The stakes of Japan-Korea went deeper than baseball…


For about three hours Wednesday evening, enthusiastic followers in Japan and South Korea tuned right into a sporting occasion that for a lot of represents one thing greater than a simple part of competitors throughout the Olympic Video games.

Instances sports activities columnist Dylan Hernández, a Japanese Salvadoran American Angeleno, and overseas correspondent Victoria Kim, a Korean American Seoulite, watched a baseball sport between two bitter rivals in Tokyo’s Koreatown to discover questions of id and historic baggage and why this matchup was far more than a sport.

Japan’s colonization of Korea within the early 20th century has left lengthy scars which have manifested in energetic political controversies that proceed to simmer as we speak. The neighboring nations are deeply related but entangled in an online of feelings and historic resentment that heighten the stakes when they’re on opposites sides, regardless of the event.

Dylan: Residing in Los Angeles ready me for the worst.

I spent loads of nights all through my childhood on the Coliseum watching soccer video games between groups from Mexico and El Salvador, the nation of my father’s delivery. There have been all the time fights within the stands.

As soon as, I watched the pay-per-view telecast of a boxing match between Felix Trinidad and Fernando Vargas at a Glendale bar. After the Puerto Rican Trinidad stopped the Mexican American Vargas, somebody was knifed within the parking zone.

So, as colleague Victoria Kim and I searched Tokyo’s Koreatown of Shin-Okubo for a spot to observe the Olympic baseball sport on Wednesday evening, I braced myself for uncomfortable expertise. I didn’t anticipate any violence, not in Tokyo, a spot so peaceable that some cops are armed with wooden sticks as a substitute for weapons. However watching the sport within the firm of Koreans, I figured I’d sense how a lot they resented Japan, of which I’m additionally a citizen.

Excessive-stakes sporting occasions have a means of constructing ugliness spill out, and this was about as high-stakes as they got here. This was Japan towards Korea. In baseball. On the Olympics.

Victoria: I’m the furthest factor from a sports activities fan. I grew up inside earshot of the primary baseball stadium in Seoul, South Korea, and by no means went to a sport as a child. I spent 4 years within the Boston space for school and never as soon as I set foot in storied Fenway Park. I’m usually cautious of overt shows of nationalistic fervor.

However, a Korea-Japan match (and it’s all the time Korea-Japan, by no means Japan-Korea) in any sport all the time appears to hold a unique sense of weight and significance that stirs a curiosity I didn’t even know was there.

In South Korea, any matchup towards Japan is hyped as a chance for historic comeuppance for 36 years of colonial rule and 16th-century wars of invasion. “Archenemies,” “Match of Future,” “Can’t-lose sport” are inventory phrases that dominate headlines within the lead-up to any sport. “When you guys lose, swim again residence,” is a go-to motivational insult that all the time makes the rounds on social media.

The Stakes Of Japan Korea Went Deeper Than Baseball

Japan catcher Takuya Kai celebrates after scoring towards South Korea throughout sports Wednesday on the Tokyo Olympics.

The East Sea, or Sea of Japan — the nomenclature being considered one of many sore factors between the international locations — is about 660 miles at its widest.

“Right here come the opponents towards whom we should win, even when in a sport of rock, paper scissors,” former Dodgers pitcher Chan Ho Park, a commentator for nationwide broadcaster KBS, wrote on the eve of the sport.

“It’s the rival match through which all of our individuals are craving for victory.”

Dylan: There was controversy earlier than the Video games even began, with Korea’s Olympic delegation establishing its personal kitchen as a result of it feared the delicacies served within the athlete’s village included radioactive elements from Fukushima.

The media right here picked up the story, resulting in feedback on social media about how the Koreans had been ungrateful and will simply go residence.

“The political world and standard tradition are totally different. The Koreans who’re listed here are right here as a result of they like Japan, so nothing dangerous occurs.”

Masakazu Hasegawa, who was watching the South Korea-Japan Olympic baseball sport in Tokyo’s Koreatown

Once I consider Japanese-Korean relations, I usually consider an incident at the newest Winter Olympics in Korea. I’m afraid of heights and didn’t react effectively after I needed to journey a ski carry for the primary time in my life. I used to be sitting alongside a Japanese reporter whom I had by no means met.

“Don’t fear,” he advised me. “I’m certain this ski carry was made in Japan or Germany, and never in Korea.”

Victoria: We strolled down Okubo-Dori, Tokyo’s equal of Wilshire Boulevard in Koreatown, around nightfall.

Regardless of the headlines and over-the-top TV spots, it wasn’t straightforward to discover a place exhibiting the sport. On the half-empty basement seafood restaurant the place we ended up, the supervisor advised us the sport can be on, however, the TVs had been tuned to the unsuitable channel and nobody appeared to care.

However, like followers at Dodger Stadium, the individuals filtered in after a pair of innings and ultimately crammed the place proprietor Jeon Koo-child had put in set-top packing containers earlier within the day, particularly for this sport.

Jeon had a monetary stake on the sport’s final result: he and a Japanese buddy, who normally watch these video games collectively, had guess 1,000 yen — about $9 — for every run scored by the opposite nation, and the loser must pony up one other 5,000 yen to the winner.

“We will lose to different international locations however to not Japan,” mentioned Jeon, who in additional than three a long time of residing in Japan, by no means misses a Korea-Japan sport.

Dylan: We had been seated within the again nook of the restaurant, subsequent to a few Korean males.

Considered one of them began speaking to Victoria, then turned his consideration to me.

The Stakes Of Japan Korea Went Deeper Than Baseball

Japan’s Masataka Yoshida is hit by the ball as he slides safely into second base at the entrance of South Korea’s Jaegyun Hwang.

“Have you learned Child Yamamoto?” he requested in accented Japanese.

I advised him I did.

“He was my pupil,” he mentioned proudly, exhibiting me photos of him and Yamamoto on his iPhone.

That gave me an instantaneous connection to this stern-looking Korean man. The late Yamamoto was a well-known blended martial artist. His brother-in-law is Yu Darvish, the previous Dodgers pitcher, whom I’ve lined for years.

Our new buddy mentioned he was a former wrestler who represented Korea internationally. Kim Younger-gu advised me, “You appear like Maradona.”

I feel that was his well-mannered means of claiming I used to be fats.

Victoria: Dylan has been good-naturedly ribbing me — extra precisely, trash speaking — all through the Olympics concerning the efficiency of South Korean athletes. All of the whereas, I stored considering again to a 1945 George Orwell essay on sports activities I first learned in high school.

He calls sporting occasions “an unfailing explanation for ill-will” over which nations “work themselves into furies over these absurd contests, and severely consider … that working, leaping and kicking a ball are checks of nationwide advantage.”

Particularly at a time when the pandemic has shut down borders, heightened suspicions, and customarily torn the world aside, I’m undecided I’m offered on the premise that the Olympics “convey the world collectively.”

However as we sat right down to a (literal) boatload of sashimi, or we, as we Koreans name it, I can’t assist however really feel a tinge of pleasure on the chance that the Korean workforce might beat the higher-firepower Japanese squad of their homeland, and at a sport, they love so dearly.

And that’s coming from somebody who had no thought till a South Korean journalist advised me at Narita Airport upon arrival that baseball was part of these Olympics.

I most likely laughed a bit too laborious within the third inning. Dylan ingested a sliver of spicy Korean pepper and struggled with the warmth, breaking out in a sweat and like a lot, as he could deny it, had tears in his eyes. It might or could not have made up for the truth that Japan was up 1-0.

Dylan: Primarily based on Victoria’s translations of tales and headlines on the sport, it sounded as if the Koreans had been treating the sport like a matter of life or dying.

The tales in Japanese publications projected no such alarm. One story talked about Korea’s observe report towards Japan in worldwide baseball, however that was about it.

The Stakes Of Japan Korea Went Deeper Than Baseball

Japan’s Seiya Suzuki can’t catch as much as a double hit by South Korea’s Jung Hoo Lee.

Longtime baseball author Junichi Ito later defined to me why.

If there was a sport Japan might lose to Korea, it was this one. This was a double-elimination event, which means the loser of the sport would nonetheless be alive. Japan and Korea had been thought of as the 2 greatest groups. Regardless of the end result, they might most likely play one another once more later within the week for the gold medal.

“How Japanese of you,” I advised my buddy, “utilizing logic to suck the enjoyable out of one thing.”

Victoria: On the prime of the sixth, when South Korea scored two runs, tying the sport, it’s like a jolt of electrical energy has gone via the restaurant and the disparate diners are abruptly cheering as one. The supervisor brings a spherical of free bottles of soju, Korea’s hottest liquor, on the home to have a good time.

“After we win, it’s this launch of one thing that was oppressed and condensed,” Kim Okay-Hyun, a 57-year businessman on the desk subsequent to us, tells us.

The Stakes Of Japan Korea Went Deeper Than Baseball

Tokyo Olympics Protection

Considered one of Kim’s eating companions is a wrestler and coach Kim Younger-gu, a gold medalist from the 1986 Asian Video games. With the bases loaded within the backside of the eighth and slugger Tetsuto Yamada at-bat — “You’re screwed,” Dylan says with a smirk — the wrestler put his fingers collectively and prayed out loud Yamada would strikeout.

No cube. Yamada doubled to deep left heart, scoring three runs. Closing rating: 5-2.

Dylan: Masakazu Hasegawa, 57, was sharing a desk along with his Korean spouse and two Korean-born daughters.

“Right here, all of us cheer for our groups and that’s it,” he mentioned. “We don’t battle.”

Hasegawa mentioned the political controversies between the international locations didn’t bleed into how individuals really feel about each other.

“The political world and standard tradition are totally different,” he mentioned. “The Koreans who’re listed here are right here as a result of they like Japan, so nothing dangerous occurs. So our angle is, ‘Let’s combine our cultures. The individuals within the political world, go forward and do no matter you need.’”

Throughout us, the environment was festive. There wasn’t any venom within the air. The Koreans I met this evening handled the sport as if it had been, you already know, a sport.

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