Take me out to the ball game...

The image of Japanese American men pitching balls and hitting homeruns does not first come across our minds when we think of baseball, the great American sport. However, Japanese immigrants have already had great appreciation for the sport before immigrating to American in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Japan had already adopted the sport during the Meiji era (1870s), when Japan was adopting western customs to establish a more modern national identity. Baseball, to the Japanese, incorporated both western and eastern cultural elements. Baseball had Japanese values of harmony, determination, and discipline while also reflecting Western characteristics.

In 1899, Japanese immigrants started their own baseball teams after they settled in the US. The first Japanese American baseball team, Excelsiors, was established in Hawaii. Soon after, more teams of different ethnicities were created and competed with each other. There were the Japanese American team, Chinese American team, Hawaiian team and etc. However, the first mainland Japanese American team, formed in San Francisco in 1903, was the San Francisco Fujii Club. Other cities followed and by 1910 baseball leagues were formed.

The establishments of these first baseball teams had two motives. First, it was a way of leisure and entertainment for the players. Second, they hoped the establishments of the baseball teams would created a better connection between the dominating Caucasian community through the shared interest and love of baseball. However, simply the love of baseball was not enough for the Japanese immigrant community to receive acceptance from the Caucasian community. Instead, they still continued to face opposition and aggression from the general public.

The establishments of the first Japanese baseball teams occurred around the same time of the fear of the “Yellow Peril”. America was starting to feel resentment towards the Japanese community because of their growing population. Also, although many Japanese wore Western clothing and adopted Western customs, they were not accepted because of how they looked. The stereotype of Asian male’s bodies makes it hard to associate Asian males to American sports. Asian males were believed to be frail, feminine and dirty while Caucasian males are masculine and strong. There is also the issue of authenticity. Baseball is strongly associated with the American image that anyone who plays baseball who isn’t an American, anyone who is not a white Caucasian male, lacks the authenticity of a real American baseball player. This stereotype is still well played in contemporary society.

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