Nikkei Baseball

It’s the offseason, and in my attempt to step away from the Tigers for a bit (this never TRULY happens, mind you), I pulled this book off my Kindle shelf and started to read through it. The book takes a look at how the sport – invented by America and exported to Japan – made its way back to Uncle Sam, particularly the west coast, which was slowly being populated by more and more Japanese immigrants.

Known as the Issei (first generation), these young men (and women) built up community through local teams comprised entirely of their countrymen. They would often travel great distances to play each other, and received media coverage in local Japanese-language newspapers.

Next came the Nisei (second generation), who used baseball as a way of showing their American patriotism. Baseball allowed them to fit in with their caucasian peers, but also to gain the approval of their issei parents. It also gave them a chance to win the hearts of girls.

Professor Samuel O. Regalado gives a thorough account of Nikkei (Japanese American) culture and its involvement in baseball. In my opinion, the first half of the book is rather dry and I felt quite distant from its very objective presentation of this slice of history. There did not seem to be much of a narrative, flow, or personality to it. Games were played, they received press. Games were played, they received less press. The Nikkei population rose by this many people over the course of this many years in this town. If I were a west coast man, at least town names would be familiar to me and I would have been compelled to care about those details. But I’m not, they weren’t, and I wasn’t.

I was getting ready to shut the book and never give it another thought, when at long last, I reached World War II, internment camps, the proliferation of the game despite those hardships, and its continued popularity after the war in the face of the persecution of many players and teams after the bombings. At last, I start to feel some emotion!

Then the book talked about players and teams whose names I knew, and it got a little more interesting. I got to learn about who the first Nikkei major leaguer was, how much (or how little) success Nikkei baseball players have had since then, and how the term Nikkei (as well as counting subsequent generations as sansei, yonsei, etc.) fell out of vogue as the lineages became somewhat muddled by interracial marriages.

And just when I was starting to really enjoy the direction the book was taking, and as I reached the 67% point of the book (so the Kindle told me), I was greeted by a long index, glossary and list of references. The end. Just the same, I am glad I was able to put it back on the digital shelf and move on to my next read.

This one was decent as I continued to slog through it, but it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for when I made the purchase in the first place. Unless you’re really interested in how Japanese immigrants played the game in small rural pockets of the west coast of America, you might want to let this one pass by without swinging at it.

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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.

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