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Nikkei BaseballJapanese American Players from Immigration and Internment to the Major Leagues$

Samuel O. Regalado

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780252037351

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252037351.001.0001

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The New Bushido

The New Bushido

(p.9) 2 The New Bushido
Nikkei Baseball

Samuel O. Regalado

University of Illinois Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the emergence of baseball within the changing political landscapes in both Japan and the United States, with an emphasis on the former. In particular, it explores baseball's origins in Japan and how it had come to be accepted during the Meiji era—a time when the nation took on new ideological approaches and sought to modernize and engage with the wider world. Baseball had landed in Japan equipped with all of the proper ingredients—patriotism, industrial productivity, and modernization—to support the reform mentality of the Meiji leaders. Moreover, American promoters of baseball tirelessly reminded potential converts of the game's democratic values. And most importantly, here was a Western activity that seemingly posed no threat to Japanese tradition.

Keywords:   Meiji Japan, baseball history, modernization, Meiji reforms, Japanese tradition, patriotism, industrial productivity, bushido

… [baseball] symbolized the “new bushido” spirit of the age.

—Donald Roden1

This great victory is more than a victory for our school, it is a victory for the Japanese people.

—Student sentiment after beating a U.S. team2

Baseball’s arrival in Japan was most timely. By the 1870s, Japanese boys held bats in their hands and tossed about baseballs. Less than a decade later, in some prefectures competitive games graced the environment. Yet, none of this could have occurred had there not been a dramatic change in their country only a few years earlier. With the fall of the Tokugawa Bakafu in 1867, in part as a result of the Western powers who had forced upon the Japanese the infamous “unequal treaties,” leaders in Japan recognized a watershed moment in their national history and many felt that to offset further threats, they needed to better understand the world beyond their own.3 This was not an easy chore. For all of those entrusted to lay a blueprint for the future, their own upbringing was built upon hallowed traditions that were cemented in an isolated existence. As such, they opted to forge a future not solely for the purpose of incorporating the trappings of modernization, but “change [was] carried out in the name of old values.”4 Still, while those old values provided a principled core in the construction of reforms, they also represented a romanticized past. Understandably there lay doubt that the order of the samurai could coexist in an era of obvious change. Therefore, to challenge the very powers that had helped trigger the downfall of the Tokugawa regime, pragmatism needed to win the day. And among the cadre who took a hard look at the future, there were pragmatists who recognized that any restoration had (p.10) to include a transformation of the nation’s economic protocols as it related to the world; a world that fell upon them. For those who adopted this position, it seemed inconceivable that their country could survive and develop into a power in the modern age unless its facelift included elements of the West. After all, how might the Japanese people be able to climb out from under the thumb of their rivals unless they better understood the ways of their oppressors? To that end, the leaders of the new regime, the Meiji, embarked upon a series of programs to deal with the problems at hand. “Although they lacked a clear blueprint for the future,” wrote Kenneth Pyle, “the new Meiji leaders had many revolutionary attributes; experimental, open to the world, prepared to try new institutions and test new values, they were intent on reordering Japanese society and government.”5

With the adoption of new ideological approaches, the leadership laid the groundwork for a modern constitutional system of government and industrialization. They also laid the welcome mat at the feet of incoming “Western” ideas and culture. And Fukuzawa Yukichi and Okubo Toshimichi had much to do with that. Among the most influential men in the new regime, they were enthusiastic about the prospects of reform for their country. Burdened with the millstone of the archaic Tokugawa era, the new Meiji leaders sought the advancement of progressive ideas. At the same time, in deference to their heritage, reformers like Fukuzawa and Okubo recognized the balancing act that needed to include the preservation of their nation’s traditions and practices, which gave Japan its identity.

Born in 1835, Fukuzawa, an educator and author, visited San Francisco in 1860 as part of a diplomatic delegation. Intrigued not so much with Western technology as he was with social custom, the descendant of a samurai order wrote extensively about his observations. The trip had clearly increased his motivation to “… open this ‘closed’ country of ours and bring it wholly into the light of Western civilization. For only then may Japan become strong in both the arts of war and peace.”6 By the 1880s, he stood among the leaders who campaigned for an overhaul of Japanese culture.7

Okubo Toshimichi trumpeted Fukuzawa’s platform for change. Eleven years after Fukuzawa’s trip to San Francisco, Okubo, a government leader, also visited the West in an effort to temper the effects of the unequal treaties. While in England, Okubo became impressed by British industrial advancements. He noted “the excellence of the English transportation network with its railways and canals reaching into remote areas with its well-kept carriage roads and bridges.”8 Like (p.11) Fukuzawa, Okubo returned to Japan convinced of his country’s need to refashion its industrial and social milieu.

To that end, Okubo took it upon himself to serve as an example of change. He “Westernized” his attire, hair, furniture, and mannerisms. Indeed, Okubo’s actions came to symbolize Japan’s model for change. To compete and, inevitably, temper Western industrial and military hegemony, the Japanese believed in the need to adopt their traits. This strategy also opened the door for cultural expansion. From the level of the elite and intellectual to that of the agricultural commoner, Western fashions and ideas flooded into the daily lives of the Japanese. And it was in this environment that American baseball found yet another home.

In an era of neocolonial ventures, baseball stood as one of America’s top export items. Formulated into a distinct game by the mid-1840s, deemed a professional spectator sport by the 1870s, and crowned the country’s “national pastime” by the 1880s, Americans came to view baseball as the “watchword of democracy.” As the Civil War diminished as a topic of attention for many Americans, so too did the cadre of war heroes evaporate. Baseball and the personalities that came from it were primed to fill this vacuum. Proponents proudly advocated its American virtues. And the popularity of some players was often akin to that of national heroes. Adrian “Cap” Anson of Chicago White Stockings fame (and who is also infamous for having led the movement to ban black players from professional baseball) and his teammate, the beloved Michael “King” Kelly, captivated the attention of baseball aficionados during that era.

Baseball’s popularity expanded as the new technologies of that time made it possible to report the news more quickly. As newspapers, journals, and dailies sparred with each other for subscribers, stories concerning sports captivated readers. Richard Kyle Fox, for example, well recognized that reports on the “Great John L. (Sullivan)” boxing great were of great financial value to his National Police Gazette. Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst also realized the gold mine in sports reporting and eventually came to devote entire sections of their dailies to the games that interested their readers. But it was Henry Chadwick, an English-born resident of Brooklyn, through his columns for the Brooklyn Eagle and New York Clipper, who touted the game to an ever-increasing and very interested audience. His contributions both as a writer and initiator of baseball statistics rightfully earned him the title “Father of Baseball.”9

(p.12) America’s national pastime also had practical value to industrialists. In a period when strained relationships between management and employees were common, manufacturers often sponsored work-related baseball clubs for their “congruency” value. Seen by some as a replication of the workplace, companies hoped the teams might foster not only good morale among the employees but, more important, greater productivity.10 And, of course, it was a plus that by promoting baseball, companies were practicing true “Americanism” with an activity that was “modern.”

Americans were not shy about promoting “their game.” Like religious zealots, baseball advocates saw the game as yet another means of expanding American principles—and its accompanying market—throughout the world. Indeed, this philosophy was much in step with the long-held belief that historian Edward M. Burns described an “American example [that] would fire the imaginations of foreign peoples and stir their countries from sluggishness and from enslavement to outworn habits and institutions.”11 In the neocolonial era of the late nineteenth century, this seemed like an opportune time for the self-proclaimed national pastime to “follow the flag around the world.”12 Albert Spalding was both the first and most prominent American to take this course of action. Spalding viewed “himself and his ballplayers as missionaries,” reported Peter Levine. “… A. G. hoped to spread American manliness and virtue by introducing baseball to the world in dramatic style.”13 As a former player, cofounder of the National League, and, by 1882, a thirty-two-year-old owner of the Chicago White Stockings and a sporting goods magnate, Spalding took both his club and goods on a worldwide junket in 1888 and 1889 to promote the game and expand his profits.14 Though he converted few to the game, others took it to such outposts as Latin America and Hawaii. And some even carried the game into Japan.

Baseball landed in Japan equipped with all of the proper ingredients—patriotism, industrial productivity, and modernization—to support the reform mentality of the Meiji leaders.15 American promoters of baseball tirelessly reminded potential converts of the game’s democratic values. Most important, here was a Western activity that seemingly posed no threat to Japanese tradition. Many of Japan’s leaders, in spite of any revitalization sentiments, did not, as earlier noted, seek to alienate their ties to heritage. On the contrary, their sense of Japanese distinctiveness was strong and exhibited no cracks. They remained devoted to their emperor. The continuation of Shinto was never in doubt. And leaders’ passion (p.13) and loyalty to the state harkened back to the remnants of the late Tokugawa period, when a sense of national consciousness evolved into a national passion.

Into this world stepped Horace Wilson, an educator from Maine who, following his service in the Civil War, migrated westward and landed in San Francisco. In 1871, Wilson was part of a delegation hired by the Japanese government to participate in that nation’s education reform programs. In an effort to incorporate a physical education program, the American expatriate sometime in the next year introduced baseball, a sport of which he was an aficionado, to his students.16 As such, those on both sides of the Pacific see Wilson as the individual most responsible for having introduced the game to the Japanese.17 Still, there were others to whom credit might be attributed.

To be sure, to portray the Japanese themselves as merely the recipients of ideas is an unfair characterization. Indeed, those of the Meiji era were very much proactive. Without even knowing Horace Wilson, Hiraoka Hiroshi adopted baseball. A supervisor in the Meiji Ministry of Engineering, in 1871 Hiroshi visited the United States to observe and advance his skills in railroad technology, an industry then exploding in the Western country. In his six years there, the Japanese engineer witnessed the baseball euphoria. Here before him, he surely thought, was a modern sport in a modernized society that was clearly in step with the reform mentality of Japan. Upon the completion of his studies, the young scientist, who was also an accomplished painter and musician, returned to Japan armed not only with the new techniques of his trade but with baseball equipment. In 1878, seven years after Wilson had introduced the game as a recreational pastime for schoolchildren, Hiroshi created the Shimbashi Athletic Club, Japan’s first organized baseball team, made up, unsurprisingly, of railroad officials.18

As its popularity grew in Japan, baseball characterized many elements of the social Darwinist thinking of the late nineteenth century. Adopted as a theory to justify success in America, the Darwinian philosophies of the West seemed well-suited for the competitive Japanese. “Meiji Japan was moving from an aristocratic, militant social structure toward a democratic, industrialized society,” claimed Kenneth Pyle.19 Seen by resident foreigners of the 1870s and 1880s as “essentially a feeble” people, Japan, within a few short years, wore a different cloak. “Japan the exotic,” wrote historian Akira Iriye, became “Japan the competitor.”20 And baseball’s role was not unimportant for, along with its competitive methodology, according to Donald Roden, the game “seemed to emphasize precisely those values that were celebrated in the civic rituals of state: harmony, perseverance, and self-restraint.”21

(p.14) Finally, as Hiroshi discovered while in the United States, baseball was modern. And this—modernity—lay at the heart of the progressive-minded Japanese plan for their country. The game’s Western origins, its speed, and the very fact that the biggest manufacturing country in the world promoted it greatly attracted the Japanese of the Meiji period. But to be deemed simply “civilized” was, of course, not enough. All of the “manifestations of change,” wrote historian W. G. Beasley, “… were parts of a whole that embodied universal, not just Western values; to excel in them was to be civilized.”22 In an era when the Japanese middle- and upper-class urbanites donned Western dress, ate foreign foods, and embraced Western architecture, baseball, a game touted by its creators as a potentially global sport, proved a natural fit.

Competitive sports in Japan, of course, existed prior to baseball’s appearance. Sumo, for instance, was part of Japanese tradition preceding even the Tokugawa period. And kendo and judo, whose appearance as competitive sports evolved during the era of the Meiji, were distinctly Japanese.23 However, as in many other societies, organized sport was the bastion of the privileged, a symbol of status. Still, while these sports engendered the virtues of courage and honor, they did little to advance the national interest. “Judo and kendo were too solitary to engender the kind of public excitement required of a ‘national game.’”24 Instead, educators and administrators promoted athletic clubs as a means of engendering intercollegiate competition and school spirit. Baseball’s concept of “team play” was not insignificant to a country where a cohesive national spirit was essential. “Winning was an inherently collectivist enterprise, inherently engendering solidarity,” wrote Ronald Story in his interpretation of America’s nineteenth-century hunger for baseball. The Japanese adopted a similar approach when the game reached their region.25 Games deemed “simple fun” were set aside for “… Western team sports characterized by formal organization, rigorous training, strict rules, and the presence of officials at all matches.”26 In that vein, baseball stepped into the Japanese recreational spotlight. And as had already happened in the Caribbean and the United States, the Japanese, by the late 1880s, stood at the dawn of a phenomenon known as baseball fever. By then, many Americans were spending more time in Japan.

The 1854 Kanagawa Treaty of Friendship between Japan and the United States not only opened the door for trade relations but also guaranteed the safety of American sailors. It also allowed for a U.S. consul to set up operations in Shi- (p.15) moda. As a result, many diplomats, businessmen, Christian missionaries, and educators began spending considerable time in Japan. In the 1880s alone, American Protestant churches boasted a membership that had grown from four thousand in 1882 to twenty-five thousand six years later.27 Moreover, others, like the Young Men’s Christian Association, driven by the spirit of the “Muscular Christianity” phase of that era, salivated at the thought of more recruits. “… [N]ow’s the time and now’s the hour for a critical epoch-making movement among the students and young men,” Luther Wishard, a YMCA emissary in Japan, strongly argued in encouragement of mass Association sites in the land of the rising sun.28 But even before the YMCA influence took hold in Japan, other visitors already were hard at work in that region, like the baseball pioneer, Horace Wilson. Educators like Wilson were firmly convinced that local boys might easily adopt the trappings and virtues of baseball. As such, it fueled educators’ drive to teach their Japanese students about America’s national pastime.29 Despite this enthusiasm, baseball did not take immediate hold in the country. In fact, games were played sporadically and “generally regarded throughout the 1880s as a novelty to be played along with the capture-the-flag on university field days.”30

Still, Japan’s youth of the 1870s and 1880s were eager for change. Tokutomi Iichiro was instrumental in that quest. As Fukuzawa Yukichi and Okubu Tochimichi had done earlier, Tokutomi, a popular figure in Japan who went by “To-kutomi Soho,” his pen name, trumpeted the call for progress. His books, such as Youth of the New Japan (1885) and The Future of Japan, were a stimulant for a generation of young Japanese in search of a new identity for their country.31 Tokutomi, born in 1863, not only touted the advantages of Westernization but also impressed upon his youthful readers that modernization, as opposed to the “feudalistic” status quo of elders, was their destiny. “Your great foe,” he wrote, “may well be the old people whom you have always loved and respected. … They are relics of yesterday’s world; you are the masters of the future.”32

Much like the global youth movements of the 1960s, Tokutomi’s call to reject traditional values was in keeping with his counterparts in America and, interestingly, baseball symbolized this rebellion. Baseball in the United States, claimed Ronald Story, “was not only a counterpart to 19th century revivalism and temperance, it was a precursor to 20th century movies and rock and roll.”33 A visionary in his day, Tokutomi saw potential for similar movements in Japan. The Japanese intellect, Kenneth Pyle pointed out, “argued that there was a common pattern of social development in the world whose outlines were already clear in many Western countries, and that this pattern was beginning to emerge in Japan.”34

(p.16) Japan’s fervor with Western ideas served as an important foundation for proponents of baseball to expand interest in the game. As a result, by the 1880s, it appeared with greater regularity in preparatory schools at the university level. First Higher School (Ichiko) was the first to produce a prominent baseball program. Between the mid-1890s and 1910, the elite preparatory school had few rivals. But it was one of their rivals, Waseda University, that spearheaded Japanese baseball on the international level.

Isoo Abe coached the Waseda club during its most successful years. Though at one point in his life he had studied in the United States, ironically he first witnessed a baseball contest while on a visit to London. “Extremely impressed with [the game’s] sportsmanship and fair play,” Abe returned to Japan, secured a coaching position, and promised his club that if they could achieve a perfect season he would reward them with a trip to America.35 In 1904, Abe’s club responded to his challenge. And, true to his word, the coach won government permission and secured the financial sponsorship needed to compete overseas.36

Winning government support for this venture was not likely a difficult task for the coach. The Japanese continually sought ideas from outside their realm. As early as 1872, in their quest “to gain acceptance into the comity of Western nations,” Ito Hirobumi, during a visit to Sacramento, California, declared that Japan must look to the West, “whose modern civilizations is now our guide.”37 And by 1904, the movement toward what Okuma Shigenobu, an early Meiji leader, sought—that Japan should “attain an equal footing with other powers”—seemed well on its way to success.38 The formula had been a combination of Western influences and Japanese initiative. Hence, the baseball exchanges offered the opportunity to learn more, particularly from a powerful competitor like the United States. “The communication system,” claimed Ryoichi Shibazaki in his master’s thesis, “was not fully developed at that time, so the Japanese people had to rely on actual contact with the foreign countries. Baseball helped to facilitate this international contact.”39

In the spring of 1905, Tokyo’s Waseda University played baseball in the United States against American colleges. Competing largely against West Coast clubs, which included the University of Washington, the University of Oregon, and Stanford University, in a game that drew two thousand spectators, the Japanese team won only seven games out of the thirty-three played. In an attempt to cast a positive light on their plight, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer concluded that “the Japanese players were especially strong in their fielding, and if they could bat (p.17) as well, they would make any of the collegiate teams of this country hustle to beat them.”40

In Japan, proponents of baseball and Western philosophies triumphed heavily over the naysayers, like Inoue Tetsujiro, who remained ambivalent to the Japanese competitive ability when the Ichiko students from Tokyo took on the largely American team from the Yokohama Athletic Club in a series of games beginning in the spring of 1896.41 In the first of these contests, the supposedly inferior Ichiko students defeated the shocked Americans by a score of 29–4. Ichiko went on to win several more games, including one by the score of 32–9, which reverberated across the land.42 The Japanese had not only proved their worthiness as baseball players, but also further illuminated the larger goal of Japan’s ability to survive and compete in a more global fashion.

Japanese baseball teams continued for several years to play against American collegiate and semiprofessional squads in annual exchanges. By the 1930s, Major League players also spent time on Japanese baseball fields as the game developed into that country’s national pastime. By then, however, games against former Japanese residents who had migrated to the Hawaiian Islands and the mainland United States also appeared on the schedule.

John Tyler will never go down as one of the most electrifying figures in the history of the U.S. presidency. But in December 1842 Tyler, after having bestowed formal recognition to Hawaiian King Kamehameha III’s government, took a page from his predecessor James Monroe and issued an edict, the so-called Tyler Doctrine, that set the stage for America’s expansion into the Pacific and beyond. The doctrine not only blanketed those Pacific Islands—known then as the Sandwich Islands—within America’s sphere of influence, but, effectively, invited United States business interests to move into the region. That the Tyler administration sought to prevent “undue control over the existing Government, or any exclusive privileges or preferences in matters of commerce” other than by the United States served as a greater inducement for American commercial interests to stake their claim in the Pacific.43

During the remaining years of the nineteenth century, Hawaii’s importance to the United States’ overall interests greatly increased. Commerce, in particular, spearheaded the American attraction there. From the period of the U.S. Civil War to 1900, “King Sugar” and the pineapple industry rapidly grew to the point (p.18) that Hawaii lacked the necessary manpower to satisfy company demands. As a result, plantation barons brought in Chinese laborers for help. From 1877 through 1890, the number of Chinese workers grew at what some on the islands believed to be an alarming rate. Furthermore, Gavan Daws pointed out, “Not all of the [contract workers] went home when their contracts expired, and a good many of those who stayed came to the towns when their stint on the plantations was over.”44 Fearful that their kingdom might be overrun with Chinese settlers, in 1886 Hawaiian officials negotiated an immigration treaty with Japan that opened the door for Japanese contract laborers to work in the islands’ sugarcane and pineapple fields.45 By 1896, 24,407 Japanese—nearly one-fourth of the kingdom’s population—were living in Hawaii.46

Many of these migrants were those who had left Japan as a result of the Meiji modernization programs. Because large-scale industrialization was expensive, the Meiji government raised land taxes to finance its aims. Consequently, this constituted a hardship on the country’s farmers, and as many as 300,000 lost their properties. “The future in Japan seemed bleak for these financially distressed farmers, and thousands of them were seized by an emigration netsu—a ‘fever’ to migrate to the Hawaiian Islands and the United States,” stated Ronald Takaki.47 Hence, contract labor in Hawaii “offered them a chance to succeed.”

To the Japanese, Hawaii was as much a frontier as was the Far West to U.S. citizens on the North American continent. Along with the trauma that came with leaving the homeland, life on the Hawaiian plantation was hard. Migrants had little time to enjoy the trappings of what contemporary tourists experience on their vacations. Plus, the Issei population, as it was at the outset of their migration to North America, was largely a male society. Most important, contrary to the American version of a frontier that epitomized freedom and independence, the Japanese frontier, said Hilary Conroy, “was one controlled by other men.”48

Not all who made up those numbers were contract laborers. Various skilled workers, such as teachers, physicians, journalists, students, and priests, among others, who paid their own passages, also made up a portion of the ever-increasing Japanese community there.49 Hence, by the last decade of the nineteenth century, the Issei—first-generation Japanese—presence in Hawaii was distinct. And within the next ten years, the foundations for a society in growth were established—Japanese-language newspapers, a Buddhist temple and Christian churches, and Japanese-language schools for settlers’ offspring.50 They also played baseball.


The origins and development of the game stemmed from those who came to the islands from both the East and the West. From the United States, travelers emboldened in the spirit of commercial and religious expansion saw Hawaii as being on the periphery of Manifest Destiny. As such, business magnates, educators, and missionaries looked to stake their claims on both the resources and souls of the indigenous. And from the western rim of the Pacific, Chinese and Japanese leaders struck deals with the Hawaiian kingdom and entrepreneurs to provide employment for their migrating citizenry. Hence, in one manner or another, baseball was the benefactor of this increased attention to the Pacific.

Alexander Cartwright was among the mid-nineteenth-century sojourners who arrived at the islands in the late 1840s. Credited with having brought baseball into its “modern” era a few years earlier, he no doubt had a hand in transplanting the game in Hawaii. As happened in the Caribbean, baseball gained popularity with all segments of the population. Perhaps in an effort to appease the Americans on their national day of independence, natives played the first recorded game against the “foreigners” on July 4, 1866, and defeated them 2–1.51

The 1866 game occurred at the dawn of baseball’s emergence as the “national pastime” in the United States. Ten years later, the professional National League was founded and, during the same period, universities across the land created baseball programs. Albert Spalding, whose global tour took him into Europe and Africa, also visited Hawaii in his travels and praised natives who were, in his estimation, “developing skill at the pastime.”52 The Muscular Christianity movement also advanced the game’s popularity both on the mainland and into the Pacific. In an effort to advance the relationship between God and athletics, American proponents of Muscular Christianity surged as its aficionados also incorporated nationalism into their positions. The Young Men’s Christian Association was the movement’s chief protagonist in this regard. Founded in England in 1840 as a means to keep discipline and piety among the nation’s youth, the YMCA’s popularity reached American shores in 1866 and within a few years landed in several U.S cities. Americans Protestants, of course, saw their mission as one geographically greater than the mainland United States. Some even adopted the phrase “The evangelization of the world in this generation” as their motto.53 Mindful of the popularity of competitive sports, the YMCA was often the catalyst in this mission. The organization, said Clifford Putney, “labored overseas as in (p.20) America to show why healthy bodies were loved by God.”54 The efforts of the YMCA and other proponents of Muscular Christianity helped create a foundation for organized sport from which baseball could land and develop.

By the 1890s, Hawaiian amateur baseball was in play in the form of the Hawaii Baseball League. At this stage, native Hawaiians made up the lion’s share of players in the league.55 However, in a short time both Chinese and Japanese Hawaiians also infiltrated the island’s baseball circles. By the early twentieth century, a team that identified itself as the “All Chinese” club emerged as the most notable of those who carried Asian ancestral origins. But by then the Japanese, too, had actively engaged in the game.

The Japanese who resided in Hawaii were relative latecomers when it came to the development of their baseball interests. Reverend Takie Okumura, a Christian minister who boarded Japanese youth, apparently saw value in the popular game’s “Americanizing” influence. In 1899 he formed a ball club from his residents, and called them the Excelsiors.56 Ever concerned about the anti-Japanese feelings on the islands, Okumura saw an immediate need to assimilate the Issei into American culture. But Okumura’s interpretation of assimilation did not necessarily equate to the total abandonment of Japanese culture. To the reverend, cultural identity remained key to the family unit and, in 1896, he founded the first of what came to be hundreds of Issei-built Japanese-language schools. “Just so long as Japanese blood flows in their veins,” he claimed, “[our youth] should grasp the real spirit of Bushido, Americanize it, and carry it along with them.”57 To the point, Okumura touted a philosophy of “conciliation.”58 And to that end, he undertook several island tours to preach his cause.59 Reverend Okumura, in 1902, also founded the Japanese community’s first YMCA.60 Clearly, his influence on Japanese American sport was instrumental. But, though Okumura’s Excelsiors represented the first Japanese ball club on the islands, it certainly was not the last.

Within the next few years, some thirty to forty Japanese ball clubs, generally made up of teens, began to sprinkle the Hawaiian landscape. But not all of the clubs came together driven by a goal to “Americanize.” Because it was not uncommon in that era for even young boys to frequent saloons, Japanese parents viewed sport as a noble alternative to potential debauchery. “Very likely,” claims Joel Franks, “these early Hawai’ian nines, as well as many pioneering Asian Pacific teams formed on the mainland, were organized less out of a desire to (p.21) encourage assimilation through baseball than to keep young men out of gambling and opium halls.”61

The Asahi team was the most prominent of these. In 1908, five years into their existence, Steere G. Noda, then only eighteen and founder of the club, took his players into the newly formed Americans of Japanese Ancestry (AJA) league.62 As Nisei—second-generation—ballplayers later did during their years of play, the Asahis and other teams in the division competed largely against Japanese squads. The club even gathered enough in the way of donations to fund a trip to Japan, where they played a series of games in Yokohama. As the team and their skills matured, the Asahis eventually left the AJA and, in 1925, competed in the all-ethnic Hawaii Baseball League.63

During one of the earliest stages of what is referred to today as “Pacific Rim” relations, in the first decade of the twentieth century, two of the world’s most baseball-obsessed nations—the United States and Japan—began regular visits to the islands to compete against one another and against Hawaii-based clubs. University teams, such as Stanford, Ohio State, and the University of Washington, among others from the United States, and Waseda and Keio universities from Japan, all played on Hawaiian diamonds and helped fuel baseball interest in that region still further.64

Baseball also found its way into the sugarcane fields. There, the Hawaiian Sugar Planters’ Association, as a means to curb disenchantment among its workers, encouraged plantation owners to “… encourage this sport, which every nationality of laborers is keen for, prizes could be offered to winning teams.”65 This was not unimportant. From 1900 to 1910, relations between management and labor were tenuous, at best. In 1900 alone there were twenty Hawaiian strikes. Moreover, “blood unions”—workers whose bonds were based on ethnicity—further exacerbated the turmoil.66 Hence, any means to curb tensions were welcomed. And baseball appeared to be the common denominator to bring about a semblance of peace. On some plantations, according to one enthusiastic owner, this proved a winning formula. “Every Sunday we have baseball games between the Filipino laborers and our young Japanese and Portuguese boys in which our timekeepers and some of our overseers join.”67 Ironically, and no doubt much to the chagrin of plantation owners, the games were also recruitment grounds for the fledgling unions, particularly in the sugar industry. Michael M. Okihiro, who chronicled the game’s past in Hawaii, observed that Hideo “Major” Okada, a star pitcher in the late 1920s and 1930s who also labored in the sugarcane fields, (p.22) “enlisted several of his closest friends, mostly people with whom he had played baseball, and this figured prominently in the early stages of the unionization of the sugar industry.”68

By 1910, baseball was a well-established sport in both Japan and Hawaii. In Japan, the Meiji modernization programs were instrumental backdrops, which helped to fuel baseball’s growth. Had the country kept its doors closed to outside influence, baseball could not have caught hold in the land of the rising sun. But baseball did catch on in Japan in an era when a new sense of purpose captivated the country’s global agenda. Modernization and nationhood were among the foremost goals. But the tenacious Japanese also saw the sport as yet another window by which they might learn more about their Western competitors. To that end, baseball exchanges between Japan and the United States took on a role that transcended the field of play. The game, in the wake of the unequal treaties, also helped to create a national spirit for the Japanese. In that manner, Meiji leaders voiced no objections to the implementation of an adopted game within their younger generation.

Baseball’s entry into Hawaii, too, held important meaning. Given its geographical locale, it served as an obvious bridge between the culture of the East and that of the West. It also served as the first forum by which several nationalities competed against one another. In the Hawaiian frontier, between 1900 and 1910, nationals from the United States, the Philippines, Portugal, China, and Japan all formed teams and leagues. College teams from Japan and the United States also sought Hawaiian ball diamonds to compete against both the natives and each other. Indeed, by 1910, the manner of play in baseball was brisk and active in the middle of the Pacific.

Of course, as Japan basked in its late-nineteenth-century reforms and cultural advancements, along with its increased industrial and military prowess, not everyone prospered under the new order. For many in the southern prefectures, the region’s most agricultural area, the rise of the Meiji meant declining fortunes for those who toiled in the fields. Making ends meet and living by one’s wits was a way of life. Hisa Wakamatsu’s father, she recalled, not only toiled on his small rice farm, but in the evening he and his family walked to eight different villages and “repaired night-soil containers at people’s homes,” along with broken wooden clogs.69 As a result of burdensome tax codes and other agricultural reforms, beginning in 1885 and lasting through 1907, many Japanese laborers left (p.23) the country for financial stability on what they believed to be only a temporary basis, or dekasegi.70 The highest number of emigrants came from those prefectures that, understandably, had the least to offer. In Hiroshima, for instance, on average, family-owned farm acreage amounted to a paltry 2.7, which was “insufficient to support a family at that time,” Linda Tamura noted. As such, “the prefecture in Japan with the smallest amount of farmland per person, it issued the highest number of passports in Japan between 1899 and 1903.”71 Of course, the sense of adventure, for some, also contributed to the exodus. Fukuzawa Yukichi, a journalist and educator, encouraged this phase of the migration. Profiling America, for instance, in glowing terms, his reports captivated the fancy of many a young man, a number of whom were of former samurai families.72 In all, between 1885 and 1907, approximately 155,000 Japanese left their nation and traveled eastward.73 Though some thirty thousand emigrants took on contract labor positions in Hawaii, others looked past the Pacific Islands in the hope of finding some semblance of fortune in North America. And some of them even played baseball.


(1.) Donald Roden, “Baseball and the Quest for National Dignity in Meiji Japan,” American Historical Review 85 (June 1980): 520.

(2.) Gerald R. Gems, The Athletic Crusade: Sport and American Cultural Imperialism (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006), 32.

(3.) Peter Duus, Modern Japan, 2nd ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1998), 61. Duus claims, “Some historians argue that … long-term trends were pushing Japan in the direction of radical, perhaps even revolutionary change. Whether such was the case is a question not easily answered, (p.146) since pressures toward a change from within were suddenly overwhelmed by a series of decisive shocks from without …”; Andrew Gordon, A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Time to the Present (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008). Gordon concurs with Duus and claims, “From the early 1800s through the 1860s, the very process of dealing with the pushy barbarians created modern Japanese nationalism.” As such, Gordon argues, “… the Tokugawa claims to be Japan’s legitimate defender began to wither.”

(4.) Kenneth B. Pyle, The Making of Modern Japan (Toronto: D.C. Heath, 1996), 60.

(5.) Ibid., 62.

(6.) W. G. Beasley, The Modern History of Japan, 2nd ed. (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1974), 152.

(8.) Ibid., 69.

(9.) Benjamin G. Rader, Baseball: A History of America’s National Game (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992), 11.

(10.) Steven M. Gelber, “Working at Playing: The Culture of the Workplace and the Rise of Baseball,” Journal of Social History 16 (June 1983): 3–22.

(11.) Edward M. Burns, The American Idea of Mission: Concepts of National Purpose and Destiny (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1957), 16.

(13.) Peter Levine, A. G. Spalding and the Rise of Baseball: The Promise of American Sport (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 100.

(15.) It should be noted that baseball, prior to its appearance in Japan, had already been in existence in Asia. Author Gerald R. Gems, in The Athletic Crusade: Sport and American Cultural Imperialism (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006), notes that in 1863 baseball clubs were seen in the Chinese city of Shanghai.

(17.) Mariam Johnston, “Gorham Man’s Gift to Japan: A National Pastime; Horace Wilson Took His Japanese Students Out to Play in 1872 and Planted a Love of Baseball.” Portland Press Herald, May 20, 2007, available at http://pressherald.mainetoday.com/story.php?id=106835&ac=PHspt (accessed January 15, 2009).

(18.) “Hiraoka Hiroshi,” Baseball Reference.com, available at http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Hiraoka_Hiroshi (accessed January 15, 2009).

(19.) Kenneth B. Pyle, The New Generation in Meiji Japan: Problems of Cultural Identity, 1885–1895 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1969), 39. It should be noted that the Darwinian model did not appeal to all of the Japanese policy makers who ruled in that era. Inoue Tetsujiro, for instance, wrote extensively on this ambivalence. The principles of Spencerian theory, to Inoue, were alarming. “His fears,” Pyle points out, “were based on the conviction that Japanese could not survive competition with the superior races of Western countries” (Pyle, New Generation, 110).

(21.) Ibid., 519.

(23.) “History of Kendo.” All Japan Kendo Federation, available at http://www.kendo-fik.org/english-page/english-page2/brief-history-of-kendo.htm (accessed September 18, 2011).

(25.) Ronald Story, “The Country of the Young: The Meaning of Baseball in Early American Culture,” in David K. Wiggins, ed., Sport in America: From Wicked Amusement to National Obsession (Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics, 1995), 125.

(27.) C. Howard Hopkins, History of the YMCA in North America (New York: Association Press, 1951), 322. The high number of converts in the 1880s, it should be noted, were driven not so much by the desire to become full-fledged Christians but as another means to eventually dissolve the “unequal treaties.” Indeed, as Hopkins pointed out, in the 1890s “when all efforts to end the treaties failed, a serious antiforeign animus developed, with rising resentment shown against missionaries and Christianity.” (321–32)

(28.) Ibid., 328.

(30.) Ibid., 516.

(32.) Ibid., 33.

(34.) Pyle, New Generation, 37. Tokutomi, one needs to know, was not only a symbol for rebellious youth, but at only twenty-three years old when he penned The Future of Japan, a book that went through four printings, he, too, was a youth.

(35.) Harold Seymour, Baseball: The People’s Game (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 169.

(37.) Robert F. Hackett, “The Meiji Leaders and Modernization: The Case of Yamagata Aritomo,” in Marius B. Jansen, ed., Changing Japanese Attitudes Towards Modernization (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1965), 245.

(39.) Ryoichi Shibazaki, “Seattle and the Japanese–United States Baseball Connection, 1905–1926,” master’s thesis, University of Washington, 1981, 2.

(41.) On Inoue’s ambivalence concerning Japan’s ability to compete with the West, see Pyle, New Generation, 110.

(43.) Sylvester K. Stevens, American Expansion in Hawaii: 1842–1898 (New York: Russell & Russell, 1968), 3.

(44.) Gavan Daws, Shoal of Time: A History of the Hawaiian Islands (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1968), 181.

(47.) Ronald Takaki, Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans (New York: Penguin Books, 1989), 44.

(48.) Hilary Conroy, The Japanese Frontier in Hawaii, 1868–1898 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1953), 86.

(49.) Yukiko Kimura, Issei: Japanese Immigrants in Hawaii (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1988), 11.

(50.) Robert A. Wilson and Bill Hosokawa, East to America: A History of the Japanese in the United States (New York: William Morrow, 1980), 148.

(51.) Joel Stephen Franks, Hawaiian Sports in the Twentieth Century (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2002), 20.

(52.) Joel S. Franks, Asian Pacific Americans and Baseball (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2008), 20.

(53.) Clifford Putney, Muscular Christianity: Manhood and Sports in Protestant America, 1880–1920 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001), 128.

(54.) Ibid., 132.

(56.) Karleen C. Chinen, “Hawaii’s AJA’s Play Ball,” in Brian Niija, ed., More Than a Game: Sport in the Japanese American Community (Los Angeles: Japanese American National Museum, 2000), 110.

(57.) Dennis M. Ogawa, Kodomo no tame ni: For the Sake of the Children: The Japanese American Experience in Hawaii (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1978), 139.

(60.) Ibid., 171.

(61.) Joel Franks, Crossing Sidelines, Crossing Cultures: Sport and Asian Pacific American Cultural Citizenship (New York: University Press of America, 2000),53.

(63.) Ibid., 110.

(64.) Seymour, Baseball, 173. Chinese players affiliated with Hawaiian universities were exceedingly instrumental in furthering the islands’ baseball reputation. They not only hosted clubs from Japan and the United States, but also took to the road. In 1913, for instance, Seymour revealed that a Chinese squad from Hawaii played in the United States “an amazing total of 144 games, winning 105, losing 38, and tieing 1.”

(65.) Takaki, Strangers, 162. For context more directly related to plantation life and baseball, see Ronald Takaki, Pau Hana: Plantation Life and Labor in Hawaii 1835–1920 (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1983), 103.

(66.) Ibid., 149–50.

(67.) Ibid., 162.

(68.) Michael M. Okihiro, AJA Baseball in Hawaii: Ethnic Pride and Tradition (Honolulu: Hawaii Hochi, 1999), 11. For a comparison (p.149) of baseball’s role with the ethnic labor class and solidarity, one might also look at Jose M. Alamillo, Making Lemonade Out Of Lemons: Mexican American Labor and Leisure in a California Town 1880–1960 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006).

(69.) Linda Tamura, The Hood River Issei: An Oral History of Japanese Settlers in Oregon’s Hood River Valley (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1993), 8.

(70.) Yuji Ichioka, The Issei: The World of the First Generation Japanese Immigrants, 1885–1924 (New York: The Free Press, 1990), 3.

(73.) Ibid., 21.