No less than 11 daily newspapers devoted to sports—one with a circulation of over 400,000—are published in Japan today. These papers were never gobbled up faster than they were the last week of October 1957, when Japan's well-known passion for sports reached what was probably its most fevered pitch in a quarter of a century, the previous high having occurred in 1932 when the nation's swimming stars carried off five of the six big races in the Olympic Games at Los Angeles. The commotion last October was caused by two major events which took place simultaneously. The first of these was the Canada Cup golf match in which, as you may remember, Torakichi (Pete) Nakamura emerged as what might be called the "Francis Ouimet of Japanese golf." Nakamura won the individual competition by seven full shots from players of the caliber of Snead and Demaret, and he combined with his partner, Koichi Ono, to capture the team competition in which 30 nations were represented by two top players each. Before the four-day 72-hole strokes-play tournament began, the average Japanese sports fan was hopeful that Nakamura and Ono might finish among the first 10 teams. When Nakamura's second round of 68 moved the home boys in front, and when they proceeded to hang onto this lead over the last two rounds, it really was more than a little like Brookline in 1913 when new-to-golf Americans came out to The Country Club to watch Vardon and Ray work their wonders and, once on the scene, were both flabbergasted and enraptured when the home-grown boy, who they hoped would not give too poor an account of himself, cleanly outplayed the masters from across the ocean to the east.
The second October event, the Japan Series, their World Series, was only of national importance, and one had to be in Japan—as was that fortunate group of us who had come over for the golf—to realize that it marked the dramatic end of an era. The Japan Series, like ours a best-four-of-seven affair, had barely started when it was all over. The Tokyo Giants, the Yankees of Japanese baseball, were unceremoniously knocked off in four straight games by the Nishitetsu Lions, a hustling young club from the island of Kyushu. In Tokyo, this humiliation of the home heroes was suffered through by millions of glum-faced fans congregated around TV sets in factories, offices, stores, bars, restaurants, shopping arcades and cafés. I had hardly expected Japanese television to be in the same class with ours, and its quality so surprised me that I may be guilty of extravagance in thinking (which indeed I did) that they get a clearer and more defined picture than we do.
When one is visiting a foreign country, particularly a land like Japan where the unexpected similarities to the West are at least as striking as the spectacular Oriental qualities, in a single week one naturally bumps into as many brief but eloquent incidents as one does in one's home park in six months. I would like to relate two of the many which occurred that last week in October, for I think they will serve as portals to an understanding of some of the ways in which the Japanese infatuation with sports expresses itself.
First, there was the pleasant talk I had with Mr. Sotaro Suzuki, a director of the vanquished Tokyo Giants, the day after his club had lost its fourth straight playoff game and the series. Compared to our current prototype of baseball executive, Mr. Suzuki is a mild, unflamboyant fellow. This may be because he has been around baseball longer than most of our shoguns. He got into the game in 1920. In that year, poor health forced him to leave Waseda University, and his father sent him to the States to study economics. In New York, young Mr. Suzuki fell in with bad company—New York Giant fans. He became a close friend of John McGraw, he got to know Connie Mack and the game's other major personalities. When he returned to Japan, he was the Japanese baseball expert.
It was Suzuki who sold Matsutaro Shoriki, the dynamic owner-publisher of the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, on the idea of sponsoring in 1931 a postseason barnstorming tour in Japan of two teams made up of our top major league stars. Aside from doubling Yomiuri's circulation, the colossal success of this tour gave professional baseball in Japan the impetus that led, successively, to further postseason tours by Ruth and other Occidental legends, the formation of the Tokyo Giants as Japan's first pro team, the founding in 1936 of a professional Japanese league and, in 1949, of a second major league. Instrumental in every stage of the development of the game, Mr. Suzuki, who is now as bald as Benny Bengough, is frequently referred to as The Father of Japanese Baseball. Being a modest man and, moreover, an experienced man who has spent a lot of time in the States, it is his habit to dismiss any claim to this title with an easy wave of his hand and to suggest that it properly belongs to his boss, Mr. Shoriki.
During our conversation, Mr. Suzuki reminisced about the many American stars who had come to Japan (including such half-forgotten stalwarts as Clint Brown, Larry French and Willie Kamm) and described in detail the attributes of the four or five Japanese major leaguers who he believes could possibly make the grade in our majors. There is nothing antique or quaintly honorific about the way Mr. Suzuki talks baseball. "Inao has a pretty good curve and lots of poise." "Nasashima is one of our few natural power hitters." "Toyoda is a sound all-round ballplayer," he will say. With Mr. Suzuki it is always ballplayer, never baseball player.
"Well," he said, as he stood up to leave, "now back to work. This morning we had a meeting of the directors of our ball club, a long meeting. You can't lose four straight and stand still. I'm afraid most of our old Giant stars are past their peak and good young players are hard to find." He paused a moment and a long assessing look came into his eyes. "There's no use kidding ourselves," he resumed. "We have a tremendous rebuilding job in front of us."
I thought I'd never left home.
A few days earlier—this is the second incident, one which I think illustrates another phase of the picture, the variations the Japanese introduce in their approach to our sports—I had dinner with an old friend, Charlie Tuttle, a fellow from Vermont who went through Harvard practically unscathed. I got to know Charlie when we were both stationed in Tokyo during the grim period of the occupation. He stayed on after his tour of duty was over, opened his own publishing house and married a charming Japanese girl. On the evening I refer to, with dinner behind us, the Tuttles were showing me through the Ginza district, the heart of Tokyo's teeming night life.
The Ginza is an incredible place—a grid of narrow lanes, each of them packed shoulder to shoulder on both sides with bistros, cabarets, supper clubs, penny arcades, beer joints, coffee shops and dance halls, many of these structures so advanced in design and decor as to give the Ginza something of the feeling of a world fair, all of them featuring eye-popping neon and electric signs and some very, watchable girls to match. We turned a corner out of one of these fluorescent lanes into a somewhat wider and quieter avenue. Across the street, according to the comparatively hushed sign in front, stood the Fairway Café.
The café, it turned out, was situated on the second floor. The room below it was literally on the ground floor, there being no board flooring. Some of the earth had been shoveled up and packed into four small tees, and on them four golfers, shirtsleeved and wearing that look of total divorcement from all outside life which is common to the dedicated, were whanging golf balls off mats into canvas-backed netting hung against the opposite wall. In this narrow arena the netting was set so close to the tees that the player's clubhead swept within two yards of the nets on his follow-through: the thud of the ball against the canvas occurred practically at the same moment as the click of contact. None of the entranced practices seemed to be the least disconcerted by this, however. Returning to the front of the shop, the Tuttles and I hefted a few Japanese-made clubs—they are lighter than ours, the shafts are whippier and the faces of the woods have more loft—and leafed through a few of the many American books on technique which have come out in translation to slake the nation's burning thirst for golf.
To Charlie Tuttle's knowledge, the Fairway Café is the only enclosed practice ground in Tokyo, but driving nets have been set up on the roofs of at least five downtown office buildings. Furthermore, in and around Tokyo no less than 52 outdoor driving ranges are now flourishing, and on one public course (where Nakamura, incidentally, is the pro) nine holes are illuminated for play at night. The victory of the Japanese team in the Canada Cup naturally upped this already formidable exuberance for golf a few more notches. Perhaps it was inevitable that, within a week of the event, copies of a pirated Japanese edition of Ben Hogan's The Modern Fundamentals of Golf began to appear in some book stores.
A third incident comes to mind as I write. It has nothing directly to do with sports but it probably would be well to include it in these prefatory remarks, for its theme moves potently if invisibly behind any thoughts on Japan. It took place at the Kasumigaseki Golf Club on the second day of the Canada Cup matches. Nakamura and Ono were paired with Snead and Demaret that day and, as was to be expected, this foursome attracted just about all of the spectators and the full corps of sportswriters. About 30 Japanese reporters were on hand, among them one Shorge Ohashi, a thick-set, 40ish fellow who covers for Asahi. Ohashi ("I am really a Japanese-Irishman") has a most pleasant sense of humor and speaks English fluently. He was a wonderfully agreeable companion to walk and talk with. On the 17th hole—we had gotten to feel quite at home with each other by this time—Shorge spotted a friend of his in the gallery, a Mary-knoll missionary, and the two soon were deep in a lively conversation.
"They're great fellows, those Maryknoll priests," Ohashi said when he caught up with me further down the fairway. "I got to know them during the war when my outfit was fighting in China. They were very kind to us and we became good friends. They were short of food and we gave them whatever rations we could spare. We were very happy to. Do you know China?"
I told Shorge that I had been stationed there during the war.
"Whereabouts?" he asked.
"Kunming and Namyung mostly," I said.
"Namyung!" Shorge exclaimed. "Why, we were within 70 miles of each other!"
For a moment we stood wordlessly, our minds full of thought. Then we walked quickly up the fairway because Nakamura had a difficult shot to play and we wanted to be up close.
Since the conclusion of World War II, the peoples and governments of the United States and Japan have gone about building a new friendship with a genuineness of purpose and a spirit almost unique in the long history of nations and wars. However, there was a war and it ended less than 13 years ago, and that is still much too short a time for human beings to have forgotten it.
The four islands of Japan—Honshu, the main island; Hokkaido, to the north of Honshu; Kyushu, which lies to its south; and small Shikoku tucked in between Honshu and Kyushu—have a total square mileage a little smaller than California. Volcanic in origin, a sizable portion of this land—82% or so—is not arable or livable. Since the beginning of history, the people have clustered in the pockets of the hills and mountains and in the two main coastal plains, the Kansai (around Osaka, traditionally the great business city) and the Kanto (around Tokyo, traditionally the seat of the ruling power).
Whatever aspect of Japan you are looking at, there are two significant points to keep in mind, for there is nothing they do not affect. First, Japan has always been densely populated. Today, over 90 million live on the four islands (13 million live in California). And second, it is only 100 years since this island group, hermetically sealed off from the rest of the world and slumbering a long uninterrupted feudal sleep, was forcibly roused by Commodore Perry to face the complicated problems of the modern world.
Now here's a puzzlement—one of the many. How did this nation, in several ways the apogee of the Oriental, produce in so brief a time a "baseball advisor" like Mr. Suzuki, a Fairway Café, and become, in short, such a hotbed of Western sport? By all logical rules of measure, the role of a country like Japan in the world of "modern sport" should be minor, tangential. You would expect one or two topnotch swimmers to be developed, an occasional serious contender in the Olympic hop-step-and-jump competition (or some such out-of-the-way event), a few indefatigable marathoners, a respectable but limited Davis Cup team, and maybe every now and then some individual star popping up in some very individual specialty like ice skating, flyweight boxing, billiards or the parallel bars. Instead, among the "comparatively small nations of the world"—so goes a standard bit of locker-room punditry—the three which are head and shoulders above the rest are Japan, Australia and Hungary. (The word small, of course, is quite inexact and applies properly only to Hungary, large neither in size nor population. Australia is small in population only, 9½ million inhabiting the continent. When people refer to Japan as small—in population it is the world's fifth largest country—what they actually have in mind is that one would hardly expect any non-Western country's role in modern sport to be more than minor.)
Hungary a big sports nation? Not surprising, really. After all, it is at the junction where eastern Europe meets western Europe, and a long sporting history lies behind its people's dashing performances in middle-distance running, field sports, soccer, water polo and Rugby. Australia? Of course. A natural. A lusty young nation, with blessed few other directions in which to channel its extra energies, poured them into the pastimes it inherited from its British antecedents—tennis, cricket, track and field, golf, horse racing—and into sports like swimming and boating and Australian football, which suited the rough and ready character of a new land and a new people.
But Japan? How come? From this vale of the meditative drinking-in of the fragile beauty of the cherry blossom, the unchromatic plink of the well-tempered samisen, the mannered ease of the kimono; from this plexus of the geisha tending her fan, the working girl her silkworms, the samurai his sword and the farmer his Lilliputian rice paddy, how come that group of record-breaking swimmers who wrested away our domination of that sport in the '30s, and how come all those Class AA baseball players, the best track men in Asia, the reigning table tennis champions of the world, an Olympic skating champion, an outstanding skier (Chick Igaya) and now golfers of proved international caliber?
This is only half the riddle. What is truly astonishing is not the champions Japan has produced but the widespread participation in Western sports by people of all ages, the deep love of sport which nourishes all this activity. For example, it has long been the accepted thing to acknowledge in a marveling tone that the Japanese like baseball almost as much as we do. This statement is incorrect. The Japanese like baseball better than we do. No one ever gets enough of it. Their high schools and colleges play not one baseball season but two, the regular one in spring and a second in autumn. Thousands travel miles to Osaka for the All-Japan High School Championship. Over 45,000 annually turn out for The Game between Keio and Waseda, two of the oldest and Iviest colleges; it is precisely the equivalent of the Harvard-Yale game, only it is baseball not football. The large industrial firms, taking a page from our book, sponsor baseball teams, corraling the best talent that isn't headed into the professional leagues and assigning the young men plushy jobs in their public relations department to give them something to occupy their time between games. Last summer, unnoticed by most of us, the nonprofessional (meaning semipro) baseball championship of the world, held at Detroit, was captured by the Kumagai Construction Co.'s team. Kumagai earned the right to represent Japan by winning the pennant in its regional league and then going on to defeat the five other regional champions in the annual elimination tourney at Korakuen Stadium in Tokyo.
As for major league baseball in Japan, as good an index as any of its vitality was the recent payment of 30 million yen, or $85,000, by the rebuilding Tokyo Giants to procure the services of a standout college star. That is a lot of money—in Japan $85,000 would have a purchasing power perhaps three or four times as great as in the U.S., for though commodities are high, services are still very inexpensive. In this general connection, the half dozen or so top Japanese players who might conceivably make the grade in our majors are not interested in trying because of the financial loss that would be entailed. Say that Yasumitsu Toyoda, the splendid young shortstop of the Nishitetsu Lions, went to an American team's spring training camp and caught on (a la Willie Miranda) as a utility man, if not a regular. He might draw $9,000, or some figure in that neighborhood. Back home he gets quite a few thousand dollars more than that to begin with, and it goes three or four times as far. In addition to enormous stature, he has a car, a fine home, one or two servants and, all in all, a much better life than he would have here as just another good ballplayer.
Perhaps the most eloquent comment on the Japanese adoration of baseball is provided by a sound one hears wherever one travels in Japan: the light smack of ball meeting glove. In the cities you can always tell when it is noon without consulting your watch. Your ear tells you. At 12 sharp that distinctive spank of ball and glove starts to emanate from a nearby gas station, a shipping yard, a loading area. Lunch hour has arrived and the boys are out. This happens every day, this game of catch—ketchiboru the Japanese call it—and it goes on not only during the lunch hour but, to a lesser degree, during all free daylight hours. If the renowned artist, Hiroshige, were alive today and developing his celebrated project, views of the 53 different stopover stations on the seacoast highway between Osaka and Tokyo, one can well imagine that in his backgrounds figures of boys and men tossing the baseball would appear almost with the regularity of Fuji.
The answer to the riddle of Japan (and what seems to a Western visitor to be a fascinating split-level culture) lies, of course, in learning more about this unusual people. They are decidedly different in many ways from the oversimplified stock conception we have dealt in for years. To my mind, the best introduction to a more correct view is contained in one sentence in a report written in 1814 by the representatives of the British East India Company who had been dispatched on a trade mission to Nagasaki by Sir Stamford Raffles, the English governor of Java: "The Japanese," so went this clear-eyed sentence, "are a nervous, vigorous people whose bodily and mental powers assimilate much nearer to those of Europe than what is attributed to Asiatics in general."
This mission of the British East India Company was not successful. The Japanese did not want to do business. It was an old story. In 1638 Japan had embarked—or disembarked; that is more in the spirit of what happened—on a course of fantastic isolation. No Japanese was permitted to leave the islands, and contact with the outside world was limited to set dealings with the trade missions the Chinese and Dutch were allowed to maintain, the Chinese in Nagasaki, the Dutch on the island of Deshima, a spot of land off Nagasaki only 236 paces long by 82 paces wide. This "closed-door" policy had been decreed by the Tokugawa, the ruling shogunate. It was, in essence, a reaction to the troubles which had befallen Japan near the end of the 16th century, largely as a result of the activities of Christian missionaries. The various missionary orders fought among themselves, which brought some disruption; head-on collisions between the missionaries and the long-entrenched Buddhist priests brought more. But more serious than these conflicts, in the Japanese view, was the problem of conversion, since it embodied the idea of a person's having a loyalty to something outside the borders of Japan. By expelling all foreigners from their land—at this time Japan was still a hodgepodge of feudal states ruled by military clans—the Tokugawa, the mightiest of the clans, hoped to prevent such divisions of loyalty, perpetuate peace (their peace) and ensure the succession of their family line.
From time to time some scraps of knowledge about the West slipped through the closed door via Deshima. Outstanding Dutch scholars in all branches of the arts and sciences were periodically stationed at the trading station, and individual Japanese who wanted to keep abreast of the world hied themselves to Deshima and received instruction in natural history, languages, medicine, agriculture and astronomy. From their Dutch teachers they learned of such epochal events as the exploration of the new world, the American and French revolutions, and the defeat of Napoleon. Save for this small body of the intellectually curious, however, the Japanese continued to view the foreigner as a potential molester and exploiter.
Consequently, consternation seized the country when Commodore Perry steamed into Tokyo Bay in 1853 with four gunboats and the conspicuous intention not to take no for an answer to President Fillmore's request that Japan enter into trade relations with the United States, make coaling stations available to our ships and take care of shipwrecked American sailors.
The Tokugawa shogun tried to stall off negotiations with Perry, but when the commodore returned to Tokyo Bay the following year with 10 gunboats, he capitulated to the American demands. Two ports, Hakodate on Hokkaido and Shimoda on Honshu (and later a third port in Kyushu) were opened to United States vessels. In 1856 Townsend Harris (whose career, incidentally, has recently been made into a motion picture by John Huston) arrived at Shimoda, 40 miles below Yokohama, to open the first American consulate.
The dike was breached, and now that it was, other nations wanted to trade with Japan. The hopelessness of stemming this influx became increasingly apparent to the Japanese. While the samurai (the privileged warrior class) advocated using force to expel the foreigners, the majority of the more responsible officials saw the folly of such myopic bravado and the benefits that might accrue to their country with the resumption of international relations—that is, as long as Japan's integrity as a nation was not abused. Reluctantly bowing to reality, the Tokugawa shogun stepped down and, in effect, turned his powers over to the emperor.
From the 12th century on, the imperial house had been deep in the shadow of the military rulers, so deep, in fact, that Townsend Harris had been in Japan for several months before he even learned of the existence of an emperor. Traditionally, however, the imperial house had handled all Japanese external relations and, more to the point, it was felt that being represented by its emperor would be Japan's best insurance of being treated with proper respect by the outside nations. In 1867 the occasion was finally right for the big step. The old emperor died and was succeeded by his 15-year-old son, Meiji. Certain of the more powerful feudal clans rallied behind him. This new leadership brought the others into line, and, to make real their support, the clans returned their ancient feudal rights and hereditary lands to the young emperor and encouraged him to rule in actuality as well as in name.
There is no need to go into detail—and we shall not—on the dizzying speed with which Japan fledged itself into a modern nation. But there is one period of this transformation which cannot be by-passed. I am thinking of the first two decades of the Meiji restoration, when the capable young emperor dispatched his country's most promising young men and women to the best European and American universities and to the world's other recognized centers of knowledge, there to absorb and bring back the best of Western thought and techniques. To expedite this program, outstanding men in all fields of activity were invited to Japan, to instruct and organize. From this vast amount of new information, the leaders of Japan, very much like men compiling an anthology of contemporary civilization, attempted to pluck for their country's use the different and distinct fortes of the Western nations.
From the British, Japan took its legal system, railway organization and the structure of its navy; from the Germans, the organization of its medical schools and its army; from the Italians, its concept of Western art; from the United States, its postal and its educational systems plus its farm program; from the French, its criminal code and its system of local government. In 1890, only 23 years after the ascension of Meiji, Japan held its first general election and seated its first national legislature, or Diet. All this in a country where, when Perry arrived, four-fifths of the population were farmers anchored back in the Middle Ages and where, as Historian Marion May Dilts has expressed it so well, the main excitement in village life "was afforded by the eagerly anticipated first nightingale to return in spring, and evening's gossip in the light of a full moon, the festivals of local shrines and temples or occasional wandering acrobats and storytellers."
Sports were a little different. Dutch instructors were invited to set up a course of gymnastics for the middle schools, but as far as games went, the usual pattern of planned overseas study and domestic digestion did not obtain. No one was sent to Boston to learn from A. G. Spalding how he gripped his curve ball; no one headed for St. Andrews to record old Tom Morris' true-tempered tips on cleek play; no one took a room in New Haven the better to be close to Walter Camp, or rented a flat near Wimbledon to study how peerless Lottie Dod executed the backhand lob. Western sports just sidled into Japan. On one hand, young Japanese who had studied or worked abroad brought back the games with them, and on the other, teachers and businessmen and consulate employees from America and Europe brought their games over with them for their own pleasure.
Baseball, for example, caught on the way all things catch on: beginning in the 1870s, the members of the American colony in Tokyo found a field where they could play baseball on their days off, the Japanese watched them, they liked what they saw and they began playing ball, too. Americans coached them. By the early 1890s, Japanese schools were organizing their own teams, and by 1905—as early as that—Waseda University sent its ball club to the United States to play our colleges. Today, as we know, Japan supports 13 major league clubs and there is hardly a schoolboy who cannot give you the regular lineups of such gloriously named teams as the Nagoya Dragons, the Tokyo Swallows, the Hiroshima Carps and the Kawasaki Whales.
Of the countless manners and measures the Japanese adopted in the nation's furious rush to leap into the late 19th century in one giant running broad jump, some of these they understood in part, others they understood not at all; some they half liked, others they really didn't care for but persisted with because these things were "Western," i.e., modern and, so, desirable. Sports were the big exception. The Japanese really understood them and loved them instinctively. Why did they take to sports? And why with such a passion? Perhaps our brief glance at the nation's history has provided more than a clue, and the remainder of the answer is the old story of causes and effects operating on many planes. What follows is a quick compendium of the ideas on this subject advanced by scholars and laymen, both Japanese and American, with whom I've talked during my two visits to Japan and here at home.
To begin with, as the Raffles mission noted, the Japanese are a vigorous people. Up to a point, their vigor stems from the usual reasons. They live in a North Temperate climate. The crusty terrain of their islands yields only to hard labor, and then not generously. Additionally, the feudal character of the country necessarily placed great emphasis on military and physical prowess. Whereas a young Chinese growing up in that ancient and sophisticated civilization esteemed the scholar the flower of his culture and hoped he, too, might some day grow a scholar's long fingernails and mark himself as a man of thought, a young Japanese was frequently visited with much shorter-nailed dreams of glory. His ideal was a leader who indeed had a strong spiritual fiber but who was also a man of action equal to the demands of any physical engagement. One very primary reason, then, why the Japanese took so avidly to Western sports (and were so good at them) was this fondness for the physical, which in feudal times expressed itself in such warlike games as judo, karate (a lethal relative of boxing), yabusame (archery on horseback) and kendo (dueling with bamboo staves).
In addition to their straight vigor, the Japanese possess a second kind of vitality, a most un-Eastern nervous energy, a real Vanderbilt Avenue brand of drive which has long differentiated the Japanese from the Korean (from which stock he is descended) and from the Chinese, both of whom are energetic but not in this second or compulsive way. This national trait derives from Japan's being an island country in which isolation bred a highly complicated sense of uniqueness. "In premodern times," Professor Edwin O. Reischauer writes in his superb and superbly readable book, The United States and Japan, "no other important group of people consciously participating in the rich culture of the Eurasiatic land mass lived so far removed from all the other civilized peoples. The straits between Japan and Korea are five times as wide as the Straits of Dover, which have had a significant influence in shaping England's history and the character of her people. The distance between Japan and China, the homeland of her civilization, is even greater." Because of this marked isolation, Professor Reischauer continues, the Japanese early developed a self-consciousness which, among other things, contains "a large degree of embarrassment and the fear of inferiority," an attitude "strengthened by the painfully obvious contrast throughout most of their history between small, backward and remote Japan as opposed to China, the admitted home of civilization, which was far larger, far older and far grander than Japan could ever hope to be." This intense awareness of a separate identity, as Professor Reischauer points out, led to the early rise of Japanese nationalism, and it explains in a very considerable measure the historic (and continuing) Japanese need not to be depreciated by larger outside nations, to show the world how well they do things—in brief, to excel and be admired. Excelling at the sports the Western peoples set such conspicuous store by has long been one of the routes the Japanese have taken in their chronic quest for this respect. Like Europeans and Americans, they drive to stand out.
This pent-up, vigorous people—only the Germans, who have yet to discover the coffee break, are more industrious—have traditionally lived in small, crowded villages and in small, crowded dwellings. After World War II a few apartment houses, the logical semisolution to the eternal housing problem, were built for the first time, but the Japanese did not rush to occupy them: they far preferred the old way in which each family (sometimes inflicted with in-laws and other relatives) lives in its own one-story wooden structure: the familiar, fragile Japanese house with rice-straw matting on the floors, rice-paper windows, sliding walls and interior sliding partitions. Exceedingly gifted in domestic matters, the Japanese have long done wonders in making their small homes livable. By sliding the interior partitions out of the way, they combine two or more tiny rooms into one fairly commodious room for group occasions. At night, by sliding the partitions back, they redivide the space into private quarters for sleeping—comparatively private, that is, since several members of the large families generally share the same rectangle, there seldom being rooms enough for each to have his own. To give their homes some illusion of space, the Japanese encumber them with no set furniture apart from one or two low tables. When chairs are needed, pillows and arm rests are taken from the closet and placed on the floor. The same thing with beds: when it is time for retiring, the quilts are hauled from storage and rolled out. The art of the Japanese garden, similarly, is to give the appearance of space where none exists: a trickle of a stream meanders through dwarf cedars, and a wide, wide world is created on a plot that could barely accommodate a one-car garage. By exercising exceptional restraint and honoring the other members of the household, the Japanese long ago learned to make their homes comparative castles of peace and pleasure. However, it has always been a physically cramping life and a vigorous person feels it. He needs to get out and move. This is true for the kids—you can't dive from the raised arms of the sofa onto the cushions below when you don't have a sofa—and it is no less true for the adults.
In overpopulated Japan the family ricewinner has always been under terrific economic pressure. Today, for example, the average farmer wrests his living from a piece of land about 2½ acres in area. The average white-collar man, engaged in keen competition for the rare chances at advancement, is both frustrated by and thankful for a monthly wage slightly over $50. When the man of the house returns home, seeking relief from the crush and press of the day, there are some evenings when he needs a more active release than he can get by contemplating in solitude the tranquil beauties of his miniature garden. Over the past 90 years, he has found that release increasingly in sports. If he isn't able to afford to belong to a club which has its own facilities, well, he simply walks out into the street before his house—often the only open space in town—and passes the baseball with his neighbors.
The Japanese male, traditionally and currently, has been under several other considerable strains. Because there was no gradual evolution from feudal times to modern times, he has been the heir of the hangover cult of the hero man. He has been expected to embody the valor, endurance and other mile-high traits of the heroes of Japanese mythology and ancient history. In a tight corner he was supposed to match the impossible dedication of the samurai. It has been quite a load for him to carry. In his own mind he seldom makes the grade. Western sports and their code of sportsmanship provided him with the kind of outlet he needed: a life-sized environment in which he could get excited about something he could control to some degree. If he played them well, sports gave him strong individual satisfaction. He felt like somebody, for one of the few times in his life. If he didn't shine, he wasn't exactly disgraced. Furthermore, he was still in one piece, and frequently, if he was a devotee of one of the brutal, old-line native "sports," he wasn't. In karate, for instance, a combination of boxing with the open hand and kicking with the flying foot, the standard blow is known as the sannen satsujin or "three years murder": the victim may not perish on the spot but the internal damage he suffers will probably prove fatal within three years.
The simple fact that sports make a person feel better physically has been another important side of their popularity. The Japanese have historically valued good health with such intensity that they have been positively hypochondriacal in their efforts to avoid illness, and they remain so today. They rival us as purchasers of pills, powders and other pharmaceuticals. Viewing cleanliness as the handmaiden of health, they have for centuries placed tremendous value on the manifold virtues of bathing. Some Japanese take three baths a day, nearly everybody takes one four times a week, at home or at the public baths. They soak—rather, they parboil—in deep wooden tubs. The bather first squats on a small stool on the slightly slanted floor outside the tub and soaps the dirt off. Then he enters the tub where the clean and extremely hot water engulfs him to above his shoulders. He stays there soaking and relaxing for about 20 minutes, sometimes longer. In Japanese inns at hot springs resorts, where a plentiful supply of hot water is available, the tub remains filled all day. Fresh hot water is fed in continually by a tap, the "old" surplus water softly overflowing the sides of the tub onto the tilted floor which channels it to the drain. All in all, in the art of the bath and the bathroom, the Japanese are at least the peer of Cecil B. de Mille, not to mention the Finns.
Western games also fitted in well with certain domestic diversions the Japanese were fond of. With no backyards at their disposal and such limited interior space, the Japanese had early developed a great taste for parlor games, little family entertainments built on the quickness of eye and the agility of fingers, the fun of variation and the knack of outguessing. This love of manual dexterity expressed itself also in the national fondness for playing with rubber balls. (A classic work of art by Harunobu, incidentally, depicts a geisha bouncing a ball. It is called Bouncing Ball and has recently been reproduced as a stamp, a most beautiful one—see page 52.) No doubt this old familiarity with throwing and catching balls accounted for the fervency with which the Japanese embraced baseball rather than, say, soccer. Certainly the fact that baseball was an American game contributed, too, for it was on the popular level that America exerted its biggest influence, an overwhelming influence.
And there was another reason, a significant one. As a people who had to find a way to live together harmoniously in huddled numbers, the Japanese placed their faith in the "ground rules" of social behavior. The articulated ground rules of Western sports in general made them attractive and made baseball especially so. Whereas soccer could easily degenerate into an unscientific skirmish, baseball was neat, defined and decisive. Each pitch was either a ball or a strike. When a batter hit a fair ball, he was either out or he was safe. Additionally, the Japanese loved the variable tactics and strategies deriving from the ground rules, and they loved its dramatic moments when the tension built up and up and one man (bases full, two out, a full count) stood undeniably etched as a hero if he delivered in that unignorableclutch. The Japanese Walter Mitty is a baseball dreamer.
For all these reasons, it takes very little fancy to imagine the elation of the Japanese when they first saw baseball and began to piece it out. It must have struck them as something almost too good to be true, and they must have been staggered by the thought that foreigners could have devised a game that so perfectly expressed their ideas of what the ideal game should be. In any event, baseball is now deep in the Japanese blood. When you toss a ball to a European boy, for example, his instinctive reaction is likely to be to try to trap it with his foot. Whether he knows it or not, he has watched older people playing soccer. When you toss a ball to a Japanese child, he tries to catch it. In my experience, this is the only place, except in the United States and the countries adjacent to us, where this occurs.
In their eagerness to learn, the Japanese copied the methods of the most proficient. This, of course, is what every young country from the beginning of time has done when it sets out to learn something new. At the turn of the century, for illustration, when we in America were first getting all steamed up about golf, we practically denuded Scotland of its pros. If a guy was named Willie and spoke in a cultivated burr, we told him to start packing and come on over. Same thing in the '30s when the skiing bug hit us: any fellow named Hans or Sig who could distinguish edelweiss from eider down—man, he had it made. We have all copied, but, I suppose, no one has ever copied quite as literally or as conscientiously or, for that matter, as well as the Japanese. There are thousands of amusing stories about their extremes of assiduity, my favorites being the ones which Gene Sarazen tells about his golfing tour in Japan in 1938. Sarazen, as you may remember, had developed the sand wedge not long before this and his mastery of trap play was something to marvel at. The Japanese who turned out for his exhibitions didn't merely marvel and let it go at that. No, they carried umbrellas along, and as soon as Sarazen had played out of a trap, the gallery automatically formed a line: one by one each student entered the trap, set his feet in Sarazen's footprints and his umbrella point at the scar in the sand and sought to imitate the technique Gene had used. Sarazen's stay in Japan lasted three weeks. Before he left, not that anything else should have been expected, several sporting-goods houses had come out with exact copies of his wedge. (In the nature of a footnote, to underline how everything moves in cycles, it might be added that 20 years earlier, when he was a tyro and not a master, Gene had such a rough time getting a foothold in American golf—only Scots need apply—that he debated the wisdom of changing his name to MacSarazen.)
Granting that the Japanese have frequently carried their zeal for imitation to inordinate lengths, the cliché that types them as a nation of mere copiers is a bum rap. It overlooks the wonderful creativity of the native Japanese culture. It doesn't take into consideration the borrowings other countries have made from the Japanese—in the field of architecture, to name a notable example. It slides by the fact that all of Asia is at a stage where it borrows from the West and that, if we always focus on Japan in this respect, it is largely because the Japanese themselves frequently comment on this yen for importation. Furthermore, it doesn't take into account that the Japanese do things with what they take, ingenious and inventive things. (Ask any photographer.) They are sensitive, and with reason, about the endless repetition of this charge of being mere copiers; as proud of their country as we are of ours, they are hurt by the implied slur that there is nothing creative in themselves and their culture.
I didn't realize how easy it is to slip into this glib condescension until one afternoon on my recent trip. A Japanese girl, who had returned not long before from the United States where she had gone to school, had been assigned to help me get my travel arrangements straightened out. As we were walking through the streets of downtown Tokyo, it occurred to me to ask her to point out any Japanese-made automobiles, for I couldn't distinguish them from the other small cars.
"That black one," she said an instant later, "that's a Toyopet. It's very popular."
"Looks like an English Austin decked out with American styling," I ventured. I turned to see if she agreed. Her expression had changed and she looked troubled. I am not good at reading faces, but it seemed to me that she was trying not to show how let down she was by the insinuation of my remark. We walked on and the situation repaired itself quickly, but some time later when I was thinking it over, it struck me that we never give the Japanese credit for anything that at all resembles our products. Just what is a Japanese auto supposed to look like anyhow? A pagoda?
In recent years, though, things have been changing by and large. As we in America have begun to realize that we do not possess a monopoly of the world's talents and intelligence, we have acquired a new appreciation for the peoples of the Far East and we have certainly "rediscovered" Japan. Puzzled by the way life for us has become less meaningful and more wearing, we look across the waters and see the Japanese riding tougher bumps than ours with at least as much and probably more equanimity. The current vogue for Zen philosophy among American artists and writers is one of the more rarefied manifestations of this window to the East. A Japanese offshoot of Buddhism, Zen concerns itself with the individual's getting to know and feel his elusive true nature and releasing it in his activity. Incidentally, a slim book, Zen in the Art of Archery, was the spark that lit the fire in this country.