Growing up a big baseball fan, I always knew the sport was popular in Japan. I also always knew it was played differently but I didn’t know why. Not necessarily played differently rules-wise (though there is some of that, like ties for example), but culturally, there were different expectations of the players and the clubs.
Robert Whiting smoothly lays the differences out in this book. I worry sometimes that westerners don’t always have a sensitivity to the nuanced differences in respective eastern cultures but he does. Despite things that made my eyes pop out of my head, there was no condescension towards the Japanese for their strict training regimens and outdated way of playing the sport base-to-base. He talks about the history of the game, the way it grew, the significance it eventually took in Japanese society, and the protective nature many in Japan feel towards it.
Whiting doesn’t shy away from criticizing the prejudicial nature Japanese teams and fans have towards “gaijin”, aka foreigners. This is apparently goes double for the many black American players who played in Japan, as well as Japanese who are of African descent. However, there’s never a sense of self-righteousness (God knows, America has plenty of racism). He clearly lays out the different ways Japanese and Americans view the game and manage it, while passing no judgments. It’s a respectful take on the game and the people of the country.
There’s an updated version that came out in 2009 and I wish I read it. My copy is from 1989 and no doubt many of the references (and likely practices) are dated thirty years later. Japan was economically dominant in the 80s in a way it is not today and that plays a factor in some of the analyses. But I appreciated what Whiting did with this subject and I feel far more knowledgeable as a result.