International relations professor (and Red Sox fan) Daniel Drezner has compiled a range of responses to the signing of Japan’s top pitcher, Daisuke Matsuzaka, by the Boston Red Sox. One of the excerpts he cites comes from Bryan Walsh at Time.com.
Most Japanese fans … are celebrating Matsuzaka’s signing as further proof that Japan’s best players can compete on baseball’s premier stage. Japanese players who move to the majors are no longer seen as leaving Japan behind; they are seen as representing their country in the international game. It’s a sign that the globalization of sport is finally penetrating this often isolationist country, that many fans here would rather watch an international game with the top players in the world than settle for a lessened domestic product. As one Japanese baseball blog put it: “Finally, all the dream matches will come true in 2007. Matsuzaka vs. Godzilla Matsui, Matsuzaka vs. Genius Ichiro, Matsuzaka vs. Igawa! I wish the MLB 2007 season would start soon.” He’s not the only one.
I suspect Mongolians feel the same way about the success of their countrymen in Japanese sumo, as people in Hawai‘i once did. Japanese professional sumo is, I think, more internationalized than Japanese professional baseball, but the latter is rapidly catching up. However, if Japan’s Central and Pacific Leagues are at the AAA level relative to the North American major leagues, sumo outside Japan is barely at the A level, in my opinion.
Last Saturday, I caught the last half of “Sumo World Challenge from Madison Square Garden in New York” on ESPN2. The final four were from Japan, Poland, Bulgaria, and the Netherlands. The Japanese wrestler won, and they were all rather skillful, but I found the dumbing down of sumo ritual for the benefit of those provincials in NYC pretty jarring. I got the distinct impression that the low-key—even taciturn—color commentator, retired pro sumo grand champion Musashimaru, was slightly embarrassed.