Robert Whiting (born October 24, 1942) is a best-selling author and journalist who has written several successful books on contemporary Japanese culture - which include topics such as baseball and American gangsters operating in Japan. He was born in New Jersey, grew up in Eureka, California and graduated from Sophia University in Tokyo. He has lived in Japan for a total of more than three decades since he first arrived there in 1962, while serving in the U.S. Air Force. He currently divides his time between homes in Tokyo and California.
Background since relocating to Japan
Whiting first came to Japan with U.S. Air Force Intelligence in 1962.
"I was going to Humboldt State University and was about to flunk out. I had all sorts of problems..." Whiting said in an interview with Gavin Blair in 2013, for the #1 Shimbun (the newspaper of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan). "I was going to get drafted, so I joined the Air Force."
Whiting was assigned to work for the National Security Agency in the U-2 program in Fuchu, Tokyo. He was offered a job working for the NSA when his tour with the Air Force was about to end, but he chose instead to study at Tokyo's Sophia University, where he majored in Political Science.
In order to supplement his income while studying on the GI Bill, Whiting tutored Tsuneo Watanabe in English. Watanabe was a reporter for the Yomiuri Shimbun at that time, but is now (as of 2014) the Chairman of the Board of the newspaper - which has the highest circulation in the world.
Whiting wrote his thesis on the factions of Japan's Liberal Democratic Party. His professor, Dr. Ori Kan, gave him an "A" on the project, though he tempered his praise for Whiting's scholarship (ironically, as it turns out, given Whiting’s later career path). "Your research is outstanding,” he told Whiting “but you really should learn how to write."
Whiting graduated from Sophia in 1969.
Whiting's research into the ties binding Japan’s leading politicians to yakuza bosses gained him entrée into the Higashi Nakano wing of Tokyo’s largest criminal gang, the Sumiyoshi-kai, where he became an “informal advisor.”
He worked for Encyclopædia Britannica Japan as an editor until 1972, until in his words, he "got bored of being a gaijin" and moved to New York City, where he wrote his first book, The Chrysanthemum and the Bat. He later returned to Tokyo and worked for Time-Life for a year before becoming a free-lance author.
Whiting's works on baseball include The Chrysanthemum and the Bat: The Game Japanese Play (Dodd, Mead, N.Y. 1977), You Gotta Have Wa (1989 Macmillan, 1990, 2009 Vintage Departures), Slugging It Out In Japan: An American Major Leaguer in the Tokyo Outfield (1991), and The Meaning of Ichiro: The New Wave from Japan and the Transformation of Our National Pastime (2004), all of which have been published in English and Japanese.
You Gotta Have Wa is a work about Japanese society as seen through their adopted sport of baseball. It was a Book of the Month Club selection, a Casey Award finalist and a Pulitzer Prize nominee. Though considered an excellent book on baseball (the San Francisco Chronicle described it as "one of the best-written sports books ever"), like most of Whiting's sports writing it examines much larger issues concerning Japan as well. David Halberstam stated that "What you read (in You Gotta Have Wa) is applicable to almost every other dimension of American-Japanese relations." The book has been required reading in the Japanese Studies departments of many American universities, as well as at the Japan Desk in the U.S. State Department. It sold 125,000 copies in hardcover and trade paperback and is in its 23rd printing. It was published in Japanese by Kadokawa under the title Wa Wo Motte Nihon To Nasu. It sold 200,000 copies in hardcover and paperback editions. In September 1991 it appeared in a list of the best non-fiction books ever published in Japan, compiled by Hon No Hanasahi magazine. It has sold over 400,000 copies world wide, including Chinese and Korean editions.
The Chrysanthemum and the Bat was chosen by TIME Magazine editorial staff as the best sports book of the year. Published in Japanese by Simul Publishing Company, as Kiku to Batto it was a best-seller and was reissued in 2005 by Hayakawa Shoten Publishing.
Warren Cromartie's autobiography, Slugging It Out In Japan (Kodansha International, Tokyo 1991), was co-authored by Whiting. The book was the recipient of a New York Public Library award for educational merit. Published in Japanese by Kodansha International, as Saraba Samurai Yakyu, it sold 190,000 copies in hardcover.
The Meaning of Ichiro, was published by Warner Books in 2004, and excerpted in Sports Illustrated. It sold 25,000 copies. The Japanese translation, Ichiro Kakumei was published by Hayakawa Shoten and has made many best-seller lists. A revised and updated edition of The Meaning of Ichiro, entitled The Samurai Way of Baseball, was published in trade-paperback form by Warner Books in April, 2005.
Whiting’s most popular work is the nonfiction Tokyo Underworld: The Fast Times and Hard Life of an American Gangster in Japan (Pantheon, N.Y. 1999, Vintage Departures, 2000), an account of organized crime in Japan and the corrupt side of U.S.-Japan relations. Mario Puzo described the book as "a fascinating look at...fascinating people who show how democracy advances hand in hand with crime in Japan." It was a best-seller on many lists in Tokyo when published in translated form by Kadokawa, selling over 300,000 copies in hardcover and paperback in Japan alone, and was chosen as one of the top ten books on Japan (at number two) in an article by the scholar Jeff Kingston, writing in the #1 Shimbun.
A sequel to Tokyo Underworld, Tokyo Outsiders - about foreign criminals in the Japanese underworld - has been published in Japanese, and an English version is in the works.
Whiting is also in the process of writing another book on Japan's postwar characters. “I have a 150,000-word draft," Whiting said, "but unfortunately I picked the wrong 150,000. Now I’ve got to go back and replace them with the right ones.” He said he rewrites all his books multiple times before publication.
Whiting has also written 20 books in Japanese, mostly collections of the columns and articles he has written. His works have sold an aggregate of nearly two million copies in North America and Japan combined. In addition, he has authored a Manga series about a gaijin ballplayer in Japan, entitled Reggie, and published by Kodansha Comic Morning that sold 750,000 copies in graphic novel form.
His latest work is a biography of the Japanese pitcher, Hideo Nomo, who played in the US Major Leagues and was National League Rookie of the Year in 1995. The book was published in 2011 by PHP in Japanese. (Whiting has publicly praised Nomo, asserting that the history of Japanese baseball can be split up into “pre-Nomo and post-Nomo” eras.)
The English-language The Book of Nomo was published in January 2017.
In addition to his books, Whiting has been published in numerous periodicals, such as The New York Times, The Smithsonian, Sports Illustrated, Newsweek, TIME, and US News and World Report. He is also one of very few Westerners to write regular columns in the Japanese press. From 1979-1985, he was a columnist for the Japanese language Daily Sports. From 1988 to 1992, he wrote a weekly column for the popular magazine Shukan Asahi. From 1990-1993, he was a reporter/commentator for News Station, the top-rated news program in Japan. Since 2007, he has written a weekly column for Yukan Fuji, a major evening daily newspaper in Japan. He has written extensively on current issues impacting both Nippon Professional Baseball and Major League Baseball, including a four-part series, which was published in the Japan Times, followed by an in-depth series on Sadaharu Oh, Trey Hillman, Bobby Valentine and Hideo Nomo for the same paper.
In October 2011, he wrote a three-part series for The Japan Times on the talented, but troubled, Japanese pitcher Hideki Irabu, who had died in California two months earlier of an apparent suicide.
In a shifting era of globalization, Whiting is one of the few sports experts to explore the transnational flows of athletics. In his works he not only examines how different cultures have influenced the game of baseball, but how the game of baseball has helped influence and shape cultural identity across the globe. He is also an insightful commentator on the influence of the yakuza on the Japanese power structure and the dark side of Japanese-American relations since the end of the Second World War.
In April 2005, Whiting was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Foreign Sportswriters Association of Japan.
You Gotta Have Wa and Slugging It Out in Japan appeared in the book, 501 Baseball Books Fans Must Read Before They Die (University of Nebraska Press, 2013).
Tokyo Giants controversies and banning from Tokyo Dome
Whiting was banned from the Tokyo Dome for two years in 1987 after publishing an interview with Warren Cromartie in the Japanese magazine Penthouse, in which Cromartie criticized Yomiuri (Tokyo) Giants front office executives.
He was banned again, indefinitely, in 1990, after writing an investigative report for the magazine Shukan Asahi, which showed the Giants were falsifying attendance figures. The Yomiuri front office had claimed that every Giants home game played in the Tokyo Dome drew a capacity crowd of 56,000. However, Whiting counted the seats, which totaled 42,761, and then the standing room at several Giants games, which averaged 3,500, demonstrating that the maximum audience for a baseball game could not have been much more than 46,000. Whiting returned to the Dome for the first time as a reporter in 2004 to cover an Opening Day match between the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays.
Other professional activities
In addition to his work as a writer, Whiting has delivered speeches at Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, Temple University, Occidental College, Michigan State University, the International House of Japan, the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, CLSA, and The Japan Society of New York, among other institutions. He has also appeared in numerous documentaries about Japan and on such shows as CNN's Larry King Live, the PBS Macneil-Lehrer News Hour, Nightline, ESPN's Sports Central, HBO's RealSports and All Things Considered.
On July 19, 2015, Whiting launched his own weekly podcast entitled "Robert Whiting's Japan" (https://soundcloud.com/robert-whitings-japan). It is available on SoundCloud and via iTunes.
Whiting is married to Machiko Kondo, who recently retired as an officer for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In her 25 year career she was posted in Geneva, Mogadishu, Karachi, Tan Jung Pinang and Dhaka, among other locations. Her last post, in Stockholm, was as Representative for Scandinavia, an ambassador-level position.
- People: Robert Whiting, Japan Times, Vivienne Kenrick, November 12, 2000
- "More about Robert Whiting" japanesebaseball.com
- Blair, Gavin and Whiting, Robert. "Robert Whiting," # 1 Shimbum, Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan, December, 2013
- "Osaka mayor, Yomiuri boss trade dictator insults," Japan Today, March 23, 2012
- "Highest Newspaper Circulation," Highest Daily Newspaper Circulation, Guinness World Records
- Tsuneo Watanabe, Executive Profile Bloomberg Businessweek
- Schreiber, Marc. "Best-selling author Robert Whiting talks baseball, gangsters, bribes and more," The Japan Times, April 4, 2004
- "Author profiles: Robert Whiting" nipponnomirai.jp
- "Tokyo Underworld: The Fast Times and Hard Life of an American Gangster in Japan" randomhouse.com
- Kingston, Jeff. "The No. 1 Top Ten: Books on Japan," # 1 Shimbun, Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan, August, 2011
- "Tokyo Underworld – Coming to a Theater Near You!" nihonsun.com, August 7th, 2009
- Robert Whiting lecture on the Yakuza, The Japan Society of New York, New York City, February 16, 2012
- "Baseball expert lines up new book on mobsters in Japan" The Japan Times, August 1, 2009
- Armstrong, Jim. “Former Teammates, Opponents Salute Hideo Nomo,” USA Today, July 18, 2008
- Whiting, Robert. The Book of Nomo, Japanime Co. Ltd., 2017
- Whiting, Robert. "Season Opens as Surely as Day Follows Night" The New York Times, March 26, 2008
- Whiting, Robert. "The Emperor of Swat" The New York Times, August 9, 2007
- Whiting, Robert. "Baseball in Japan: Not All Cheers" TIME, March 26, 2008
- Whiting, Robert. “NPB players in need of strong union like MLBPA” The Japan Times, April 14, 2007
- Whiting, Robert. "Nomo’s legacy should land him in Hall of Fame," The Japan Times, October 24, 2010
- Whiting, Robert. "Irabu spent final days lost, without purpose" The Japan Times, October 30, 2011
- "Tokyo Underworld" kirkusreviews.com, December 1, 1998
- Gallagher, Jack. "Whiting honored by FSAJ" The Japan Times, April 5, 2005
- Kaplan, Ron. 501 Baseball Books Fans Must Read Before They Die, University of Nebraska Press, 2013
- Penthouse (Japan), January, 1987
- Shukan Asahi (Japan), July, 1990
- Sloan, Dan. “If you still wanna have wa,” # 1 Shimbun, Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan, June, 2009
- Pacific Rim Lecture Series Event: Robert Whiting Talks About His New Book, "The Meaning of Ichiro" Temple University, Japan Campus, Website
- Tokyo Underworld: The Fast Times and Hard Life of an American Gangster in Japan, Publishers Weekly, publishersweekly.com
- "Tokyo Underworld 2012: An Evening with Robert Whiting,” The Japan Society of New York, New York City, February 16, 2012
- "Interview with Robert Whiting, author of Tokyo Underworld," by Don MacLaren, in autumn 2012 edition of Wilderness House Literary Review
- "Robert Whiting's Japan" Weekly podcast with Robert Whiting