- Transpacific Field of Dreams: How Baseball Linked the United States and Japan in Peace and War by Sayuri Guthrie-Shimizu
For anyone familiar with baseball, the popularity of “America’s Game” in Japan is no secret. Japanese teams have achieved repeated success in the Little League Baseball World Series, the Olympic games, and the World Baseball Classic, and the names of Japanese players—Ichiro, Matsui, Daisuke, and others—have become part of everyday baseball vocabulary. Yet few people understand the history that made all of this possible, with many inaccurately assuming that Japan’s interest in baseball is a legacy of the postwar U.S. occupation. Covering the period between the late nineteenth century and the two decades following the end of World War II, Sayuri Guthrie-Shimizu’s book offers a well-researched corrective to such popular misunderstandings of international baseball history. In a study that traces how baseball first came to Japan, how it gained popularity there and elsewhere in the Pacific region, and how it led to ongoing interactions between Japan and the United States, Guthrie-Shimizu reveals the complex socio-historical developments, institutions, and personalities that helped create a “U.S.-Japanese baseball fraternity . . . that took a temporary detour only in the late 1930s and early 1940s” (p. 243).
At its most basic, Transpacific Field of Dreams provides a useful synthesis of seemingly disparate accounts of baseball’s history in various settings. Drawing from secondary accounts and a rich assortment of media sources, government documents, and institutional materials in both Japanese and English, Guthrie-Shimizu uses the connecting thread of baseball and the frequent transnational interactions its play facilitated to examine the development of baseball on America’s West Coast, in American-dominated Hawai‘i and the Philippines, in Japan and its colonies of Taiwan, Korea, and Manchuria, and among Japanese-American populations in Hawai‘i and North America. While some of these stories may be familiar, information on Japan in particular has been largely limited for English-language audiences before now, and thanks to the careful research and detailed notes, readers will surely encounter countless new facts and leads for further reading and research.
Indeed, like any good synthesis, this book proves greater than the sum of its parts. Stemming from Guthrie-Shimizu’s explicit border-crossing approach to baseball’s history and her desire “to appraise the nature of American power in international relations in a less America-centric way,” new insights abound throughout the book (p. 4). For instance, juxtaposing the development of baseball in Hawai‘i and the Philippines with the game’s role in Taiwan and Korea highlights “heretofore underrecognized similarities and overlaps in the cultural practices of Americans and Japanese in ordering their newly acquired colonial spheres” (p. 73). Accounts of women’s professional baseball in Japan and America in the 1940s and 1950s similarly serve as a reminder that American and Japanese views on women’s athletics were closer than might be assumed. And even wartime baseball in Japan and the U.S. shared largely overlooked similarities. Viewed in relation to one another, [End Page 175] these histories of baseball also allow for examinations of difference that go beyond stereotypical or nationalistic rhetoric. Although such differences have historically been (and sometimes continue to be) explained in racial or cultural terms, Guthrie-Shimizu outlines the institutional, technological, and socio-historical factors that lay behind many of these differences and also shows how baseball could be vested with strikingly different symbolic significance depending on the particular context. Baseball could be and was many things, often simultaneously: a tool for promoting colonial rule, and a means of anti-colonial resistance; a form of solace during trying times; and a source of tension and conflict.
Given the book’s focus on baseball’s role in relations between Japan and the U.S., those interested in the history of international relations or globalization will find it especially valuable. Guthrie-Shimizu is...