Japanese and American Baseball: Part 4

https://i0.wp.com/redbirdchatter.mlblogs.com/assets_c/2009/01/150px-world_baseball_classic_logo_with_out_text1-thumb-149x150.png

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

Advertisements