over pack our suitcases, there is no room to bring them back, though some of the more advanced/considerate travelers set aside a suitcase specific to this purpose. Goods in the boxes include (but again, not limited to): Native pastries, native plants, gifts, something that has to be frozen/refrigerated, fresh cuts of meat/fish, livestock. (Honorable Mention: Pretty much every suitcase is over the allotted weight limit!)

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5. Greenery and exotic fruits are carried on. The subconscious planter in the depths of the Latin “id” comes to life when one returns to the Motherland. Thus, plants and fruits not available back home MUST be brought back home in order to attempt to grow them in your back yard, or to give them as gifts to someone who can. I can hear it now: “Please be careful when opening overhead compartments because bags and plant stems may have shifted.”

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4. It is really, really loud. Oh, you can’t escape it. In the aforementioned “line” people will be babbling in what may seem to the English speaker as tongues. Think your red-eye flight will be a nice time to catch some Z’s while the plane crosses the Caribbean? Guess again. There is a strong possibility that people will talk LOUDLY. If you are lucky enough to have your fellow passengers calm it down, then there will most certainly be a crying infant. And if you manage to avoid that, then there will be loud, obnoxious snoring from somewhere. Latin men and women are sound sleepers and loud snorers. Investment in Bose headphones is a must.

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3. Your flight is running late. Due to weather? Probably not. Forecast calls for clear skies and a strong contingent of stragglers. Possible reasons: Diaper changes and rounding up the family, having a three course meal, buying stuff at the duty free shop, leaving the house just 15 minutes before (and then packing), drinking at the bar, having to recover from the security strip search because of not following directions and/or putting back on all that bling. And lastly, if your pilots are Latin, they will be fashionably late too.

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2. The whole family is there to pick people up. Back before life was heavily Americanized, thus increasing the amount people fly for vacations, business, or for no reason at all, there was a time where traveling was almost a ritualistic rite of passage (which explains the need to dress up). The entire family comes to welcome back the loved one, and if you’re lucky, there might be a band of tribal drums there! (True Story: At TIA, Airside F is where the American Airlines San Juan flight comes in. Coincidently, it’s the only airside that has a roped off section with signs that tell the waiting parties to stay behind the barrier…)

1. Passengers clap and cheer when the plane lands. This is the most distinguished clue that you are on a Latin flight. As the plane makes its final approach, one can feel a unique tension build. This might be the only time that you experience quiet. The runway comes into view, the rear wheels touch, the front wheel touches, and a nice deceleration ensues. And then, at the first moment of assured safety, applause emerges from the silence, even some cheers and songs. Try this on your next flight on the US mainland. It doesn’t work quite as well…

So there you have it. Make sure to be looking for this the next time you fly! And feel free to leave comments with your favorite traits!

smallheap.jpg image by jmooser

Japanese and American Baseball: Part 3

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The continuance of my essay on how Japanese and American culture plays itself out through the sport of baseball.

By the 1890s baseball had become one of the most popular collegiate sports in Japan despite the constant exclusion from the game the Japanese often faced by Americans. Through the victories of Ichikō in Tokyo, the dominant team of the decade in collegiate baseball, the Japanese were able to instill a sense of legitimacy to the sport in the nation, as well as demonstrate to the Americans that it had an adroit grasp on the game. The cultural separation between the members of the Yokohama Sporting Club, an organization which only allowed American baseball players, and the Japanese continued to exist throughout the decade. Roden points out that at this point, it was clear that “Americans in Yokohama played baseball to be more American, Japanese students, especially in the higher schools, turned to baseball in an effort to reify traditional values and to establish a new basis for national pride” (520). The rationale behind such a zealous effort to want to beat the Americans at their own game must have stemmed from the global success and unity the United States emblematized. If the lowly Japanese were able to beat them, perhaps a similar position of global acknowledgment awaited Japan. Ichikō dominated the national scene for years, and in October 1891, they formally challenged the Yokohama Athletic Club to an international match, or kokusai shiai, and were continually turned down for five years (Roden, 521). Claims such as “Baseball is our national game” and “Our bodies are twice the size as yours” only fueled the “little Japanese” students and resulted in the strong, persisting desire to play the international match. The importance of the match was so paramount, that Roden comments that “a simple game of baseball therefore began to assume the dimensions of a righteous struggle for national honor” (521). Finally, the two sides played on May 23, 1896, at the home field of the Yokohama Athletic Club, being the first official baseball game between American and Japanese teams (Roden, 522). As fate would have it, Ichikō would win the game 29-4, utterly humiliating the members of the club. Due to the presence of the Japanese media, the players became national heroes (Roden, 524). The two sides would play in a series of rematches, with the Yokohama Sporting Club calling upon reinforcements from stationed navy ships. The club finally managed to narrowly win a game on July 4th 14-12. Perhaps baseball would always be the “American Pastime.” But as Roden points out, “by overwhelming the Americans in their ‘national game,’ the students aroused considerable ferment and pride in the 1890s that extended down to the lowliest denizens of the treaty ports” (533). National pride was finally achieved, and as a result, baseball continues to be an integral part of the culture.

The series between Yokohama and Ichikō may have proved that the inhabitants of the two countries may have had the same ability to play the game, but how each culture is represented through the figure of the ballplayer is drastically different. Gelber captures the essence of the portrayal of baseball in the United States, by writing that “baseball was not merely a ‘mirror of American life,’ it was an integral part of the cultural matrix of modern business society. Baseball expressed and reinforced urban life, business organization, and the values that underlay them” (3). It is clear that Gelber argues that the characteristic aggression of American capitalism and the propaganda-like reiteration of the urban American dream permeate into the sports world to serve as an ample representation of the sport of baseball as a whole. Gelber’s research shows that the businesslike characteristics of American baseball are far from coincidental. He suggests that “the bulk of modern social science data supports the congruent theory, and the congruence between baseball and business explains the rise of the game during the economic expansion of the nineteenth century” (4). Thus, interest in the sport grew hand in hand as entrepreneurs attempted to make and collect their own interest in aggressive speculation. Arguments have been made for the game being a prime example of rural life, which would contrast with the urban vision of a game played predominately by city slickers. Scholars point to “pastoral” elements of the game such as the natural presence of the sun, grass and wind, and also the timelessness of the game, and seasonality symbolized by the four bases (Gelber, 6). Yet, critics who wish to dispel this rural interpretation immediately point toward the West in the United States as conquerable rural land which could be urbanized. Gelber even writes that baseball “established an artificial rural environment” (6). Thus, the baseball player was a symbol of urban potential energy- only being contained for a short amount of time. He was a symbol of expansionist power, and in many ways, these ideals still are stressed in the American game today, as entertainment value is sought, rather than just the win. Offense trumps good fundamental play every time in the American version. The individual has the power to win or lose the game, and it is the individual who is traditionally extolled in American society.

At Last, It’s Here

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My card finally came in. Time to create my gamertag and let myself get utterly destroyed by pre-pubescent boys.

I finally beat Call of Duty: World at War yesterday after being in the Reichstag for frickin ever. That last part trying to get out is absurd. Convenient how there are an infinite number of Nazi soldiers. I guess that’s ok since I have an infinite number of lives… Note to other gamers. For the love of God try your best to take out that MG. That is one of the most annoying obstacles in gaming I have ever encountered!

I beat it on normal, and I can’t imagine how frustrating it will be on harder difficulties. One shot and you’re done? I can see that.

Anyway, I’m creating my account as I type this, lets see what my gamertag will be…

XBox Live Gamertag: TheMooSeling

And I’m off and running. Lord knows I’ll be playing all night. If you have Live, add me!

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My Band

Oh the memories. I just heard this on the radio on the drive back home. I had forgotten how frickin hilarious the song was, not to mention the music video itself. Enjoy!

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From The Desk Of… “Currently Listening To:”

A fantastic Arctic Monkeys playlist.

Check it out by clicking on the link above!

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Almost Live

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I am approximately 1 day away from joining the Xbox live community. I only waited like 4 years to get my Xbox 360… so why not wait a few more months for my return to Live. I had it back in the day with the original Xbox. Back when I was able to dominate the Halo 2 world. This will most likely not be the case now. I am out of practice, and well,  just have a feeling the 12 year olds out there are just too good. I can’t manage to win at anything, not even Rock Band or Guitar Hero! I’m particularly excited for Call of Duty World at War. That HAS to be insane.

I just finished installing the “New Xbox Experience.” I got to make my own little avatar… which seems to curiously borrow from the Wii’s “Mii” concept… Nevertheless, I like the new interface, and I can’t wait to try it out when my membership card arrives tomorrow or Friday!

Looks like it’s going to be a fun weekend.

smallheap.jpg image by jmooser