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LOS ANGELES — In America, trying to understand what makes other complex countries and cultures tick is usually done in the university classroom, through travel abroad or by following the mass news media. But there’s another option that sometimes produces gold: Peering into other cultures through the behavior of their stars and artists.

Take Hideki Matsui, my favorite active baseball player who until recently played on what used to be my favorite American baseball team, the New York Yankees. Amazingly, the Japanese-born slugger garnered the title of Most Valuable Player in the recent World Series, the first Japanese ever so honored. He well deserved it. A hitting virtuoso, he almost won the deciding game single-handedly.

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