Japanese attitude toward practice also reflects a different cultural
approach. Japanese teams are allowed a maximum of two Westerners
(gaijin, or "outsiders," not necessarily a derogatory label).
Most American ballplayers are literally in for a rude awakening
when they begin practice, Japanese style. Beginning at dawn and
continuing till dark, workouts resemble a Marine Corps drill instructor's
most sadistic fantasy of Boot Camp Hell. Commonly referred to
as death or gattsu (guts) drills, these exercises in marathon
running, fielding (a thousand ground balls in succession), and
batting allow the player to demonstrate effort (doryoku)
and fighting spirit.
highly prized attributes are an extension of the samurai concept
of bushido, the way of the warrior. This work ethic is
reflected in all aspects of society: each and every sarariman
(salaryman--worker) is expected to have it. The Japanese don't
play baseball, they work it.
consider this approach foolhardy. Practicing while tired is thought
to produce bad habits and increase the risk of injury. They go
out to the field, stretch, warm up for forty-five minutes, knock
the ball around for a while and then go out and have a few beers
with the guys. To them, baseball is not designed to test one's
loyalty, self-control, moral discipline, and selflessness. What
Westerners call a pastime becomes, in the hands of the Japanese,
a rigorous spiritual form. Needless to say, most gaijin ballplayers
in Japan don't last long.
I recently attended
a ballgame outside of Osaka. Initially, my attention was drawn
to the fans. In the more expensive box seats, people were seated
quietly, watched the goings-on in the field with the same detachment
and reserve typical of Japanese social demeanor. But in the cheap
seats along the first- and third-base lines, a different atmosphere
prevailed. Five or six oendan, or fan clubs, were cheering
on the hometown Kintetsu Buffaloes. Each group was trying to outdo
the others. Huge banners were being waved, and the aisles were
clogged with rows of bright happi-coated cheerleaders with samurai
headbands and megaphones. They were exhorting the fans to yell
and chant together, and to drum their plastic megaphones in a
never-ending rhythm. The whole stadium pulsed with energy.
many Japanese stadiums, fans spur their team on with whistles,
gongs, taiko drums, even frying pans. The fervor and cumulative
sound is not to be believed. One New York television producer
described a long afternoon spent in the middle of a Yomiuri Giants'
oendan: "These people are lunatics! There's more noise here
than the World Series and the Army-Navy game combined. How do
they keep it up?"
The fan clubs point
out another function of baseball in Japanese society. The average
sarariman works hard, and is expected to hide his true feelings
and desires during the business day in deference to the company.
And when alone or in a small group, this attitude continues (as
in the case of the small, quiet groups of fans). But the oendan
is a perfect escape valve for the internalized emotions and pressures
of daily life. There is nothing better than to get together with
other like-minded fanatics and sing, say, the Tokyo Giants' fight
song at the top of one's collective lungs:
To the sky with
The ball soars and soars with burning flames.
Aah...Giants. Ever proud of the name
Their courage lights up the field. Giants...Giants...
art, music, and theater, sport can reveal a lot about a nation's
cultural identity. Jacques Barzun once said, "Whoever wants
to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball."
And Suishu Tobitsa sums it up pretty well, too: "Baseball is more
than just a game. It has eternal value. Through it one learns
the beautiful and noble spirit of Japan."