Whiting, in his book, You Gotta Have Wa, believes that sport
can be a means to understanding subtle aspects of culture and national
identity. And when two countries share a common sport, the differences
are often more telling than the similarities.
Baseball was introduced to Japan at the start of the Meiji Period (1867-1912) by Horace Wilson, a young American history and English teacher. As Japan struggled to emerge from three centuries of feudal isolationism, Wilson taught his students at Tokyo's Kaisei Gakko the rudiments of his country's national pastime.
The sport quickly caught the spirit of the Japanese people: by 1905, college baseball was Japan's number one sport. Professional teams were instituted in 1935, and now every year twenty million fans faithfully troop out to the ballpark and cheer on the Yakult Swallows, the Taiyo Whales, the Nippon Ham Fighters, and the Hiroshima Carp, among others. Japan has been baseball crazy for over a hundred years.
As one Japanese writer put it, "Baseball is perfect for us. If the Americans hadn't invented it, we would have." On the surface, Japanese baseball (besuboru, or yakyu--"field ball") is similar to its American counterpart. Nine innings, nine players a side, and it's suree sutoraikku (three strikes) and yer out at the old ball game. But look closer (and Robert Whiting did) and you'll see differences that reveal how the game has been adapted to Japanese culture.