- 17 Jan 2004
Back in 1972, a 30-year-old New Jersey native who had recently graduated from Tokyo's Sophia University was in New York City, trying to talk to anyone who would listen about politics and life in Japan. Nobody was interested.
Robert Whiting in Tokyo last week, prior to leaving on a U.S. tour to launch his new book, "The Meaning of Ichiro."
"It was only when I started talking about baseball -- about how they'd start spring training in the middle of January in the freezing cold, and a guy named Sadaharu Oh who practiced his batting with a sword, and the phenomenon of the Yomiuri Giants" -- Robert Whiting relates, "that people started paying attention. It was then that I realized I'd found a way to explain Japan to people that was entertaining."
On a bet with a friend ("just to prove I could do it") in 1977 Whiting produced a best-selling book titled "The Chrysanthemum and the Bat: Baseball Samurai Style" -- a poke at cultural anthropologist Ruth Benedict's 1948 classic on Japan, "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword."
"I had no idea it would turn out like it did," he reflects. "I took it to 14 publishers. It was turned down. Then I went to Dodd Mead and the guy there . . . offered me a $1,500 advance. I negotiated him up to $2,000."
Thirty years and another three books later -- "You Gotta Have Wa," (1990); "Slugging It Out In Japan: An American Major Leaguer In The Tokyo Outfield" (co-authored with Warren Cromartie, 1992); and "Tokyo Underworld: The Fast Times And Hard Life Of An American Gangster In Japan" (1999) -- Whiting can look back from his current home base in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, on a tremendously successful career on both sides of the Pacific.
But even he admits he never foresaw the time when blue-collar Americans would sit in Seattle bleachers and cheer wholeheartedly for a wiry, bearded outfielder from Nagoya who performs sumo -style stretching exercises in the on-deck circle.
Prior to embarking on a 19-city U.S. promotional tour for "The Meaning of Ichiro: The New Wave from Japan and the Transformation of Our National Pastime" -- his latest book, published by Warner Books this month -- Whiting talked to The Japan Times about his life in Japan, his evolution as an author and, of course, baseball.