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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Japanese Baseball And Ultra-nationalism In The 1930s

Here's a very interesting baseball true story written in the October 20, 1955 edition of the Nippon Times newspaper, written by F.N. Mike for his column Times at Bat. It actually examines a baseball incident from 20 years before that!

The photo above is:
the all-star U.S. baseball players visiting Japan in 1934, and features (from left): organizer Shoriki Matsutaro (surname first); U.S. Ambassador to Japan Joseph Grew, manager Connie Mack of the Philadelphia A's, and New York Yankee great Babe Ruth. I'll offer up some actual information on this tour shortly.

The newspaper article below is a fascinating look back at the early days of professional baseball in Japan, as well as the political state of the country.

I did have to adjust some of the grammar from its original article to make it understandable. Although it appears as though F.N. Mike might be a decent baseball insider, he's clearly not the best writer. Neither am I, but it appears as though at least today, that I am a better writer than him.

Times at Bat
Baseball's greatest bunch of players ever assembled, Ruth and company, had just departed Japan, in early November of 1934. And into the office of the man who had staked his all--his newspaper the Yomiuri included, in bringing the team for a goodwill tour--stomped three men.
The men declared themselves representatives of the "War God Society," one of the mushrooming ultranationalist groups. Producing a scroll they read hima "Death to Traitors" warning and then left.
He paid no attention to it. He had received many threats like it.
Three months later an assassin tried to chop his head off with a deadly Japanese sword.
For his love of baseball, Matsutaro Shoriki nearly paid with his life.
You'll find this episode in the stirring life of Shoriki in a biography published in July and now in its fifth printing.
But the "Father of Professional Baseball in Japan" personally told me about it, over a private luncheon last week at his beautiful Japanese garden house in his Nippon Television network compounds in Kojimachi.
Now 70, the first Japanese to venture into commercial TV, among his many accomplishments, told it with a smile and with relish. His executive assistant Hidetoshi Shibata had perhaps heard it before but he listened enraptured with me.
"What did the three read you, Mr. Shoriki?" I asked.
"First," he began enumerating the three counts of indictment, "you desecrated the Meiji Shrine, by letting the American all-stars play in teh shrine ballpart.
"Second... you carried an article derogatory to the institution of the Emperor in your paper.
"Third... you're associating with the Heasrt interest, a rabid anti-Japanese organization."
It was a cost, raw morning Feb. 22, 1935 and Shoriki had just alighted from his car to enter his newspaper office.
"Suddenly," he said, "I felt a sharp pain. I turned around and there was a man holding a bloody Japanese sword.
"I shouted at him... made an attempt to get at him. But the swordsman took to his heels. It was hurting badly no. I felt around for the wound, and one of my fingers went deep inside the cut.
"Blood was spurting out... down my collar and to the cuff. I pressed my overcoat hard over the wound to stench the flow of blood. And then I headed for the dispensary. On the way I met the printing shop foreman and with his help managed to gain the second floor. I collapsed there then."
It was not until two in the afternoon that Shoriki regained consciousness. In the meantime, he had been given several blood transfusions and the doctor in charge had all but given up hopes for his reviving. He was unmoved in the company dispensary for a week, hovering between life and death. Then he was taken to the St. Luke's Hospital where he remained 50 days more, until he was well enough again to go to a native-district hot-spring for a final recuperative period before plunging into the hectic activity that characterizes his career.

Whoa... what a story... you can really see the anti-foreigner intensity amongst some of the Japanese people here in 1935. This was at a time when it was attacking other Asian nations in aggression, and six years before the country embarked on its infamous attack on the US Pear Harbor base in Hawaii plunging it and the US headlong into WWII.

Desecrating the Meiji Shrine because foreign ball players dared to play there? Wow oh wow.

So... who is Matsutaro Shoriki (正力 松太郎 Shōriki Matsutarō)? 

Born on April 11, 1885 (d. October 9, 1969), Shoriki was a Japanese journalist and media mogul who owned the Yomiuri Shimbun (Yomiuri Newspaper), and was indeed known as the father of Japanese professional baseball. He also founded Japan's first commercial television station - the Nippon Television Network Corporation, later elected to Japan's House of Representatives, appointed to the House of Peers and was one of the most successful judo masters ever, reaching the extremely rare rank of 10th Dan. Basically, he was a smart, tough man who was also extremely good in business.

He was classified as a "Class A" war criminal after WWII, but was released in 1947 when it was determined that the charges against him were trumped up and were of an "ideological and political nature."

As for the description of his attack by ultra-nationalists in 1935 - that did happen, as they were pissed off that he would allow American all-stars to play at Jingu Stadium at the revered Meiji Shrine in 1934. Shoriki ended up with a 16-inch long scar from the neck wound suffered during that assassination attempt.

You should know that during this era traveling all-star Japanese baseball teams had gone belly-up, but the team that he had play against the US all-stars... they eventually became the Yomiuri (Tokyo) Giants... basically the New York Yankees of Japanese baseball—the storied franchise of Japan.

Shōriki became Nippon Professional Baseball's (NPB) first commissioner in 1949, and yet one year later in 1950 he helped re-organize the league turning it into its current two-league structure and the establishment of the Japan Series.

The one baseball goal he failed to achieve, was establishing a true world series with the Japanese champions playing against the American baseball champs.

He was inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 1959. The Matsutaro Shoriki Award is given annually to the person who contributes the most to Japanese baseball.

The position of Chair of the Department of Asia, Oceania, and Africa at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is also named after Shōriki.

Now... I can't substantiate the following, but I'll lay it out anyway. Apparently Shoriki was a shill for the CIA (the United States Central Intelligence Agency).

According to Arima Tetsuo (surname first), a professor specializing in media studies at Waseda University in Tokyo, Shoriki acted as an agent under the codenames of "podam" and "pojacpot-1" for the CIA in order to establish a pro-US nationwide commercial television network - Shoriki's NTV.

He was also asked to introduce nuclear power generating plants using U.S. technology across Japan.

These claims are based on de-classified documents stored in the NARA in Washington, DC. NARA is the National Archives and Records Administration, which is an independent U.S. agency that preserves and documents government and historical records.

So... say what you will, Shoriki did, indeed become the chairman of the newly-created Atomic Energy Commission of Japan (原子力委員会, Genshiryokuiinkai) in 1956 - its purpose is to ensure that nuclear research and usage is conducted safely and for peaceful purposes only.

And there you go... an innocuous little article in the sports section of a 1955 newspaper offers up a cool story about a near-beheading, the origins of Japanese baseball, the origins of Japan's first commercial television station, the origins of nuclear power in Japan and even war crimes and the CIA interfering in another country's politics—which is strange because the CIA doesn't usually do stuff like that.


Sorry... I couldn't keep a straight face after writing that.

Andrew Joseph