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The Meaning of Ichiro

Discussion in the Book Reviews forum
The Meaning of Ichiro
As was pointed out on this thread [forum changed], Whiting's "The Meaning of Ichiro" [ISBN 0-446-53192-8] is out. I'm almost done with my copy after two days. It's a hard book to put down. I plan on reviewing the book below, but if any of you have already finished it, feel free to post your thoughts.
Re: The Meaning of Ichiro
[ Author: westbaystars | Posted: Mar 25, 2004 11:33 PM | YBS Fan ]

Before getting to the book review, it's good to know something about the reviewer. Most of you know me from my postings here, but I figure that there are a number of new people who might not. So here's the context of where I'm coming from:

First of all, I've never been much of an Ichiro fan. I was mesmerized by his chace for 200 hits in 1994, but the hype that followed in the press really turned me off. After reading about what he had for lunch in the newspaper one morning, I swore off Ichiro articles. If his picture was on the page, I'd turn it. When he went to MLB, I wished him well, but didn't read anything beyond the headlines about him. The hype machine was just too annoying. So when I heard that Whiting's latest book was entitled "The Meaning of Ichiro," I kind of rolled my eyes and hoped for the best.

The "Author's Note" at the beginning states that the book was written for North American MLB fans, which I'm not. I pretty much focus on Pro Yakyu exclusively. It also said that there are some repeats from "You Gotta Have Wa," which I enjoyed.

Well, this wasn't another hype and hoopla article on Ichiro. It was a well investigated, and well written story about Ichiro and what he means to two cultures that clash on a great many things. I say "story" because it reads from beginning to end, with what's read in Chapter 1 having relevance to all subsequent chapters. The same with Chapter 2 and so on. While I felt (when I read it at least) that the chapters of "Wa" could stand on their own as distinct works, this book is integrated as a whole. It's one story, with each piece contributing to the whole.

While there were portions of "Wa" mentioned, this presents such material in a way that more people can relate to. While "Wa" presented much of the Japanese way of thinking and its history as a set of essays, "MoI" showed the history and social philosophy through the biographies of several key Japanese players. (I would have liked more on Oh's and Nagashima's histories, but I'm not the target audience.)

Nonetheless, by presenting the history of Japanese baseball and how Ichiro is a manifistation of it, I gained a greater respect for Ichiro which I missed all these years of ignoring the press about him. (While the book makes clear why players dislike the press, there is a hint that Whiting-san understands that their readers have wearied of their repitition of printing non-news. Now if only the press will come to grips with it!) I also fear that I've been guilty of dispensing some mis-information over the years about Ichiro due to my not reading Ichiro articles completely. I don't like dispensing mis-information, so I tend to not to say much about MLB-related issues.

Many of the cultural aspects of baseball are reflected in every day office life in Japan. At work I sometimes feel that some things are done just for the process, as Valentine-kantoku pointed out that pre-game meetings were all about. And with it, things change very slowly. I've heard from a number of people at work that now they understand something I'd said three years before, and now they see that I was right, like it's a surprise. It takes time for some new concepts to sink in. But as with the re-hiring of Valentine-kantoku, and the general agreement of most pundits that he'll bring Lotte back up to at least second again, I believe that change is possible and will be accepted.

The book goes up to and including Valentine-kantoku's signing last November, and "Metsui's" signing as well, so it's very current [as of Spring 2004]. The only event that's come to pass that wasn't predicted was Takatsu's signing with the White Sox instead of the Dodgers. That came as quite a surprise to everyone, though.

"The Meaning of Ichiro" does not paint a pretty picture of Japanese baseball. Nor is it all praise for the North American method of player development. The Japanese game is almost described as being Orwellian in many aspects. I can't imagine doing to my son what was done to some of these players. But do the ends justify the means? Is a happy medium possible? These two questions aren't answered by MoI. But I think that fathers on either side of the Pacific should think about them. Not just for creating better baseball players, but for creating better citizens. There must be a way to raise someone well mannered and humble who can think for one's self and have inititive. These two extreams of culture can't be mutually exclusive.

There is a sample chapter on the Time Warner Bookmarks home page of the book, as well as the full end notes to the MoI at the bottom of the page.

In conclusion, I would recommend this book to anyone who has or will have anything to do with Japan, be it wanting to play ball here, coming to Japan to work at a Japanese company, or even doing business in Japan. There is a lot about Japanese society covered here that is explained in terms any baseball fan can understand.
Re: The Meaning of Ichiro
[ Author: Satchel | Posted: Mar 27, 2004 7:35 AM ]

Like Mr. Westbay, I'll qualify this review by stating my knowledge of the Japanese game: I am by no means an expert, having only "discovered" it about a year ago. But neither am I an uneducated fan, having visited this web site numerous times and read several books on the Japanese game. So I would consider myself a somewhat-educated American fan - and one who hasn't had the privilege of attending a Japanese game, or even visiting Japan.

That said, I thought this was a fabulous book, easy to read, and extremely well-written. For the NPB beginner or a fan like me, it is vastly informative. Having read "You Gotta Have Wa," this expounded on some of that information, and some questions I had after reading "Wa" were answered here. Like Westbay pointed out, there are sections that repeat what was said in "Wa," but for a "somewhat-educated" fan like myself, that was definitely a good thing: it's impossible to retain and understand all of the information in "Wa" in one reading. In fact, "Meaning of Ichiro" made me want to go back and read "Wa."

Again, as Westbay pointed out in his review and in another post, this should be a "must-read" for anyone involved in the Japanese game. After reading "Meaning" and gaining a greater understanding of the Japanese game, it will be interesting to see how baseball writers cover the upcoming MLB series in Japan - and NPB writing in general. I feel I'm in a much better position to judge the writings, and needless to say, I will be embarrassed for the U.S. if writers get their facts wrong. There has been stereotyped and generalized coverage of the Japanese game in the past, and there probably will be more in the future. But that's inexcusable what with all the information available to writers. I certainly hope they get it right, and they would definitely benefit by reading "Meaning."

As far as the casual fan goes, there might be points in "Meaning" where he or she gets lost. The sections that focus more on the business side than the on-the-field happenings will likely bore the casual fan (I have several friends in mind who fall in this category), but I would hope they stick it out and finish the book. If they read the whole thing, they'll be happier and wiser for it.

Another aspect that might lose the casual fan is a lack of a glossary defining the many Japanese words dispersed throughout the book. A reader will undoubtedly forget the meaning of a Japanese word if he first read it 50 pages back, and there are some words that aren't clearly defined. It would be helpful to have a glossary, but that's a minor knock against the book, and if it is an impetus for a reader to track down a Japanese-English dictionary and learn some Japanese, that's a positive thing.

As Westbay pointed out, this book does not "paint a pretty picture" of Japanese baseball, and MLB fans who approach this book with preconceived notions of what Japan and the Japanese ballplayers are like could think they're justified in their prejudices. But credit goes to Whiting for giving us the truth instead of trying to sugar-coat it. For a fan such as myself, I gained an even better understanding of the Japanese way, and instead of coming away with a bad taste in my mouth, I was appreciative of the knowledge I gained.

While it cannot be said that Japanese baseball is a model of perfection and has no obvious flaws, the same applies to MLB - it certainly is not perfect either, and as the author points out through interviews and opinions, both games would benefit by studying each other and adapting the positive aspects. The best example of this is Shigetoshi Hasegawa, who, as a veteran of both leagues, made that observation.

The question I had throughout the book was "what is the meaning of Ichiro? Lest someone think it's an empty title, Whiting sums it up in the final chapter, and there are some interesting and exciting conclusions about the meaning (I won't describe what the meanings are, because I think it's important for the reader to understand the game before he or she can truly comprehend the meaning).

In conclusion, "The Meaning of Ichiro" is a book any baseball fan will cherish. I highly recommend it.
Re: The Meaning of Ichiro
[ Author: CFiJ | Posted: Mar 30, 2004 1:09 AM ]

Here's my review.

I am not infrequently asked what are some good books on Japanese baseball or baseball in Japan. I've always said "You Gotta Have Wa" is the place to start, but with the caveat: it's rather dated. Now I can tell them to get "The Meaning of Ichiro." "Meaning" by no means replaces "Wa." I think getting both books provides a great historical understanding of the game in Japan. "Wa" provides deeper context for some chapters of "Meaning." "Meaning," on the other hand, covers the important events in the Japanese game in the 1990s and 21st century. The advent of free agency, the Bobby Valentine experiement in Chiba, and crossing over of Japanese players like Nomo and Ichiro are all things that have effected the picture of Japanese baseball as presented in "Wa," and "Meaning" covers them exceptionally well.

But this is not merely an update of "Wa." It is as much concerned with MLB as with NPB, and the interaction of the two. The book is meticulously researched, and refreshingly free of the misinformation and factual errors all too common in books and articles about Japanese baseball. The information is rich and detailed, making full use of the available Japanese resources. Readers, even those of us who have deeper knowledge of Japanese baseball than most MLB fans, will come away with a fuller picture of the Japanese players.

As Michael Westbay has said, the book tells a story. However it is remarkably even-handed. If Whiting has any kind of agenda or spin that he's trying to push, he's hidden it well. I feared that the end of the book would fall into the usual "doom and gloom" prognostications about Japanese baseball, but Whiting instead showed a fuller, more comprehensive look.

I have a few quibbles. The book could use one more good once-over by a copy-editor; there are a number of typos. There are a number of linguistic errors; not especially important, really, but I'm rather sensitive to that kind of thing. High School should be koukou, not kokko. The imperative of "quit" is yamero, not yameru. And "laying groundwork" is nemawashi, not newamashii.

And once or twice Whiting makes what I feel to be an unfair comment, eg. regarding Rhodes' special award from Osaka: "It was not clear whether some of this gratitude was due to the fact that he had stopped at tying the record and not broken it." Actually, Mr. Whiting, I'd say that it was clear that it was not. And I would have liked to see mention made of the tendency of Japanese players to try to keep other Japanese players from breaking or reaching certain records, to provide some context for the Bass, Rhodes, and Cabrera incidents. That context is in "Wa," which is why it's a good idea to read both books.

But those are minor quibbles that do not affect the overall quality of the book. The last good baseball book I read was "Moneyball." I'd say that (for those with an interest in Japanese baseball) this is even better. Five out of five stars.
Re: The Meaning of Ichiro
[ Author: Guest: Jim Albright | Posted: Mar 31, 2004 12:36 PM ]

Overall, I would join in many of the comments listed above, and won't repeat them here. Overall, the book is quite worthwhile, and I heartily recommend it. Also, I am appreciative of the favorable comments sent the way of this site and, and in the notes, in my direction. That said, I have two areas I have disagreements with Mr. Whiting.

The first I'll deal with is less serious: his assessment of Irabu upon his return to Japan is at least a quite optimistic one of Irabu's maturity, and one which, while it may play out the way he suggests, I have strong doubts it will. Time will tell on that one.

The other disagreement is more significant. Mr. Whiting and I had an exchange on the Murakami affair in this thread. I don't believe that he's unearthed the full story, not only because the SF Giants weren't that solicitous of Murakami's (or other players' for that matter) feelings when they brought him over or through his progression to the majors. Further, such tenderheartedness has been quite rare for the Lords of MLB.

More important, while Mr. Whiting explains that the post Murakami situation held up for 28 years because both sides adhered to an agreement reached between the majors and NPB, it doesn't tell us why the majors accepted this deal and swallowed the face saving compromise on Murakami without further compensation. The idea that the selling of a few contracts of washed up MLB players was a sufficient lure for them to back off the legal rights they absolutely had and had so vociferously asserted just doesn't cut it, IMO. He doesn't document that these deals were frequent enough and lucrative enough to make MLB back down so completely and rapidly.

Furthermore, the majors would have been aware of the ramifications in this regard when it took its initial reaction of severing relations with NPB. His suggestion that the majors were concerned about bidding wars in the 1980's is a red herring in this context, given that nobody in the 1960's contemplated the circumstances which came about in the 1980's. I remain convinced that either the SF Giants were paid off so secretly it has never come to light (highly doubtful), or other pressure (whether governmental or through business connections of NPB and major league owners) caused MLB and San Francisco to fold so quickly and suddenly after their early bellicose response.

I recognize that I cannot document my theory beyond a few second-hand sources, but, frankly, his explanation has a similar difficulty when it comes to the suggestion that selling contracts of MLB has-beens or never-weres to NPB teams was lucrative enough to cause this reaction.

Jim Albright
Re: The Meaning of Ichiro
[ Author: Guest: Gary Garland | Posted: Apr 1, 2004 4:06 AM ]

Hi Jim and everyone.

I will have a fuller review of the book on my site, but I have some problems with some of the assertions in the first part of the book and want to do some cross checking first. They are rather minor in nature, but nonetheless, I just have to check. Since the book was understandably written for a general audience and not geeks like me, the lack of footnotes make it harder to chase down some of the points I think bear more checking. But I'll see what I come up with.

After I received the book from Amazon Japan, I pretty much gulped down the first 200 pages right away. The section on Don Nomura's trials and tribulations are very salient, I feel, and Bob has done a very valuable service to those of us concerned with the history of the interaction between MLB and NPB in that section. The fact that this book reads as smooth as a brand new Cadillac makes it even better.

As for Murakami, there is something missing there that I will definitely reconfirm before I offer any opinion of it. Reading between the lines, though, I think Bob is 98% spot on, but there's a little detail I believe was left out. That may have been due to deadline pressure, but I don't even know if I'm even correct yet. Also, I am hoping that Bob got around to the Robinson Checo matter, but so far, I haven't seen any mention of it. That got really nasty and was kind of a prelude to what happed with Soriano. When I finish the book, I will have a fuller picture, so we'll see.

Have fun.
Re: The Meaning of Ichiro
[ Author: Guest: Jim Albright | Posted: Apr 2, 2004 12:24 AM ]


Check the notes on the web cited by Michael in one of the first two posts in this thread. It isn't quite academic footnotes, but it is more complete in that regard than the book.

I doubt Whiting is quite as accurate as you suggest on Murakami. For one, he says the Hawks cashed the Giants' $10,000 check in payment of its option on Murakami, yet I didn't catch any mention it was returned. I think that would have had to be a part of any resolution of the matter. Perhaps the Hawks purchased a player from the Giants around that time and paid a little extra for that player as a face saving means of resolving the matter. I've believed that was always a possible part of the resolution -- but to date, I've seen no evidence of it.

More important to me, though, is the fact he documents that MLB allowed NPB's teams free rein to keep their players in Japan with the agreement resolving the Murakami affair, except for the Nomo clause, which nobody knew was there for 27 or so years.

Jim Albright
Re: The Meaning of Ichiro
[ Author: Guest: Jim Albright | Posted: Apr 2, 2004 10:48 AM ]

If there was a payoff in the purchase of a player contract, I'd think it would have had to come in the period 1965-1967. There were no SF Giant to Hawk moves in that period, but Norm Larker and Carl Boles seem to have left the SF Giant club for NPB, and Don Blasingame went to the Hawks. I'd think it would have to be in the sale of one of those contracts if it happened.

Another possibility which would explain everything to my satisfaction is if the Japanese said privately, "Look, if you litigate this, you're not likely to get an enforceable judgment, and what's more, we'll attack your reserve clause as against American law." That would leave MLB with no real options but to cave, especially since Murakami wasn't a Cooperstown-type talent worth shooting the works on.

Jim Albright
Re: The Meaning of Ichiro
[ Author: CFiJ | Posted: Apr 2, 2004 2:29 AM ]

Gary, if you go to the book's web site [Link] you'll find the complete Endnotes referencing everything in the book.
Re: The Meaning of Ichiro
[ Author: Guest: Jim Albright | Posted: Apr 2, 2004 5:31 AM ]

I was wrong about Whiting not saying the $10,000 was returned, and no, he doesn't touch on the Checo matter. I will be rewriting my article on why more Japanese haven't come to the majors to reflect information Whiting made me aware of and to comment on his suggested reasons for the resolution of the Murakami affair.

Jim Albright
What's this about Godzilla Matsui and Adult Movies?
[ Author: Guest: Muka | Posted: Apr 5, 2004 3:10 PM ]

I read about this in the description of the book. Haha.
Re: The Meaning of Ichiro
[ Author: Guest: Jim Albright | Posted: Apr 6, 2004 12:32 AM ]

One assertion which is very unlikely to be completely accurate is the following, from page 67:

Masaichi Kaneda . . . dictated to his coaches when he would pitch, demanding no less than three days rest.

This might be true of his days with the Giants, when he was used in a fashion consistent with this claim. However, those were his final five seasons, age 31 and up. He was going for 400 wins, and didn't want overuse to leave him short. As a Giant, he never pitched more than 33 games in a season, which would allow such a claim to be true.

However, as a Swallow, from 1951 to 1963, he pitched at least 47 games each year, usually over 50 -- sometimes in more than half of his team's games. I'm unfamiliar with the Japanese schedule of the time, but it's hard to see how that usage pattern would mesh with Whiting's claim.

Re: The Meaning of Ichiro
[ Author: CFiJ | Posted: Apr 6, 2004 7:37 AM ]

Jim, are you looking for things wrong with the book? There's nothing inaccurate about the statement.
Re: The Meaning of Ichiro
[ Author: Guest: Jim Albright | Posted: Apr 6, 2004 9:58 AM ]

CFiJ wrote:

Jim, are you looking for things wrong with the book? There's nothing inaccurate about the statement.

No, I'm not looking for things wrong with the book. I am using the book for tidbits to spice up my own revisions of my articles that are in the works. This is one I saw, but it isn't accurate on its face -- maybe with an editor who understood Japanese baseball, it would have been clarified so it was correct. As it stands, I think it is at the very least misleading for the reasons I set out above.

Jim Albright

Re: The Meaning of Ichiro
[ Author: CFiJ | Posted: Apr 6, 2004 1:11 PM ]

It's not misleading at all. Whiting doesn't say that Kaneda dictated 3-days rest his entire career, he merely says that he dictated 3-days rest. If Kaneda did that for one month, one season, or just his time with the Giants, the statement is true.

If I say I taught English in Japan, it's not a misleading statement just because I wasn't teaching English in Japan previous to 1998.
Re: The Meaning of Ichiro
[ Author: Guest: Jim Albright | Posted: Apr 6, 2004 11:56 PM ]

I see your point, but I'm thinking many a casual baseball fan will read it the way I first did -- which is quite inaccurate. For that reason, I still say it is misleading.

Jim Albright
Re: The Meaning of Ichiro
[ Author: Guest: Jeff Matlock | Posted: Apr 8, 2004 10:12 AM ]

When last heard from in 1990, Robert Whiting was quoting Sparky Anderson to the effect that Japanese baseball players had improved to the point that comparisons with Americans should stop. As is so often the case, what should have been an ending became a beginning - the beginning of eastbound migration across the Pacific.

MLB is open to large-scale foreignization as American athletes increasingly turn to football or other sports. Much of this is Dominican, but Japanese involvement is now large enough and involves players of sufficient prominence that the time obviously is ripe for another of Mr. Whiting's examinations of East meeting West.

I don't enjoy reading about lawyers and lawyering, but this issue is examined fairly and without resort to obscurantist legal jargon. I do enjoy discussions of "culture shock" (the term originates with Kalervo Oberg) and players' efforts to overcome the mental barrier to success in a foreign society. How strange that the venue for this should now be the United States.

Those of us who have read "You Gotta Have Wa" will be familiar with some of this, but Whiting plays fair with his readers: those who didn't read "Wa" won't feel left behind.

One quibble: I realize that the front and back cover designs together form an impressionistic U.S. flag, but isn't the front cover redolent of the pre-War Japanese flag deep-sixed by General MacArthur?
Re: The Meaning of Ichiro
[ Author: CFiJ | Posted: Apr 8, 2004 5:43 PM ]

- One quibble: I realize that the front and back cover designs together form an impressionistic U.S. flag, but isn't the front cover redolent of the pre-War Japanese flag deep-sixed by General MacArthur?

I'm pretty sure that's intentional.

Off-topic: the flag you are thinking of is the Asashi flag. It was (and is) Japan's naval ensign. It was also used by the Army during the war, but the national flag has always been (since the Meiji Restoration) the Hinomaru flag, the red circle on plain white. The naval ensign wasn't deep-sixed by MacArthur, it was discontinued by the Treaty of San Francisco's stipulation that Japan have no armed forces. When the Maritime Self-Defense Force was started up after Japan regained its sovereignty, the naval ensign was again brought back into service.
Re: The Meaning of Ichiro
[ Author: Guest: Jeff Matlock | Posted: Apr 9, 2004 10:21 AM ]

Some clarifications: For "lawyers", read "agents." For "lawyering," read "bureaucratic maneuvering." I do not care how Hideo Nomo got to the States. I do not care about Don Nomura and his activities. I take care of business from 8 to 5; I don't care to think about business when it's time for baseball.

To say that the striped flag was just a military symbol is like saying that the Stars and Bars wasn't the national flag of the Confederacy but rather its battle flag. It reeks of a long-ago militarist Japan and simply isn't appropriate in the context of 2004.
Re: The Meaning of Ichiro
[ Author: CFiJ | Posted: Apr 9, 2004 1:16 PM ]

- To say that the striped flag was just a military symbol is like saying that the Stars and Bars wasn't the national flag of the Confederacy but rather its battle flag. It reeks of a long-ago militarist Japan and simply isn't appropriate in the context of 2004.

That is an entirely inaccurate comparison. The Asahi is, right now, the naval flag of Japan, currently flying over Maritime Self-Defense Force ships, as can be seen from this image. It was not during the war, nor at any point in Japan's history, a national flag. It's appropriateness for 2004 was determined by the return of Japan's sovereignty in 1952 which allowed Japan to fly whatever flag it wants, unlike a government in rebellion like the CSA.
The Meaning of Asahi
[ Author: mijow | Posted: Apr 9, 2004 11:02 PM | HT Fan ]

Yes, I must say I agree with CFiJ. Japan, as a sovereign state, has the right to use whatever symbols it likes. And indeed, the asahi is not only used in the naval flag - it's also in the logo of the Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan's major newspapers - and a left-leaning one at that, too.
Re: The Meaning of Asahi
[ Author: Guest: Jeff Matlock | Posted: Apr 10, 2004 7:15 AM ]

I'm sure both of you are much younger than I am. For you, World War II exists solely in the history books, like the 30 Years' War -- at least, in the U.S. history books. For myself and for Robert Whiting, the War and its symbols surrounded us in our childhood, notwithstanding that neither of us actually lived through it. I live in a place where many WWII veterans have retired. They're baseball fans; the NFL was a piddling enterprise in their youth. I guarantee you, if one of them walks into Barnes and Noble and sees the 1940s-style rising sun on the baseball shelf, they're not going to buy Mr. Whiting's book.
Re: The Meaning of Asahi
[ Author: CFiJ | Posted: Apr 10, 2004 9:57 AM ]

- I guarantee you, if one of them walks into Barnes and Noble and sees the 1940s-style rising sun on the baseball shelf, they're not going to buy Mr. Whiting's book.

Well, that's their loss for not understanding the very history they lived through.
Re: The Meaning of Asahi
[ Author: mijow | Posted: Apr 11, 2004 1:50 AM | HT Fan ]

- I'm sure both of you are much younger than I am. For you, World War II exists solely in the history books, like the 30 Years' War -- at least, in the U.S. history books.

Right, although as a history major, I may well have read more widely and have a deeper understanding of the period than you do. I hope you're not suggesting I'm ignorant simply because I wasn't exposed to these symbols in my youth and thus misunderstand the significance to those who were. Far from it, actually.

Anyway, the cover design is the publisher's choice, and if they thought it wouldn't sell the book, they wouldn't use this particular design, would they?
Re: The Meaning of Asahi
[ Author: CFiJ | Posted: Apr 10, 2004 9:56 AM ]

I'll also add when I refer to Asahi as not being a national flag, what I mean is that in all conquered Japanese territories (Taiwan, Korea, Southeast Asia, and parts of China) the flag that flew in these territories was not the Asashi, but the Hinomaru, the same national flag still in use today. So the Asahi is no less a symbol of Japanese military aggression than the Hinomaru.

I'd like to apologize to Westbay-san for the off-topic digression.
Re: The Meaning of Asahi
[ Author: Guest: Jeff Matlock | Posted: Apr 11, 2004 3:26 AM ]

The night Ichiro came to town for the first time, I wallowed in the Japanese atmosphere. I'd forgotten how to read the hand-lettered signs, but found I could still understand the chatter from fans around us. Beside me, a man who was in uniform in 1945 had a very different reaction. Took him right back to the bad old days. OK, the national flag of Japan in '45 was the Hinomaru, but the symbol of WWII in American minds was the Asahi. Symbols are powerful things. Even a baseball game, as I learned that night in '01, can evoke bad memories. My point is that the Asahi doesn't belong on an American book about 21st century Japan, aimed at an audience unacquainted with CFiJ's academic hairsplitting. Period. End of discussion.
Re: The Meaning of Asahi
[ Author: mijow | Posted: Apr 11, 2004 7:40 PM | HT Fan ]

- My point is that the Asahi doesn't belong on an American book about 21st century Japan, aimed at an audience unacquainted with CFiJ's academic hairsplitting. Period. End of discussion.

Well of course you're entitled to that opinion, and the old veteran is entitled to feel bitter. But what do we do? Ban (or self censor) the use of any symbol that has the slightest chance of giving offence to certain groups? Ban the use of the Star of David because the Arabs have a problem with that symbol? Ban the Union Jack because the British once burned Washington? The Hammer and Sickle? Images of Ho Chi Minh? Where do we draw the line?

I'd say the publishers here are well aware of what they're doing, and have probably taken the view that the reaction will be more favorable than unfavorable.

My own view is that the cover is as appropriate as anything else they could have come up with. And I'd say that is probably the majority view.

And that's my last word on the matter.
Re: The Meaning of Asahi
[ Author: CFiJ | Posted: Apr 11, 2004 9:59 PM ]

I highly doubt that a) the majority of the audience the book is aimed at (baby-boomers and younger, born after the war) have a strong reaction to that particular Japanese flag and won't buy the book because of it, and b) that those who are put off by the cover to the point of not buying the book would be open-minded enough to want to read a 300-page book about Japanese players and Japanese baseball. That's their loss. They won't impact sales.

What you call "academic hairsplitting" is not hairsplitting at all. It's reality. Reality is not dictated by mistaken American impressions. The Asahi was the naval flag long before WWII, and has been for long afterwards. To view it as symbol of WWII is ignorant. People unacquainted with those facts should be acquainted with those facts, instead of viewing the world purely through their own cultural lenses.

When I first went to Japan, I was taken aback one day when walking by a high school and seeing the Hinomaru flying overhead. I realized that a lifetime of American media had conditioned me to see the Japanese flag as the opposition, as a symbol of imperialism and war. But I also realized that this was my problem, and I had to get over it. I can understand that veteran's reaction. The Japanese were his enemy; he killed them, and they killed his friends. But that was 60 years ago. It's his responsibility to adapt to the times, not the times' responsibility to adapt to his experiences.

Flip it around: should a book on MLB baseball in Japan not have an American flag or Stars and Stripes motif on it because a few people associate it with a wartime enemy and conquering force? Of course not.
Re: The Meaning of Ichiro
[ Author: Guest: Catsister | Posted: Apr 13, 2004 8:36 AM ]

I just got this book today, and found it very interesting. I also found all the lawyering/business deals to be very boring. I skipped them, but might read it later.

Many of the players seem to have behaved immaturely in the U.S., so I don't think it's fair to single out Hideki Irabu as being immature, as one poster (Jim, I think) did. Ichiro and Sasaki are very lucky that their wives put up with their shenanigans, because I wouldn't!

As for the cover, it looks cheesy to me. It's like they made a bunch of covers for some WWII book like, "The Greatest Generation Remembers the Battle of Midway" or something, then had some left over and stuck a baseball in the middle. I bet they change it if a soft cover ever comes out.

Anyway, I enjoy this message board.
Re: The Meaning of Ichiro
[ Author: Guest: Jeff Matlock | Posted: Apr 13, 2004 10:36 AM ]

Certainly this book will head into paperback. Each of Whiting's previous English language books has done so. (I think -- maybe not "The Chrysanthemum and the Bat.") Many books have swapped out cover design for the paper edition. I suggest commissioning Kinuko Craft, the longtime Playboy illustrator who is Japanese-American, to ring a change on the Hokusai pastiche she painted for the cover of "You Gotta Have Wa."
Re: The Meaning of Ichiro
[ Author: Chiroman | Posted: Apr 15, 2004 4:24 AM ]

Thank you all for posting the reviews. I was so convinced that I ordered this book on The book was easy to read, entertaining, and funny. The only sad part of the book was about Don Nomura's American father committing suicide. Don's mother was such a "B"-word, neglecting her own two sons and husband. However, Don did get the last laugh, now making millions as an agent and being credited for bringing Japanese ball players to MLB (ranked 26 on Sports Illustrated's 101 most influential minorities in sports list). I didn't think that Japanese people would racially discriminate a person just because he/she is mixed. That's uncalled for.

It was nice is see Michael Westbay's name on the acknowledgements list [although the site URL is mis-printed]. Westbay-san's web site is great! The web site provided me a better understanding on Japanese baseball and kept my interest up.
Re: The Meaning of Ichiro
[ Author: Guest: null | Posted: Apr 16, 2004 8:29 AM ]

I finished reading this book recently and I have to say that it is another in a long line of great Robert Whiting books. In particular, the chapters on Ichiro, Don Nomura, Irabu, Bobby V., and A. Soriano were very interesting and definitely made the book worth reading.

The only disappointing thing about this book, as CFiJ wrote earlier, was the fact that there were many typos regarding the Japanese language and there were many misspelled names as well. The names of Riona Hazuki, Uno Kanda, Darrell May, Derrek Lee, and a few others were misspelled.

Also, the book states that the Yankees won the World Series in 1995 when they actually won it in 1996.

As someone else pointed out, it would've been nice to see a chapter on the whole Robinson Checo dispute between the Carp and MLB, but even without it the book holds its own.

I personally liked "You Gotta Have Wa" and "The Chrysanthemum and the Bat" better than "The Meaning of Ichiro" but "...Ichiro" is definitely a good book that will stand the test of time.

I sincerely hope that Robert Whiting will put out another baseball book soon. I hope we won't have to wait as long as we had to wait this time between baseball books by Mr. Whiting.
Re: The Meaning of Ichiro
[ Author: seiyu | Posted: Apr 16, 2004 12:13 PM ]

Thanks Robert for putting my name in your book. It was really exciting!

Just a small note: I do not work in New Jersey, rather in Connecticut. Also, I have lived in the U.S. for 21 years now.
Re: The Meaning of Ichiro
[ Author: Guest: little dun | Posted: May 7, 2004 12:05 PM ]

What exactly happened with Robinson Checo?
Re: The Meaning of Ichiro
[ Author: Guest: null | Posted: May 10, 2004 8:31 PM ]

That's a great question. I was wondering the same thing recently. I know that he made his major league debut in 1997, I think, with the Boston Red Sox and played with them the next year also before being released or traded. He pitched in a few games for the Dodgers in '99 and was absolutely shelled beyond belief, and then he seems to have disappeared.

This is to a previous post, but Robert Whiting's book "The Chrysanthemum and the Bat" was indeed published in paperback form also. I'm sure we'll be seeing "The Meaning of Ichiro" in paperback soon.
Re: The Meaning of Ichiro
[ Author: Guest: Stu | Posted: May 11, 2004 9:00 AM ]

All in all a good read, but there was a glaring mistake about Kazuhisa Ishii signing with the Dodgers as a free agent.

Also, someone should look into Tomo Ohka's signing with the Red Sox. According to the book, Yokohama granted Ohka free agency so he could sign with Boston and the Sox later sent money and a player in return. If this is true, then Ohka was not flat out released, it appears there was a pre-arranged agreement. However, the Posting System was already in place at the time. I remember a Peter Gammons column which stated that the GMs of the 29 other clubs wanted to know why they didn't get a chance to sign Ohka after he started his minor league career 8-0.
Re: The Meaning of Ichiro
[ Author: Guest: Jim Albright | Posted: May 11, 2004 10:35 AM ]

See the middle of Gary Garland's review of MOI [Link -] for a synopsis of the Checo matter.

Jim Albright
Re: The Meaning of Ichiro
[ Author: Guest: dunny | Posted: May 11, 2004 10:50 PM ]

Thanks, Jim. Fairly accurate book review.

-- the Neyagawa Kid
Re: The Meaning of Ichiro
[ Author: Guest: Bob Timmermann | Posted: May 16, 2004 4:12 AM ]

I didn't think this effort by Whiting was as entertaining as "Wa." I think he oversells Ichiro's importance to U.S. baseball. He was very popular in 2001, but he has gone from being ICHIRO or (as he shows up on a lot of baseball blogs Ichiro!) to just regular old Ichiro.

Whiting writes of him as Japan's first cultural icon to be popular in the U.S. despite the fact that Japanese films have been shown widely in the U.S. since the War and Akira Kurosawa has been cited as an influence on filmmakers like Spielberg and Lucas.

There have been international players in large numbers for quite a while in the NHL (from Europe) and players from Europe, Asia, and South America in the NBA. Most sports fans have adapted, although we need to call the Sacramento Kings' star, "Peja" instead of "Stojakovic."

Other Japanese friends of mine have argued with Whiting's contention (first in "Wa" and repeated in "Meaning of Ichiro") that the Japanese think tie baseball games are a good thing.
Re: The Meaning of Ichiro
[ Author: Guest: Gary Garland | Posted: May 17, 2004 6:24 PM ]

I don't think that the international aspect is important in itself with regards to Ichiro, but the fact is that in MLB there had been this idea that a Japanese position player would never be strong enough to succeed in MLB. I give you remarks made by Mike Jackson (Seattle, Cleveland) a few years ago that they would bury Ichiro by throwing inside, or Mike Hargrove's assertion that Ichiro would have trouble making any MLB team as a fifth outfielder. Moreover, coloring all this is that the Japanese baseball sphere has an inferiority complex vis a vis MLB (this took a new twist a couple of months ago when Katsuya Nomura said that the reason Ichiro, et al can succeed in MLB is that MLB is in a qualitative decline). Ichiro effectively threw all those doubts right out the window when he won the MVP as a rookie with the Mariners.

Moreover, to the Asian-American community, which is bugged by the stereotype as being good in a lab or a math class but not much at sports, this was a big shot in the arm for them. So that boosted the Asian-American interest in baseball even beyond what Nomo did.

Now here's to hoping that Hee-seop Choi really gets hot.
Re: The Meaning of Ichiro
[ Author: Guest: ChiSox | Posted: Jun 3, 2004 5:01 AM ]

As a loyal Whiting reader, I was disappointed in the book. But the guy has some absolute classics, with "Wa" and "Underworld," so I guess a slump is bound to happen.

I found the good parts to be the bios and personal lives of the Japanese players and their thoughts on MLB. The lawyering/agent stuff was good, too. And I loved the Bobby Valentine story.

Unfortunately, I was constantly annoyed by the writing style (like how he tends to change the way he references a particular subject, i.e, one time somebody's "the American slugger" and the next paragraph he's referred to as "the gaijin masher," or something akin to this), and he filled in a lot of backstory with stuff already discussed in "Wa." This is somewhat understandable as that was written 20 years ago and most readers of this book are new, but as a long time reader it's frustrating.

Also touching a nerve is the general complaining tone of many of Whiting's observations of Japanese baseball/culture. He tried to be fair in getting both sides at times, but it's obvious he had a point to make. I lived in Japan for two years and never understood why long time gaijin who complain like that don't just leave. Alas, cultural clash is what publishers want, and you can't argue with Whiting's success.
Re: The Meaning of Ichiro
[ Author: westbaystars | Posted: Jul 15, 2004 8:55 AM | YBS Fan ]

Captain Japan has an interview with Robert Whiting and a review of "The Meaning of Ichiro" here, his latest "Sake Drenched Postcard from Japan."
Re: The Meaning of Ichiro
[ Author: Guest: SaraB | Posted: Jul 18, 2004 4:24 PM ]

At long last, I got my copy of this terrific book via Amazon and read it this afternoon in one excited gulp. If it is not quite the equal of Whiting's earlier "Wa," that is not for any lack of achievement on the writer's part -- the book kept my undivided attention, and large portions of it (about Nomura, Nomo, and Valentine, especially) are absolutely riveting. It just seems that Japanese baseball is less exotic and unknown in North America than it was at the time "Wa" appeared.

I do think the influence of the internet on global knowledge of NPB is tremendous, and not discussed in Whiting's book (other than his acknowledgement of this web site). Let's face it, it is far easier to be a Torakichi in North America (or anywhere) these days, when you can follow games in progress and download every player's current stats with just a few minutes to spare. Just twenty years ago the situation was far, far different. I remember straining to catch a name or two from the highlight reels on New York's "Ohayo NY" morning program. Times have indeed changed (thank goodness).

Anyway, this book is a great sequel to "Wa," and obviously a must-have for Japanese baseball fans, 'nuff said.

This is a site about Pro Yakyu (Japanese Baseball), not about who the next player to go over to MLB is. It's a community of Pro Yakyu fans who have come together to share their knowledge and opinions with the world. It's a place to follow teams and individuals playing baseball in Japan (and Asia), and to learn about Japanese (and Asian) culture through baseball.

It is my sincere hope that once you learn a bit about what we're about here that you will join the community of contributors.

Michael Westbay
(aka westbaystars)

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