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.

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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.

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…

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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)

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Just a Little Off the Top I

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Finally, a non-sports related post! This segment, as you can read, is called “Just a Little Off the Top.” No, we won’t be covering haircuts here at the heap., unless it happens to be the topic of one of the bizarre, “off-beat'” stories I find in my internet reading. Today we have a story from Nevada, having to do with… ecosystem-threatening frogs? The story comes from Yahoo! News, and was written by the AP.

119 illegal African clawed frogs seized in Nevada

RENO, Nev. – State wildlife officials raided three residences in the Reno area where they seized more than 100 African clawed frogs, which they say are prohibited because they can pose a serious danger to native frogs and entire ecosystems.

No charges have been filed against the people who illegally possessed a total of 119 frogs because they are cooperating fully with law enforcement to “get any and all prohibited frogs off the streets,” the Nevada Department of Wildlife said in a statement on Wednesday.

“We are very pleased we were able to seize them before they were circulated to people in the area and possibly escaped into the wild,” said Cameron Waithman, game warden captain for NDOW’s Division of Law Enforcement.

African clawed frogs grow about as large as bullfrogs and can destroy entire ecosystems by voraciously eating native fish, amphibians and just about anything they can swallow, he said.

Scientists also believe these frogs carry and spread an African fungus that has decimated frog populations worldwide, Waithman said. The frog carries the fungus on its skin and is immune to its deadly effects.

Because of the danger the frogs pose, people who knowingly possess such amphibians face up to six months in jail and a $500 fine, he said.

“If people turn these frogs in voluntarily, we don’t have an interest in writing them tickets,” said Waithman.

“However, if we find even more people involved with keeping and selling these frogs, we will prosecute at the conclusion of our investigations. These amphibians really are a threat to Nevada, and we have a duty to seize any and all that we find.”

The African clawed frog was used in hospitals in the 1940s and 1950s as a way to detect pregnancy in women. It produces eggs when injected with the urine of a pregnant woman.

Scientists say the fungus on the frogs works like a parasite that makes it difficult for the frogs to use their pores, quickly causing them to die of dehydration. It has been linked to the extinction of amphibians from Australia to Costa Rica.

Japan reported its first cases of frog deaths from the fungus in January 2007, prompting research groups to declare an emergency in the country. On the Caribbean island of Dominica, the fungus has almost wiped out the mountain chicken, a frog species considered an island delicacy.

First of all, I can’t believe there MAY be a black market for things like African Clawed Frogs. It seems like you can purchase anything these days. These amphibians are pretty nasty. Usually, when you think of frogs, you have that lovely image from various cartoons of these creatures that try to nab flies with the pinpoint accuracy of their tongues. More often than not we’d see some sort of comical conclusion- the tongue hitting something else, or perhaps even the frog itself becoming entangled in it. Noooo, these aren’t your average goofy frogs. They are hardcore carnivorous predators and serve as a carrier for epidermal disease. And according to the article, and the Wikipedia entry for the African Clawed Frog, these bad boys can disrupt entire ecosystems!

froggy

I’d have to say that my favorite line comes from the second paragraph, with the psuedo-serious line “getting any and all prohibited frogs off the streets.” Like they are some crazy fugitives on the loose. Would these frogs count as illegal immigrants? I guess we’ll just send them back to Africa. Good thing this occurred in Nevada and not Texas. Guaranteed these frogs would have a one way ticket to execution. Maybe we shouldn’t be so harsh. I mean, maybe some desperate couples were trying to save a buck or two on pregnancy tests. See? Not so impractical after all.

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