It's been 20 years since Robert Whiting first introduced us to the trials and tribulations faced by American and Japanese baseball players alike in his original installment of You Gotta Have Wa. Now, in 2009, Whiting has returned to reintroduce the world to the cultural differences experienced through the shared art of baseball with this revised edition. While at the time of his initial publication there had only been one Japanese player to ever play in the U.S. major leagues, these days it has become a common occurrence. Whiting's book gives readers a thorough rundown of the history of baseball in Japan, including some of its most dysfunctional moments.
Even though I was lucky enough to be born in a city infatuated with baseball, I have to say I am not a huge baseball fan. If anything, the rush I feel from going to a game is the spirit that fills the stadium, not the game itself. Sure, the excitement of seeing famous players on the field from all over the world is a thrill, but the game itself doesn't appeal to me as much as it does others. Luckily, for a book centered on baseball, the game itself is nothing more than a catalyst to display the psychological differences between Japanese and Americans that comes from their opposing cultures, and just how the "wa," or group harmony, of the team figures in these views. Whiting exposes these cultural differences through examples of historical incidents between the Japanese and the American "ganjin" (foreigner).
One aspect that really fascinated me was the gradual and entertaining use of Japanese terminology that Whiting slowly feeds the reader throughout the book. Strategically placed within relevant examples, Whiting is able to convey not only the literal meaning of the word, but a point of reference to the reader backed with a thought-provoking viewpoint that one didn't need to be Japanese to understand. Don't confuse his cultural awareness with that of sympathy, though. Even though Whiting's book stays pretty well neutral throughout, his cited examples will leave even the most culturally empathetic individual with an unfavorable view of Japan.
Wa is the first book on the subject that I have read; therefore, I can't delve into just how well his book compares against others in the category. I can say, though, that Whiting, without a doubt, throws enough statistics and facts into the mix to keep things interesting. The only faux pas I have with Wa is its modern relevance. Most of his examples are from the early '90s at best, which is shocking for a supposedly revised 2009 version. Whiting touches on more modern experiences once or twice, but those are mentioned around the last chapter, and again partially in the afterword. Without the original to compare, I'm not quite sure what has technically been revised but can easily attest to this book's ability to entertain and keep the reader turning the page.