Issei Baseball: The Story of the First Japanese American Ballplayers

Univ. of Nebraska. Apr. 2020. 344p. ISBN 9781496213488. $29.95. SPORTS
Fitts (Banzai Babe Ruth) examines how first-generation Japanese Americans adopted baseball. He describes how baseball became popular in Japan, partly due to the fact that the ethics and rules of the game aligned with the spiritual underpinnings of Japanese bushido beliefs: a strict honor code developed over centuries by the samurai class. With the wave of immigration to western North America, many Issei (the Japanese term for these immigrants) continued to play baseball and saw it as a way to assimilate into American culture. This book deals with the barnstorming teams established by both American and Issei promoters during the first two decades of the 20th century. These young Issei lived out their dreams as professional ballplayers, traveling throughout the United States on amateur and semipro teams. Though they faced a great deal of racism and were often viewed as a novelty act, the games often led to a true respect for the Japanese. Fitts covers the careers of standout Issei players such as Harry Saisho, Ken Kitsuse, Tom Uyeda, Tozan Masko, and Kiichi Suzuki, including their experiences being relocated to internment camps during World War II.
VERDICT A detailed look at an important subject which provides a snapshot of the Issei experience, how integral baseball was in American culture, and how the sport served as a crucible for new immigrants.
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