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Robert Whiting

Robert Whiting's Homepage at JapaneseBaseball.com

Best Bets: The Chrysanthemum and the Bat

by Susan L. Scully (Oct 7, 1977)

Digitized by Jessica Suchman and Catherine Nissley.

Time was, 20 or 25 years ago, that every man, woman and child contemplating a stay in this country read and committed to memory the contents of Ruth Benedict's brilliant "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword." This classic volume was compiled as a study on the Japanese psychology in connected with wartime intelligence activities. Although Ms. Benedict never once set foot in Japan, her findings – through some might complain of oversimplification – were (and are) extraordinarily pertinent.

In the meantime, peace and prosperity intervened and intelligence requirements were superseded by those with more monetary implications. As a result, authors in both hemispheres have churned out an abundance of literature on "doing business in Japan." Also required reading.

Destined to take its place alongside these works is Robert Whiting's newly published "The Chrysanthemum and the Bat," a glimpse at the games the Japanese play through the game they play, namely baseball.

Although, on the surface, the game of baseball as it is played in Japan may appear identical to the game of baseball as it is played in the United States, it is, in fact, not. As with nearly every other import, the Japanese have shaped and molded their sport around their customs, traditions, their national personality.

Here, bats and gloves are taken to the local shrine for a regular preseason blessing. Managers are not just managers; they are also father figures who admonish their players about their personal foibles, arrange their marriages and see to it that their offspring appear in the desired time frame. "Intuition" and "feeling" are almost more a part of the game than percentage baseball theories. Lifetime employment is also a part of it; an aging third baseman from the Nippon Ham Fighters, for example, may one day find himself peddling luncheon meat.

An unreconstructed baseball fan, author Whiting nonetheless insists that this is "not a baseball book." As a never-ever-constructed baseball fan, I must agree. His account of the unique characteristics of baseball a la Japonaise and the (sometimes unsuccessful) efforts of the American players to cope with them parallel the experiences of just about any foreigner here.

This is a fascinating book, baseball fan or no. Whiting, a resident of Tokyo, a creator of education materials for children and a sometimes contributor to such publications as Sports Illustrated and Sports Magazine, has devoted considerable time and effort to researching it. His insight into the world of Japanese baseball and its cast of characters is incisive, sympathetic, well-organized and well-written. My only criticism, and a minor one at that, regards the quality of some photos, which, though supplied from the major media, are often confusing in their composition and contrast.

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