Digitized by Jessica Suchman and Catherine Nissley
When it came time for Robert Whiting to begin writing his latest book “You Gotta Have Wa,” he didn't rent a one-room office in a Japanese building to do his work.
Nor did he write in his home in Kamakura, probably the most logical place to write the book.
Instead, Whiting traveled to what is probably the most illogical place to write a book on Japanese baseball – Africa.
“I bet I'm the only writer to ever go to Somalia to write a book,” Whiting said. That's probably true, but you can't argue with success. Whiting's book has been a huge success since it was released June 12.
While in Somalia, Whiting sat on the veranda of his home overlooking the Indian Ocean, watched the ships go by and chronicled the “cultural conflicts between America and Japan” through baseball (on his Toshiba laptop computer).
“There was no phone and no electricity,” said Whiting, whose Japanese wife works for the United Nations and lives in Somalia. “It was the perfect place to work. There were no distractions, and I was able to get a lot of work done.”
Whiting spends six months of the year in Japan and the other six months with his wife. “It keeps the fires burning,” Whiting said. “I think a little separation in a marriage is good.”
Whiting had boxes of newspaper clippings and interview notes shipped from Japan to Somalia to write the book, which, he said, has already brought in $100,000 in profits.
He's sold movie rights and Japanese translation rights, and the English version is already in its second printing.
Whiting said “You Gotta Have Wa” is different from his first effort “The Chrysanthemum and the Bat.” The latter was a “book about the national character of Japan as seen through baseball.” The former, he said, is about the inability of the Americans and Japanese to get along. Wa means harmony in Japanese.
Some chapters explain how some Americans have attempted, unsuccessfully, to fit into Japanese baseball.
Some of those Americans have been close to Whiting. Whiting said he enjoyed writing most about Randy Bass, formerly of the Hanshin Tigers, and Leron Lee of the Lotte Orions.
“I enjoyed writing most the chapter on Bass because it was a microcosm of everything that could go wrong with an American baseball player,” Whiting said. “It was a case of everything going wrong between a well-meaning American and a well-meaning Japanese.
“You couldn't find a nicer, more easy-going guy than Bass, and you couldn't find a nicer Japanese than Shinjo Furuya (the general manager of the Hanshin Tigers). It was a tragedy that Furuya committed suicide.”
“You Gotta Have Wa” explains not only that Bass was denied the single-season home run record by opposing Japanese pitchers, but the psychological reasons behind pitching around Bass. Bass also gives his side of the fiasco with the Tigers.
Whiting spent 10 exhaustive weeks researching the chapter on Meiji Era baseball. “I read Meiji Era newspapers and baseball magazines and visited the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame,” he said. “I read a lot of different stuff, and the Hall of Fame was full of information.”
Initially, Whiting's book was 250,000 words by publication time. He said his next effort will have nothing to do with sports. It will, however, have everything to do with Japan, especially Tokyo.
His next sports book will be a biography of Warren Cromartie, who is hitting near .400 for those beloved Yomiuri Giants. Whiting said that book will be published when Cromartie retires. Cromartie says that will be at the end of this season, but Whiting, writing in the Aug. 21 issue of Sports Illustrated magazine, thinks otherwise.
“With all the attention, and the prospect of a substantial raise over the reported $1.5 million-plus he is earning this year, it is a good bet the “Gaijin Who Mastered Japanese Baseball' will be around next spring for at least one more season.” Sports Illustrated published excerpts from “You Gotta Have Wa” before it was published.
Also included in Whiting's book is a chapter on Seibu's Yoshiaki Tsutsumi, the owner of the Lions and one of the wealthiest men in the world, and Japanese baseball stars Sachio Kinugasa, who holds the all-time record for consecutive games played, and pitcher Choji Murata.
“Those two guys (Kinugasa and Murata), I consider heroes,” Whiting said.
Whiting conducted scores of interviews with both Japanese and American baseball players, managers, scouts, front-office personnel, interpreters and almost anyone else who has knowledge of or an opinion on Japanese baseball.
What he put on paper is enough to make any gaijin think twice about living in Japan. On the other hand, it's enough to make any Japanese think twice about hiring an American in any business.
“You Gotta Have Wa” should teach both Americans and Japanese not that we can't work together, but that we should make a better attempt to understand each other. Only then will the wa between both nations improve.