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The Asahis take on the Tokyo Giants!

For the week of Monday May 24, 2010

O n May 24, 1935, the Vancouver Asahis played an exhibition game against the visiting Tokyo Giants. The stands were packed at Con Jones Park to watch the Asahis take on Japan’s finest baseball team. This was the first time a Japanese baseball team had come to Canada and many fans were thrilled to collect autographs after an exciting 2-1 victory for the legendary Giants.

Tokyo Giants with the Asahis
© Japanese Canadian National Museum - Bev Matsu Collection.
The Vancouver Nippons changed their name to the Asahis (meaning Rising Sun) in 1914 and began to play baseball against other Canadian and American teams. The Asahi team was composed of Japanese Canadians who lived in Vancouver, mostly in Japantown. The Powell Street Grounds, now known as Oppenheimer Park, became their regular playing field where they practiced and played many exciting games. Their opponents soon came to admire their discipline and teamwork, two traditional Japanese values reflected in the Asahis distinctive and strategic style of play, affectionately known as “brain ball."

Brain ball focused on skill and speed, rather than the brute force that was emphasized by Euro-Canadian teams. The Asahi team’s manager, Harry Miyasaki, encouraged the players to score runs by bunting and stealing bases in order to put pressure on the opponent’s defence. Euro-Canadians could often hit the ball further than Asahi players, but thanks to their speed and unique brain ball strategy, the Asahi played on the same level as their Euro-Canadian counterparts and won many games. Asahi performance and good sportsmanship on the ball diamond won the respect of Euro-Canadians and served as a source of pride for the Japanese-Canadian community.

Baseball played a large role in Japanese-Canadian families. First-generation Japanese Canadians (Issei or Japanese immigrants) often found it difficult to relate to their children (Nisei or a person of Japanese descendent born in Canada). The Issei still had strong ties to Japan, whereas the Nisei had embraced Canadian culture, making it difficult to discuss subjects like politics or philosophy. Baseball and the Asahi in particular were experiences they could enjoy and discuss together.

After the team was disbanded in 1941 because of Japanese internment, the Asahis travelled to other Canadian cities to teach baseball to children, passing down their unique brain ball techniques and tradition of good sportsmanship to a new generation of Japanese and Euro-Canadians.

For its importance to Japanese-Canadian families as well as for bringing closer integration between Japanese-Canadians and Euro-Canadians, the Asahi Baseball Team was designated a national historic event in 2008.

May is Asian Heritage Month. For information regarding the internment of Japanese-Canadians, see the This Week in History stories A Time of Tragedy and The Promise.

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