New Book Looks at Baseball’s Role in U.S.-Japan Relations

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“Transpacific Field of Dreams: How Baseball Linked the United States and Japan in Peace and War” will be released April 4 by University of North Carolina Press.

Baseball has joined America and Japan, even in times of strife, for over 150 years. After the “opening” of Japan by Commodore Matthew Perry, author Sayuri Guthrie-Shimizu explains, baseball was introduced there by American employees of the Japanese government tasked with bringing Western knowledge and technology to the country, and Japanese students in the U.S. soon became avid players.

In the early 20th century, visiting Japanese warships fielded teams that played against American teams, and a Negro League team arranged tours to Japan. By the 1930s, professional baseball was organized in Japan, where it continued to be played during and after World War II; it was even played by Japanese Americans in U.S. internment camps during the war.

From early on, Guthrie-Shimizu argues, baseball carried American values to Japan, and by the mid-20th century, the sport had become emblematic of Japan’s modernization and of America’s growing influence in the Pacific world.

Guthrie-Shimizu contends that baseball provides unique insight into U.S.-Japanese relations during times of war and peace and, in fact, is central to understanding postwar reconciliation. In telling this often surprising history, “Transpacific Field of Dreams” shines a light on globalization’s unlikely, and at times accidental, participants.

Guthrie-Shimizu is professor of history at Michigan State University and author of “Creating People of Plenty: The United States and Japan’s Economic Alternatives, 1950-1960.”

“Beautifully written and richly researched in English- and Japanese-language sources, this book reveals that ‘America’s pastime’ was truly a transnational game, one with power to bind two very disparate nations,” says Barbara Keys of the University of Melbourne. “This book will surely be the definitive study of an important topic with ramifications well beyond the world of sport.”

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