It’s hard to keep track with the books I’m reading at the moment. First there’s Khalid Husseini’s Kite Runner, a novel I started in Koh Tao but never continued with once I got home. After that there’s a book on the Mitford sisters, entitled (appropriately enough), The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters. The there’s another Robert Whiting book (see below)- Tokyo Underworld. Finally there’s the book I want to press on with most to begin with- Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, Paul Theroux’s return to the path he travelled thirty years previously in The Great Railway Bazaar (I’ve still got another of his books, Dark Star Safari, unread).
Anyway, for now I’ll content myself with a quick review of two book on this blogs favourite subject. Yes, Japanese baseball (who could’ve gussed that). These are Robert Whiting’s You Gotta Have Wa, and The Meaning of Ichiro.
You Gotta Have Wa (1989)
You Gotta Have Wa tells the story of “Wa”, Japanese team unity and spirit, the nature of Japanese baseball and the stories of American players who have gone to Japan, through their presence exposing the differences between the Japanese and American games. It looks at the history and philosophy of Japanese ball, as well as other aspects- the translators, the oendan, the training undertaken by players and their development from a high school age. This book is more than just a book about Japanese baseball though- it is about the cultural differences between Japan and America as societies. It is both funny and depressing, but always interesting, and a worthwhile read for anyone interested in Japan and/or baseball in Japan.
My only criticism is that there are so many stories about players I’ve never heard of that its easy to get it all mixed up- the book itself becomes one long story, played out several different times. It would be nice to locate each story more easily- although I can understand having several “case studies” certainly drives home the points Whiting wants to make.
The Meaning of Ichiro (2004)
The Meaning of Ichiro, written 15 years after Wa, is for me a better book. The story of gaijin moving to Japan- as told in Wa– became a bit repetitive, and depressing. On the other hand, I was genuinely gripped with the individual stories presented in Ichiro- that of Ichiro himself, as well as Irabu, Nomo, Matsui, and the other Nihonjin who have made it over the Pacific Ocean to ply their trade in the MLB. As well as this aspect, Ichiro also talks about the introduction- slowly- of agents into Japanese baseball- pioneered by Don Nomura- and the arrival of gaijin kantoku, more obviously Bobby Valentine at Chiba Lotte. The book ends in 2003, and it would be nice to read a follow up of Whiting’s take on subsequent events at that club. The book also ends on Matsui, but before Matsuzaka arrived in Boston- things change at a rapid pace, and I guess this is par for the course. Wa was good, but did feel a bit dated to me, describing as it did an era I never experienced. Ichiro was closer to me point of reference, and I found the book a lot brighter, with several clear success stories of players you wanted to succeed- particularly the man himself, Ichiro Suzuki. It did repeat some of the background expounded upon in Wa, but again this was inevitable.