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'Japanese Way' Seen Through Baseball

Robert Whiting's Homepage at

'Japanese Way' Seen Through Baseball

by Wayne Graczyk (Nov 18, 1977)

Digitized by Jessica Suchman and Catherine Nissley.

One of the comments on the back cover says, "Good summer reading." The thing is, Robert Whiting's book, "The Chrysanthemum and the Bat" just recently hit the stands here in Japan.

No matter. The work is good winter reading too. In fact it is great winter reading. It is just the prescription the diehard baseball fan needs for survival through the unbearable time between the last out of the Series and the first pitch of the first spring exhibition game. One problem there is that the book is a "can't put it downer," which most readers will devour in much too brief a time.

"The Chrysanthemum and the Bat" is not only a book for baseball fans, however. Definitely not, indeed. Whiting has put together a brilliant volume about the Japanese people – their customs and social habits, their way of thinking – skillfully disguised as a book about baseball.

American tourists coming to Japan invariably look to do and see what cannot be done and seen in their own country they visit temples and shrines, enter castles and gardens. They attend geisha parties, watch Kabuki, and for sports, they flock to the arena to see the traditional sumo wrestling. When a baseball game is suggested, the standard answer is, "I did not come to Japan to see baseball; I can see a baseball game in Chicago, Pittsburgh, etc." Whiting's book points out all that these folks have missed by precisely explaining why the game as played here is so vastly different from the American version.

A foreign businessman might be saved from a great deal of embarrassment and misunderstanding by reading Whiting's book. The typical Japanese attitude toward contracts is presented in the description of what happened to pitcher Masanori Murakami – the only Japanese player ever to play in the American major leagues.

Students of language, culture and especially international relations have much to gain by reading "The Chrysanthemum and the Bat." Deeply explored and explained are connections between the diamond game and Shinto shrines, the role of a typical Japanese girl samurai, respect and loyalty and last, but by no means least, the innate Japanese devotion to group orientation.

Getting back to the baseball fan however, the book provides a sorely needed bridge for those who have acquired an elementary knowledge of the baseball system in Japan but need a greater understanding of the whys and wherefores. Whiting takes us across and helps us at least make an effort to reason why televised ball games are cut off before completion, or why there is satisfaction in a tie game, or why umpires fail to obtain the reverence their American counterparts take for granted. We also get an improved insight on how to accept the cold fact: The Japanese want American players in Japan to do well but not too well.

What little has not been explained in the text is adequately illustrated in a series of candid photographs. There are several shots deliberately included to capture the flavor of traditional Japan. Quite a few others show the disrespected umps being manhandled by players or violent disagreements among players and manager. A classic pose has Daryl Spencer batting with his stick held upside down in anticipation of an intentional walk. Spencer was contending for a triple crown at the time, and Whiting utilizes the incident to suggest that perhaps foreign players in Japan do get shafted once in a while.

One the other hand, episodes involving such notable as Joe Pepitone, Frank Howard and Leo Durocher indicate where Americans may have done a little shafting themselves.

There will be those who will say that, perhaps, Whiting has overdone the satirical bit, playing up too heavily the Japanese way of doing things which Americans would normally find utterly absurd.

Actually, if one takes the time to read carefully, then take some time to ponder over what has been read, it soon becomes apparent that Whiting is indeed sincere when he says he holds the utmost respect and admiration for Japan and her people. To prove his point further, the author has taken the courageous step of having a Japanese language version of the book printed, apparently to preclude any misunderstandings.

He has take a super idea, done it up just right and turned it into a most excellent and enjoyable book. It has a chance to become a classic.

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