Differences between Nippon Professonal Baseball and Major League Baseball

Cultural Differences

The cultural differences between Japan and the United States are exemplified in the differences in baseball in the two countries. Baseball was imported to Japan over a century ago. The sport became Japanized due to social customs and cultures in the background, but the rules are still the same (Shuji). For instance, the Di Muro affair went from stadium news to being a cultural affair. The root of the problem is similar to the reasons for economic frictions between the United States and Japan. The Japanese have a culture of reaching a settlement midway to satisfy both sides-a loose and flexible way. In the United States, however, the judgement is made according to one set of rules and order. In order for Japan and the United states to "play" together in this world, they need to find a standard desirable for the development of both nations. Professor William Kelly of Yale provides us with a clue to help solve this problem: "America has a 'dry' business mentality-the ability of the individual is everything, Japan's 'wet' group mentality" can be exemplified by seeing the players as samurai warriors "who serve the group in return for which their status is guaranteed for life." In this light, the umpires are weak members of the warrior clan, who cannot adopt a resolute attitude towards the clan's players (Shuji). This is an example of the cultural phenomenon that the Japanese strive for, wa, a form of group harmony.

In addition, in Japan there is a general idea that a referee or judge's decision is not absolute. The outcome of discussions by several people, according to the Japanese custom, should be given more respect than the judgement of one individual. So, umpires huddle together to discuss a debated call, and the outcome is explained to the spectators who are not satisfied without.
America is no longer an American sport and people need to make an effort to bridge this cultural gap if the two nations are going to play together.

Differences in the game

The following details sound foreign to an American baseball fan because the cultural differences between Japan and the United States provide for a completely different feeling during the game. For instance, schoolgirls are ushers and whistles are blown to warn spectators of foul balls. No one fights for these foul balls because the person who recovers the ball readily hands it to the usher who returns it to the home team. There is also no brawling on the field like in American baseball. The players have no agents and there are no wild card teams (Verducci).

Japanese baseball can be compared to American baseball as it used to be--Japan is 50 years behind. Other rules that are different in Japan include the maximum number of gaijin, or foreign players, that are allowed on each team used to be two, but has been increased to three (Verducci). This number is quite small compared to the number of foreigners on the American teams. In addition, the strike zone is bigger, pitchers throw more breaking pitches, and batters have a much shorter swing in Japanese baseball (Whiting). Players are neither as large or as swift as Americans, in general, the ball parks are smaller, and some infields in Japan are all dirt. The strike zone is irregular, strategy so enforced that the best hitters find themselves sacrificing runs and causing delays of the game (Fimrite). Finally, the Japanese use a slightly smaller ball and their games can end in a tie (Koppel).

The concession stands at games of Japanese baseball are completely different. They sell curry and rice (in addition to hot dogs and beer) (Kelly). The Japanese game has not only adapted the American names for foods, but has also taken American baseball words. Foods served at baseball games in Japan include "hottu doggu" and "dry beeru." Also, Japan's baseball games consist of mid-game garbage pickup and vendors selling shots of whiskey throughout the game (Verducci).

The Japanese teams are owned by major companies and are essentially a form of promoting the companies. One example is of a Japanese baseball team is the Hanshin Tigers, named after an American team, the Detroit tigers. The team is owned by the Hanshin Electric Railway and is a sentimental favorite in the region. (Kelly). To the U.S. owner, the teams are the top priority. Japan's teams are corporate subsidies, and are not high on the priority list.

Baseball has been taken from American roots and customized to mesh with Japanese philosophy. Things work through "consensus and compromise, not through confrontation" (Fitzpatrick).

Differences in Players

The salaries of the players in America and in Japan provide for an incredible differences. As of 1994, in the U.S. the contract between the players and owners is the basic agreement that governs baseball. In Japan, the contract between the owners of the central league and the owners of the Pacific league governs baseball. The players in Japan don't demand more money because this would be placing their own wishes above the team interests. They are instead kept in the dark about the salaries and they like it this way, they don't want to cause trouble (Fitzpatrick).

In addition, the life of the Japanese player is very different from the life of a player in the U.S. The Japanese live in dormitories, have one month off a year, and an extra week if their team wins the championship. They practice for hours each day, have daily meetings and film studies, and they have little bargaining leverage. Some teams can't smoke, drink, or even grow a mustache. But, these guys can have a job with an organization for life. The players typically comply with the management because after they retire they can expect to get another position with the organization or an affiliated company (Verducci). Similar to the fact that the Japanese don't change jobs as often as people in the Untied States, they don't change baseball teams either. The Japanese players "are part of a family, but introducing an agent destroys the family tree and reduces the whole relationship between the players and managers to just a cold contract" (Lidz). The negotiations of contracts in the United States must include an agent because it is the money that runs the players game and what team they are on. The team loyalty that is seen in Japan would never be seen in the U.S.

Because the different customs of players from the U.S. are very different from the customs in Japan, the gaijin are not looked upon favorably by many in Japan. Their flashy manners are a "grievous sin" in deportment conscious Japan. Most gaijin are only in Japan for the money (because the American mentality is more money conscious than the group work ethic in Japan. One player raises his fist in the air after hitting a home run, and although this is seen as an offensive remark, it is now a gattsu pozu (guts pose) copied by all teammates (Verducci). Cromartie, an American player in Japan calls baseball "work ball" because, among other reasons, there is no such thing as a day off in Japanese baseball.

North American players are popular with fans because of their power--they hit home runs and draw in fans (Koppel). However, according to a Japanese proverb: "The nail that sticks up, shall be hammered down," the Japanese feel that it is important to not place personal interests above those of the team (Fimrite). So the traditional fans are at odds with a new generation of fans who admire the strength showed in the power hits of the Americans.

Fan Clubs

One aspect of Japanese baseball that exemplifies a huge difference between Japanese and American baseball involves the Japanese fan clubs, oendan. The fans sit in the bleacher sections and unreserved outfield bleachers. The fans are stereotyped to be hysterical groupies, with "maniacal and monotonous collective cheering" (Kelly). The truth is that the cheering in the stands is the mood maker and a way for the fans to feel attached to the game from far seats. For instance, each player has his own hitting march that is chanted by the fans from the time he steps in the batters box until the end of the bat. There is also a reward chant if the player gets on base or scores in a run. The chants are accompanied by trumpets, bugles, whistles, Japanese taiko drums, Western base-drums, flags, and banners. In addition, the fans' arsenal includes pre-game chants, opening player name calls, "Lucky seventh" inning fight song and balloons. After victories, the fans display their hitting marches, their bonsai cheer, and their prideful anthems (Kelly).

One professor describes the root of the cheering section of the baseball games as not only a mood setter, but a call to the gods. The fundamental rhythmic pattern of the cheers, explained by the professor, is reminiscent of the agricultural song cycles from medieval centuries, which appeals to the gods for fertility and harvest (Kelly). So, chants were messages from the gods to the human world in the past, and the cheers are now seen as a call to both the players and the gods for success and victory.

The fan support is central to the baseball game. It can be compared to the U.S. collegiate cheering seen at football games. The fan support is long, but the current fan clubs are from the mid 70's and are rooted in Japanese developments at this time. These included "the popularity of several managers, the spread of television, double-digit economic growth, proliferation of sports dailies" (Kelly). All of these developments spread professional baseball's appeal to a national audience of viewers and readers.

Another important aspect of Japanese baseball can be seen best when the visiting team is at bat and the home fans are quiet. Instead of cheering against the visiting team, the fans drink, eat, and schmooze. Unlike American baseball games, the games consistently begin at 6:00 right after the Japanese work day is over. Also, the people are allowed to bring in their own food and drinks. The fan club members, especially the Tiger's fans, are business members who use fan clubs as a way to make business ties. Because the bulk of the Kansai economy is small and medium businesses, the fans use the off innings to united in business and hobby (Kelly).

The fans are devoted to their clubs and their teams, but they are quick to criticize for any expectations not met. This exemplifies the Japanese demand for instant gratification. These fanatics seek intensified meaning and pleasure from their baseball games. This is evidence as they give lots of money, time, and energy to their commitment to the sport. As "agents of disruption," the fanatics can influence "outcomes of games, careers of individuals, and profits of corporations" depending on the sensibilities of the fan club members (Kelly). The infield audience can be compared to the fans at the U.S. ballparks. They add their voices to the fan clubs only at suspenseful moments and important games. The fan clubs, as a major difference between American and Japanese baseball, are an excellent indicator of the differences between the politics, the economics, and the social lives of the people in the two different cultures.