These short, sweet videos have Japan’s recently retired baseball star play the (board) game of life while musing on his real lived experiences.

You don’t have to be a baseball fan to recognize Japan’s most decorated right fielder, Ichiro Suzuki. I, a complete ignoramus when it comes to all manner of sports, learned of his existence just a few days after I first arrived in Japan, when I saw a small child striking baseball poses on the steps near a train station.

“Ah,” my Japanese friend said, “Ichiro.”

“You know him?” I gestured to the child striking a volley of imaginary home runs.

My friend then looked at me like I had just implied he personally knew Shinzo Abe. “He’s famous,” he explained, “That kid is copying his stance. Ichiro is the most famous baseball player in Japan. He’s like LeBron James in America.”

“Who’s LeBron James?” I asked.

Even this comparison doesn’t do Ichiro’s fame justice in his native Japan; he’s a living legend, adored by people and politicians alike, and since he signed with the Seattle Mariners, he’s earned the admiration of people all over the globe, and continues to be a hero to many even after March 20 of this year, when he formally announced his retirement from the sport.

“I won’t ask you to cheer me on. I merely wish to continue being the kind of athlete you would want to cheer for.” – Ichiro

You see, it isn’t just Ichiro’s inarguable baseball skills that makes him such a huge fixture in Japanese pop culture. He also has a kind, offbeat philosophy both on and off the field that wins over even the most hardened of baseball hecklers. As a way to celebrate Ichiro’s illustrious career, Japanese bank Sumitomo Mitsui is hosting a series of videos that spotlight Ichiro’s thoughtful musings while playing a board game.

▼ Here is the first video in the series, “#1: Receiving a 1,000 yen (US$9.21) allowance from your parents“.

The “100 Years Alive: Ichiro’s Life as a Board Game” series consists of 23 videos, each given a numbered title describing what space Ichiro lands on. The run times tend to be around two minutes or less, and in each one Ichiro rolls the die and travels around a large board game track, created specially for the video. The spaces are patterned after a typical game of Life, the board game enjoyed all over the world.

So in the first video, Ichiro makes his first roll…and promptly rolls a “one”.

“Typical,” he says, smiling warmly. “Your first roll is the most important, so of course…”

When he moves one space forward, and is told by the game that his avatar has “received 1,000 yen allowance from [his] parents”, the interviewer asks if Ichiro received an allowance in his own youth.

“Yes. Let’s see…I believe I started receiving an allowance once I reached the third grade in elementary school.”

He then goes into more detail:

“I think I got it once a month…and I actually do think it was around 1,000 yen! [I used it to buy] manga, specifically baseball manga. Though to be honest, I couldn’t really read books, not even comic books. I was terrible at staying focused and flicking through them. If someone else leafed through a volume for me, I found that easier… I wouldn’t even say that I didn’t finish reading them, it was more that I couldn’t.”

How about the next video?

▼ “#2: Enrolling in highschool, finding a steady girlfriend“.

After rolling “two”, Ichiro finds his avatar has already started at high school and found a romantic partner. He seems taken aback for a moment, before launching into another anecdote:

“You know, I was never any good at teamwork…despite playing baseball, I know, I know. […] I stopped wanting to go on school trips, even. If I was able to dodge a school trip, I could go practice, you know? So I did my best to avoid those trips. I succeeded at dodging them, too.”

“I was a diligent student during junior high school… But though I studied, I never managed to get the highest marks in my school year. I might manage fifth or sixth out of the whole year, but first place always eluded me. Eventually I got fed up of it, and that marked the end of my interest in academics.”

When the interviewer asks if he was serious about coming in first, Ichiro insists upon it:

“Absolutely! Why, do you think I would aim for second place? If you aim for first and come in second, that’s one thing. But I could never be satisfied by aiming for second place from the start. I kind of like the term “number one” but I don’t think you should stake that much on it, results-wise. It’s enough just to aim for it.”

Before we have time to fully digest this pearl of wisdom from Japan’s undisputed number one athlete, he throws an incredible curve-ball:

“What I found from my years of compulsory education is that high school is a great place to sleep. I spent the entirety of my time there unconscious.”

The library of videos carries Ichiro through a fictional college career, part-time jobs and purchasing a ridiculous number of cars, and each step of his life journey is accompanied by tantalizing tidbits of Ichiro’s own experiences. His soft voice and unusually compelling attitude continue right through to the final video, where he completes the game.

▼ “#23: Whiling away your final years surrounded by loved ones“.

“I don’t want anyone to see what my face looks like after I pass away,” Ichiro says urgently.

“I’m going to include that in my will…Isn’t it horrid? I hate the idea of being seen like that. Me just lying there like this [gestures]. I’m going to tell them to have me lie face down in the casket. Then when they open it they’ll just see the back of my head. I guess people don’t tend to do that…”

We get even more delightful Ichiro monologuing when the interviewer asks if the baseball star has any plans about his life from here.

“I don’t want to draw up any more plans for my life from here on out. I’m not going to envision some kind of ideal life from now on… I just want to see how it all transpires when everything does end. I’d be glad if I could live to that standard. […] My life until now has been very rigid… there wasn’t much space for taking it easy, going with the flow. I don’t think it’s necessary to stay so rigid in the future. I’m not saying I need to live my life in an easygoing way, but… I’m just excited to see how things will work out in the end. That’s what I think. And of course, I live while pursuing the things that keep me excited and invigorated.

Ichiro’s life has been jam-packed with exciting highs and lows, and it’s likely we’ll continue to see him on our screens for a long time to come, retired or not. Clearly the man has a real knack for commercials!

Source, images: YouTube/SMBC日興証券株式会社
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[ Read in Japanese ]