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MAR 21, 2006

What It Means to Carry the Japanese Flag: The Day Sadaharu Oh’s Japan Baseball Team Became Number One in the World

By Yoshito Hori
Copyright GLOBIS

Today’s World Baseball Classic (WBC) saw the Japan National Team, led by manager Oh, become number one in the world. I’m sure a great many Japanese people were filled with confidence and courage when the gallant players raised the flag of the rising sun.

I would never have predicted that representing the Japanese flag would make Ichiro, Japan’s hero, express himself with such simple sincerity: the despair and humiliation on his face after the defeat in the Korea game, his sparkling smile on hearing that the American team’s loss would send the Japan to the semifinals, the samurai spirit he displayed in that rematch against South Korea, the incredible joy at becoming number one after beating Cuba. A multitude of fans joined Ichiro and the other players on this emotional roller coaster. This journey created a sense of unity among the Japanese, as evidenced by a TV viewer rating of more than 50% for the semifinal.

I was deeply excited after both the Korea game on the 19th and the conclusion of the game against Cuba, but I suppose I would not have felt quite the same if the team had won the championship easily. Many were virtually intoxicated by the unexpected drama, such as the umpire’s bad calls in the U.S. game, and feeling the nation’s pride on the line.

I clearly remember the time a few months ago when I asked Go player Yukari Umezawa about her most memorable match. She recalled the time she won an international game as a member of the Japanese team. She wanted to fight again, she said, representing the Japanese flag. Two years ago, in the Japan-China-Korea women’s Go team competition, she battled as the team’s anchor and won the game splendidly.

Since then, I have wondered what it means to represent my country, and whether I would ever have such an opportunity.

Since the end of the war, patriotism has not been taught in Japan. Even when we cheer on teams representing the country, we do it with some reservation. But I wonder if I’m really the only one who experiences a sense of fondness at the sight of people shyly holding the flag up, supporting Japan.

I don’t believe that patriotic education should be required. Too much patriotism can create a sense of exclusion toward other countries. But I do think education should focus on a spirit of service to one’s community, whether that community is Japan, the whole of Asia, or even humanity as a whole. At a minimum, obviously, community means family, but it can also be a company.

This spirit of offering maximum service to the community to which one belongs is, to an extent, comparable to the spirit of noblesse obligeーthe idea that wealth, power, and prestige come with social responsibilities. The sense of unity born from this spirit repels militaristic, exclusive thoughts. This empathy gives people pride in their community, as well as courage and confidence.

Therefore, can one really say that representing the Japanese flag is a privilege only allowed to athletes or Go players?

I don’t believe this is the case.

Anyone who lives with all their might is entitled to feel they are bearing the Japanese flag simply by serving their community. You don’t have to be a famous athlete at an international competition. Ordinary people carry the Japanese flag by serving as integral members of their own communities.