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Colonial Project, National Game A History of Baseball in Taiwan

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Baseball in Japanese Taiwan, 1895-1920s

[Formosa] has served the purpose of educating us in the art of colonization.

Inazo Nitobé, The Japanese Nation (1912)

Japan's southern island of lush betel nut,

Island of high mountains, now our island,

A beautiful young island,

TTK, TTK, Rah-T-Rah-T-Rah-K.

Anthem of the Taiwan Sports Association (Taiwan Taiiku Kyōkai) (1933)

In December 1998, Asahi Shimbun CEO Nagayama Yoshitaka made a short visit to southern Taiwan. He told his hosts that he had only one purpose for making this trip: to fulfill the lifelong wish that his friend, the famed and recently deceased author Shiba Ryōtarō, had never realized-to run a lap around the bases at the Jiayi Institute of Technology. Shiba late in life became known as an influential Taiwanophile, but his nostalgic view of a Japanese Taiwan, centered on its baseball culture, is perfectly common some six decades after the end of the colonial empire. The mimetic qualities of Nitobe Inazō's quotation in the epigraph are also telling, and his and Shiba's views provide appropriate bookends to a twentieth century of close, complicated ties between Taiwan and Japan.

Japan's career in Taiwan and its own vibrant baseball culture sprang from the same historical moment in 1895. This was the year that Meiji Japan, after defeating the Qing dynasty, seized its first colony-the malarial, bandit-and-opium-ridden island of Taiwan. This was also the year that Chūma Kanoe, a recently graduated star student-athlete at Tokyo's elite No. 1 High School, who later would publish Japan's first book of baseball research, coined a new Japanese name for the popular sport of bēsubōru. This new name, yakyū-literally, "ball game in the open"-reflected perfectly the Meiji colonialist ambitions that were so often voiced in the language of expanse and open space. The pastoral imagination already built into American baseball, after spreading to Japan in the 1870s and 1880s, was refracted into an important element of the Meiji colonialist vision of different East Asian nations' territories as so much open, wild, available space.

John Noyes has written on this idea of "colonial space," explaining that the "colonial landscape is not found by the colonizer as a neutral and empty space, no matter how often he assures us that this is so. This is one of the most persistent myths of colonization." Indeed, the "open" game of baseball surged in popularity in Japan at the exact moment of the Meiji empire's emergence as a world power and concomitant grab for colonial territories throughout East Asia. The familiar and often-propagated stereotype of baseball in Japan is that the game was an inspired but overdisciplined mimicry of a more authentic American baseball culture. However, it is easy to see how this cultural form's resonance was more likely its perfect fit within Japan's new "colonial narrative"-which, according to Thomas Nolden, displays the spatial practice of colonialism (for instance, conquest and settlement) by representing the space of colonized land according to concepts of modern knowledge. In this and the next chapter I will attempt to treat yakyū in Taiwan from within this understanding of its importance to the half-century of Japanese colonial rule, emphasizing the complicated, layered, and contradictory subject-positions constructed by and for those players and spectators participating in the national game.

Down to the Colony

At the end of 1895, just months after taking the frontier island of Taiwan from a partially relieved Qing dynasty, Japan integrated it (along with most of Okinawa) into its new Western Standard time zone (seibu hyōjunji). Taiwan would now be integrated into, if still left an hour behind, the modern Meiji order in many ways. There was still much dirty work to do in addressing societal "evils" never mastered by the Qing. In justifying the often violent measures taken against brigands and Taiwan's Austronesian Aborigines, even the famed educator Nitobe admitted that the Japanese had to serve as a "cruel master," and London's admiring Spectator still had to predict that much of Japan's work in Taiwan "might mean something unpleasantly like extermination." Besides these institutional prerogatives, the cause of civilization and "colonial success," which could only be gained through "justice seasoned with mercy," also depended on cultural forms that would reproduce these new colonial ties and hierarchies in everyday life.

Modern sport was well established by this moment as one crucial way of showing a people's fitness for inclusion in the new world order. Yu Chien-ming has discussed how, even from the earliest years of Japanese rule, colonial planners felt responsible for making use of "globalized notions of physical education to transform Taiwanese bodies." In Taiwan, sport would become part of Japan's "civilizing process" as colonists strove to exhibit the qualities that made Japan so superior to the backward culture of the vanquished Chinese. Chief Civil Administrator Gotō Shimpei was well known for his support of physical culture as state policy; in 1903 the Taiwan Nichinichi Shimpō reprinted older comments of his on the relationship between men's and women's fitness and national economic strength. This policy could take the form of activities designed for Taiwanese subjects, like physical education in schools for boys and girls, or movements against the "low customs" (rōshū) of women's foot binding or men's Manchu-style queue ("pigtail") hairstyles. Or it could be illustrated through aggressive physical forms such as judō, kendō, sumo, or even equestrian events, which were explicitly restricted to Japanese participation at this time of armed resistance toward the new regime. A 1933 book published by the Taiwan Sports Association reflected on the activities of this earlier era that served as such visible colonial "elements of control" (tōseiteki no mono)-hinting clearly at physical culture's important position in the relations and hierarchies of colonialism.

Sport's very presence in Taiwan, then, had implications in terms of both global culture and local reception. In recent decades, Sony cofounder Akio Morita coined the phrase global localization, which one observer has described as "brand strategy at one side of the spectrum and customer expectations the other." Likewise, an online dictionary (no printed ones have bothered) defines glocalization as "the creation of products or services intended for the global market, but customized to suit the local culture." While my interest is hardly so mercenary, it is important to see how the term has come to apply more broadly to cultural