Partizipative Projekte aus dem Bereich der Japanologie

12. January 2023 von Sabrina Ebenschweiger

Japanese baseball coaches in anime: What do they tell us about Japan?

Popular culture is not kids’ stuff, but a mirror of society. Anime, manga, and video games reflect socio-cultural aspects and discourses. If you look at the representation and the concepts behind it, there is a lot to discover in anime. I took a closer look at the coaches of the baseball anime Ace of the Diamond and discovered that the willingness to sacrifice, which the samurai are said to have, is still very much in vogue. Bushido, baseball, and the Japanese school sports system – they all come together in sports anime and reveal a lot about Japanese society.

What do Bushido, baseball, school teachers, and anime have in common? Quite a lot! When we hear the term bushido (in Japanese bushidō, translated as the “way of the warrior”), we think first and foremost of samurai. The ideology of bushido became known in the West primarily through the book of the same name by Nitobe Inazō. According to him, the samurai embodies values such as loyalty, self-sacrifice, and unconditional devotion. Although this is a romanticized portrayal of the warrior elite of the time, this image has gained a foothold in both the West and Japan. It has also been transferred to sports, especially baseball. Thus, it is no surprise that the Japanese national baseball team is called “Samurai Japan”. But how did it come about?

Today, baseball is considered Japan’s national sport. It was brought to Japan by American teachers in 1872/73 and was played at elite schools after the opening of the country in the Meiji era. The adolescents who went to school there were descendants of former samurai and transferred their ideology to their baseball game. The practice of the sport was thus imbued with these ‘traditional’ values. Over time, the sports clubs of the elite schools evolved into today’s extracurricular school sports clubs (undō bukatsudō) and the values of the samurai remained a part of them. Undō bukatsudō is a concept of sports practice that does not exist in Austria per se because these sports clubs are not private clubs but are directly linked to a school. This means that training and competitions take place at the respective school in addition to regular PE lessons. However, the training is often not carried out by specially trained coaches but organized by dedicated teachers. These school sports clubs are not only about practicing sports but also about “learning for real life”. The bukatsudō coaches are therefore also “life coaches”, as they instill in the young athletes a sense of responsibility, decency, and other moral values that are important for adult life.

The coaches portrayed in sports anime also convey certain social values through their character traits and behavior. However, these are not only directed at the athletes in the fictional anime world but also at young viewers. If you take a closer look at the portrayal of the characters and their behavior, and also take into account the underlying cultural aspects, an anime reveals a lot about Japanese culture, society and its changes.

It is interesting that baseball is the most frequently depicted sport in sports anime; the anime Ace of the Diamond is one of them. In my bachelor’s thesis, I took a closer look at the ten coaches who appear in it and found out how closely bushido, baseball, and school sports are connected and what this says about Japanese norms and values, and how they are changing.

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