Breaking News in Japan

It was the top of the late night news the Friday it happened; then lead of the Saturday evening news magazine show; and finally it ushered in the Sunday mid-morning Infotainment/Wide shows. A Japanese baseball player, chasing down a short pop fly in an American stadium, slid into the ball. As it entered his glove, his left forearm was forcibly pushed at an impossible angle in the opposite direction. The result was pretty grisly fare, but worthy of repeated replay because it was Japanese slugger, Hideki Matsui, an integral part of the New York Yankees. And, in one gruesome twist of gristle and bone, Matsui was also possessor of an American battle-conferred broken arm. In so doing, Matsui became the first American-based Japanese player to be struck down by a major injury in the decade that ReDot sandlotters have been going to American shores to catch and throw and hit and spit.

Back on Japanese TV, show after show replayed Matsui’s painful sequence without surcease, leaving one to wonder: “how many times can one human-being break the same bone in the same appendage?” Aside from that, the message was more of the same; in almost every case, the narrative frame was: how was this development playing in the States?

For manager Joe Torre, sitting wearily behind a phalanx of microphones in his office, it was a major loss. There wasn’t a replacement player of Matsui’s caliber to be found, he mused; certainly not on the Yankee bench. For team captain, Derrick Jeter, it was a blow: Matsui was the kind of player who could be counted on to produce every day, dinged up or not. For longtime clubhouse leader, Bernie Williams, this was no small turn of events: there wasn’t a steadier player among the Yankee’s all-star studded crew.

The assessment did not stop with clubhouse personnel. The fan in the street weighed in with opinions like: “This is tough. Matsui is one of our best players. I hope he can get well soon and return to the line-up as fast as possible.” Even a booster for Yankee arch-rival, Boston, solicitously observed: “That’s a shame, I’m a Sox fan, but Matsui’s a good guy. Wish him well.” A CBS newscast was replayed — on numerous stations — showing a sports anchor peering out at his American audience and intoning: “Tough news for Yankees fans. Hideki Matsui has broken his left arm and will be out for a number of months.”

Big news. Top of the news kind of news. 24/7 kind of news.

Breaking news.

ReDotPop sort of news.

The kind of news to make your average, work-a-day ReDotpopper in the street puff out his chest and crow. “One of ours is respected over there, across the pond, in the big show.”

For Japan has always harbored an inferiority complex when it comes to nations east of its sea board. It has always searched for markers that might make it feel it belongs; a country capable of pulling up a chair and scarfing chow at the Table of Nations. Whether it is hosting the 1964 Olympics, as Ian Buruma has shown, or holding a permanent seat in the United Nations’ Security Council, this ReDot land has continually pined for recognition as an equal partner on the global stage.

It hasn’t come easy. Nor has it come in the normal (political, economic, moral) forms. Thus is it that this is a time where what happens overseas in the sporting world has a great impact on what is said and thought and done in the ReDot realm. It is through sports that Japanese tend to measure their progress as a nation among the world of nations.

In my day job I talk about this in terms of a country’s “globalization career”: how different nations (or regions or human groups) experience globalization in different ways at the same time, or else the same way at different times. Thus, while America’s recent Middle Eastern escapades may mean that it is living through a military-political global career, for Japan this particular epoch must certainly be termed a “cultural career”; one predicated on “sportsports“.

In Japan today, basically athletes and games are imported and exported — most often in a secondary way (like a broken arm), via mediations such as television news. What happens over there — wherever that “there” might be — has a direct presence over here in the land of the great ReDot, due to constant coverage in the media.

Sportsports are everywhere: not only on TV, but in newspapers, magazines, books, the Internet, promotional posters, and people’s minds. Sportsports are on people’s minds because the media do a bust-up job of reminding viewers about what the sportsports are doing every day overseas. When I talk about this on the university yen, I try to show the manifold ways the sportsports are presented, along with the kind of effects this produces. You can find this sort of discussion here. But for the moment just understand that news and infotainment shows chronicle sportsports exploits — every at bat, strikeout, corner kick, free kick, assist, and goal — each day, every night.

There are Ichiro capsules and Hideki Matsui capsules, and Kazuo Matsui capsules (and capsules for about 10 others) in American baseball, following by Shunsuke Nakamura capsules and Hidetoshi Nakata capsules and Masashi Oguro capsules (and capsules for about five others) in European soccer. And each time these capsules are broadcast summarizing that day’s performances by Japanese in faraway lands, the message is communicated that Japanese can-do; that they are part of a larger world of activity. Rather than dwellers of a small archipelago in a small corner of the globe, Japanese exist out in a great, wide world. And more: Japanese are busy succeeding out in that world. Realizing their potential, making us all back in ReDotland proud.

This is a constant thing, these media reports about sportsports. It is the daily ReDotPop drumbeat. Sportsports get enfolded into quiz shows; sportsports appear in commercials; sportsports pop up in the headlines of straight news programs; sportsports appear in regular segments of mid-morning and mid-day “wide” shows; sportsports receive time on late night sporting digest shows, and in the inner folds of newspapers. It is in their saturation presence on television and other media that sociologists would care to label sportsports a “phenomenon”; one whose content is unwavering; one whose global-wide-cast carries major societal implications. For what sportsports do, above all, is work to prop up a national psyche at a time when youth crime, economic decline, and political dysfunction are at their highest. It is sportsports that enable Japanese to feel that there is value and vitality in their world.

Sportsports have become one of the major motors of our ReDotPop world. They are the breaking news — morning, noon and night. Even on days when they don’t involve any breaks at all.

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