- Contesting the Myths of Samurai Baseball: Cultural Representations of Japan's National Pastime by Christopher T. Keaveney
The topic of Japanese baseball has a strong field of literature examining things such as its origins, key players, and even its ties to religious ideas. Author Christopher Keaveney [End Page 420] takes a new approach as he focuses on the cultural representations of baseball throughout Japanese history. He brings into play both historical and contemporary sources to examine the cultural relevance of baseball in Japan.
Keaveney begins by explaining to the reader the importance of the term magokoro or pure heart (devotion) to all Japanese actions including baseball (1). The second reference he sees as vital to baseball's cultural importance in Japan is the adherence to Bushido, the learning of a craft at the feet of a master. These two features make Japanese baseball different from the game played in the United States, resulting in the idea of Samurai baseball: a game steeped in traditions of hard work, discipline, courage, and devotion.
Keaveney's focus on these ideals puts his book in a similar tradition to works by Robert Whiting and Brian Maitland, who see some of the same connections. However, Keaveney contributes to the growing literature by not simply accepting these myths and ideals but by challenging them. He also focuses on the idea that one can understand modern Japan through baseball as it is represented in the various literatures he explores. The game is filled with tradition but also starts new each year, just as Japan has long and enduring traditions but is continually changing as a modern nation.
The book is organized in both a chronological and thematic format. Keaveney begins with a history of baseball in Japan and an exploration of how the idea of Samurai baseball came to exist. He also introduces discussion of the press and literature in Japan, which he ties directly to his thesis. Through the literature of baseball, we see the values associated with the game and how the Japanese continually return to these ideals. Next, the reader is introduced to the work of Masaoka Shiki through his poetry and fiction. Shiki is considered the foundation for baseball writing and cultural representations in modern Japan. After these two introductory chapters, the author turns to his real purpose and focuses the remainder of the book on various cultural representations of baseball found in different mediums, ending with anime and manga. The organizational scheme is logical and makes it easy for the reader to follow the changes and to understand the idea that baseball and the rise of modern Japan are connected.
Keaveney's sources are rich and widely used. He uses a large number of primary sources as he takes the reader through the literary history of baseball in Japan. In addition to the amount one learns about Japanese baseball, the book's real contribution comes in the depth of sources we are introduced to from start to finish.