Letter from Japan/Sano Yujiro – Japanese baseball, American style


Editor’s Note: This is the first of an occasional letters from Japan by Sano Yujiro, who recently spent a semester studying here and vowed to return to Japan with letters about differences in American and Japanese culture.  

The all-star game this year in Japan was very extraordinary in a lot of ways.   

The game itself was obviously so enjoyable that we didnt have any way to know which team wouldve won till the last time since the game was so tight.   

At the same time, a lot of people in Japan were also sitting in front of TVs watching that game and particularly, two baseball players from Japan, Ichiro and Hukudome. 

As a result, Hukudome couldnt do anything fascinating and Ichiro got a single hit but a lot of Japanese werent satisfied with it since we expected him to get MVP two years in a row.   

However, all-star games are extremely special.  Only a few super players can be on the field for all-star games and the fact that there were two players from Japan is so surprising.  Basically, Japanese cannot go to MLB without excellent results in Japanese league and even if he has a good result, there is no guarantee that he is going to be successful.   

Kei Igawa, in Yankees, is such a good example.  Anyway, Ichiro went to the States seven years ago.  It was pretty easy to go to MLB from Japan since there were already several Japanese going to MLB.  The first Japanese who went to MLB after quitting the Japanese league was Hideo Nomo.  He was just so brave that he could just give up on all kinds of honors he had and went to the States.  That is probably why he was called the pioneer of Japanese baseball.  It is quite interesting looking at the relationship among Nomo, Ichiro, and Hukudome.

Nomo made everything for others.  He was such a good pitcher when he was in Japan with sharp fastball and two kinds of super forkballs.  He got a special award for the best pitcher in Japan four years in a row; however, he had a bad relationship with his coach, particularly about his pitching form.  Nomo had an injury at that time and his coach told him that the reason why he got injuries so often was his pitching form called tornado.  Nomo did not want to change his pitching form and some other issues, he did not really have any place where he could play baseball since his team, Kintetsu Buffalo, was so mean to him. 

Then, he suddenly decided to go to MLB.  His salary went down to a million dollars from almost twenty-million dollars.  He didnt care about money.  He just wanted to play baseball in the States.  It must have been extremely hard though he anyway did.  After that, as almost all the Americans know, his record was very good.  He had two no-hit no-run games, which proved that Nomo, one Japanese baseball player, could be so much better than American players. 

Then, some teams started to try to get Japanese players, such as Tomo Ohka, Shigetoshi Hasegawa, and Masato Yoshi.  They fortunately did a pretty good job.  And then, finally, in 2001, Ichiro decided to go to MLB.

Ichiro was genius in baseball.   

We were even wondering if there was any possibility that he could not do well.  He was perfect all the time.  While he was in Japan, his team won the championship several times.  He was anyway so popular.  His batting form was also very different from others.  There used to be so many students trying to copy his way to bat though it didnt work at all for them.  But that was how popular he was ten years ago.  As a result, he was a batting, stolen base, and RBI champion.   

His reputation was as good as Nomos was though Ichiro got so much more money than Nomo received.  It was because Seattle Mariners knew that how perfect he was from the fact that Nomo was so good even though no one thought he could be that good.  And again, Ichiro has been perfect.  He is one of the best players in MLB for sure right now.  In consequence, Hukudome became so famous in the States since everyone was talking about Hukudome as the second Ichiro.  They are very alike.

Hukudome is somewhat restrained.  He is very good.  He hits well.  He runs fast.  He is good at fielding.  He is perfect.  However, he is different from Ichiro and it is because Ichiro has been too perfect.  Ichiro received too many distinguished awards.  However, in Chicago, Hukudome is extremely popular.  For sure, in Chicago, Hukudome is considered as a better player than Ichiro. 

Anyway, never know what is going to happen about Hukudome yet since it is just his first year for MLB.  But it is mostly obvious that Hukudome will play like Ichiro has been playing.  Hukudomes bat is the most exciting part of the ball game right now in Chicago.

Nomo finally announced his retirement from MLB.  He made the base for younger players for MLB and other Japanese keep going to the States in order to achieve their dreams.  Ichiro was extremely lucky that he was not the first one who went to MLB and Hukudome is even luckier that he was considered as a similar player to Ichiro.  That way, Nomo was a great pioneer for all the Japanese players.  There will be more and more Japanese going to MLB.