July 04, 2007


Last night, I went to Fenway park, with my brother and sister and some members of our various families and around 37,500 other people, to see the Red Sox play Tampa Bay. Pitching for the Red Sox was Daisuke Matsuzaka, familiarly known as "Dice-K", and the Devil Rays couldn't do much against him (Daniel Malloy, "Matsuzaka was on the money", 7/4/2007). Before the game, we had dinner at a restaurant in Kenmore Square, and I noticed that the waiters and waitresses were wearing Red Sox jerseys with this on the back:


I wonder if the entry of Japanese baseball stars into the American major leagues will lead to Americans learning some katakana? How about at least enough to spell some suitably negative slogans about the ヤンキーズ on the tasteless t-shirts peddled around the ball park? (That's how they were hawking them last night: "tasteless t-shirts, get your tasteless t-shirts here!")

I also wonder whether the wait staff's jerseys were true to Japanese practice -- do uniforms in Japan carry names in katakana rather than kanji or hiragana?

As for Dice-K's nickname, I gather that it combines the symbol K used to record strikeouts, with the sense that his enormous salary was a gamble for the Red Sox management.

[Update -- Jane Acheson wrote to explain that the katakana version of Matsuzaka on the wait staff's jerseys is an affectation:

If you'll look at this YouTube clip you'll see, in addition to a nice demonstration of the supposed gyroball, that Matsuzaka's Seibu Lions jersey includes "Lions" and "18" on the front in Roman letters, and (at 00.03) "Matsuzaka" on the back, also in Roman letters.

Bruce Ryan confirms this:

FYI: Japanese baseball uniforms have player names written in phonetic English.

Here's an old picture of Hideki Matsui from his days with the Tokyo
Yomiuri Giants.

And Robert Hay adds more information:

Here's a recent unveiling of the Seibu Lions' new uniforms as an example: (link).

Notice that not only are the player names in romaji, but team name is written in English, "Lions".

I don't know much about the history of Japanese baseball, but I have found this photo of the 1935
Tokyo Giants, whose uniforms have Kanji numbers: (link).

If you're curious about actual Japanese jersey habits, you might inquire with Paul Lukas, who has a blog about sports uniforms at www.uniwatchblog.com.

Major League Baseball likes to embrace the Japanese fans, and you can get all sorts of japanese gear. I got a similar shirt for the Yankees last year, but apparently it's not available anymore.

David Massey agrees:

I read your entry about Daisuke Matsuzaka on Language Log and wanted to add a bit about Japanese baseball uniforms. The typical Japanese practice, for teams whose uniforms use a player name, is to use romaji, as this publicity photo of Hanshin Tigers outfielder Takahiro Shoda shows. Seeing katakana, or any Japanese characters at all, on the back of a Tigers jersey would be just as strange as seeing them on a Red Sox jersey.

Jane Acheson offered these further comments on Dice-K's nickname:

My take on it was that the Globe (which is frankly a PR arm for the team) realized that American viewers might have a problem with pronouncing the name -- despite the fact Japanese names are actually really easy, once you get the hang of them -- and "Dice-K", idiotic as it is, won in a poll on Boston.com, on or about the 28th of December.

On the upside, we don't have legions of the Fenway Faithful calling him dai-SOO-kee or other potential manglings. On the downside, calling him a variation on "Daisuke" is like calling Jim Rice "Jim." Kind of -- excessively familiar, I always thought.

(Ironically, since I don't have the right doohickeys installed, your representation of the tasteless t-shirt looks like ???? on my screen. But I've seen the t-shirts enough to know what you're talking about.)


Posted by Mark Liberman at July 4, 2007 07:17 PM