PBS Premiere: July 4, 2006Check the broadcast schedule »

Ask the Filmmaker

Nori from Coldorao asks: What suprised you the most about modern-day Japanese culture?

Kenneth Eng and Alex Shear: I think people get the wrong idea about Japan, they think that Japanese people are all the same and come out of school like robots from an assembly line. And I think our film is dangerously close to propagating that illusion because of the old-fashioned, traditional and team-oriented nature of kokoyakyu. But if you could see the baseball players from our film after they graduated, with their dyed spiky hair and ripped jeans, you would realize that individualism is alive and well here, but has its place. Sometimes people can put it aside for a common goal, because as author Robert Whiting said in our interview with him -- you really are nothing without the people around you.

It is easy to generalize about Japan and Japanese people, but the reality is that there is great variation of beliefs, politics, dialects, etc. For example, not everyone in Japan thinks high school baseball is a good thing. Some people think it is an outdated and backwards tradition that has a negative effect on kids. There is a wide range of different people, if not nationalities, and opinions are split on almost every issue, just like in America.

Daniel from New York asks: Not long ago, while playing college baseball, I had the opportunity to play against a traveling Japanese all-star collegiate team that promoted the Nanshiki style of play, which includes the use of a rubber baseball. I was curious if the high school players also used these balls instead of the harder cork and leather balls we use here in the U.S.?

Eng and Shear: We are not experts on the use of the rubber balls, so we can't say exactly how they are used, but we know they are very common. We're pretty sure that the rubber balls are used at younger levels of baseball, before high school, and it is also used at the college level in certain situations. There are at least two types of rubber ball, the one we know of has seams on it just like a baseball, so it can do everything a real baseball does. It has been explained to us that there are really two major reasons for the rubber balls:

One of course is safety, not only for the players, but also for spectators and passersby. In Japan it is very rare to find large open areas to practice, and it is unthinkably rude to smack a random person with a hardball or smash their windshield. In the States we just yell "Heads Up!" and we are done with it. (On a related note, at every baseball stadium I've seen in Japan there is always a fence around the stands which prevents the line drive foul balls from hitting spectators. And whenever a ball is fouled into the stands a spotter will blow a whistle to warn the fans. After a fan catches a foul ball, they always give it back to the usher or ball boy! In fact, the high school baseball federation is so concerned about foul balls that they chart every single foul ball at Koshien Stadium, whether it was a popup or line drive, and exactly where it lands!)

The other reason for the rubber ball is that it is supposed to be very good for practice, because the ball has to be hit very squarely on sweet spot of the bat in order to get a good hit. You end up with a "Small-Ball" type game that stresses fundamentals. And the kids learn to not fear the ball as much when it takes a bad hop and hits them in the face or somewhere else.

Sookie from Wyoming asks: Do the fans follow college baseball there as heavily as they follow high school ball?

Eng and Shear: College baseball is really popular too, but not quite as popular as high school baseball for some reason. The big rivalry of Keio University vs. Waseda University has been popular ever since the early 1900s. But we're not experts on this issue.

Whitney from Louisiana asks: At some point in the near future, my wife and I intend to travel to Japan and we would like attend some of the games in the Koshien tournament. Would tickets be difficult to get?

Eng and Shear: Not at all. The possible exception may be the final game at Koshien, but even that should be fine with some planning. For regional games, tickets are about $6, and for Koshien tickets are only about $10. You can bring your own food and drink into the stadium, too. Just be ready for the extreme sun, heat and humidity. We recommend bringing a white towel and sitting in the shade, as temperatures in the bleachers can reach ungodly heights, well over 100 degrees.

Tom from New York asks: What month is Koshien played in, and are the bats aluminum or wood?

Eng and Shear: Koshien is played in late August, after the regional tournaments in July and early August. The bats are aluminum.

Michael from Atlanta asks: How did you fund this film?

Eng and Shear: Major grants from the US-Japan Foundation, the Japan-US Friendship Commission, and the Japan Foundation. Air travel courtesy of United Airlines. Also donations from many, many individuals (they are all individually listed in the credits on this site).

Dara from New Hampshire asks: Is there a longer version of this film available? If so, where can I get it?

Eng and Shear: Currently there is no longer version available. Stay tuned, we are still trying to figure out what we want to do in that regard. There will likely be some DVD extras added at the very least, on a new DVD version in the next year or two.