Tuesday, April 01, 2008


Wander around any bookstore in Japan and you'll soon realize that when the Japanese find a niche, they niche the hell out of it. Any hobby, interest, fetish known to man, the Japanese have written a book on it. An illustrated one. Complete with a separate guide to the illustrated book. I'm used to seeing all sorts of odd, eccentric, downright strange tomes on any number of subjects gracing their extensive array of bookshelves, but even I was surprised yesterday to find one that seemed to coincide precisely, oddly enough, with what I was looking for.

Trying to improve my meagre Japanese, I've been reading a page or two at a time from various Japanese books. (If I were to commit myself to finishing only one book, it would take me, most likely, months, so I delude myself by telling myself that the real reason I'm switching from book to book is so that I can experience different styles, unusual words, new Chinese characters, etc.) Lately I'v been reading from books written about the nature of Chinese patriotism; why kanji (Chinese characters in Japanese form) is an essential part of the Japanese language and culture; why Japanese baseball is a distinctly more satisfying brand of the sport than its American counterpart; why Shakespeare has lessons to be learned for the Japanese heart and soul. I read a page or two here and there, switch books, delve into another topic; completely opposite of how I read in English, where I read only book at a time, fiction or non-fiction.

So yesterday I'm poking around Kinokuniya bookstore in Shinjuku, browsing through the English section and the Japanese section. There's a few books in English on Shakespeare I've been meaning to read for ages, but their prices were a wee bit, um, pricey. In the Japanese section, I noticed endless reams of books on China and Korea, but I decided to try for a little more light-hearted fair, so I found the 'sports' section and saw what there was to see.

One of my Creative Writing teachers always told us that if we wanted to get published, write a book about baseball (Or, in Canada, write a book about hockey.) The Japanese have obviously followed his advice, as there seems to be just as many, if not more, books about baseball here than in the States. Memoirs of coaches, players, fans; instructional books on how to play, how to improve, how to excel. Behind-the-scenes tomes about the people who run the statdiums, and the faithful who bleed for their teams.

And one book that knocked me out for its sheer unlikeliness.

As I've stated before, whenever I'm searching in vain around a bookstore for a title to read, I remain absolutely convicned that there's one, one, ONE book waiting that is destined for me and nobody else. (Or so I tell myself.)

Yesterday that book was: Shakespeare and Baseball.

That's right.

Shakespeare and Baseball, by Kazuo Sayama.

I thought I'd seen everything, but this takes the cake. I've been interested in Shakespeare for a while, and baseball books, more than baseball itself, has become a bit of a hobby, so you'd think I'd be keen on snatching this book. And I did. But I still can't get over it: I mean, what's the connection?!?

The cover shows the famous shot of old Billy with a baseball flinging down towards us to his left. Below the baseball is an old English ship destined, I'm guessing, to sail for the States. So perhaps this book is a chronicle of how baseball evolved from cricket? Or is it life lessons to be learned from the bard and the ball?

Not a clue.

Flipping through the book, I see pictures of the author in England, pointing at some historical sight or another.

Shakespeare. And baseball. What a combination.

So, I'll give it a go. One slow page at a time. And since I doubt it'll ever be translated into English, I'll post a blog or two about what I find when I get a chance.

That's what I love about the Japanese. Just when I'm thinking: Who the hell would write a book about Shakespeare and baseball, I realize: Now that's a book I'd want to read.

The Japanese know, and aren't afraid to admit: There's nothing stranger under their sun than themselves. (And the rest of us.) You find what you love, and go deep. Even if your own peculiar journey takes you from Elizabethean England to the pitcher's mound. (Or maybe especially for that reason.)