The Old Ball Game An American dream can be defined through an examination of the American lifestyle, and by picking out the most common themes. The most common themes Americans associate with are the basics: graduating at the top of the class, finding a high-paying job, settling down with the perfect spouse, a house in the suburbs with a white picket fence, two children running through the yard chasing the dog and of course apple pie and baseball. Yes, baseball is considered by many to be part of the American dream. It is through baseball that many can relive their childhood. It has been the one daily and constant event that the American society depends on to be there during every summer night. The annual fall classic, the World Series, catches the attention of the entire country. Like the New York Yankees, baseball has become a part of America. After World War II, many countries were completely demolished physically and mentally. Among these countries was Japan. Countless numbers of Japanese people were dead, and land, buildings, and entire cities were destroyed. For the first time in Japan's history, their "God" had spoken to the public destroying his immortal reputation. During the postwar years, Japan looked to the major powers of the world to develop a foundation for a new country. Included in this foundation was a need for new ideas and dreams. Of course Japan did not completely erase thousands of years of tradition and culture, but Japan did take many international ideas and transformed them into her own. In the Movie Mr. Baseball, a Japanese woman describes Japan's borrowing techniques. "Japan takes the best from all over the world and makes it Hers" (Welles). Included in the world powers of the time was America; therefore, Japan borrowed several ideas from the United States. One such idea just happened to be America's National pastime, baseball. The history of Japanese baseball dates back to the middle 1800's. They "adopted baseball from the U.S. as early as 1873" (Constable 23), but the spark for baseball ignited during the post war occupational years. A foreign student from Japan explains, "The thousands of American troops stationed in Japan after the war kindled the passion for baseball that was lacking before the war" (Akutsu). The American soldiers showed the Japanese the American ways of baseball, and the popularity of Japanese baseball has skyrocketed from that time on. Baseball in Japan has reached the top level with its professional standings. Many other countries throughout the world have tried to establish the American sport of baseball but "Japan is the only country in the world to have developed a real enthusiasm for baseball outside the context of American culture and political domination" (Tasker 30). Why would the Japanese be searching for a new "pastime" or dream to take over their country? George Constable, a critic of baseball in Japan, explains, "The Japanese are finding increasing time to participate in a variety of leisure activities, including several sports from the United States. Among the most popular is baseball" (24). The people of Japan are swallowing up this new obsession. If they are not playing the game professionally, they are finding ways to become a part of baseball. Constable says, "Today the game has so many players that public playing fields must be booked a month or two in advance. Baseball is also
Japan's leading spectator sport with 15 million people a year attending professional games" (23). Japan has taken the American dream and shaped it to fit their basic mold. The Japanese are known throughout the world for being extremely dedicated to their work. This dedication has spread to their baseball. Where Americans look at baseball as fun and entertainment the Japanese think of baseball as work. It is expected that with the birth of a new "pastime", excitement and interest will follow. No one in the U.S. expects a new trend, especially in the form of recreation, to be effected by the work ethic, but Japanese standards expect the most out of every activity including recreation. Even when baseball was center stage in the United States, it was in no way related to the work place; almost the direct opposite. The Japanese have "transformed America's pastime into a game that mirrors their obsession with hard work and harmony. The consequences are often alarming" (Whiting 76). Whiting is implying that Japan's work ethic combined with America's dream of baseball could overrun the American version. Baseball is taken so seriously in Japan that even the corporations owning the teams enforce the relationship between baseball and work. "Japanese teams assume the names of the corporation that own them, rather them the cities where they play" (Fimrite 65). Dialogue taken from Welles's movie, Mr. Baseball, relates American baseball to Japanese baseball by showing the two different sides. An American baseball player is forced to play within the Japanese system. The different styles and beliefs between the two countries causes tension between him and the Japanese coach. "Baseball is work, not fun," says the Japanese coach. "Baseball is grown men getting paid to play a game. When you were a little kid I bet you didn't pick up a bat and ball cause you were dying to work?" answers the American player (Welles). Americans tend to think of baseball as fun and pleasurable while the Japanese consider it to be actual work, sometimes causing them to miss the fun that the American dream provides. Since Japan shaped their baseball from the U.S., there are many similarities between the two. On the other hand, Japan is vastly different from the U.S. which explains the many differences. "Japanese professional baseball is molded closely on the U.S. system where two separate leagues are maintained" (Tasker 31). American baseball is divided into two leagues: the American League and the National League. Japan also breaks down into two leagues: the Central League and the Pacific League. Japan even copies team mascots by "having names like the Buffaloes, Braves, and Tigers" (30). In each case the rules remain the same, but that is where the major similarities end. Playing style differs the greatest. American baseball is known for big ball parks, grass infields, aggressive play, home plate collisions, small strike zones, battling pitchers, and homerun hitting all-stars. According to Ron Fimrite, the Japanese systems runs a little different: Their ball parks are considerably smaller, in some parks the infields are entirely dirt, the aggressive doubleplay breakup had to be introduced by an American, the strike zone is the size of a big screen television, constant hooking of troubled pitchers, and homerun hitters sacrificing runners along to abide to basic strategy. (64) Although Japanese baseball is well established, it can still use some help from the United States. Some Americans travel to Japan to play baseball either because they are not good enough to play in the states, or because a Japanese team needs the American experience. Once
the Americans arrive in Japan, they are greeted with a mixture of feelings and expectations. "Americans must perform well enough to keep their teams afloat, but must be careful not to eclipse the local heroes" (Tasker 31). It is important for the Americans to play well and win games for their teams, but if they come close to breaking Japanese records, they are immediately taking out of the spotlight. "Ray Bass, who hit 220 homers in the U.S. minor leagues, looks absolutely Ruthian at the plate in Japan, also with three triple crowns, the most prestigious award in all of baseball" (Nefk 72). Ray Bass was on pace to tie and possibly beat the Japanese record for most homeruns in a season until pitchers started intentionally walking him to keep the record in Japanese hands. Some Japanese people feel "it is time for them to play America's game without the Americans" (Fimrite 66). One Japanese manager said, "I think it is better to have only Japanese players on the teams" (qtd. 66). Even though the Japanese have taken an American tradition, some are not fully willing to share it with the rest of the world, namely its founders. Japan is also beginning to challenge America's love for the game. American baseball fans can find their identification to the sport through the "American" team, the New York Yankees. Japan also has a New York Yankees of their own. "A visitor would find many Japanese as passionate about the Yomiuri Giants as any baseball fan in the U.S." (Constable 24). Peter Tasker explains the significance of the Giants, "The Giants is not just a baseball club, it's an institution through which Japanese people can reassure themselves of their essential fellowships" (31). These Giants are much like the American Yankees in that they are both ambassadors for the sport. Like the New York Yankees of the U.S., the Yomiuri Giants of Japan have become a national symbol representing a new dream and also the American dream. There is no question that Japan has taken a great part of the American dream and plugged it into their way of life. The many similarities and differences between the two countries capture a wonderful part of the American spirit which is rapidly becoming the new Japanese spirit. Japan has looked to America to develop several of their dreams. Works Cited Akutsu, Daisuke. Personal Interview. 17 Nov. 1995. Constable, George. Japan. Alexandria, Virginia: Time Life Books, 1985. Fimrite, Ron. "Land of the Rising Fastball." Sports Illustrated 9 Sept. 1985: 62. Mr. Baseball. Dir. Orson Welles. Perf. Tom Selleck. Universal City Studios, Inc., 1992. Nefk, Craig. "The Hottest American Import in Japan." Sports Illustrated 23 March 1987: 74. Tasker, Peter. The Japanese. New York: Truman Talley Books, 1987. Whiting, Robert. "The Pain of Perfection." Sports Illustrated 5 may 1989, 76.