Even in this ageof the airliner, when a flight from New York to London takes only twice thetime of the train ride from New York to Boston, the islands of Japan are stillquite a long way away. The average traveler from the eastern part of thiscountry, if he is flying the southern route across the Pacific, needs a bitover three days to get there: one day to cross the continent to San Francisco;a second day in which he gazes for some nine hours at the featureless bluewater of the Pacific and comes down at length in Hawaii; and then a last doublehop nine hours westward to Wake Island—nothing more than a long par 5 in themiddle of nowhere—and a second stretch of nine hours from Wake to Hanedaairport on the outskirts of Tokyo. Protracted as such a trip is by present-daystandards, it has brought the Orient immeasurably closer than it was in thedays of the weeks-long, Somerset Maugham-type cruise, and it has made Tokyo afavorite gathering point of the American traveler who has got Europe under hisbelt, the retired businessman who has always dreamed of Old Cathay, not tomention American conventioneers who have come to realize that an annualconvocation frequently can go on the old expense account as a business cost sowhy limit themselves to some "local" spot like Havana.
This is an article from the March 3, 1958 issue
When I was inJapan this last autumn with the group of sportswriters who had gone over tocover the Canada Cup golf match, I never quite got over how the country hadchanged, in this respect among others, in the 11 years since my previous visit.The Imperial Hotel, where we stayed, has, of course, long been known as aprincipal headquarters for foreigners in Tokyo, but it was still jarring towalk into the lobby so many miles from Main Street and see it densely populatedwith American conventioneers togged out with fezzes or blue armbands andcalling for ice.
There are anumber of other sights and sounds which the traveler to Japan is quiteunprepared for. In my case, I had barely made my way through customs andmispronounced "Kasumigaseki Golf Course" with a flourish for thebenefit of the taxi driver, when it became apparent that the Japanese immersionin sports today exceeds anything one has been told to expect. Turning out ofthe airport drive, the taxi slowed down for a chubby little girl of 10 or 11who skipped across, lugging a large tennis racket. We made a right turn, and infront of us a brightly painted signboard announced that the third annual AsianGames (track and field) will be held in Tokyo this spring. As we started to cutacross the rim of the city down a crowded thoroughfare, we passed some youngauto mechanics—at any rate, three fellows in coveralls—throwing a baseball onthe sidewalk in front of a garage. In a school playground a flock of littlegirls in white blouses and black skirts were playing basketball, using avolleyball and shooting at hoops set about eight feet from the ground. In theplayground of another grade school not much farther along, the girls wereplaying volleyball, the boys were playing basketball, and a tennis game was inprogress on a small-sized court laid out on the orange-brown earth. And that isthe way it went: past another group of men in coveralls tossing a baseball;past two little girls batting a shuttlecock with metal-strung rackets in thenarrow space between two stores; past a hardware store—rather, a store stockedwith a variety of products all made of wood—where nine baseball bats weredisplayed in a wooden rack; on past another school playground with severalslides as well as the usual facilities for tennis, volleyball and basketball;past an 8-year-old striding up the sidewalk carrying a red rubber ball aboutthe size of a grapefruit; and so on and on.
This firstimpression of sports on the right of you, sports on the left of you, sports onevery side proves to be, on further examination, not an exaggeratedintroduction to their place in contemporary Japan. Life there today recalls the"20s in America in its frenetic pace on all fronts. Part of this is areaction, I am told, to the enervating years of the war and the state ofgeneral fatigue, emotional depression and real apathy that overcame the countryat the close of the war. Japan was just starting to stir slowly again when itseconomy received a terrific shot in the arm: all kinds of materiel were neededquickly when the Korean war broke out, and Japan roused itself to make it. Whenthe war was over, this boom was expected to subside. It continued. Astuteconversion of the wartime manufacturing plants built up, practically overnight,a new and thriving export trade. At home a self-nourishing cycle of prosperitybegan to spin—and is still spinning at a good rate—due largely, economistsexplain, to the increasing purchasing power of the burgeoning middle classes.The surge toward sports has been just one of the many aspects of thisastonishing national recovery during which Tokyo has swollen to the largestcity in the world (almost 9 million), rivaling New York in the incredibleamount of new building construction, recalling Los Angeles in the smog that hasarisen from so much concerted industry and the new domestic heating systems,replacing Shanghai (in some ways) as the good-time city of the Par East andgenerally assuming (in a healthy way) a leadership of the infant nations inthat sector of the world.
Going all out forWestern sports is, to be sure, nothing new for the Japanese, who began playingbaseball in the 1870s, held their first official track and field meet in 1886and entered their first Olympics in 1912. During the gray days of theOccupation when the Japanese did not know what they were allowed to do and werewaiting to be told, Major General William F. Marquat, of General MacArthur'sstaff, had the acumen to realize that a revival of sports would be a good thingand ordered the country's baseball men to get the major league started again.This helped morale a lot. Shortly afterward, the general arranged for thenation's crack swimmers to compete in a meet in Los Angeles. This markedJapan's return to international competition, and it is impossible to overstatethe effect this had on the people. They began to hold their heads up again.Today no one talks about the war in Japan or wants to be reminded either of itor of its aftermath, but the name of General Marquat is frequently mentioned.He is a man they have never stopped appreciating.
The travelerarriving in Tokyo a little over a century ago would have encountered noevidence at all that the West existed. For over 200 years, from 1638 till 1853when Commodore Perry opened up Japan, the island nation lived in aself-ordained vacuum. No foreigners were allowed to enter the country and noJapanese were permitted to leave. In this improbable isolation, Japan fellcenturies behind the world. At the time of Perry's arrival, it was still deepin the Middle Ages, feudal in government, thought and inclination—a chunk ofthe past that had been preserved intact in a deep freeze. When Japan, under theleadership of its perspicacious young Emperor Meiji, re-entered the world asthe last third of the 19th century began, it did so with supernal ardor andapplication, adopting Western institutions and methods with such speed that itmay possibly have skipped a whole phase in a country's normal development. Atany rate, it looks like this to many Westerners, the contrast between the oldand the modern being so sharp.
This is certainlyso in sports. As the old order changed, the new Western games found almostimmediate acceptance, and as they did, most of the traditional Japanese gameslost a great deal of their popularity and appeal. It is easy to understand how.These games, for the most part, were rough adaptations of medieval militaryskills, designed originally for Eastern Ivanhoes and perpetuated in all theirceremony. There was judo, which needs no introduction, and then there waskendo. In this gentle samurai pastime, the two antagonists are attired inankle-length smocks, leather and bamboo breastplates and steel masks withprotective leather padding which covers the neck and shoulders. They go at eachother with bamboo poles, aiming at five body points: the abdomen, wrists,throat and the sides and top of the head. The man who first scores two hits isthe winner. Sometimes it doesn't take that long. You can knock a man cold witha well-executed thrust.
Then there waskarate, a kind of boxing with the open hand and the kicking leg. Karate madeits way to Japan from China via the Ryukyu Islands. A conscientious karate manhardens his fingers and knuckles, his soles and his toes by continuallypounding them or abrading them against hard, rough surfaces. When he has gothis mitts in shape, he can split nine layers of cedar board with one blow—orkill a man. Today, incidentally, the few karate masters who carry on their oldprofession must get a license from the police, for they are considered to fallwithin the same classification as a man carrying firearms. (In the 1920s and'30s, when the military clique was increasing in power, karate, kendo and theother martial sports gained a great revival of popularity. At the onset ofOccupation, General MacArthur prohibited their practice and outlawed theButokukai, the national organization which promoted them.)
Then there werearchery and sumo wrestling, both of them rooted in history and mythology fromJapan's earliest days. Archery took many nonmilitary forms down through thecenturies but none as skill-demanding as yabusame, an equestrian variationdevised in the Kamakura Era (1186-1335) and continued down the years, with itsoriginal ritual and trappings little disturbed, as an annual national event. Inyabusame each contestant is outfitted in splendid brocades and silks,"chaps" of deerskin and pointed black-lacquered hats with a centertassel of lustrous horsehair. Sitting a lacquered saddle astride his horse, hetotes a seven-foot bow and a supply of blunted arrows tucked in his waist. Whathe attempts to do, as he grips his horse with his knees and gallops full tiltdown a straightaway gravel runway 370 yards long, is to plant an arrow in threedifferent target discs. These targets are set about four feet above the groundand are colored with concentric rings of black, green, red and white. Thetargets diminish successively in size, the first being 24 inches in diameter,the third eight inches. Each contestant is allowed seven runs, or 21 tries. Heis scored not only on his hits but on such technical niceties as the finessewith which he handles his bow, whips his arrows from his waist, fits thearrows, draws the bow. It takes a man about nine years of practice to becomefairly good at yabusame.
Sumo, Japanesewrestling, dates back to the first century B.C. Among the traditional Japanesediversions, it unquestionably is the national sport. At present it is riding acrest of enormous popularity, one of the factors behind this being that ittelevises so well. Like yabusame, the roots of sumo were military but it earlyacquired moral and religious overtones. It trained the heart and mind, so itsancient mystique asserted, and produced a type of man who was a mountain ofvirtue—courteous, sincere, faithful, considerate and reflective. In any event,it produced physical giants, for in sumo the point is to topple your opponentto the mat. If any part of his body (besides his feet) touches the mat, youwin. You also win in modern sumo if you force your opponent outside the curb ofstraw bags filled with sand which bounds the circular ring.
The actual boutin sumo usually lasts a matter of seconds and rarely longer than two minutes.It is the elaborate, theatrical prelude that makes the sport so fascinating forits aficionados. "Ten to 15 minutes are consumed by the wrestlers'preparations," Frank Iwama, an old ringsider, has written. "Looseningup his muscles, he lifts his leg up sideways and brings it down with aresounding thud on the ring. He goes through this quite a number of times,rinses out his mouth several times, and follows this with a purificationritual. This is done by grabbing a handful of salt from a barrel placed in thecorner of the ring for this purpose and throwing the salt into the center ofthe ring. Then with the referee standing in the middle—costumed in traditionalbrocade kimono and hakama (just like a Shinto priest) and holding a brightlycolored fan—the big pot-bellied wrestlers crouch in the center of the ringfacing each other. Just as they seem to be ready to spring at each other, onegets up leisurely to shuffle back to the salt barrel, throws some more saltinto the ring, and then comes back. His opponent then does the same thing. Thisis repeated five or six times. As the deadline for time permissible for suchantics approaches, the wrestlers get down to business and actually chargeforward like two bulls. They meet in mid-ring with a smacking thud of quiveringflesh, and the struggle is on."
Sumo stars havehistorically been human foothills weighing between 300 and 400 pounds. Theyamount to being a separate breed of Japanese and were consciously developed byselecting extra-large young boys for special training and feeding, and byencouraging marriages between sumo champions and the daughters of sumochampions. Extremely aware that they are small in physique compared to thepeoples of other nations, the Japanese have always taken immense pride in thesheer size of this homegrown species of giants, almost as if to say, "Look,some of our boys made it."
Forgetting aboutbaseball—by the turn of the 20th century Waseda and other college teams werealmost on a par with ours—the Western sport in which the Japanese first earnedworld recognition was, surprisingly enough, tennis. In 1920 in Antwerp, whentennis was still on the Olympic agenda, the Japanese doubles team of Kumagaeand Kashio went all the way to the finals. In the early 1920s Japanese tennisplayers pulled off other stunning upsets, and in the Davis Cup Challenge Roundin 1921, little Zenzo Shimizu, who could run all day, came within two points ofdefeating the lordly Tilden. That a Japanese could even stay on the same courtwith the likes of Tilden was frankly amazing, for they had very poor attackingstrokes. The typical Japanese forehand drive, for instance, had the archingtrajectory of a low lob; the players had grown up practicing not withregulation tennis balls but with high-bouncing rubber balls, and the only wayto keep them in the court was to hit these looping topspin drives. Furthermore,as the Japanese appreciated more acutely than anyone else, their physique wasagainst them for tennis and, for that matter, for most modern sports. Comparedto their competition, they were short and small-limbed. Moreover, they didn'tpack as much strength and sinew in their arms, shoulders and backs as did theWestern athletes. What they achieved they managed by determination, disciplineand resourceful compensation. Centuries of squatting cross-legged on theirrice-matted floors had bred a people with extraordinarily powerful thighs andlegs. These they made the most of.
An idealillustration is the story of Japan's first Olympic champion, Mikio Oda. In the1924 Olympics, Oda came in sixth in the hop, step and jump. This marked a newhigh for a Japanese track man. Twelve years earlier, when Japan had firstentered the quadrennial international games, the two representatives sent overto Stockholm, a marathoner and a middle-distance man, had finished nowhere insight. Eight years after that, a larger delegation, 11 track and field men (andtwo swimmers), had journeyed to Antwerp for the Games and had failed to placeor come close to placing. Hence, when Oda succeeded in capturing sixth place inthe jump in '24, this mild enough triumph gave new heart to Japanese athletesand spurred Oda on to meticulous preparation for the next Olympiad. "Myidea," he later wrote, "was to think out a method peculiarly suited tothe Japanese physique, because I was convinced that there would be no sensestudying Western methods of jumping by means of photographs and books."Thereupon he set about devising a new style based on the exceptional strengthof his knee and ankle joints, deducing quite accurately that the national habitof squatting had developed these muscles to a degree none of his foreignopposition could approach. In 1928, after three years of vigilant study andpractice, Mikio Oda won his event in the Amsterdam Olympics. Four years later,his countryman, Chuhei Nambu, employing the technique that Oda had pioneered,carried off the hop, step and jump at Los Angeles.
That was in1932—the summer the Japanese swimmers flabbergasted the sports world by winningfive of the six major Olympic swimming events. (Buster Crabbe took the400-meter freestyle, the single American victory in a sport we had dominatedand expected to continue to.) The decisiveness of this Japanese sweep createdthe impression in the United States that Japan was historically an aquaticnation whose people were as much at home in the water as the Polynesians—theywere simply just getting around to the Olympics.
This wasn't quitecorrect. Japan was a swim-minded nation, but neither in a Polynesian nor aWestern way. Endurance swimming and cold-water swimming were stressed, as wassynchronized swimming in which a group performed certain movements in unison,like a shipwrecked Busby Berkeley chorus: the members of the line swamrhythmically while cloaked in heavy samurai armor, for example, or, floating ingeometric patterns, performed such stunts as fanning themselves, holding aparasol in the hand (and occasionally with the toes) or writing a Japanese poemon rice paper with a writing brush. When it came to speed, however, theJapanese were not in the swim. Their first two Olympic entrants, the duo whoappeared in the 1920 games, actually used the sidestroke, and spectatorswatching their odd, maundering progress didn't know whether to laugh or to feelsorry for them.
Very much as Odawent about his problem, Japanese swimmers made themselves into champions bydeveloping a style in which they used their major physical asset, their legs,to compensate for their lack of arm and shoulder reach. The key to this stylewas suspending the hips slightly lower in the water (in relation to the rest ofthe body) than conventional form ordained. With the hips slung in this loweredposition, the legs were poised to unleash their fullest drive at hard six-andeight-beat kick tempos. This tremendous leg action powered the Japaneseswimmers something like a jet: it created the basic momentum which the swimmer(eliminating the roll) augmented by driving his shoulders and arms through thewater just as fast as he could, making up for the defect of his short arms bythe very number and rapidity of his strokes.
One trouble withcompensatory techniques is that the rest of the world does not stand still.Other athletes from other countries modify your ideas to fit their physiques orthey evolve new and sometimes more efficacious methods. If they are bigger andstronger than you to boot, you don't stay on top long. Brazilian track men,rangier than the Japanese, have taken the play away from them in their oldspecialty, the hop, step and jump. Swimming, as we are all aware, has becomevirtually an Australian province.
There are othertroubles with compensatory techniques and, most assuredly, with the philosophythat this approach to sport regularly engenders. Training yourself intomagnificent shape and using all the resourcefulness at your command—these areat the heart of sports, for pure skill by itself only goes so far by itself.(When the Japanese fed their swimmers oxygen from tanks stationed at thepoolside at the 1932 Games, old Olympic hands like Lawson Robertson, theveteran track coach, deemed this a quite acceptable extension of resourcefulpreparation. Robertson had experimented as early as 1908 with supplying MelSheppard, then our premier half-miler, with oxygen.)
However, there isa point beyond which sport ceases to be sport and becomes, in truth, almost thecomplete abnegation of the spirit of sport. Sports are intended to behumanistic—a source of real enjoyment for those who participate. They are notsupposed to be a morbid and ascetic realm in which the athletes of differentnations vie to see who can endure the most punishing training, rationalizingthat a winning performance may result and that the glory this brings to theathlete's country more than justifies any hyper-Spartan extreme. Sometimes itis hard to draw the line, but there is a decided difference between areasonably dedicated athlete's getting himself into peak condition and ahalter-led athlete's forcibly giving up the rest of his life and becoming amere vessel of sport.
This, of course,is happening in some respects in Russia today and has happened in variouscountries at periods when they wanted to cut a swath in the world of athleticsand felt that what they lacked in skill they could make up for by drive, drive,drive. In this connection, Japanese swimming coaches have frequently been underfire by education experts and other Japanese for pushing their boys too hard,for applying the tokko or "special attack" approach to their training.These methods, their critics claim, are the reason why Japanese swimmers burnout (in attitude as well as in performance) much quicker than Americans.(Kitamura, for one, the brilliant 14-year-old boy who won the 1,500-meter swimin the 1932 Olympics, was all done by the time the next Olympics rolledaround.) If, they add, the Japanese technique is intrinsically attritive andcan succeed only if the swimmer subjects himself to physical and emotionalstrain beyond the true measure of sport, well, it just isn't worth the effort.(It might well be interpolated here that while the apparent suicide of JiroSatoh, the Japanese Davis Cup star of the '30s who vanished mysteriously from atransatlantic liner, has never been conclusively explained, most sportsobservers are of the opinion that the unrelenting pressure of representing hiscountry well, even when he needed a respite from competition, is what pushedSatoh into his depression and over the edge.)
In any event,swimming is indeed a major Japanese sport and a highly organized one. The youngboy with aquatic leanings gets into competition early, when he is still ingrammar school. He competes for his junior high and his high school in officialmeets, and if he looks like he has the stuff to go to the top, he will probablybe offered a college scholarship. Once on the varsity squad, he thinks swimmingthe year round. In the winter he works on his technique and conditioning(which, at one university, includes six different sessions of outdoorcalisthenics daily during the squad's 10-day visit to a hot springs resort). Inthe spring, when regular training commences, he works out two hours everymorning and another two every afternoon—a usual order of procedure being tostart with a couple of sprints followed by two or three 400-meter swims andwinding up with the boys plowing 800 meters and 1,500 meters. The top Japanesestars never stop working on their styles and trying to find superior ones. Tocite one example, Masaru Furukawa, the world's leading breaststroke swimmer in1955, changed his style radically that year to incorporate more underwaterswimming: he decided he would swim the first 40 meters underwater, submergedabout a foot and a half below the surface. Jiro Nagasawa, for another, thebutterfly specialist, revolutionized that event in Japan by changing to theAmerican dolphin kick. So it goes.
First-rankJapanese swimmers receive certain rewards that ordinarily do not come the wayof swimmers. Cheered on by 12,000 to 15,000 fans at the big meets, they aretalked about and lionized like football stars in America. When they must hangup the old swimsuit and bathrobe, they are sought after by the sportsdepartments of newspapers and by radio-TV stations to serve as commentators,and pursued by industrial firms to coach the company's swimming teams and do alittle public relations on the side.
Undoubtedly themost popular Japanese athlete since the war has been Hironoshin Furuhashi, themarvelous distance swimmer from the Hamamatsu area which has produced most ofJapan's great swimmers. Called "The Flying Fish of Fujiyama"—awonderful throwback to those good old alliterative sobriquets and one whichwent unchallenged for mouth-filling pleasure until this winter when AnderlMolterer, the Austrian skier, was knighted "The White Blitz ofKitz"—Furuhashi, though handicapped by having to live on the poorest dietimaginable for an athlete, broke records left and right in the years just afterthe war. It was his hard luck to have passed his peak before the HelsinkiOlympics, and his performances there were a very bitter disappointment to thehopeful Japanese. Furuhashi came along, though, when Japan was hungry for anathletic hero and, being all of that, he remains a hero.
The nationalinvolvement in sport in Japan, as in our country, has increased year by year asmore and more people have gained the money and the time for recreation. TheJapanese are not only avid participants but no other Asiatic people (and thensome) compares with them as spectator sportsmen. Consonant with being the mostmodern of the Eastern nations, Japan long ago built excellent stadiums which inturn fostered an exuberant fandom. Besides, the Japanese simply love to look atthings—sightseeing amounts to a positive national mania. During this lastdecade, the base of this pyramid of the sports-active and sports-minded hasbroadened as never before. The Kabuki actor, the traditional matinee idol ofthat slice of the female population which always feels incomplete unless it iscarrying on a vicarious front-page romance, has been losing a lot of ground tothe glamour men of sports. Radio and TV and the daily newspapers (which alwaysplayed it big) have accorded sport wider and wider coverage. But the mosttelling tip-off on the boom is the existence today of 11 daily sports papers.Eight of these are not really major dailies, their circulations being less than50,000. The big three, however, all have circulations of over 200,000, andHochi, the largest, currently claims some 400,000 daily purchasers. Hochi wasoriginally a straight newspaper, one of the oldest in Japan, founded in theearly years of the Meiji restoration. In 1948, when it had lost much of itsinfluence and many of its advertisers, its owners decided to turn the paperinto a sports sheet, a sterling bit of Friday-morning quarter-backing as it hasturned out. Hochi prints eight pages each day, six devoted to sports, one toradio and TV programs and the other to amusements (stage plays, movies,concerts, nightclubs). You can buy it for eight yen (about 3¢) on the stands orsubscribe to it for a month for 240 yen (about 67¢).
The setpercentages of space accorded the various sports in Hochi's six pages are ahandy key to their relative importance and appeal. To begin with, three pagesgo to baseball, the year round. One page goes to horse racing and all the otherforms of racing in which betting figures as part of the scene. Bicycle racing,it is interesting to observe, is very much alive and may hold the equivalentposition in Japan to harness racing here. Some 60 bicycle pits are spottedthroughout the country, with the schedule worked out so that each pit gets sixdays of action a month. All the races, by the way, are sprints. One of the mostsurprising developments in recent years has been the success of hydroplaneracing. This, some Japanese advance, is partially explained by the debut inrecent years of women drivers, a phenomenon that in one direction epitomizesthe total enfranchisement of the Eastern female, and in another theup-up-up-beat of this kicks-happy postwar world. Except for the geishas, thefemale hydroplane racers are the highest-paid women in Japan. They make about$400 a month, almost eight times the salary of the average white-collarman.
The remaining twopages of Hochi go to sumo, swimming, table tennis, golf, mountaineering, skiingand the other sports:
RUGBY AND SOCCER:The staple winter-season games, played in the months between the autumnbaseball season and the spring baseball season by most of the high schools andcolleges and some industrial teams.
TRACK: Besidesthe sprints, the Japanese are now concentrating on the distance events, fromthe 10,000 meters up through the marathon.
BOXING: Japan in1952 produced its first world champion when Yoshio Shirai captured theflyweight title.
BASKETBALL: Acoming sport most advanced in the state of Niigata, where the heavy annualsnowfall prompted the building of good indoor facilities.
ICE HOCKEY: Not acoming sport at the moment, it is played only to a limited degree byschoolboys.
FIGURE SKATING: Asurprising favorite, the six rinks in Tokyo being reserved months ahead down totheir last practice square.
TENNIS: Perhapsthe most patrician of games inasmuch as the clubs still pride themselves ontheir exclusivity, the ranking players invariably being the sons of rankingplayers of their generation.
JUDO: Stillbiggest in Kyushu, its historic home.
BOWLING: A newrecreation that has caught on quickly but which is still a bit too expensive tofit into the budget of the average Japanese.
SAILING: Highcosts have been the chief factor in retarding what one would think would be athriving sport but is surprisingly minor.
AMERICANFOOTBALL: Like Rugby over here, it is played cavalierly by the smart set atsome colleges and causes a wee public stir with its annual Rice Bowl gamebetween the top college teams.
BADMINTON: TheJapanese female has a traditional rapport with the shuttlecock, and the gameshould become almost as popular as it is in Malaya, where there is a court inevery backyard.
SOFTBALL: It isplayed by all ages and both sexes, so well, in fact, by the women that a teamof Japanese girls broke even against male competition in a recent tour ofFormosa.
Table tennis,golf, mountaineering and skiing merit more extended comment. The latter twowere nothing before the war but, along with golf, they are now the sports whichJapanese authorities (such as the editors of Hochi) believe have the biggestfutures. To a considerable degree, the notable international successes of youngChick Igaya have contributed to the rush to skiing. Igaya, the former Dartmouthstar, is the son of a skiing instructor from Nagano who saw to it that the boywas on skis as many months as possible, leading him progressively farthernorth, ultimately to Hokkaido, each year as the advent of spring melted thesnow on the more southern trails. However, the main and commanding reason forthe present boom in skiing is that, along with mountaineering, it has developedinto a coed diversion, the newly emancipated girls joining their dates forweekend jaunts to the Japanese Alps and making the days on the slopes and theevenings around the old hibachi a lot more pleasant than they used to be.Though he likes to act the reserved, take-it-or-leave-it guy where women areconcerned, the young Japanese male is very appreciative of the happy pretextthat sports nowadays provide for enjoying the pleasures of mixed company. Hehas never fooled anyone anyhow. The superflashiness he always puts on when heis having even a simple game of catch derives from his awareness that the girlsmay be watching—the same thing, really, as the American boy's trying to looklike Joe Form as he passes a football on the beach. It is, to be sure, an old,universal and potent incentive—the women watching—and, as Jules Romains haswritten, it was probably one of the reasons why the French held Verdun.
We have earliernoted in Part I some of the exotic shapes the current Japanese infatuation withgolf takes, and suffice it to add here that the game has made its advances inthe face of the most discouraging of all obstacles: the paucity of free land ina country where nearly every available acre has long been used for the priorityactivities of living. Nevertheless, there are by the latest count 103 coursesin Japan—10 are public—and 25 more are under construction, several along themargins of old riverbeds and not a few on land reclaimed from the ocean. Thebest Japanese courses are solid tests by the strictest standards and, what withtheir sculptured trapping and handsome trees, lovely to look at. They arebeautifully cared for. It is not at all an unusual sight to look down a fairwayin Japan and see a rough-to-rough line of women laborers, down on their handsand knees, moving toward the green like a slow wave as they pluck the weeds byhand. Since the 1957 Canada Cup match we know about the abilities of thewinning Japanese team, Nakamura and Ono, and it should only be remarked inpassing that they are not the only Japanese pros of tournament caliber. In the1956 Canada Cup, which the American team of Hogan and Snead won at Wentworth inEngland, Hayashi and Ishii, who represented Japan that year, both shot 68s onthe final round and finished a fine fifth, ahead of such reputable golfingnations as Scotland, Wales and Australia.
Table tennis, anational passion for a long time, is more rampantly popular than ever thesedays now that the Japanese team has carried off the world championship twoyears in a row. The game was introduced to the islands a little over 50 yearsago by one Seizo Tsuboi, a professor at Tokyo's Education College, who ran intoit on a trip to England. Some five years later the game suddenly captured theJapanese imagination. Hotels set up tables in spare rooms, as they had earlierdone for billiards. In factories and offices the employees chipped in to buytables and played the game during lunch hour—which they continue to do today.In the late 1930s, when Szabados and Kelen, the Hungarian masters, came overand were later followed by visiting American and Australian stars, the Japaneseperceived with dismay that their best players were quite a few notches belowchampionship level. There was interminable nationwide discussion as to whetherthe "penholder" grip (which they had always used) should be abandonedin favor of the "handshake" grip, and a new search for the rightmaterial for the paddle was undertaken. At this time the Western players wereusing rubber-faced paddles, the Japanese players cork after having experimentedwith various kinds of wood, including magnolia, paulownia and Japanese cypress.Final decisions on these matters had to wait until after the war. The Japanesethen decided they would stay with the penholder grip. As for the paddle, theyhave finally adopted a model that has a soft sponge-rubber face and producesfantastic spins. It is the ideal implement for the type of game the Japaneseplay, as their conquest of the table tennis world patently demonstrates. Todaymore than 250,000 addicts are registered with the Japanese Table TennisAssociation, table tennis centers are everywhere (though thickest in the coldnorth), and the national pride in the sport is something to behold. "Thereis no money in operating a table tennis center," a not untypical owner ofone such establishment declared not long ago, "but think of the honor ofuncovering a potential world champion among my customers!"
In Japan'sbrimming world of sport, one meets up with the full roster of standard typeseach particular sport seems to nurture regardless of clime and circumstance.Japanese baseball, for instance, has its Stengels, its aging managers whosefaces are lined like topographical maps and who speak with the rusticsophistication of men who have seen it all long, long ago. It also has itssmooth young manager, the recently retired ballplayer who is on the verge ofbecoming a little too much the well-groomed junior executive and the televisionguest star. This vast vivarium of sports, from another point of view, bringsforth every attitude imaginable and some singular extremes of emotion anddeportment. Perhaps these extremes are really no more so than ours, but theyare expressed differently and, consequently, they make a deep indentation on aWesterner.
There are, forexample, moments when the turbulent Japanese heart, having kept itself in checktill the last white line is passed, can restrain itself no longer and burstsforth in touching shows of absolutely honest sentiment. Such a scene took placea year ago last April when the victorious Japanese table tennis team assembledafter the excitement of the finals for its group picture. As the playersshuffled into their positions before the camera, the captain, Ichiro Ogimura,drew from his pocket a photograph of Kichiji Tamasu, the young star who haddied of a heart attack the previous January, and held the photograph before thetrophy. Tamasu would have been a member of the winning team, Captain Ogimurafelt, and it was only right that he be in the picture.
When orderlinessis important, as it is in golf where the spectator is right on the playingfield, the Japanese sports fan can be the last word in cooperation. At theMasters in Augusta, the best run of our annual tournaments, the huge gallerybehaves wonderfully well. At more than one presentation ceremony, Bob Jones hasgone out of his way to tell the patrons how much their conduct means to theplayers and the tournament, pointing out with humor that there is only onerespect in which they fall down a bit: when a twosome is on a green and the manin contention holes out, some spectators begin to dash for the next tee insteadof waiting until the second player has also holed out. At the Canada Cupmatches last fall, the large Japanese galleries comported themselves with allthe savoir of Augusta veterans, although at least half of them were attendingtheir first big tournament. What is more, at every green they held their placesuntil each player—in this case, four—had putted out. Then they walked quietlyon to the next hole. I was struck by this and asked one of the Japaneseofficials how in heaven they had managed to achieve it. "Oh," hereplied, "on the back side of the pairings sheet the spectators receivewhen they come through the gate, we asked them to do that." That wasthat.
When he chooses,though, the Japanese sports fan can make a lot of noise, and he generallychooses to when he goes to the ball park. Professional as well as universitybaseball has been accreted with the gala razzmatazz of American collegefootball. There is always at least one band in the stands busting periodicallyinto some unlikely tune like The Monkey Wrapped His Tail Around the Flagpole,or whatever that march is called. Between innings the cheerleaders for therival sides, garbed in Music Hall costumes, jump onto the tops of the dugoutsand lead organized yells. Individual players are exhorted hard and ridden hard,but until a few years ago life was much easier for an umpire than here in theStates. On the field the ump was the constituted authority and, brought up torespect authority, the players and managers rarely questioned his calls.Whenever a manager did, he bowed low and doffed his cap with a nice littlesweep; he repeated these gestures and thanked his enlightener before returningto the dugout. In recent years, as we were saying, the sanctity of the umpirehas been weakened. Having watched their idols, the barnstorming American stars,dish it out to the serfs in serge, the Japanese players have begun to make withthe lip and to kick a little dirt around. Today when a manager bows low anddoffs his cap, as often as not he does so with theatrically blatant mockery. Itwas better the old way.
When one looksdown on the ball field from the stands these days, he notices a muchdeeper-going change: the players are a lot bigger than they were before thewar, both taller and heftier. Where the average Japanese major leaguer oncestood about 5 feet 5 inches or 5 feet 6, today he is almost three inchestaller. (Nasashima, the college bonus player whom the Tokyo Giants signed forover $85,000, is a strapping 6-footer who weighs about 185.) This increase insize is not limited to the Japanese athletes. Most young Japanese are severalinches taller than their parents, and there are more than a few lissome girlswho have attained the hitherto unheard-of height of 5 feet 6. A radical changein the national diet accounts for this, for the age-old repetition of rice andfish, fish and rice has since the war been replaced by a balanced dietemphasizing more fruits and juices, more meat, more green vegetables, moredairy products. In some schools milk is provided daily for the kids. Behindthis drastic departure in diet lie the American Nisei, the sons of Japaneseimmigrants. When they arrived in numbers in Japan with the American forces,they shook the citizenry and made them question their thinking as did few otheraspects of the unfortunate war. A Japanese, in his confusion and misery, mightrationalize that the defeat had been brought about by the Allies' greatermanpower and productive capacity, and might buoy himself up temporarily byretreating to the ancient propaganda that the Japanese were a divine andsuperior race. It just wouldn't stand up, though, when he saw the Nisei, tall,husky, hardy fellows, as big as other American boys, a different breed fromtheir ancestors. "There is something wrong somewhere with our ideas,"the awed Japanese said to himself and to his neighbors, "if our own fleshand blood flourishes better in a foreign country than at home."
Besides creatinga taller people, the new diet is beginning to nourish a stronger people. Tocite a case in point, Japanese baseball has always produced superb base runnersand in-fielders, but in the other departments the standard has always beendefinitely minor league. Even the best outfielders cannot make the longthrow—they simply do not pack enough tissue and sinew in their shoulders, armsand hands. For the same reason, their Bob Fellers do not own a real fast ball,compensate as they will by unfurling the busiest leg action you ever saw. Thissame deficiency explains to a good degree, but not entirely, the chronicweakness of Japanese batters. Most of the home runs are hit to the"opposite field"—right-hand batters, for instance, dumping the ballinto the stands down the short right-field foul line. Even these hits are notreally well tagged as a rule. The batters, for some reason or other, swingalmost entirely with their arms and wrists, rather stiffly, instead of taking acoordinated cut in which the motion of their arms and the snap of the wrists isfluidly tied in with the movement of the whole body. Nobody is more aware oftheir deficiencies as batters than the Japanese, and they are cautiouslyhopeful that the emergence of their first natural power hitter in the person ofNasashima, the bonus boy, is an auspice of the shape of things to come.
Happily,improving the national diet has not been the only direction in which Japan hasmoved in its efforts to salvage something constructive from its disastrous war.For all of their abundant emotion and drive, the Japanese have steadied downappreciably and there are many evidences of a discernible new maturity. Theyhave, for one thing, a better sense of selectivity and more confidence in theirtastes. They are surer of what it is they like and admire in their nativeculture. They hope that outsiders will find appealing those things about itwhich they love, but it is almost enough for them that they themselves do.While their appetite for the Western and modern is greater than it ever was,their digestion has improved. The young people especially are now so thoroughlyat home with many Western "institutions," like jazz, for example, thattheir knowledge is quite instinctive. In the old days a homegrown clarinetistwho could copy Benny Goodman note for note was looked up to as a real musician.Today the kids can immediately spot an imitative performance and, having littlepatience with that sort of thing, they head for the coffee houses where theycan hear someone like Toshiko Akiyoshi whose freshness they dig. The greatthing is that they are also very much in tune with their own culture which, asthe West is beginning to appreciate, holds so much that is wise and lovely andmodern in any age.
You would have tolook far for a better representative of maturing Japan than Torakichi (Pete)Nakamura, the stocky, 42-year-old hero of the 1957 Canada Cup match, the kindof self-possessed, unshowy and good-humored fellow you would like to have asyour neighbor. He was extremely charming in victory, modest and very muchhimself. I remember best of all his appearance on a television show thefollowing week, a program like the old Home show on which he was interviewed bythe local Arlene Francis. Replying to her questions, he told her how he hadgravitated to golf: his family—his father was a woodcutter—had lived on a hillnear a golf course; he had whittled his first club from the branch of a tree;he had started to caddie....
"Well, it wascertainly a marvelous triumph, Mr. Nakamura," the lady interviewer said."It is very exciting to realize that our Japanese golfers are now the bestin the world."
"I don'tthink that's quite accurate," Nakamura corrected her, breaking into an easysmile. "You see, everything was in our favor last week. We knew the coursemuch better than the other players. We were used to the greens and many of thevisiting players never got used to them. We were very lucky, too; Ono and Ihappened to be at the very peak of our games. Many of the other players weren'tin their best form that week. That happens in golf."
"You meanthat we cannot look forward to another victory next year in the CanadaCup?" the lady interviewer asked with a twinge of disappointment.
Nakamura nodded."That's much too much to expect," he said. "I think we will bedoing very well if we finish among the first eight or 10 teams next year. We'regetting better but there are many wonderful players in the world, youknow."
Time was runningout and the lady interviewer wrapped things up by again congratulating the manof the hour. "Thank you," said Mr. Nakamura, "it was a wonderfulweek. I never played that well before."
SPORT IN JAPAN
2 Track and Field