Japanese and American Baseball: Part 1

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And then there were 3. Last night, the Korean National Team was able to soundly eliminate Venezuela 10-2, clinching a spot in the WBC final. They await the winner of USA vs. Japan, who play today.

The US-Japan match up is intriguing from a historical perspective. Baseball is often considered the quintessential American game, the national pastime if you will. Latin America has also had a strong baseball background, with the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and other countries being primary participants.

One of the goals of the WBC is to spread the game across the globe. Thus we see participants like Italy, the Netherlands (+ Caribbean territories), and Australia to name a few.

Yet what about Asia? The presence of the game is growing there at a rapid rate. The Nippon Professional League (in Japan) has been home to the likes of current superstars such as Ichiro and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Similarly, many baseball players past their prime or trying to make it into the Bigs will go play in Japan for a few seasons.

I wrote a paper for my Introduction to Japanese Popular Culture class about how baseball made its way into the Asian continent by US-Japan relations. In the essay, I discuss how baseball arrived to Japan and how the game developed some key differences between the American version and the Japanese version in regulations, strategy, preparation.

My biggest point is that how the game is play in each respective country actually coincides with the countries culture. The “yakyu” player in Japan is likened to a sword wielding Samurai, while the emphasis on offense in the American game drew a comparison with capitalistic tendencies.

So, just in time for the WBC finals and the beginning of the MLB season, here’s Part 1! Enjoy.

The Entrepreneur and the Samurai: A Brief History of the Development of American and Japanese Culture Through Baseball

The cultures of Japan and the United States differ drastically in how each is historically depicted. The samurai has become a prominent representation of Japan while the American cowboy is often seen as an emblem of freedom and prosperity. In current times, it would seem that both of these images have been replaced by the clean-cut businessman. Entrepreneurship had become a more prominent part of American society due to a booming economy, and the postwar Western influence on Japan created a cultural affinity between Japan and the United States. The Japanese people have been interested as well as influenced by Western ideals and cinema, while Americans have recently developed an interest in various forms of Japanese media such as anime, manga, and the language itself. The sport of baseball has provided both peoples a cultural congruence. Despite the superficial similarities between the Japanese version of the game and the American version, many differences remain when examining the game as a deep, direct cultural expression. Differences in how players are perceived by a country’s public depend on how society related with the trends of the nineteenth century. The developmental history of the sport of baseball serves as a microcosmic depiction of the early relationship between Japan and the United States, while ultimately aiding the development of cultural representation through the persona of the baseball player in each of the countries.

The history of the sport finds its roots on American soil. It has become almost idiomatic to suggest that baseball is an exclusive entity of the United States. Scholar Paul J. Zingg notes in his essay “Diamond in the Rough” that “by its own proclamation, baseball is America’s ‘national pastime’” (387). Clearly, the historical richness of baseball in the American tradition would perhaps merit such a self bestowment. The earliest traces of the game date as early as 1839, traditionally believed to be invented by Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, New York (Zingg, 387-8). Other than the mere convention of inventing the sport, what is it about the game that leads to a general sense of American exclusivity and ultimately American cultural definition? Much had to do with the increase in industrialization, which occurred in the middle of the nineteenth century. Steven Gelber writes in his essay “Working at Playing” that “the first organized games in the late 1840’s coincided with the initial wave of factory building, and the baseball craze of the decade after the Civil War paralleled the development of a full-blown industrial economy” (3). In its early history, baseball provided a respite to work-wearied laborers. More notoriously, it gave men a sense of freedom. Gelber comments on this perception of baseball, by writing that the sport was “an expression of free choice,” which “provides us with one view of the nineteenth century American male’s ideal world, a world entered without compromise” (3). The factory served as a monument to responsibility and mandate. It was necessary to work in order to survive. Baseball, on the other hand, was an activity done freely. The rising popularity among members of the working class may also be a result of impersonal nature of the American workplace in the nineteenth century. Gelber discloses the benefits of sports, as he conjectures that “besides the obvious physical and psychological change of pace that sports may provide for workers, some argue that sports also compensate for the lack of human relationships in the work place” (5). Surrounded by the cold, metallic entities of machinery for the entire day, sports offered a formidable escape from the constricting aspects of the quotidian life. More specifically, it was because of the harsh American lifestyle of the years following industrialization which lead to the observable integration of the sport into the culture… (to be continued)

smallheap.jpg image by jmooser

3 Responses

  1. great stuff, keep it coming. us not looking too hot right now..

  2. trend watch : Japanese and American Baseball: Part 1 « The Heap…

    […]… many differences remain when examining the game as a deep, direct cultural expression. Differences in how players are perceived by a country’s p[…]…

  3. […] Coldheartedtruth placed an interesting blog post on Japanese and American Baseball: Part 1Here’s a brief overview…more prominent part of American society due to a booming economy, and the … of American exclusivity and ultimately American cultural […]

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