In today’s World Baseball Classic (WBC), the Japan National Team, led by manager Oh, impressively became number one in the world. I suppose a great many Japanese people were touched and filled with confidence and courage seeing the gallant players representing the flag of the rising sun.
I would never have predicted that representing the Japanese flag would make Ichiro, Japan’s own super-hero, express his feelings with such simple sincerity. The despair and humiliation on his face after the defeat in the Korea game. His sparkling smile on hearing that the American team had lost, which sent the Japanese team to the semi-finals. The samurai spirit he displayed in the semi-final rematch against South Korea. The incredible joy at becoming number one after beating Cuba. A multitude of fans joined Ichiro and the other players on this emotional rollercoaster of despair and joy, and I felt this journey created a sense of unity among Japanese. I assume this was behind the astonishing level of interest, as evidenced by a TV viewer rating of more than 50% for the semi-final.
I was so deeply excited after the Korea game on the 19th and at the conclusion of today’s game against Cuba, that I even raised a glass to celebrate. I suppose I would not have felt so excited if the team had won the championship easily. Many were virtually intoxicated by the unexpected drama without plot, such as the umpire’s bad calls in the U.S. game and losing two games in a row against the Korean team, and because every single match was played with the nation’s pride on the line.
What a blast! Thank you so much. :-D
(If I simply ended here, it wouldn’t be much of a column, so I’ll write a little more).
I clearly remember the time a few months ago when I asked Go player Yukari Umezawa about what was her most memorable match. She replied, “The time I won an international game as a member of the Japanese team. I want to fight again representing the Japanese flag.” Two years ago, in the Japan-China-Korea women’s Go team competition, she battled as the team’s anchor and won the game splendidly, making a major contribution to the team. For Umezawa, this occasion had been her greatest memory.
Since then I have wondered what it means to fight carrying the Japanese flag, and whether I would ever have such an opportunity.
To be truthful, I can’t claim to have had such an experience yet. Yet, somewhere in my heart, there is the feeling of wanting to hoist the flag high and fight with the hopes of the nation resting upon me. However, in terms of sports, or Go, such an opportunity will unfortunately never come my way at this point. This is why I would like to enthusiastically cheer on anyone who represents the Japanese flag.
Since the end of the war, patriotism has not been taught in Japan, neither has the idea of taking a pride in your country. One manifestation of this fact, I think, is the sight of Japanese cheering our teams with some reservation. But at the same time, I wonder if I’m the only one who experiences a sense of fondness at the sight of people shyly holding the flag up, supporting Japan.
Incidentally, I don’t believe that patriotic education should be required. Too much patriotism can create a sense of exclusiveness toward other countries. Instead of patriotism, I think education should focus on a spirit of service to one’s community. The reason is that “community” refers not only to Japan, but also in some cases the whole of Asia, including Korea and China, and in some cases humanity as a whole. At minimum, obviously, community means family, and in terms of an organization, it can be a company.
This spirit to offer maximum service to the community to which one belongs is, to an extent, comparable to the spirit of noblesse oblige, (noblesse oblige means that with wealth, power, and prestige come social responsibilities), and would be shared by very many people. As a result, the sense of unity born from this spirit would never generate militaristic, exclusive thoughts. This empathy quite simply serves to give its members pride in the community to which they belong, and I suppose offers them courage and confidence.
Therefore, can one really say that representing the Japanese flag is privilege only allowed to athletes, or Go players?
I don’t believe this is the case. On a everyday level, anyone who lives with all their might is entitled to feel as though they were bearing the Japanese flag on their back by serving their community. This is not confined to baseball star Ichiro. The NHK program, “Project X,” that was broadcast until the end of last year, always dealt with the story of an unknown person. In other words, even if you aren’t a famous sports player representing your country, ordinary people are all carrying the Japanese flag as integral members of their own communities.
Today, in addition to feeling the joy of the Japanese players reaching number one in the world, I feel I was filled with courage and confidence through their gallant example and their fighting spirit. Starting tomorrow, throughout my daily work, I am going to fight on in my own way, with the feeling that I am holding up a small Japanese flag of my own.
With this feeling in my heart, I will now call it a night, a little late.
March 21, 2006