Rice’s Guthrie Shimizu co-curates Tokyo exhibit on ‘US-Japan Baseball Diplomacy’

A new photo exhibit at the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Library, “Pacific Pitch: U.S.-Japan Baseball Diplomacy,” charts the history of the two countries’ shared national pastime from its introduction to Japan at the end of the 19th century to the present day. Rice’s Sayuri Guthrie Shimizu served as co-curator of the exhibit, which was curated by the Meridian International Center in Washington, D.C., with support from the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.

The Fresno Athletic Club, a Japanese-American baseball team, visits Tokyo’s Meiji Jingu Stadium in 1927. Photo courtesy of the Nisei Baseball Research Project

“I really enjoyed being involved in the project,” said Guthrie Shimizu, professor of history and the Dunlevie Family Chair in History at Rice. A scholar who specializes in U.S. relations with the wider world, with a particular emphasis on U.S.-East Asian relations since the mid-19th century, she is the author of “Transpacific Field of Dreams: How Baseball Linked the United States and Japan in Peace and War” (2012).

“I knew from writing my recent book that baseball was a shared cultural practice threading through U.S.-Japanese relations, and it was fun to be able to help the center collect visual images from various sources and help them contextualize those images,” she said.

Guthrie Shimizu collaborated with the Meridian International Center for about a year and was on hand for the opening of the exhibit June 2. It will be on display at the library through July 30 and will travel to three other cities in Japan for the duration of the year.

“Baseball is a shining example of sports diplomacy,” Guthrie Shimizu wrote in an introduction to the exhibit. “Originally based on an English folk game, baseball became a prevalent modern team sport in the United States by the mid-19th century. It was brought to Japan by a group of young Americans hired by the government to assist with the nation’s modernization and Westernization. The game spread rapidly and widely across Japan in the ensuing decades, first as a student sport, then as a semiprofessional game and finally as a commercialized enterprise. Because of its early arrival and diffusion through the education system, baseball was quickly embraced in Japan as the most popular Western team sport, overshadowing other games such as soccer and basketball.”

Sayuri Guthrie Shimizu

The exhibit uses more than 50 facsimiles of archival photographs and ephemera to relay how Japan and the U.S. have bonded through friendly competition. Some feature well-known greats, such as former Giants legend Shigeo Nagashima posing for a photo with the New York Yankees’ Roger Maris in 1962, or Yankees great Joe DiMaggio giving hitting tips to some of the Hiroshima Carp players during a visit to Japan while honeymooning with Marilyn Monroe in 1954.

Game tickets are also on display, including a sample from the 1922 World Series at New York’s Polo Grounds. The price of admission to the lower stands then was $5.50.

The images, many not previously exhibited, are drawn from the collections of the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York, the Library of Congress, university libraries and private collections, among others. The exhibit was advised by Robert Whiting, the journalist and author of “You Gotta Have Wa,” “The Meaning of Ichiro” and “The Chrysanthemum and the Bat.”

“Throughout our history, baseball has played a pivotal role in bridging our two cultures and building the strong alliance our countries have today,” said Stuart Holliday, Meridian’s president and CEO and a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, in a news release announcing the exhibit.

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is associate director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.