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'Wa' Review

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'Wa' Review

by Anthony J. Bryant (Dec 15, 1989)

"Baseball is more than just a game. It has eternal value. Through it, one learns the beautiful and noble spirit of Japan." So said Suishu Tobita (1886-1965), Japan's first "God of Baseball."

No one can say that baseball has not had an impact on the Japanese. Watch the way the country kind of slows down for the spring and fall competitions – high school competitions, with full daily televised coverage, but, ye gods, high school! – at Koshien.

Whiting's new book is, if possible, better than his first, The Chrysanthemum and the Bat, covering far more territory. While the first seemed to concentrate on how unfairly the gaijin athletes are treated (the famous expanding strike zones, deliberate successive walks to keep batters from breaking a Yamato-hero's records, etc.), this new book covers that as well but also leans heavily into the differences in attitude between the players and coaches (and, well, national mentalities) in Japan and the good old U.S. of A.

It's really hard to read Whiting's well-written book in one sitting. It's just too upsetting. The reader keeps wanting to shout, "Yeah, dammit, tell it like it is!" Hey, this is more than just another "never the twain shall meet" book. Wanna hear about weird? Everyone in Japan is a Yomiuri Giants fan, even Hisami Matsuzono, the owner of the Yakult Swallows. After his team took the pennant in 1978, he said that from now on, second (to the Giants) would be just fine. Imagine Haywood Sullivan telling his Red Sox that they should let the Yankees take the pennant from now on thank you very much.

Interesting, enlightening, and unforgettable, this book is one that deserves to be used as a text in Japanese study classes; it is more valuable and tells us more about people – real people, not stereotypes, archetypes, or composites – and how they interact. It is more useful than Theory Z, more real than Bicycle Days, less starry-eyed than MITI and the Modern Miracle, less self-important than The Enigma of Japanese Power, more up to date than The Chrysanthemum and the Sword. If you can find a copy on the shelves, buy it.

In the words of the immortal Reggie Smith, a Yomiuri Giant player from 1983-84: "This isn't baseball. It only looks like it."

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