Reporter aims to get it right
Keizo Konishi, whose interview with Ichiro was translated in a story in the Post-Intelligencer, claims there were mistakes made in the translation and clarifies what Ichiro said.
Special to The Seattle Times
Usually the holiday season is a happy time, but this year I'm feeling a little down. My unhappiness stems from an article published by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on Nov. 16, that was based on an interview I did with Ichiro for my company, Kyodo News. After the article came out, my phone has been constantly ringing, with concerned friends and acquaintances calling to ask, "Does Ichiro dislike Seattle?" "Does he want to leave the Mariners?"
Everyone who read this article seemed to have the same sort of impression and questions. No matter what form the reaction takes, it's clear that the interview I did has sparked some confusion.
What upsets me the most is that this confusion arose not from what I actually hoped to get across in the interview, but from the fact that things have taken a completely different turn because someone else reworked the interview [for the P-I]. A lot of people now believe that Ichiro actually made certain comments that he never would make. "Ichiro said he dislikes his teammates who spend their time before the game playing cards?" people now ask.
Ichiro never said any such thing. In fact, I never even asked him about playing cards in the clubhouse.
Because I'm the one who did the original interview that's caused the controversy, I decided to write this to clarify the situation.
I've been covering Ichiro since 1994, and from my experience I can say one thing for certain: Ichiro loves Seattle, and is extremely grateful to the fans here who have been supporting him.
To really understand this, you need to look at the tough times he went through when he played in Japan. During the last three years before he came to Seattle, when Ichiro was playing for the Orix Blue Wave in Kobe, Japan, there were so few fans in the stands that you could look out from the press box in Green Stadium and count them.
For six years, starting in 1995, Ichiro received the most votes for the Japanese All-Star team, 1.6 times as many votes as Hideki Matsui, now with the Yankees. If you consider that Orix was the least popular of the 12 Japanese professional teams, and that the Tokyo Giants, Matsui's team at the time, was far and away the most popular, it should give you an idea of how phenomenal Ichiro's popularity was.
It was impossible, though, for one individual player's popularity to get an ineffective team back on track, or for it to draw fans back to a stadium where the attendance was in steady decline. In that situation, Ichiro found it necessary to maintain a stance where his motivation came from within, regardless of whether people were watching him.
For a player, getting applause and cheers from fans is like plants in a garden being watered. Given water, plants grow, and as they become more lush and green this makes the owner of the garden happy and he takes even greater care of them. If the ideal relationship is one where both sides feel thankful, and share a certain joy as they grow together, then the last half of Ichiro's career with Orix was the exact opposite: It was like he'd been cast out into a desert, all alone.
It's precisely because he experienced these trials in Japan that Ichiro is so grateful to Mariners fans who throng to Safeco Field even when there's no hope for a pennant. And why, even in a losing season, he does his best to help the fans enjoy the game.
Naturally, the fans back when he played in Kobe were important to him, too. But the fans in Seattle have provided him the "water" of their enthusiastic support, which has given him a vitality. His relationship with them is a precious part of his life.
In 2004, Ichiro broke George Sisler's record for hits in one season, a record that had stood for 84 years, and this monumental achievement could only have come about through the support he got from the Seattle fans. Fans no doubt recall how on the evening of Oct. 1, when he got his 258th hit, Ichiro said, his voice full of emotion, "How can I not love the people of Seattle, since they're the ones who helped me reach this record?"
Knowing this background as well as I do makes the present commotion all the more frustrating. And my feelings are even more mixed because it was the interview I did with Ichiro that sparked it all. It's true that Ichiro did express concern about how the team fared this past season. And no wonder, since this was a team that followed three straight seasons of 90-plus wins, starting in 2001, with two straight years of 90-plus losses.
In the interview he never criticized any teammate by name. As I said in the beginning, he never mentioned players playing cards.
The comment in the P-I's translation that new players played cards all the time without studying videos of the opposing pitchers is my own personal observation. I'd like to make that perfectly clear.
I've covered the major leagues for five years, and I understand that there's a special set of interpersonal relations and rules that operate in the clubhouse. If they were winning that would be one thing, but the mood in the Mariners' clubhouse this year really was odd. At least I can say that I hadn't seen things this way until this past season. And I wrote this comment because I heard people connected to the team lamenting this as a scene that symbolized a breakdown in team discipline.
One other thing I'd like to make very clear here is how difficult it is to convey the nuances of articles written in a different language. One of my jobs as a reporter for more than 15 years for the international news organization Kyodo News has been to write Japanese articles based on English news reports. Among all the reporters in the press box at Safeco Field, only myself and the handful of other Japanese reporters have this kind of experience.
Needless to say, the most important thing in this process is getting the facts straight. You have to start by correctly pinpointing who said what. I've seen many cases, though, where even when this is done perfectly, the original sense of the article doesn't get communicated.
The problem this time, though, is much more basic. In relying on a translation of my interview, the reporter mixed up what Ichiro said and what I wrote. On top of this, the whole text of the interview wasn't translated, just a less-than-adequate summary.
The best catcher in Japanese baseball today, Kenji Johjima, has signed with the Mariners. We're in an age when an increasing number of new Japanese players will come to the U.S. to play. And there will be more and more opportunities for their words and actions to be transmitted on both sides of the Pacific.
With this incident in mind, I have a suggestion to make to readers in Seattle. In the future, whenever you read a newspaper article that says, "according to reports in Japan," I'd like you to recall what took place this time.
In the past, there have been other cases where reporting on Japanese players in the major leagues has led to similar games of "hearsay." As long as Japan and the U.S. use different languages, it will be hard to avoid misinterpretations and misunderstandings. I think, though, that just knowing that language differences can easily lead to these kinds of mistakes is itself a valuable realization.
I don't expect Ichiro will have anything to say about the article in question. I think he'll continue to abide by his idea of wanting people to feel something through watching how he plays.
In the article and subsequent columns, people have voiced the opinion that Ichiro should become a leader who both speaks and acts. But I think the chances of that happening are pretty slim. Even though Ichiro knows that — just as staying silent may be the same as admitting one's wrong — the American way means you need to speak up and say what's on your mind. I'm sure he'll choose the way he's always believed in, namely silence — the stance that says that one's actions speak louder than one's words. I say this because he's resolved misunderstandings in the past this way, by letting his actions and results speak for him.
In my opinion, thorough preparation and the fine play that results is more important than giving a pep talk at a team meeting. This is the point that I wanted most to convey in the story I wrote and that might be just what the Mariners need in 2006 to make a comeback.
Ichiro is far from being a selfish player. I wonder how many fans know that in April 2003 when he was in a slump and his monthly batting average fell below .250 for the first time, he asked manager Bob Melvin to take him out of the starting lineup, adding that he wouldn't mind being dropped to the minors.
About two months later, Ichiro explained it this way: "I said this because I thought that if a new manager kept a player like me, who wasn't performing, in the lineup, the veteran players would complain and that would make things hard for him." This illustrates how sincere and caring a person Ichiro is.
In the past five seasons, I've missed reporting on only 15 games. I think I can say with confidence that I've seen more games than anyone. I'd like readers to picture me, spending nearly a third of an entire year in the press box, dejected as I watch the Mariners drop another one-sided game.
Even a reporter whose job this is wants to spend his precious time meaningfully. That's why I want to see the Mariners stage a comeback. I'd love to see a day when all kinds of misunderstandings are cleared up, and I can write reports that are a lot more upbeat.
This article was originally written in Japanese, and translated for the author by Philip Gabriel, a professor of Japanese literature at the University of Arizona. His most recent translation is of Haruki Murakami's best-selling novel "Kafka on the Shore." Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.