I don't know what
it is they play here," grumbled former California Angel Clyde Wright after
his first season as a Tokyo Giant. "All I know is, it ain't baseball."
Wright had learned what many expatriates in the Land of the Rising Sun had
known for years: baseball, Japanese-style, is not the same game that's played
in the U.S. Since adopting the sport, the Japanese have changed it around to
incorporate the values of samurai discipline, respect for authority and
devotion to the group. The result is a uniquely Japanese game, one that offers
perhaps the clearest expression among all sports of Japan's national
Like the American
game, the Nippon version is played with a bat and ball. The same rulebook is
also used, but that's where resemblance between the two ends. Training, for
example, is nearly a religion in Japan. Baseball players in the U.S. start
spring training in March and take no more than five or six weeks to prepare for
the season. They spend three to four hours on the field each day and then head
for the nearest golf course or swimming pool.
begin training in the freezing cold of mid-January. Each day they're on the
field for a numbing eight hours, and then it's off to the dormitory for an
evening of strategy sessions and still more workouts indoors. Players run 10
miles every day, and one team, the Taiyo Whales, periodically performs the
"Death Climb," 20 sprints up and down the 275 steps of a nearby Shinto
That's only the
beginning. The average Japanese game is more like a board meeting at Mitsubishi
than an athletic event. As each new situation arises, there is so much
discussion on the field among the manager, coaches and players that most games
last three hours.
counterparts in the States, losing managers in Japan are seldom fired outright.
Instead, they go through an elaborate, time-consuming ritual designed to save
face all around. It culminates with a public apology by the deposed skipper,
his resignation and, often, an all-expenses-paid trip to the U.S. for him to
Such phenomena are
the tip of the iceberg. Below the waterline are the concept and practice of
group harmony, or wa. It is this concept that most dramatically differentiates
Japanese baseball from the American game.
The U.S. is a land
where the stubborn individualist is honored and where "doing your own
thing" is a motto of contemporary society. In Japan, kojinshugi, the term
for individualism, is almost a dirty word. In place of "doing your own
thing," the Japanese have a proverb: "The nail that sticks up shall be
hammered down." It is practically a national slogan.
In Japan, holdouts
are rare. A player takes what the club gives him and that's that. Demanding
more money is kojinshugi at its worst, because it shows the player has put his
own interests before those of the team. Katsuya Nomura, the Nankai Hawk catcher
who has hit 652 home runs in his career, said, upon quietly accepting a
minuscule raise after winning yet another of his numerous home-run titles,
"If I had asked for more money, the other players would have thought I was
The U.S. player
lives by the rule: "I know what's best for me." In Japan, the only ones
who know what's best are the manager and coaches. They have the virtues
Orientals most respect going for them—age and experience, hence, knowledge.
Their word is law. In the interest of team harmony, they demand that everyone
do everything the same way. Superstar Sadaharu Oh must endure the same pregame
grind as the lowliest first-year player. At 38 Shinichi Eto, a three-time
batting champion and a 10-year All-Star, found that 40 minutes of jogging and
wind sprints before each game left him exhausted by game time. He asked to be
allowed to train at his own pace. "You've been a great player, Etosan,"
he was told, "but there are no exceptions on this club. You'll do things
according to the rules." Eto lost weight, his batting average dropped, he
spent the second half of the season on the bench and then reluctantly announced
his retirement. Irrational? Perhaps, but any games lost because Eto was
dog-tired were not as important as the example he set.
pressure-cooker world of U.S. pro sports, temper outbursts are considered
acceptable, and at times even regarded as a salutary show of spirit. Unreleased
frustrations, the reasoning goes, might negatively affect a player's
concentration. Japanese players are expected to follow Sadaharu Oh's example.
"When he strikes out," says an admirer, "he breaks into a smile and
trots back to the bench." Oh has been known to be glum during a batting
slump, but temper tantrums—along with practical joking, bickering, complaining
and other norms of American clubhouse life—are viewed in Japan as unwelcome
incursions into the team's collective peace of mind. They offend the finer
sensitivities of the Japanese, and as many American players have learned the
hard way, Japanese sensitivities are finer.