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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 6, 2004
Robert Whiting has written several books about Japanese baseball, including "You Gotta Have Wa" and "The Chrysanthemum and the Bat." His latest effort, "The Meaning of Ichiro..." is a good bookend for the other two, in that here he details Japanese players finding their way to the U.S. Major Leagues. The title is a bit misleading, because the book is not strictly about Ichiro, but also deals with success stories such as Hideo Nomo, Hideki Matsui, Kazuo Matsui and the challenges to a player like Hideki Irabu.

Whiting includes a lot of interesting history, some of it rehashed from earlier volumes, but necessary here if one is to read this as a stand alone piece. He details the birth of baseball in Japan, how it became Japanized with the intense training, and some early experiences in cross-cultural play with teams from the United States. There is also some philosophy, for it is important to understand the Japanese culture and mindset, as well as the almost martial training that players endure in Japan. All very fascinating stuff.

The bulk of the book focuses on those players since 1995 who have made their way across the Pacific to play for teams in North America. The stories about Ichiro, Nomo and Hideki Matsui are near-mythical, and one has to wonder how much truth was embellished by their families and coaches. But aren't the stories of players of this caliber always near-mythical?

While the prose reads well, and Whiting is very knowledgeable about the Japanese game, I found numerous factual errors. Ichiro was born in 1973, but the book had him entering junior high school in 1975! Now that's precocious. Probably a typo, but in a baseball book, errors with dates and stats are killers. Another error had the Yankees winning the 1995 World Series, when they were ousted in the Division Series by the Seattle Mariners. Yeah, it's nit-picky, but it does make one wonder about the other stats and whether the fact-checkers and editors did their jobs well or not.

The other knock that I have is that Whiting made some references about Seattle that sounded like he has never even been to the city, or that his information is terribly dated. Watch those adjectives. He referred to "rain-soaked Safeco Field" possibly without knowing that it has a retractable roof, and that during the summer, Seattle is one of the drier places to be in the U.S. and way more so than in rainy, muggy Japan. Check out Art Thiel's "Out of Left Field" for the story of baseball in Seattle.

Still, it's a great read and provides many insights in how the Japanese players perceive the North American game. The biggest thing to take away is that players in MLB should bone up on their fundamentals, kind of like the NBA players need to brush up against their international competition. The world is catching up...
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 2004
Following the out-of-print The Chrysanthemum and the Bat (1977) and You Gotta Have Wa (1990), The Meaning of Ichiro can be looked at as the third in a trilogy of Robert Whiting books on Japanese baseball. (He also did an as told to book with Warren Cromartie). In it, Whiting pursues the next logical step, looking at the impact Japanese players have had on the American game, and how this has changed the relationship between the two countries in terms of society in general as well as in the baseball world. Whiting examines the make-up of various Japanese players and how it affected their success in the American big leagues. Besides Ichiro, he discusses Shigetoshi Hasegawa, Hideki Irabu, Tsuyoshi Shinjo, and Hideki Matsui, among others. He also looks at how foreign managers have fared in Japan, paying particular attention to Bobby Valentine?s tenure as skipper of the Chiba Lotte Marines. Whiting points out that for many years, Americans played in Japan, but no Japanese played in the U.S and he supports a conclusion that the emergence of Japanese stars in the major leagues has been a good thing for the relationship between the two countries. This is good reading for those who are interested in international baseball and how foreign relations are effected outside of strictly diplomatic circles.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 11, 2004
In this book, Whiting revisits the experience of Japanese baseball, only this time through the eyes of Japanese players playing in the US. The biographies are well-written and focused as Whiting chooses to elaborate only on the most interesting or most pivotal points of each player's experience. But perhaps most impressive is Whiting's balanced understanding of race, racism, and nationalism on both the Japanese and American sides of the Pacific. Whiting doesn't pull any punches when addressing these issues but then again he doesn't hit harder than is warranted.

I particularly liked this book because it covers the period of time during which I've been a resident of Japan (96 to present). While the earlier title "You Gotta Have Wa" was an excellent read, it felt a bit dated to me as it descibes an earlier period I never experienced firsthand. Japan has changed a bit since the bubble days and in this book Whiting manages to concisely convey many of those changes through several viewpoints. I highly recommend it even if you've already read "Wa."
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on June 5, 2004
The Meaning of Ichiro is Robert Whiting's third book about America's game and its Japanese counterpart. Superficially based around an examination of the impact of Ichiro Suzuki and other Japanese baseball players on baseball in America and Japan, Whiting provides some insights into the games themselves and the men who play them.
But while You've Got To Have Wa, Whiting's first book, provided the first real look into baseball as it is played in Japan, The Meaning of Ichiro brings very little new to the table. Whiting's points about the differences between baseball in the two countries are basically a rehash of things he's said in previous books. The only new material he provides is in the way of biographies, but these are mostly just quickly sketched vignettes (with the exception of his discussion of manager Bobby Valentine) that offer almost no interesting material beyond the occasional player scandal that received attention in Japan but not in the U.S. His analysis is shallow at best, often times providing little more then the stat lines for a particular player.
The biggest weakenss of The Meaning of Ichiro though is its lack of coherence. You've Got To Have Wa, an excellent book, neatly tied its combination of analysis and annecdotes together. The Meaning of Ichiro does not fit nearly so well. Chapters have very little connection between them. In fact, the constant repition of certain pieces of information makes it feel as if the chapters were all written independently then cobbled together at the last minute. In general, the book sorely lacks an editor, a failing that is additionally evidenced in the relatively large number of typos and grammar mistakes that made it through to the final printing.
I can recommend The Meaning of Ichiro if someone is looking for quick and dirty biographies of a few of the Japanese players who have come to America, or as a general overview of Japanese baseball. But for a serious book that presents cogent and well reasoned analysis of Japanese and American baseball, invest in You've Got To Have Wa and give this one a free pass.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Every year, about spring training time, I find myself a stack of baseball books to read. This stack rarely includes new releases; usually it contains a bunch of back-list titles that have caught my eye for one reason or another. Since they are mostly on baseball history, no big deal that they may be 10, 20 or 30 (or more) years old. This one isn't all that old (2004 publication), and though it is a bit out-of-date since its subject is contemporary and ongoing, it is also recent enough to be compelling as we watch the major leagues become ever more global. And even 7 years later, it still provides an in-depth look at the cross-cultural effects of Japanese ball players on the American game, as well as the effects their success and growing numbers are having on the Japanese game.

Whiting is the author of several books on Japanese culture and contemporary history, with an number of them dealing with Japanese baseball, its culture and history. Most notably with You Gotta Have Wa (Vintage), Whiting proves himself a knowledgeable, witty writer and his books are at once informative and entertaining. This is no different. He looks at a number of Japanese players who made the transition to MLB, as well as a number who, for various reasons, were not successful in their attempts. Conversely, he looks at both successes and failures among US players going the other way. His mini-biographies are detailed and nuanced enough to allow all of his characters to emerge as real people coping in their various ways with their cultural displacement - no small feat.

But even more so, he shows how the emergence of these players has had a significant ripple-effect on the cultures of the game, and larger society, on either side of the Pacific. That is where the true fascination of the subject lies. Despite the fact that Asian-born players have become more or less commonplace in MLB over the past 10 years, this look at their effects on the game, and its effects on them, remains a terrific read and of interest to anyone interested in baseball, Japanese-American relations or, for that matter, globalization. A pleasure.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2006
Robert Whiting's third book on Japanese baseball, The Meaning of Ichiro: The New Wave From Japan & the Transformation of Our National Pastime (2004), deftly chronicles the flight of elite Japanese baseball players to the Major Leagues over the past 15 years (although the first Nipponjin to play for a major league franchise was actually Masanori Murakami in SF in 1964. (detailed in Chapter 4). As the title suggests, Whiting's early portions of the book focus on the Zen-like education of Ichiro under the tutelage of his father and practicing Buddhist, Nobuyuki. His father ran a family-owned electrical parts factory but at 3:30 everyday, Nobuyuki excused himself from work and took his son to the neighborhood field to play ball. After some jogging and light game of catch, the nine-year old Ichiro would throw 50 pitches, take 200 swings at pitched balls, and field 50 balls each both as an infielder and outfielder. Dinner and homework began at 7pm and when completed, father and son would head out to the nearby batting center where the boy would take 250-300 swings emulating his favorite batter stars from the Japanese pro leagues. Returning home usually after 11pm, Ichiro's father would dutifully massage his son's feet for as dad said, "If the feet are healthy, you are healthy." It is little vignettes like this that give you a better understanding of why the disciplined Samurai-like Ichiro (who weighed a mere 175 lbs when signed by Seattle!) was able to break the single-season hit record this year with 262 hits (in 162 games) held for over 84 years.

Still, the exploits of Ichiro may not have happened if not for what many Japanese at the time saw as the wagamama (selfish) attitude of Hideo Nomo in 1995. Whiting points out that an odd clause in the contract between Japanese and Major League baseball as well as strict owner rules regarding player rights limited the ability of Japanese players to move from team to team within Japan and virtually prevented players from jumping ship to the major leagues as well. All that changed when Nomo, the son of working-class parents from Osaka, pushed to fulfill his dream of playing in the American major leagues--even if it went against all of the Japanese mores of the time. He (along with a Japanese-American lawyer) found a loophole in the league's rules and "voluntarily retired"-Nomo could not play for another team in Japan but was eligible to play in America. The Los Angeles Dodgers scooped him up for a mere $2 million dollars and he went 13-6 with 236 strikeouts that first year in the majors. All his pitching starts games were shown on jumbotrons to huge crowds all around Tokyo-even at the wee hours of three or four in the morning. Nomo, quite literally, become an overnight sensation on both sides of the Pacific and the rest is history; the gates had opened and other ballplayers would follow.

Still, the Japanese owners tried to close the loophole but were sued by Major League Baseball. The eventual compromise led to the current posting system in place today. Players in Japan become eligible for free agency after ten years of service in Japan. Over 20 players have followed the path of Nomo since he first landed in the US. Some like Ichiro and Hideki "Godzilla" Matsui have become superstars. Others like former Yankee Hideki Irabu (once called a fat toad by owner George Steinbrenner) and the Mets Tsuyoshi Shinjo had short stretches of success in the US but eventually fizzled out and returned to play ball again in Japan--both are still in uniform today. Finally, the jury is still out on the likes the Mets Kazuo Matsui (no relation to Godzilla Matsui) as to whether or not he can measure up to the numbers he posted in Japan as an All-Star for the Seibu Lions.

I still miss Japanese baseball but thanks to the Internet, I can follow the exploits of my teams via The Japan Times online or even listen to streaming broadcasts of the games via real audio via links on the teams' Web Sites (The Japanese broadcast is pretty basic, i.e. ballru for ball, striku for strike, hitto for hit, etc.). Even better, as Whiting's book happily points out, I know that more Japanese sluggers like catcher the Fukuoka Hawks' Kenji Jojima are sure to be on their way or that Seibu Lion's fireballer Daisuke Matsuzaka will be on the hill at a major league venue real soon. The "New Wave," as dubbed by Whiting, is here to stay and our national pastime will forever be transformed....I'll sake to that!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The best part of The Samurai Way of Baseball is the first two chapters, which follow Ichiro Suzuki's childhood and career. His father devoted his whole life to molding Ichiro into a model baseball player. Ichiro, though an excellent student, passed up college for baseball. He had a good career in Japan, then went on to a tremendous start in American baseball as a member of the Seattle Mariners. The story of a father and son so devoted to baseball and so successful is a compelling one.

So what is the Samurai Way of Baseball? As Whiting settles into a broader look at Japanese baseball and its relationship with American baseball, it emerges that while the two baseballs have much in common, a big difference is in the cultural attitudes of Japan and America. In Japan, the individual works for the good of the larger group -- the family, the school, the company, the country, the baseball team. In America, the individual is self-reliant and takes himself as far as he can go, breaking records and setting new standards. Of course, both of these attributes make baseball what it is.

Whiting goes into the history of baseball in Japan and the participation of Americans in Japanese baseball. American players, managers, even a few umpires, have had limited success in Japan, mostly because of cultural differences, but also because of racism in Japan. Whiting's explanation of the meaning of the word "gaijin" and how it is used is very revealing.

The relatively recent entrance of Japanese players to America has been more successful. Whiting looks at the Japanese and American careers of several Japanese players. So far, there are no coaches or managers who have made the transition from Japan to America.

(The title of the book was changed with the release of the paperback edition, from The Meaning of Ichiro to The Samurai Way of Baseball. This was probably an attempt to attract buyers of business/management books in addition to readers of sports/popular culture books. I wonder if it worked.)

The Samurai Way of Baseball is mostly about baseball, but it's also about Japanese culture and attitudes. Japan, like many countries, is adopting a lot of American ways. Soon, they may be beating us at our own game.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 2004
Baseball fans with an interest in the new breed of Japanese baseball player making an impact in the U.S. Major Leagues will find Robert Whiting's book a welcome and timely introduction to the likes of Ichiro, the Matsuis, Nomo, etc. While the title may be somewhat misleading, as one would think the bulk of the book would be a biography of sorts on Ichiro, what readers are given instead is a highly readable, in-depth look at the origins of baseball in Japan and comparisons of the major differences between the US and Japanese game (practice, coaching, tactics, game philosophy, business models) that would ultimately lead to the production of players able to thrive under the brighter lights of the MLB. Ultimately though the most entertaining portions of the book are the beginning and ending chapters that serve as mini biographies and a study of remarkable contrasts on the Mariner's Ichiro Suzuki and the Yankee's Hideki Matsui.
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on July 21, 2013
Great read! Many fascinating stories that make visible the cultural divide between east and west. Great introduction to Nippon Professional Baseball.
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on September 24, 2013
The book was very interesting and the service was on time. No problems at all! I would recommend reading this book for all baseball fans
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