Baseball has a long history in Japan, introduced in 1872. Wildly popular from the high school level through professional teams, many Japanese argue that baseball is the nation’s most popular sport. Here are a list of books for kids about Japan and baseball, including books on Japanese-Americans and Japanese citizens playing ball here and abroad.
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Take Me Out to the Yakya, by Aaron Meshon is the cutest cross-cultural book about Japan and baseball!!!! Each page offers two scenes related to baseball: one in the US and one in Japan. A little boy and his grandfathers living on opposite sides of the world take trips to baseball games. In the illustrations and text we learn about the many similarities and differences in our love for this sport.
Baseball Saved Us, by Ken Mochizuki. In this rite of passage story, a young Japanese-American boy and his family are sent to an internment camp in the desert. “Shorty” and his father build a baseball diamond, arrange for equipment, and make uniforms with the help of the other internees. Inspired by actual events, this picture books touches on courage, self-respect, and racism during an almost-forgotten period of US history. My kids loved Shorty as the underdog who prevails.
Along the same storyline, we read Barbed Wire Baseball: How One Man Brought Hope to the Japanese Internment Camps of WWII, by Marissa Moss. Also based on true events, we learn about Kenichi “Zeni” Zenimura who is a successful baseball player, playing with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. After Pearl Harbor in 1941, Zeni and his family are sent to an internment camp for the rest of World War II. Bringing hope and positive energy to the thousands of people interned with him, Zeni carves a baseball stadium out of the barren desert. There is bio of Zeni at the end of the book, along with numerous resources discussing the internment camps, Japan and baseball.
Sayonara Sharks, by Judi Peers. In this story a group of Canadian baseball players travel on an exchange program to Japan, where they discover the huge popularity of baseball. They experience Japanese culture and food, and find out that despite many differences, their cultures are also similar in many aspects.
Nomo: The Tornado Who Took America by Storm, by Edmon Rodman and Ichiro Suzuki: Best in the West, by Mark Stewart are both biographies of famous Japanese baseball players who played in US Major League Baseball (MLB). Both Nomo (playing on many MLB teams, including a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers) and Ichiro (outfielder for the Seattle Mariners, NY Yankees, Miami Marlins) are phenomenal players with incredible talents. I love when kids read biographies of people they might not hear about in school. Break down barriers and choose bios of people from many cultures and backgrounds to widen your children’s perspectives (here are my favorite biographies for kids to get started!).
Combining a bit of WWII history with famous Japanese baseball stars Ichiro and Sasaki, Dear Ichiro, by Jean Davies Okimoto delivers a warm story of friendship and forgiveness. Without giving away the story, I will say that my kids were glad that the two friends found a way back together after their initial argument with guidance from a wise grandpa.
Japan and baseball: what a cool cross-cultural theme for kids to read about!