Baseball and Politics in East Asia
Hargrove, Sarah A.
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One question that arises in the study of baseball in East Asia is why baseball caught on so readily with certain countries, when in others the sport is nearly nonexistent. One of the broadest, most obvious answers to this contradiction is the Japanese influence - Japan has been the most enthusiastic promoter of the sport in East Asia - which was felt more intensely over certain areas than others. Japan's history with Taiwan and Korea, for example, has been closely intertwined for the last century or so; most importantly, Japan was the colonizing force in both of these areas, and was therefore provided with a great deal of influence in their recent cultural development. It is also possible to trace the telling similarities in Japan's treatment of sports in the two countries - baseball in particular - which contributed to the cultivation of baseball into the passion that it is today. At first, in both cases, the Japanese limited the ability of the native population to play certain sports, setting up baseball primarily as a privilege of the governing elite, but as the games were opened up over time, baseball became a type of equalizer between the colonizer and the supposedly more "primitive" colony as in both instances, Taiwan and Korea were able to achieve significant victories in the sport which reduced the social gap between themselves and Japan in the minds of the people and was essential in developing a renewed sense of national pride. After these initial significant victories, it was a matter of course that these emerging nations would continue to develop baseball, which had already proved so important in breaking down international barriers, and now that they had found an area in which they could flourish, they continued to develop the game to prove their success both at national and global levels. As a matter of fact, this pattern presents itself in all three of East Asia's major baseball powers - Japan, Korea, and Taiwan - at one point or another, as the United States used similar methods to restrict Japanese sport - while promoting Western sports such as baseball - during the Occupation following World War II. Japan's success against American teams then sparked the birth of baseball as a national craze, which would become even more marked over time. Clearly, this success at upsetting more "advanced" teams and the ensuing escalation of national pride is one of the largest reasons the sport became such a popular trend in these countries, but what is just as important to observe is the modifications East Asia has made to this so-called "American" sport; Asian players are no longer necessarily content to follow western trends, although this is still a large part of the game, and players frequently emulate their own East Asian neighbors as role models and even mentors, rather than the more "foreign" United States. On the contrary, while many people in East Asia are interested in the teams and superstars of United States baseball, they more frequently look to Japan as a role model, using this style of players and strategic mentality to emulate. There has also been a flourishing exchange of players within East Asia which Major League Baseball has only just begun to break into in the last decade. It is for these reasons that Japan, Korea and Taiwan - the three great East Asian baseball countries - have gained a large local following for their national teams, rather than just envying those of the United States.