Reckoning with the Myths of Samurai Baseball

Baseball is still the national pastime in Japan in ways that maybe it isn’t even here. We love baseball in the United States but there are so many other things vying for attention in the realm of sport. Japanese baseball is like American baseball is surrounded with myth and in the case of Japan the central myth of baseball has to do with Samurai values. The values of Bushido: The Way of the Warrior. And it’s essentially that Japanese baseball reflects the values of Bushido which include a pure-hearted devotion in this case to sports a willingness to endure pain for victory a willingness to make sacrifice for the good of the team to cede to authority all of these trademarks of Confucianism and of Bushido can be found in baseball. at least the myth is that baseball is a repository for these values. There is a number of things involved in this but one thing is that baseball entered Japan in 1870s and 80s just when the Samurai class was facing dissolution and Japan was modernizing. So I think in a sense it was natural that those had came from that class and many of the young high school and college students were from there from Samurai families. That they should be looking consciously or unconsciously for places that reflected the values of that class. This eventually begins to appear in works of literature, in film and manga the idea that the individual always needs to cede to authority that the individual that there’s no room for personal expression for example that victory, that success on the baseball field is always the result of hard-work as opposed to raw talent. So some of the filmmakers and writers begin to challenge these basic myths. In terms of team sports baseball remains really unchallenged and because of that it’s embedded in the culture in ways that isn’t here. One thing I’ll mention is one subtext in the book. Is that so many of the works I look at look at high school baseball. High school baseball more than other forms of baseball is a repository of that which is pure in terms of sport in terms of this Bushido this Samurai baseball model. And so in many of the stories of a context whereby the teams end up vying for the national championship which is played in August in Japan at a particular stadium, Koshien and Koshien is kind of the holy of holies of Japanese baseball. And to get there at the end of the high school team is the absolute goal of all the teams. Every prefecture sends a representative team there. So much of it is about that high school baseball and this idea of the purity that’s inherent in that game.

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