Japanese and American Baseball: Part 2

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

In order to fully understand the integration of baseball into the Japanese culture, it must be noted how the game came to the islands from the West. In an essay titled “Baseball and the Quest for National Dignity in Meiji Japan,” Donald Roden acknowledges the United States and Victorian England as the true diplomatic hard-ballers of the nineteenth century. He writes that “the defenders of outdoor games in Victorian England and America ‘quite consciously’ used the playing field for very real political and social ends” (511). He elaborates on Japan’s own situation by noting that “in the mid-nineteenth century Japan was, like the rest of Asia, vulnerable to imperialist incursion” (512), suggesting the existence of a nation which may have not been wholly united. In addition, the colonial policies of the British superpower and the competitive nature of a young, developing United States was certainly enough reason for smaller, less aggressive countries to be anxious. Roden observes that there indeed was a “quest for national dignity at the end of the century” (514). This was a direct result of the reform which occurred in Japan during the Meiji Restoration. Regarding this same issue, Zingg states that “the search for a usable past in America, the need to assert the country’s special qualities and unique features, indeed, its exceptionalism, has encouraged a focus on the simple, the symbolic, and the idealogical” (388). He concludes by suggesting, “Artificially conceived, vigorously defended, ostentatiously celebrated, baseball is the quintessential American game” (389). Due to extensive migration by Westerners to Japan as part of diplomatic treaties of the Meiji Period, the sport of baseball was one of the chief imports. By the end of the nineteenth century, as the sport slowly became entrenched in Japanese society, Japan would have a legitimate claim to baseball as a source of national unity.

Baseball reached Japan in a pseudo-imperialistic way, coinciding with Roden’s anxieties about Japan’s diplomatic vulnerability. A flurry of immigrating American businessmen and sailors were among the first to play the game on Japanese soil (Roden, 518). Despite Japan not yet being a world superpower at this point, Roden clarifies that “by 1870, cultural and diplomatic exchanges between the two countries were commencing in earnest” (517). It was Albert Spalding, an early baseball player and manufacturer of equipment, who became the international diplomat for the game in the 1870’s, attempting to spread the game to England, France, and even Egypt (Roden, 517-8). Of course, his efforts were not without motives. Roden proposes the conspiracy that “baseball could enlarge the American cultural sphere of influence and bring greater respect for the nation around the world” (518). Even in the arena of sport, the aggressive entrepreneurship which characterized American society managed to pervade into diplomatic dealings between the countries.

To be continued…

smallheap.jpg image by jmooser

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