Tomoyuki Hoshino's Blog

Tomoyuki Hoshino on Nationalism and Baseball

If you click here, you can read the original Japanese essay by Hoshino that appeared in the Tokyo Newspaper on April 3, 2006.  The following is Jodie Beck’s translation of that essay.  Jodie Beck is a Ph.D. student in East Asian Studies at McGill University.  Ms. Beck is specializing in contemporary Japanese fiction, and her research interests include globalization, neoliberalism, nationalism, and gender studies.

For readers (like me) who don’t follow baseball, Ichirô Suzuki is a famous and popular player from Japan who currently is an outfielder for the Seattle Mariners, a Major League baseball team in the United States. For readers unfamiliar with the Yasukuni Shrine controversy, please check out this essay for a brief introduction.

WBC Entangled with Nationalism

by Tomoyuki Hoshino

translated by Jodie Beck

Taking a sidelong glance at all of Japan’s excitement on the day Japan won the World Baseball Classic (WBC), I felt gloomy. It wasn’t just that the WBC was run by the USA’s warped administration, but rather because I couldn’t help being troubled by Ichiro’s remarks and the way people reacted to them.

I also have always had the greatest awe and respect for Ichiro’s talent and achievements. But it is because he is such a huge presence that his remarks exert influence in both positive and negative ways beyond his own intentions. What I question is the reaction of Japanese society to Ichiro’s remarks.

What bothered me in particular was, after suffering successive defeats to Korea in the second round, Ichiro’s comment that “Today is the most humiliating day in my life of baseball”. The word “humiliation” does not only express one’s inner feelings of rival-consciousness or regret, it also includes a sense of resentment that one has suffered an unjust insult from an opponent. I can’t help but feel the nuance of looking down on the other side. Lets say that you were promoted faster to the position of subsection chief or section chief than a close colleague who started working at the company at the same time as you.  If that employee said, “That is the biggest humiliation”, wouldn’t you feel that he or she was looking down on you? Of course I also thought that, by putting the Korean flag on the mound as though they were American astronauts landing on the moon, the behavior of the Korean players was “unseemly”, but I did not think it was “humiliating”.

After that, when it was decided that Japan would play against Korea a third time, Ichiro stated that “it would be unforgivable for Japan to lose three times to the same opponent.” Then I thought, that tone of always wanting to fight reminds me of someone, and I realized that that was the way that Prime Minister Jun -“ichiro” Koizumi talked at interviews last summer when the postal privatization bill was rejected and he dissolved the House of Representatives.

Yes, the two of them resemble each other. With their fists and emotions bared, they work themselves up, create an imaginary enemy, and then sing their own praises after they have won. Right down until after winning the championship, the only thing that came out of Ichiro’s mouth was praise for how wonderful the Japanese players and Japanese baseball are. The two of them are also identical with regards to their lack of sensitivity in not making any effort to imagine the feelings of our neighbor, Korea.

But what I felt to be the strangest thing was that so many Japanese people also seem to possess that same lack of sensitivity. Even more odd is the fact that Ichiro’s remark about “humiliation”, which is discriminatory no matter how you interpret it, did not stir up a lot of fuss in Japan, starting with the mass media for one. I even think that it boils down to this; maybe nobody thought to question it because a lot of Japanese people have the same kind of discriminatory feelings lurking inside of themselves.

That’s just my opinion, but with the issue of the prime minister’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine getting messier and messier, feelings of repugnance toward Korea among Japanese people are probably getting stronger.  And isn’t it true that Ichiro’s remarks at the WBC match perfectly with this trend? To put it in an extreme way, it even looks to me like Ichiro’s remarks, as a threat to Korea’s meddling in the domestic matter of the visit to Yasukuni Shrine, got the endorsement of Japanese audiences.

Regarding the Prime Minister’s Yasukuni Shrine visit, many opinion polls show an almost even split between those for and against. Yet the number of people who actually go to Yasukuni Shrine themselves is very small. Before Prime Minister Koizumi started going and it became an issue, how many of those people who agree with the prime minister’s visit would have been thinking, “Why doesn’t the prime minister go to Yasukuni Shrine?”

To me, it just looks like public opinion is creating an imaginary enemy. I even get the feeling that it’s just a kind of nastiness, like the Yasukuni Shrine itself is not actually important, but because Korea and China will complain about it, let’s really show them and go! Doesn’t that include a desire to offend, wanting to build oneself up by looking down on another?

I felt a dark shadow on what should have been the development and victory of a good game at the WBC, because it was an event where this kind of latent desire to offend within Japan plainly started to show itself. Until now in other international sports events, particularly in the Olympics or World Cup Soccer, I haven’t really seen nationalism that increases motivation and enthusiasm by discriminating against another as blatantly as this. I’m thoroughly discouraged that this has been questioned by so few, and that even within the newspapers there was no debate regarding discrimination.

Tokyo Shimbun April 3, 2006 evening edition

If you are curious as to how this op ed was received and can read English and Japanese, please click here, where you can, for example, access an article entitled “Anti-Japanese Writer Tomoyuki Hoshino’s Controversial Remarks” and other responses.

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