Professor Traces Baseball's Spread Across the Pacific

Visiting professor Sayuri Guthrie-Shimizu traced the spread of baseball across the Pacific in the 19th and 20th centuries on Tuesday as part of a lecture series on U.S.-Japan Relations sponsored by the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.

Guthrie-Shimizu, who hails from Michigan State University, discussed the introduction of baseball to Japan, the topic of her recently published book, “Transpacific Field of Dreams: How Baseball Linked the United States and Japan in Peace and War.”

According to Guthrie-Shimizu, Americans working for the Japanese government in the 1870s first brought the classic pastime to the country. Because U.S.-Japan relations were strong during this period, the country was receptive to adopting the new sport.

By the early 20th century, baseball had spread to Hawaii, Taiwan, Korea, and the Philippines through interactions with Japan and the U.S., she said.

Guthrie-Shimizu argues in her book that the rise of baseball in the U.S. is due primarily to the commercialization of the sport, rather than any intrinsic appeal for players or spectators.

“It embodies that best of America,” she said. “The image of being clean-cut, healthy, strong, wholesome. It was a marketing ploy that worked.”

Baseball was spread as a result of human migration, colonialism, and its profit-generating potential, Guthrie-Shimizu said.

The seminar series “provides opportunities for faculty and students to interact with speakers from outside,” said Shinju Fujihira, associate director of the Program on U.S.-Japan Relations.

According to Fujihira, the average seminar attendance has increased in recent years, despite the narrow focus of each topic. As a result of globalization, the Harvard community has become more interested in international affairs, he said.

Ayu Majima, an associate hosted by the Program on U.S.-Japan Relations, said that she was interested in attending the lecture because she is currently conducting research on athlete’s foot in Japan and the United States—a topic that is similarly related to the “sports and history” shared by the two countries.