Samuel 0. Regalado. Nikkei Baseball: Japanese American Players from Immigration and Internment to the Major Leagues

Article excerpt

Samuel 0. Regalado. Nikkei Baseball: Japanese American Players from Immigration and Internment to the Major Leagues. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2013. 208pp. Paper, $25.

Robert A. Moss

In Nikkei Baseball, Samuel Regalado, professor of history at California State University--Stanislaus, offers a cultural and social history of Japanese immigration and acclimatization in the United States, as refracted through the prism of Japanese American (or Nikkei) baseball. His chronology stretches from the Meiji restoration in Japan in 1870 to the imported Japanese major-league players and their Nikkei counterparts of the late twentieth century and early 2000s. In between, we get a bird's-eye view of Nikkei baseball as it developed in the cities and towns of the western United States: Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Stockton, Sacramento, Portland, and Fresno.

Nikkei Baseball is highly detailed; its relatively short text is buttressed by 44 pages of notes, sources, bibliography, and index. It ably charts the growth of Japanese American baseball from the first all-amateur Nikkei team in San Francisco in 1903, through the development of regional Nikkei tournaments, which recapitulated the growth of baseball in nineteenth-century America, to the formation of Nikkei leagues in the 1920S. Regalado posits that during the Meiji restoration in Japan, the feudal Samurai code of bushido melded with Western ideas of competitiveness and modernity, so as to reorder Japanese society while preserving Japanese traditions and identity. Baseball, introduced to Japan in 1872 by Horace Wilson, an educational reformer hired by the government, came to be viewed as an accompaniment of patriotism, industrial productivity, team play, and modernization. In 1878, Hiroshi Hiraoka, an engineer who had observed baseball in the United States, organized the first team in Japan, the Shimbashi Athletic Club. By 1890, Japanese universities were fielding nines, and in 1905 the Waseda University team toured the US, playing college teams in Washington, Oregon, and California.

When the Issei (first generation) Japanese immigrants came to America, they brought baseball with them, and the generational aspect of baseball connected them with their children, the Nisei. To the Issei, the game "nourished traditional virtues of loyalty, honor, and courage" (52). In turn, the Nisei developed leagues and tournaments. By 1926, the Southern California Japanese Baseball League had formed, centered around the large Nikkei community of Los Angeles. In the Fresno area, Kenichi Zenimura organized a league of ten teams. Games were also played with Mexican American, Negro league, and Pacific Coast League teams. Trumpeted by the Japanese American press, sports--especially baseball--were seen as a bridge to assimilation and an escape from discrimination. In the absence of permitted advance in other spheres, baseball provided an outlet. The LA Nippons barnstormed Japan in 1931, compiling a record of 20-5, and the Tokyo Giants visited Los Angeles to play the Nippons in 1935 and 1936.

The Nikkei experience mirrored similar pathways followed by other immigrant groups, for example, Jews and Italians. Regalado also devotes considerable attention to the emergence of talented Japanese teams in Hawaii. By 1920, an all Japanese American baseball league was in operation there, and the first Nikkei major leaguers came from Hawaii. …