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The U.S., Japan, Korea: A Father and Brothers
“God Bless Baseball” Describes Trilateral Relations

• “God Bless Baseball” by the playwright-director Toshiki Okada premiered at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago from January 28 to 30. The play was created as one of the opening programs for Asian Arts Theatre in Kwangju, South Korea. After playing Kwangju, the play was performed in Tokyo, and then embarked on a U.S. tour in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Maryland, and Columbus, Ohio.

• Okada describes the relations between Japan and South Korea through a variety of scenes in baseball, which has gained national popularity in both countries for more than a century.

• The game of baseball came into Japan in 1873 and Korea in 1904. Since then, baseball has deeply gotten into the citizens’ lives and society in the two countries. In the play, Okada uses baseball as a metaphor of the complication of the US-Japan-Korea relationship. The U.S. brought baseball to the two countries and has continued to influence above the countries, behind the countries, and the insides of the people of the countries; thus, Okada sets the U.S. as father, and Japan and Korea as brothers. Interestingly, Okada assigns Japanese actors and actress to play Korean roles, and vice versa. The play goes on in the Japanese and Korean languages with English captions.

• “God Bless Baseball” starts when a Japanese woman (Aoi Nozu) and a Korean woman (Yoon Jae Lee) come up to the stage and are standing in an uneasy mood as if they are looking for where to start or what to say. It might be the situation when Japan and Korea came up to a stage next to each other.

• The two women don’t know about baseball at all. A Korean man (Sung Hee Wi) comes up to the stage and begins to explain the rules of baseball. He says that he used to play baseball, but not now. Then Ichiro or an Ichiro-like person (Pijin Neji) joins the three and explains the rules of baseball. His excellent mimicry of Ichiro entertains the audience very well. The conversations of the four draw laughter from the audience.

• The women say, “Your explanations were very understandable to the people, who know about baseball, but we don’t understand what you are saying because we don’t know about it at all.” The comments might imply that a certain explanation about Japan-Korea relations would be understandable for the people who know about it, but American people, who don’t know about it at all, wouldn’t understand it.

• The play goes on about the popularity of baseball in the two countries. Baseball heroes were the symbol of the dream of the people. Japanese people were proud of Hideo Nomo, who was a pioneer to play in the MLB. Koreans were proud of a Korean baseball player, who made success in the MLB.
• In 2006 World Baseball Classic, Japan and Korea played three times, and Korea won two games. However, Japan conclusively won the first place in the world cup, and Korea was in third place. Korea complains on the stage, “It looks odd that Japan won the cup. We won two games out of three.”

• Although each of the two countries has public sentiments, they cannot jostle each other when they see the international circumstance. Ichiro throws a ball one by one, and the balls land on the floor as bombs. The three run under an umbrella; however, one gets out from under it. Ichiro continues to throw balls and repeatedly says, “Watch out!” “Why don’t you get back under the umbrella? It’s dangerous!” One woman continues to stand outside of the umbrella, and balls hit her. She is also hit by water splashes. Ichiro repeatedly says, “Imagine what the danger is.”

• The center of the stage is a huge white dish that casts voices of the father, the U.S. The white dish begins to melt.
• Sung Hee Wi, who plays a role of Japanese man, begins to talk toward the dish about a trauma in his childhood. He said, “I didn’t like baseball, but I did it because father, you loved it.” It was in the bottom of the ninth, and his team had a one run lead. He missed catching a fly, and two runners of the opposing team came home to score. His team lost an important game because of his failure. “Father, you were always high-handed. That’s why I continued to play, but I didn’t think that I had to work hard on it anymore.” The dish continues to melt.

• “Eventually, the story squarely faces the larger issue of the U.S., which has had and continues to have a tremendous influence on both Japan and Korea. The U.S. is at once above, behind, inside, and with us. Can’t we somehow build a relationship with this huge power of influence that differs from that of the present?” Okada wrote in the play leaflet.

• Interview with Okada

• Q: What is your purpose assigning a Japanese actor and actress to play Koreans’ role, and vice versa?
• Okada: I thought that it would be interesting to create the situations. For instance, you hear about what you don’t know well in your own language, and you hear about what you know well in a language, which you don’t know.

• Q: The three people on the stage put themselves under an umbrella, and then a Korean girl, who plays a role of a Japanese girl, gets out from under the umbrella. Balls and water hit her, and the Ichiro-like person says to her, “Watch out! It’s dangerous!” However, she continues to stay out from under the umbrella and finally throws it away.
• Does this scene represent a certain historical event or express a real feeling of Japanese and Koreans?

• Okada: The scene describes no special event. You cannot assert the girl’s action is someone’s real intention. It is the imaginary action to envision an alternative reality as the first step.

• Q: You premiered “God Bless Baseball” in Korea last September. How did the Korean audience respond to the play? Was it positive?

• Okada: Their response was very positive. Generally, Korean audiences gave us a more vivid response than the Japanese did. I was nervous because it premiered in Kwangju, but they laughed a lot, it was well accepted. I think that we could make a rapport through the play.

• Q: Could you give us your ideas how should we do with Japan-Korea relations?

• Okada: I’ll do what I can do. Creation of this play is a part of it. I think that the two countries should deepen their relationships, but a variety of factors affect the relations in good or bad ways. I believe that building relationships by the individual level is more important than the government level.

• Thank you very much.

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• Toshiki Okada was born in Yokohama in 1973 and founded the chelfitsch theater company in 1997. He has written and directed all of the company’s productions, practicing a distinctive methodology of creating plays, known for their hyper-colloquial texts and exaggerated commonplace gestures.
• Okada’s 2004 play “Five Days in March” won the 2005 Kunio Kishida Drama Award, Japan’s most prestigious honor for playwrights. The piece was presented by MCA Stage in 2009.

• “God Bless Baseball” U.S. tour was funded by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, Government of Japan in the fiscal year 2015, Tokyo Metropolitan Government, The Japan Foundation through the Performing Arts JAPAN Program, and the Asian Cultural Council. This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.





Performance view, Toshiki Okada: God Bless Baseball, MCA Chicago, Photo: Nathan Keay,
© MCA Chicago