Dhaka, Bangladesh
Eternal triangle in Northeast Asia

OFF THE TRACK

Eternal triangle in Northeast Asia

Choi Sung-jin

There is an unwritten rule among all Korean athletes in national squads regardless of events: Never lose to Japan. Players say, half-jokingly, "We have to win even in rock, paper, and scissors if our counterparts are Japanese." In the championship final of the Premier12 baseball tournament in Tokyo on Sunday, however, Japan defeated Korea 5-3. Japan deserved the win by most accounts. Aside from the game itself, two things caught my eye ? the Japanese spectators and the playing styles of the two teams. The organizers of Premier12 stress it is the international competition of the world's top-12 baseball powerhouses. Without the U.S. Major League Baseball players participating, however, its overall level is close to the Minor League's Triple-A class. Only three Northeast Asian countries ? Korea, Japan and Taiwan ? are paying particular attention to it. Still, a near-capacity crowd of about 50,000 filled the Tokyo Dome Park for two days in a row when Korea and Japan met. The Japanese fans even participated in mass cheering, singing and motioning together, which appeared uncommon for normally staid Japanese people. True, Korea pulled off a ninth-inning upset against Japan to win the championship in its inaugural tournament four years ago, also in Tokyo. However, the Japanese crowd over the weekend seemed to reflect the ongoing tense rivalry between the two nations in various areas. As is with most things that came from the West, Japan has a far longer history and a much broader base than Korea in baseball, too. This notwithstanding, the Japanese players were more faithful to the basics ? hitting, catching and throwing balls. Korea's cleanup trio failed to live up to their name, but Team Korea lost the game mainly because of difference, albeit seemingly minor, in defense. Also, the Japanese manager went by the text, making his players hit sacrifice bunts when games were close. His Korean counterpart pushed ahead with straight hitting in three successive innings with lead-off men at the first base, although his team was behind by one run. None reached the second base. My observation is subjective, of course. Nor can there be ifs in baseball. But am I the only one to see parallels between baseball and diplomacy of the two countries? People familiar with the Japanese say they are observant of rules, meticulous, tenacious and prepare well before starting anything. On the flip side, the Japanese are calculating and poker-faced with their society looking stagnant. The Japanese people's advantages are Koreans' disadvantages and vice versa.

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