Koshien: More About Japanese Baseball

Robert Whiting

Robert Whiting, Baseball Historian.

People watch [Koshien] as much for the pageantry of the thing as for the baseball. And even people who don't like baseball in Japan will stop and watch high school baseball. That includes my wife, who can't stand baseball, but there's just something about Koshien that you've got to watch it. It's like going to the shrine on New Year's, it's become a part of the fabric of Japanese society.

Many Americans think the whole point of going to high school is to have fun, that when you get into college, that's when you have to knuckle down a little bit, get serious about life, and decide what you are going to do. [Americans think that] when you're young, you enjoy yourself -- but the Japanese think just the opposite. [For the Japanese,] junior high school and high school is when you mold the personality, and so you can't mold character, you can't build character, without suffering, and that's what the upperclassmen are trying to do to the lowerclassmen, either with physical punishment or verbal harassment. They're actually doing them a favor. So you see, an upperclassman will whack some freshman over the head for some minor infraction, and then the underclassman will say, "Thank you very much. Thank you for teaching me." That's what it's all about. I know that it seems too much to Americans who see it, but there is a purpose to it all, it's not just sadism. There is a philosophy behind this.

The idea that sports could be played for fun is something that was introduced by the West, for release of tension and for relaxation. The idea of sport was so alien that there was no word to describe it in Japanese, so they wound up using the word "sportsu." The Japanese like baseball because it was their first group game in a country that was noted for its "groupist" proclivities. It gave them a chance to express group dynamics on a baseball field. Also, in the battle between the pitcher and the batter they could also see elements of an encounter between two kendo swordsmen, where it took a certain combination of concentration and lightning-fast movements to defeat your opponent.