It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a book for you guys. i’ve been doing plenty of reading, but I’m not sure how badly my audience wants to hear about the Divergent series. I wish I could say my girlfriend made me read that, but I actually bought the first book for her, and then stole it and read it before her. Ahem. Anyway, that’s not why we are gathered here today. I recently heard about a book called “You Gotta Have Wa” by Robert Whiting. Written in 1989, it was billed as an introduction of Japanese baseball to the American fan. While reading an expose style book that was written almost 25 years ago can make the content a bit dated, I really enjoyed this one, so I figured I’d tell you guys about it.
Whiting is an American who arrived in Japan with the U.S. Air Force in 1962 and basically never left. Through his decades of writing about the Japanese culture, he covered such topics as the infamous Yakuza, Japanese politics and yes, baseball. He’s written several books about Japan’s adopted national pastime, Including 1977’s The Crysanthemum and the Bat (a history of Japanese baseball from the 50s through the 70s) and 2004’s The Meaning of Ichiro (a look at the more modern Japanese baseball player). The premise of this book is to tell the story of the American “Gaijin,” (the Japanese word for outsider) in the world of Japanese baseball.
The problem, Whiting, noted throughout, was not that the players couldn’t physically play with the Japanese. In fact, most of the Americans he talks about in the book were absolutely dominant during their time in Japan. Some of these guys, like Randy Bass and Charlie Manuel, never amounted to much in the American game, but were suddenly MVP caliber players breaking records in Japan. The problem was adjusting to things off the field. Any time you go live and work full time in another country, where you don’t speak the language, it’s going to be tough adjusting to the culture. However, the biggest problem that American ballplayers seemed to face in Japan (at least in the 1980s) was prejudice and the pressure to perform.
Basically, American ballplayers were seen as outsiders, or “Gaijin” as I said earlier, and anyone who has ever seen Mr. Baseball with Tom Selleck already knows. Many people during that time felt that these Gaijin would ruin the game by corrupting the purity of the team spirit and energy, or “Wa” as it is known in Japan. Because of this negative attitude to outsiders, American players never got the full credit they deserved for the good that they did, and were ostracized and treated extremely poorly when they did anything wrong on the field.
The other theme of the book is introducing the American audience to great Japanese baseball players, most of whom I had never heard of. I think even most casual fans know about the great home run king Sadaharu Oh (868 career homers in Japan), but how many know about Sachio Kinugasa, Japan’s “Iron Man”, who played in 2,215 consecutive games, or Eiji Sawamura who was the Cy Young of Japan (literally, the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young award is named after him). The book had me going to Baseball Reference almost every other page to look up Japanese and Americans a like, which made it kind of an interactive experience for me, which I enjoyed. If you’re not a baseball and statistics nerd like me, you probably won’t get that enjoyment, but that’s your problem. If you’re into it, you’ll learn about a lot of different players you’ve never heard of, and I find that very interesting.
I spent a lot of time wondering how things are now compare to what Whiting describes from 25-30 years ago, but overall, i really enjoyed the read. I learned a lot about the Japanese game and culture, even if some of the info might be a bit outdated to today’s reality. Whiting writes with knowledge, passion for the game and a little bit of humor thrown in. You’ll be informed about Japanese baseball, you’ll laugh at some of the antics of American players and you’ll even be a little annoyed at the poor treatment some Gaijin were subjected to, but you’ll definitely be entertained. I bought it on Ebay for a few dollars, but it’s also available on Kindle and on Amazon in newer condition.
Check it out. At the very least, it will improve your Wa.
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