Table Speech

“The Current Status and Outlook for Japanese Baseball”

September 19, 2007

Mr. Akira Nambara,
Vice President,
All Japan University Baseball Federation

 That I was able to play baseball in the Tokyo 6 major university league in its heyday was, for me, very fortunate.

 The Meiji Jingu Stadium, at that time, was a sell-out for every game and surpassed professional baseball both in popularity and ability. The pitcher on the opposing team went on to the professional league and immediately became an ace pitcher. Many of the fourth batters in our league, including Shigeo Nagashima at Rikkyo University also turned pro and became a cleanup hitter in the professional league.

 I have always thought that among sports, baseball most exhibited the strength of the Japanese people to become a world leader.

 What brought such thoughts to become a conviction was when I had the chance to hear a speech by Jiro Ushio at the first Nikkei Forum, “Global Management Forum”, which was held in 1999.

 Ushio commented as follows, “We need to return to the fundamental question of why Japan, which was weak and without resources, was able to become an economic giant ranking second in the world in the postwar period. That root was the 4 keys, perfectionism, emphasis on the jobsite, collectivism, and respect for technology. Recently, there has been a shift toward the thinking that labels such qualities as being behind the times, a trend that worries me”.

 Perfectionism, emphasis on the jobsite, collectivism, and respect for technology have been qualities that the Japanese people have been nurturing since the Taika Reforms. It was not until after the World War II that these qualities blossomed into strengths. Japan’s greatest fortune was being occupied only by the United States. The United States, learning from their experiences during the Great Depression, had become a mass capitalistic country forsaking the original capitalism that was characterized by market forces being almighty, survival of the fittest, and exploitation of workers to one where the government assumes responsibility for employment and growth.

 Joseph Dodge and Carl Sumner Shoup were dispatched from the United States and put in place the infrastructure for mass capitalism in Japan. The education and technology levels of people involved in work site operations were enhanced and presidents and factory managers stood on the factory floor wearing work clothes. The 4 qualities bloomed to become strengths that would not allow pursuit by any other country.

 The history of development of baseball in Japan closely mirrors the development of our economy. A mathematics teacher from the United States, Horace Wilson had first brought baseball to Japan. He built a baseball field in Kanda-Nishikicho in 1872 (5th year of Meiji) while he was a teacher at the 1st Junior High School, which was the predecessor to the 1st Senior High School / University of Tokyo. In the United States, it was in 1872 when baseball took the form of baseball as we know it today. It was in 1875 when, rather than playing with bare hands, equipment began to be used and 9-man teams were formed. Baseball, thus, originated both in the United States and Japan at the same time. A book that categorically described baseball in Japan and the United States being as different as fish burgers and sushi in spite of the similarity in the rules was published the year before last. The title is “Baseball, a Beautiful Thing” with a subtitle, “American Baseball and Akita Baseball". Its author was Kazuo Sayama, an expert of the Major League who graduated from Keio University.

 According to Sayama, the biggest issue in American baseball is to earn money and to win. The root of the differences in Japan and the United States is the difference in the process of the spread of baseball. He also proclaims that the basic difference lies in the difference between agricultural people and hunting people.

 In the United States, baseball grew out of club teams, and professional baseball was started in 1869 whereas in Japan, baseball originated primarily among students and professional teams were not organized until 1936.

 Isoo Abe of Waseda University called for, “fair and square games, fair play, the winners not to be arrogant, and the losers not to be discouraged”. This spirit continues to permeate among the baseball players in Japan.

 If baseball sticks to Small Baseball rather than Large Baseball as in the United States, it is rather more fitting to agrarian people. There are pauses in baseball and there is no need for constant motion. For fielding and running, it is more suited to smaller person with speed. If the ball comes straight to the fielder, it will not be a hit. Moreover, batting averages in the .300 as the top limit are characteristics that differ from other sports.

 Japan achieved its giant economic status thanks to the 4 strengths. It is not a dream that Japanese baseball, by the same strengths, would lead the baseball in the world.

 My dream is for Japanese baseball, based on the ‘way of baseball’ espoused by Isoo Abe, spread throughout the world.