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Welcome to TokyoFreePress Thursday, March 23 2017 @ 07:25 PM JST
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Hiroki Kuroda - samurai or a professional?

The director of the mental hospital is known for his fatherly compassion toward the inmates. One day when he strolled around the garden, he spotted an inpatient casting a fishing line into the swimming pool. The director stopped by the patient. Smiling knowingly, he said, "What kind of fish do you catch here?" The madman replied: "Don't be silly, doc. You can't catch any fish in a swimming pool."
- A parable inserted in a book written by German psychiatrist and philosopher Karl Jaspers (title forgotten)


Hiroki Kuroda has now established himself in
the starting rotation of the New York Yankees
Mark my words. The culture of Japan, if it still deserves to be called that, is all fake; rotten from tip to toe.

As I pointed out when talking about Japanese musicians,
they do music in order to bring themselves together, while in any other civilized nation, people, at least adults, come together in order to do music. This is a fallout from the fact that just in a matter of one and a half century, the Japanese have imported so avidly from the West everything from Johan Sebastian Bach to Lady Gaga.

You can see the same inversion everywhere. Sports are no exceptions. As you may have already noticed, no other people in the world do so many different games. That is because the kind of game you choose to play does not really matter here. Actually it's not that you choose the game, but the game chooses you. As a result, it does not matter, either, whether or not you win the game.

Given this cultural climate, it's all the more delightful to stumble on an exceptional individual who has a real stuff, although that doesn't happen very often in my country of birth.

The other day my American friend, who is a resident of the same village I live in, sent me a link to an article in which NYT reporter David Waldstein tells an intriguing story about the ordeal Hiroki Kuroda had to go through before he migrated to the U.S.

Waldstein portrays, without exaggeration, how often Kuroda, now a New York Yankee, was whacked with a baseball bat, forced to run between foul poles from morning till dusk, and only allowed to drink polluted river water when he became dehydrated. In this country punitive conditioning is believed to be one of the most effective ways to instill the spirit of self-sacrifice and stoicism in young athletes.

Nevertheless, the writer fails to answer the very question he seems to have intended to address: "Is it because of, or despite, the abusive hazing he experienced in the early days of his baseball career that he has finally come into bloom in the majors?" To put the same question differently, "Why didn't he choose to stay with Japan's Puro Yakyu when he was supposed to take his turn to bully juniors?"

Waldstein fails because he just singles out the most apparent aspect of the Japanese training method while passing over a more important feature subtly involved in it. In this country, repressive ways of molding people into desirable profiles are not confined to sports. It's also commonplace in all other walks of life such as politics, business, journalism, science, academia and art. This makes the issue at hand beyond the comprehension of a sports writer, or anyone else who can't grasp it in a historical and cultural context.

Many Americans have talked about the difference between baseball and its Japanese equivalent Yakyu. They include Bobby Valentine, current manager of the Boston Red Sox, Marty Kuehnert, former GM at the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles and now a professor at Sendai University, and Robert Whiting, author of You Gotta Have Wa and The Chrysanthemum and the Bat. Obviously these people eclipse Waldstein because they have better insight into sports and culture in Japan, and they addressed the same issue from much broader perspectives.

Yet they sometimes fell short of getting the question fully answered, because they, too, tended to overlook the most intricate aspect of the issue. More specifically, they often left out the question about why so many mediocre guys cruise past their seniors to stardom without being subjected to physical and mental abuse.


Back in 1967, Chie Nakane, professor of anthropology at Tokyo University, published a book titled Tate-shakai no Ningen Kankei, or Personal Relations in a Vertical Society. Her anthropological rubbish sold so well in the West that it's now become a classic of Japanology.

It is true that on the surface, Japan's "centralized feudal system" looked to be vertically aligned. But if that had really been the case, Shogun's reclusive regime, which actually succumbed to the gunboat diplomacy so easily, must have collapsed from within well before Perry's arrival.

The known law of dynamics says you can't topple a flat structure from the bottom.

And more recently, if Nakane's "theory" were to be considered true,

Emperor Hirohito must have been hung upside down by his subjects in the street of Tokyo,


before the arrival of General Douglas MacArthur, whose mission was to irreversibly flatten out this country with a fake democracy.

The fact of the matter remains that Japan is a nation which is integrated horizontally. It's ridiculous to see "personal relations," vertical or not, between the Divine Emperor and its subjects. Peer pressure is everything that counts in this country. At the end of the day the stupid professor just subscribed to the pedestrian view.

Believe me, Japan is a classless society. And that also means it's leaderless. If there are people who claim to be leaders, they are little more than shamans, at best, or moderators, most of the time, whose only role is to build consensus. At any rate a nominal leader needn't lead his organization with leadership backed by outstanding knowledge or skills in the activity his organization is supposed to perform. His ultimate goal is always to keep Wa among his people.

The dictionary says Wa simply means harmony. But as Robert Whiting observed, harmony is one thing and Wa is quite another. The morbid egalitarian obsession that has long haunted the Japanese people has its origin in the 17-Article Constitution promulgated by Shotoku Prince in the 7th century.

Given this mantra of Wa, the only prerequisite for the Japanese leader to fulfill is the ability to make sure the nail that sticks out be hammered down ingeniously but mercilessly. (See NOTE below.) To that end he should be able to identify the slightest sign of professionalism burgeoning on the part of individual members because professionalism poses the most perilous threat to the community built on the false harmony.

NOTE: The method most commonly used when ostracizing a persona non grata was, and still remains in some rural areas, the procedure called Mura Hachibu, literally translated as "purging 80% from the village." The remainder, 20%, represents participation in firefighting activity and the burial of the corpse when the subject person or his kin is dead. The reason the Japanese refrain from going as far as to 100% like ancient Athenians did is twofold. Firstly, if they went that far, the very principle of Wa might be jeopardized. Secondly, every Japanese individual, ostracized or not, is believed to become a god posthumously.

You can't imagine a group of people anywhere in the world that values discord over bringing individual vectors into one direction. But in no other country is harmony maintained only by nipping individual creativity and spontaneity in the bud.

This is the surest way to mediocrity and utter idiocy.

In his essay The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber defines the modern-day profession as a "secularized calling" which still requires an "ascetic devotion." In my interpretation of Weber's words as an avowed Buddha loyalist and retired businessman, every professional, from politician, to businessperson, to ballplayer, should act like the inpatient at the mental hospital. He should be damned serious about what he is doing, and very proud of it. But at the same time, he shouldn't lose soberness and humility. He should always keep in mind that it can well be an illusion to expect a big catch in the swimming pool. As I always say, the most important thing is to keep life-size views of one's life. Don't you ever talk big, if you are going to act small in the end.

Fortunately, there have been a handful of Japanese sportspersons with uncompromising, sober and well-focused devotion to the game. Before Hiroki Kuroda, we had Hideo Nomo. To say the least, Nomo was one of the very exceptional talents Japan has ever got. But actually, he would never have come into bloom as a fullfledged professional if he hadn't fled his home country in 1995. Only after he won the National League's Rookie of the Year Award in the same year, the Japanese people realized that they'd let go of a real talent.

He always reminds me of Maestro Seiji Ozawa who was kicked out of Japan by the NHK Symphony Orchestra in 1961. Only after the likes of Herbert von Karajan and Leonard Bernstein certified his talent as genuine, NHK offered sincere apologies and reimported him. He has since been enshrined as the home-grown Emperor of classical music. By the way, did you know Kabuki or any other thing which supposedly represents Japan's traditional "culture" toward the West is all created by this gimmick of reimport?

On the contrary the population of fake athletes still keeps growing. They include dozens of me-too Major Leaguers who all learned the wrong lesson from the success story of Hideo Nomo. Ichiro Suzuki, for one, has already been elevated to an indisputable deity in Japan's baseball even though he still has a long way to go before possibly being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. If you still believe in the exaggerated notion about the Confucian influence on Japan, you will wonder how a 38-year-old can be deified defying the world-renowned seniority principle. But actually it's senility principle that governs this country.

In 2001, the Nintendo-owned ballclub in Seattle started the whole process of reimport. In his first couple of seasons in the MLB, Suzuki stole not only many bases but also the hearts and minds of American baseball fans who had been fed up with these steroid-pumped-up Popeyes hitting 70-something homeruns every year.

Emboldened by the initial success, the Japanese media kept administering what I call the cultural steroid to Suzuki in order to make a Hinomaru-bearing hero out of the skinny guy. But in fact, because of, rather than despite his American Doriimu coming true, the Mariners kept sinking in the AL standings year after year.

By the time he was transferred to the New York Yankees in the middle of this season, Suzuki had developed a silly idea that the other eight guys were playing the game for him, not the other way around. This is why Joe Girardi, Yankees' manager, is now having hard times trying to make him recognize that without all this hyperbole he is just an average ballplayer.

As I said, the epidemic of anti-professionalism is not confined to sports. You can see the same thing happening everywhere. But among other things, the proliferation of Waido-sho, as the Japanese transliterate "wide shows," is an unmistakable sign that they have remained essentially unchanged in the last 13 centuries.

Every morning, and for the rest of the day, too, every national network airs one wide show after another exactly in the same format. The studio is always overpopulated with morons who claim to be experts, dozens of Terebi Tarento (TV personalities) who are actually talentless, and the empty-headed emcee who is only skillful at mixing up everything from political/economic news (see NOTE below), to Entame (entertainment) and sports, to today's fortune based on blood types and star signs, to weather forecast given in syrupy voices of two or more cuties which always contains laundry tips and clothing recommendations as its indispensable features. There you can see the Japanese culture has long been dead.

NOTE: News stories these idiots comment on in the way "even an idiot can understand" are all red herrings invented by the collusive alliance between politicians and the media. These days Japan's nuclear energy policy is always at the top of the list of media-salient "issues." Although it's too obvious that such a technological issue cannot be identified, let alone solved, by a bunch of laymen, these unprofessional pundits and scholars keep politicizing it so even an idiot can tell the pros and cons to be entailed in the government's proposal. The same can be said of all other false issues. In the total absence of respect for professionalism, they politicize what should never be politicized all the time.

These days I enjoy myself watching live on the Internet Hiroki Kuroda's solid outing every 5th or 6th day. It's a little more than just killing time to watch this guy in action. · read more (51 words)
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Overdose of cultural steroid is undermining quality of our life


From left: Sadaharu Oh, Hideo Nomo, Shizuka Arakawa, Junichiro Koizumi with Arakawa

Traditionally the Japanese people have been abusing two types of cultural steroid - morbid commercialism and odd nationalism - interchangeably as performance-enhancers. But the situation with their addiction to these substances now looks to be undergoing a certain change as cross-boarder interchange increasingly flourishes, especially in sports such as baseball and soccer. Today they are aware that just commercializing sports won't be effective enough for Japanese athletes to compete on par with their foreign counterparts.

I have nothing against commercialism as such because there is no such thing as a market economy without it. But I think Japan's commercialism, typically represented by the Yomiuri media empire, is incurably sick because there is no principle of competition at work there.

One illustrative case of the sick commercialism is the dominance of the Yomiuri Giants over Japan's puro yakyu (professional baseball). The owner of the Giants is the Yomiuri Shimbun, the flagship daily of the Yomiuri media group. It's a natural thing that the Yomiuri Shimbun, its affiliate sports daily Hochi Shimbun, and NTV are promoting the ballclub (Japan's New York Yankees only in terms of standings in total payroll) while giving much less coverage to other 11 teams, no matter whether the Giants are at the top, or at the bottom, of the Central League's standings. But you have difficulty understanding how come other media organizations with nationwide network and circulation, such as Asahi, Sankei and Mainichi, do exactly the same. As Marty Kuehnert, former sports commentator and current General Manager of the Rakuten Eagles, once wrote, the root cause undermining Japan's puro yakyu lies with the fact that it's always revolving around the Yomiuri Giants.

Incidentally, the 1-plus-year-old Eagles are the latest addition to the Pacific League. But the early indications are that the ballclub will be doomed to remain a cellar dweller in the next 5 to 10 years just because it will take a lot of time for the new entrant to become fully assimilated in the cartel called puro yakyu.

Another distinctive thing about Japan's pro baseball is the never-ending craze for the nation's darling Shigeo Nagashima, former third baseman (1957-74) and skipper (1975-80 and 1992-2001) of the Yomiuri Giants. His stats are not really impressive with a career average of .305, 444 homeruns and 1,522 RBIs. And yet Matsutaro Shoriki, then-owner of the Tokyo ballclub, handpicked Nagashima as the one to represent the entire puro yakyu and remain forever on the throne, when he decided to resign as the field manager. That's why he was named "Lifetime Honorary Manager" of the ballclub in 2001. To him playing in the U.S. was out of the question because he was just smart enough to avoid ending up a mediocre major leaguer.

Obviously the primary factor in the Shoriki's pick of the mediocre person was that Nagashima was considered an extremely likable personality and a "telegenic" figure. From a phrenological point of view (I'm a believer in Abraham Lincoln's physiognomy, to be more precise), he is not my type. But just the same, in his prime Nagashima was, and still remain, something more than a national hero. He was/is very close to the Emperor. Since the days when the Japanese economy was going through a double-digit growth year after year, he has served as the symbol of national unity. Every business meeting used to start with a preliminary chat over his performance the night before. We thought that by doing so, a business deal could be expedited most effectively.
· read more (1,678 words)