Japanese American Sports Leagues: Finding Asian Roots via American Sports
By: Allison Yorita
A basketball or baseball game in a Japanese American sports league starts out like any other game you’d normally see in any other sports league. Coaches bark orders, players scramble to get the ball, parents watch and chat with each other in the stands. At the end, the players rush back towards their teams, the coach gives a little speech, and everyone shakes hands with the opposing team. Players trot off the court or field and grab a snack (provided by the team mom) of Capri Sun juice bags, chips, and…spam musubi?
This is only one example of the cultural differences seen in Japanese American sports leagues, which are especially prominent in California. Founded out of cultural prejudices, these sports leagues have tremendously grown since their beginning, allowing not only Japanese Americans but Asian Americans to connect and relate over sports games. These leagues hold cultural significance for its participants, allowing both players and parents to meet other Asian Americans and create a sense of community. Based on numerous interviews conducted of both youth participants and parents, it is seen that these sports leagues have a huge impact on each youth’s connection to their Japanese heritage. There is also a positive impact on their self-confidence in participating in sports outside of these leagues, where Asian Americans may not be as common. Although there have been controversies suggesting that these sports leagues are exclusionary, they are mainly community building tools that allow dispersed Asian Americans to gather and find people with which they are culturally similar. With 81 basketball teams in just the Orange County, California area alone, the immense popularity of these youth leagues show how they have become a cultural staple in Japanese American and Asian American lives, allowing multi-generational Asian Americans to find a sense of Asian culture through sports.