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Ask Udder Smith: Baseball Blues

August 23, 2010

Dear Udder:

We are thinking of switching our only son to international school, but hesitate because of sports– he has been in the Japanese system for elementary school and is competitive in a local baseball league. He insists he wants to play high school baseball for a Japanese team, and therefore can not attend an international school for junior high. I feel like with either choice, he loses something – his passion for baseball or his English ability. Help.

Hit or Miss in Shizuoka

Dear Hit:

First off, I commend you on listening to your son.  We can never hope to teach our calves to determine greener pastures unless we give them the experience of choice.

Your son has a point. Like most things in Japan, there is a way in baseball. Most boys start early with competitive teams, particularly baseball, and the coaches feel it is their duty to impart discipline, mental strength, perseverance, along with skills. The North American way, modeled in all the international schools I know of in Japan, is to develop skills and a love of the sport, along with teamwork, perhaps, but not used as a rigid molding of behavior, as in Japan. Your son could not hope to keep up with the Japanese level of baseball by attending an international school.

Koshien, the high school national baseball tournament, just ended for the summer, but if you caught any of the games, you can see how much hard work and effort youth baseball can be in Japan; most youths, your son probably included, make Koshien the goal of their youthful sports careers.

As in all things concerning our calves, consult your child again – if he has been in the system, he must know the dedication it involves. An international school would not allow him to reach Koshien, but he could feasibly still play for a Japanese club team until high school. Talk to his coaches, for an idea of his level, compared to others on the team.  I am sure you will work together to reach a decision.  His chance for English may come again, whereas sports definitely has a finite lifespan.

There are several good books out there on the way of Japanese baseball for you to learn more, including two by Robert Whiting.

Good luck!


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Walter Buffalo permalink
    August 23, 2010 1:02 pm


    I would also check with the Japanese school to see whether he is eligible to play in the Japanese high-school leagues. If your son is a Japanese citizen, you can ignore the rest of my post, but there are some weird rules for non-Japanese joining competitions in Japan.

    When I was an exchange student (11 months, back in the 90’s) I was expressly forbidden from playing in official games because I was not Japanese. One can understand the logic, in that they want to prevent well-funded schools from recruiting “exchange students” to boost their team’s profile. On the other hand, I studied hard and worked out with my classmates every day for the best part of a year before being told that I wouldn’t be allowed to play in official games.

    These rules vary from sport to sport, though. One of the private high-schools in my area has a couple of EXTREMELY tall exchange students from Africa on their basketball squad. Senior level rugby used to allow “up to two non-Japanese on the pitch at any one time” (Kobe Steelers had two on the field and one on the bench in those days.)

    Also, things are starting to change. For example, the Kokutai (Kokumin Taiiku Taikai) used to be the exclusive preserve of Japanese nationals (legal action was even lodged by an Ice-Hockey player who argued that even though he wasn’t Japanese, taxes he paid to the Japanese government were used to fund it so he should be allowed to compete.) However, in the Hyogo games (2006?), “special permanent residents” and genuine exchange *students* were admitted.

    Be sure to check with someone who has up-to-date information about the sport he wants to play, as this may also affect your decision about which school he goes to.



  2. Udder permalink
    August 23, 2010 9:09 pm

    Hi, Walter.

    Moos for your honest and informative post — in this case, the student is half Japanese and thus has nationality, but a good point for other readers.

    Thanks again.



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