Robert Whiting's baseball classic, "You Gotta Have Wa," (updated in 2009) remains the definitive text on Japanese culture seen through the lens of sport. Whiting has an engaging style, his research is exhaustive and his first-hand knowledge has ensured this book is just as entertaining now as it was when it was first published in 1989.
Examining the Japanese ideal of wa (harmony) through baseball, Whiting's book is a must-read for anyone interested in Japan — even if you don't know the difference between a balk and a base hit.
Whiting lets the stories and experiences of players — both foreign and Japanese-born — speak for themselves. From the league in Japan to the U.S. Major Leagues, from youth baseball in Koshien Stadium, which is in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, to the many sacrifices made on and off the field from players of diverse generations, Whiting nails down Japanese society in a page-turner that indeed covers all the bases.
As he explains in the revised Introduction: "The underlying philosophy that differentiates Japan and the United States, in baseball as well as in their societies as a whole, still exists ... the trajectory of wa is rarely linear, and sometimes it is impossible to predict whose side of the plate it is going to break on."
With fervor for Tokyo's 2020 Olympics steadily building — and with it, the possibility that baseball will return as an Olympic sport — now is the perfect time to reexamine the cultural and social ramifications of the sport in Japan.
Read archived reviews of Japanese classics at jtimes.jp/essential.