“I was a big baseball fan in Japan and found that looking at the different way the Japanese approached the game provided a window into the Japanese culture as a whole. Friends encouraged me to write a book about it and so I did. Took a year to write 100,000 words. The result was The Chrysanthemum and the Bat. It was the first thing I’d ever written and it showed.” — Whiting on how he started writing
Written a full generation ago (1977) and covering players I had no clue about, this book was both entertaining and educational. Robert Whiting is now a renowned author most famously known for his late-80s masterpiece and follow-up to this book, You Gotta Have Wa. It really is not fair to compare the two books, but this one has a lot more direct quotes and long excerpts from other sources, and sounds a lot more like someone reporting what he has read or heard. ‘Wa’ sounds much more like a baseball guru telling the world what he already knows and has processed in his mind clearly.
That does not make this book less worthy or uninteresting, though. It takes me back to a time before I was even born and fills me in on the beautiful and quirky history of the game here in Japan, filled with colorful characters such as Sadaharu Oh, Shigeo Nagashima, Isao Harimoto, Katsuya Nomura, and more. It also looks closely at the life of a fan, the external expectations placed on the players, and the struggles that some foreign players (almost exclusively Americans in those days) had adjusting to life in Japan.
Interestingly, the book ends with a chapter speculating on how the Japanese would fare should there be a “real World Series”. Obviously this has, in a way, come to fruition with the World Baseball Classic having been played three times in the past decade, but it is interesting to read thoughts about it written nearly 40 years ago. All in all this book is a splendid read and a must-add to the library of any Japanese baseball fan who wants to know more about the game before they started following it.