Author Robert Whiting has never been exactly conventional when it comes to selecting the locales where he settles in to write. His first book, The Chrysanthemum and the Bat—considered the definitive one on Japanese baseball and also among the best on Japanese culture in general—was completed while Whiting worked as an office temporary for the Kelly Girl company in New York City in 1975.
His second book, You Gotta Have Wa—an excerpt begins on page 76 of this issue—was written while Whiting lived in Somalia with his wife, Kondo Machiko, a Japanese citizen who is a resettlement officer with the United Nations. They have been married since 1983 and where she goes for the UN, so goes Whiting. "I'm sure I'm the only person who has ever written a book on Japanese baseball from Africa," says Whiting.
As the above indicates, Whiting has a liking for foreign lands. He grew up in Eureka, Calif., and while an undergraduate at Humboldt State, decided to spend a year studying political science at Sophia University, an international school in Tokyo. That was in 1964. He soon developed an English language course for Japanese students and stayed on until 1972 before moving to New York. In 1976 he returned to Tokyo, where his book became a best-seller, and Japan has been his home base ever since.
The Chrysanthemum and the Bat started out as an undergraduate thesis on Japanese politics. "I found when I talked to Americans about how government worked in Japan, it would quickly put them to sleep," says Whiting, 46. "But the way the Japanese played baseball really captured their imagination. I discovered that I could use baseball to better describe what everyday life is like in Japan. Baseball there embodies the Japanese work ethic and commitment to success."
May 14, 1989
The piece in this week's issue marks Whiting's third appearance in SI, the first dating back to May 17, 1976. But it was the headline that ran with his second SI story (Sept. 24, 1979) that provided Whiting with a title for the follow-up to The Chrysanthemum and the Bat. "When I saw You Gotta Have Wa, I thought it was perfect. It says it all so well," he says.
Right now Whiting is finishing up the research for a third book about baseball in Japan. As might be expected, he'll soon be off to an exotic corner of the world—Karachi, Pakistan—to write it.