Robert "Bob" Whiting was born in New Jersey in 1942, raised in Eureka, California, and attended Humboldt State University. After a stint in military intelligence in Japan, where he developed a serious addiction to Japanese baseball, he entered Tokyo's Sophia University and graduated with a degree in Japanese politics. He then went to work in the editorial department of Encyclopedia Britannica, Japan, developing educational materials for the Japanese schools. For long stretches of time, he was the only foreigner in the company, becoming acquainted with the Japanese practice of daily meetings, unpaid overtime and "karoshi." He began to see similarities in the values embraced by Japanese corporations, the Japanese educational system and Japanese baseball, in which he continued his passionate interest.
Whiting moved to New York City in 1973 where, he discovered that no one was interested in discussing politics in Japan, or business there, or anything else Japanese, with the exception of baseball. It was only when he began telling people about legendary home run hitter Sadaharu Oh honing his swing with a samurai sword, Iron Man Inao winning 42 games in a season, dusk-to-dawn, spring training that began in the freezing cold of January, people began to pay attention. On a bet, Whiting wrote "The Chrysanthemum and the Bat" (Dodd, Mead, New York 1977), a book comparing the American-Japanese cultures through baseball. Time Magazine selected it best sports book of the year and the translated edition became a best-seller in Japan.
Whiting returned to Tokyo where he worked for Time-Life for a year then became a full-time free-lance writer and author. For several years he was a columnist for the Tokyo Daily Sports, The Weekly Sankei, the bi-weekly Number, among other publication and wrote for many American magazines, including Sports Illustrated, Time, Sport, The Smithsonian, Penthouse, and Readers Digest, among others.
From 1983 on, he divided his time between Japan and wherever it was that his wife Machiko, who joined the UNHCR in that year, was posted. That included Geneva, Mogadishu, Karachi, Tan Jung Pinang (Indonesia), Dhaka, and Stockholm.
1989, Whiting wrote his second book, "You Gotta Have Wa" (Macmillan, N.Y.) which sold 125,000 copies in hardcover and paperback in English, and 180,000 hardcover/paperback in Japanese, (entitled "Wa Wo Motte Nihon To Nasu"), making several best seller lists. "Wa," a work on Japanese society as seen through the adopted sport of baseball, was a Book of the Month Club selection and universally praised. The San Francisco Chronicle described "You Gotta Have Wa" as "one of the best-written sports books ever." Playboy's Digby Diehl praised it as a "work of cultural anthropology." Wrote David Halberstam, "What you read is applicable to almost every other dimension of American-Japanese relations." It was featured in Time Magazine, the New York Times' Sunday Book Review, and the New York Review of Books, among others. It became required reading in the Japanese Studies departments of many American universities, as well as the Japan Desk in the U.S. State Department. In 1991 it was selected by a Japanese literary panel for "Hon No Hanasahi" magazine as one of the best non-fiction books ever published in Japan.
In 1991, Whiting wrote "Slugging It Out In Japan" (Kodansha International, Tokyo), an autobiography he co-authored with former Tokyo Giants player Warren Cromartie and was the recipient of a New York Public Library award for educational merit. It sold 65,000 copies in English in hardcover and paperback combined. Published in Japanese by Kodansha International, as "Saraba Samurai Yakyu," it sold a total of 250,000 in hardcover and paperback editions and reached #2 in the nation at one point.
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 #1 rated news program in Japan.
In 1992, Whiting decided to take a break from baseball to write a book about crime and political corruption in the postwar era. "Tokyo Underworld" (Pantheon, N.Y. 1999, Vintage Departures, 2000) sold a total of 40,000 copies in English and 300,000 in Japanese translation, published by Kadokawa, including hardcover and paperback. It rose to the #1 spot on many lists in Tokyo.
In 2004, Whiting returned to baseball with "The Meaning of Ichiro" (Warner Books), a work about Japanese players in America. It sold a total of 50,000 copies in hardcover and paperback combined in English. Like "Bat" and "Wa" it was excerpted in Sports Illustrated. "MOI" sold 100,000 in Japanese (published by Hawakawa in 2005) and made many best seller lists.
Over the years, Whiting has 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. He has delivered speeches at Wharton, Stanford, Temple, Occidental, the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, Michigan State University, Meiji Gakuin, and the Japan Society of New York, among others. He has written several op-eds for the New York Times.
He has also published 14 other books in Japanese, mostly collections of his columns and articles. His works have sold an aggregate of nearly one million and a half copies in North America and Japan combined. In addition, he authored a Manga series about a gaijin ballplayer in Japan, entitled "Reggie" and published by Kodansha "Comic Morning" that sold 750,00 copies in book form. He has appeared numerous times on Japanese television.
"Kiku to Batto" was reissued in 2005 by Haykawa Shoten.
Some say, "You choose your Profession," while others say "Your profession chooses you." Whichever way it worked out for Robert Whiting, Japanologists and the baseball world alike is that much more knowledgeable and richer from his writings.
Whiting has spent 31 of the past 46 years in Japan. In 2006, his wife, Machiko Kondo, retired as officer for the UNHCR. After living in Paris and Tuscany for several months, they returned to their Kamakura home. They divide their time between Japan and the United States.
In 2007, Whiting began writing a weekly column for Yukan Fuji and occasionally contributes to The Japan Times. He is also consulting on a big screen version of "Tokyo Underworld" which will be produced by Warner Brothers.