Digitized by Jessica Suchman and Catherine Nissley.
Of all the writers having tried to explain the real: Japan, few have succeeded as Robert Whiting has in his fascinating book, "The Chrysanthemum and the Bat."
This lively, informative book takes a look at Japanese culture revealed in the important game of baseball. On the surface the sport may seem to be the same as its American counterpart, but Whiting proves that the reverse is true.
The long-time Japan resident takes the reader behind the scenes in all phases of Japanese baseball and shows how and why things happen as they do. In the process, he compares and contrast it to the original game played in the US. Wisely, he refrains from making value judgements, preferring to let the reader do that for himself.
Whiting proves himself to be a master story-teller as he covers everything from the contests in the stadiums to the lives of coaches, managers, players, team owners and even the fans. He also lends attention to the announcers and reporters who cover the sport for the mass media, describing their contribution to the game.
The book is an entertaining, in-depth study that even a reader who knows little about baseball will find difficult to put down. Recently, I had a chance to talk to the author and learned what prompted him to write the book.
"I wanted to consolidate my own experience in my own mind," he said, "and also convey to my fellow countrymen. I decided to do it through writing about Japanese baseball, because it's a game Americans are familiar with. But the way the two cultures approach it is so different. It reflects their overall attitudes toward life."
Whiting first wrote a 300 page treatment in New York from memory to show to publishers. He was encouraged considerably when Sports Illustrated magazine picked up one of his chapters for publication. Then, the third editor he approached agreed to buy the book. But that was only the beginning.
"I was dealing with attitudes," he said, "and specific incidents were a little foggy in my mind."
As a result, he spent weeks flying around the US, interviewing Americans who had played in Japan, and several months in Japan interviewing baseball people, living in training camps and going through 25 year of issues of such Japanese publications as Baseball Magazine to give his book its rich, accurate detail.
Speaking about his acceptance in training campus, he remarked, "They thought I was a curiosity. They couldn't actually believe someone would come all the way form New York to write a book on Japanese baseball. But once they realized I was serious, I got a tremendous amount of cooperation."
Again in New York, the author worked to put his work in final manuscript form. Surprisingly, the book is a first for Whiting, and, at present, he is in no hurry to start on a second.
"Maybe in another year or two." "Writing this is a total commitment," he observed. "It takes at least a year out of your life."