Book Review – Cherry Blossoms Over the Stars and Stripes

cherryblossomsstarsstripescoverIf “You Gotta Have Wa” is the ultimate book to shed light on the American’s experience playing baseball in Japan, then “Cherry Blossoms Over the Stars and Stripes” is the opposite. Though likely not intended to be so, this book, written by Robert Whiting (of “Wa” fame) gives the Japanese audience a look into the reality of the Japanese player’s experience in America. Written as a series of columns in the Yukan Fuji (夕刊フジ) newspaper from March 2007 until February 2008. The columns were originally written in English and translated into Japanese, and the originals have not been made available for English readers. (The actual title of the book is Sakura to Seijo-ki – サクラと星条旗.)

As such, much of the content centers around the Japanese stars of that period, namely Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideki Matsui, Ichiro, and even former Hanshin Tiger Kei Igawa. There are also pieces about relievers like Hideki Okajima and Takashi Saito, who found success in MLB despite never reaching star status in their native country. The hype surrounding Dice-K, the adjustments Matsui made to life in America, and the plausibility of Ichiro reaching 3000 hits (ha!) get their fair coverage.

As the book touches on cultural issues as well, such as the attitudes of baseball players on and off the field, which players are most (and least) loved by the media and fans, and why there has been a surge in the number of Latino players (while there has been a huge decrease in the number of African American players). From start to finish, it is clear that Whiting is using his knowledge of the game he loves, plus his understanding of the Japanese baseball fan’s mindset, to create weekly columns that will help bridge the cultural gap between the Japanese yakyu fan and the American baseball fan.

For yours truly, the pieces on life as a sports journalist on both sides of the ocean was particularly compelling. Some of what he said, I knew, but the way he expressed it with such clarity and succinctness helped me to once again understand that it is not just baseball that differs between the two countries, but how it is covered as well.

I will say, the translation of the articles is well done, though at times quite literal. Whiting uses a lot of American jargon in his writing (including players’ sizes in pounds and feet), and those come through directly in Japanese. For me, it was easy to imagine what the original said in English, but for the average Japanese, perhaps some of the expressions sounded clumsy or out of place. Then again, that’s part of the cultural gap that lies between East and West.

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T-Ray is the founder, chief writer and Junior Executive Vice President of Hanshin Tigers English News (H-TEN). Find him on Twitter @thehanshintiger.