14 Japanese Baseball
and Its Warrior Ways?
Riding the boat to fame and exorbitant salaries, a surge of young Japanese stars are following in the wake of pitcher Hideo Nomo, the first major leaguer from Japan since 1965. Nomo won the National League Rookie of the Year award the year he joined the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1995. The Dodgers then signed another ace hurler Kazuhisa Ishii for a four-year $12.3 million contract. And there is Kazuhiro Sasaki, the All-Star relief pitcher for the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners also acquired Ichiro Suzuki for a three-year $14 million contract. In winning the 2001 American League MVP award, lead-off hitter Suzuki became the second rookie to ever win the MVP. In that same year, he took the league's batting title with a .350 average and tallied 242 hits, the most hits in one season in the major leagues since 1930. Then there is the All-Star left fielder for the Yankees, Hideki “Godzilla” Matsui, who signed on in 2002 for a three-year $21 million contract.
Why this sudden surge in salaries for new Japanese talent? It's not surprising when one understands “Japanese” baseball and the philosophy that informs it.
The Meiji Restoration in 1868 imported the American sport of baseball (besuboru), often referred to as yakyu, or “fieldball.” Soon after two American teachers, Horace Wilson and Albert