As part of a project for my day job, I’ve been digging through scholarly studies of Japanese baseball history in a search for keys to the riddle of how baseball in Japan became the way it is.
This process led me to understand something about how baseball became both popular and demonized in Japan and how the power of creating a past that has been polished and re-imagined has shaped how Japan sees its game to this day.
I am indebted to Professor Tetsuya Nakamura of Kochi University for helping make sense of many of the threads that make up the fabric of Japan’s early baseball history and its evolution.
The way of the baseball warrior
In “You Gotta Have Wa” and its sequel “The Meaning of Ichiro,” which if you haven’t read I commend you to buy this instant, Robert Whiting argues that the historic success of “Ichiko” — the First Higher School of Tokyo, Japan’s first baseball power, inspired imitators of its spartan training methods that drew on the elements of Japan’s warrior code “bushido.”
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Bob is a tremendous researcher and story teller, and he is certainly right that the kids at Ichiko spoke of bushido and embraced its ideals to describe the martial spirit that inspired their practices.
The whole warrior ethic as it came to be written down was indeed extreme stuff, but how it went from “Ichiko practiced harder and more diligently and achieved nationwide fame” to the form that schoolboy baseball takes now, is vastly more interesting than “their success bred imitation.”Continue reading The idealized past