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The Asahi Baseball Team: A Tale of Perseverance

For the week of Monday April 23, 2012

On April 28, 2005, the Japanese-Canadian Asahi Baseball team, once the pride of Vancouver’s Little Tokyo, was inducted into the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame. The Asahi earned this recognition for having dominated the Vancouver baseball scene in the years leading up the Second World War. Beginning in 1937, they won the Pacific Northwest Japanese Baseball Championship five consecutive times and only gave up the title when the team was forced to disband in 1941.

The 1941 Pacific Northwest Championship winning Asahi team
© Courtesy of Mrs. Pat Adachi – from her book Asahi: A Legend in Baseball, p.127

In the first half of the 20th century, Japanese-Canadians faced intense racism and discrimination, but the Asahi always played with pride, dignity and honourable sportsmanship. They used their speed and defensive ability, in a style of play known as “brain ball,” to triumph over bigger and harder hitting Euro-Canadian teams. For this, they earned the respect and admiration of Euro-Canadian players and fans, and were idolized in the Japanese-Canadian community.

In 1941, following Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbour, intense paranoia and anti-Asian sentiment led to the internment of Canadians of Japanese origin, regardless of citizenship. The Asahi and approximately 21,000 of their Japanese-Canadian adoring fans were sent to various internment camps or “supervised towns” for the remainder of the war. All the cross-cultural goodwill that baseball had helped create was swept away in an instant.

Japanese internment camp in the interior of British Columbia
© Jack Long / National Film Board of Canada / Library and Archives Canada / PA-142853, 1945

In their different camps, former Asahi players began to organize baseball teams for anyone who wished to play. Again baseball was used to break down cultural barriers. In the supervised and segregated town of Lillooet, British Columbia, Kaye Koichi Kominishi organized a team. Soon weekly games were held between Kaye’s team and a team composed of RCMP officers. In 1943, four teams from different internment camps were allowed to compete in the Slocan Valley Championship. Their supporters from the camps were also granted permits to attend the games. The tournament was such a success that it drew thousands of enthusiastic fans, many of whom were Euro-Canadians.

To this day the Asahi symbolize the Japanese-Canadians struggle for equality and respect. Its players are known to have helped ease the humiliation of internment and dispersal by re-establishing a baseball tradition within their communities. Baseball served as a basis for closer integration and rapprochement between Japanese-Canadians and Euro-Canadians before, during and after internment. For these reasons and more, the Asahi Baseball Team was designated a National Historic Event in 2008.

For information regarding the Asahi Baseball Team and the internment of Japanese-Canadians, see past This Week in History stories: A Time of Tragedy, The Promise and The Asahi take on the Tokyo Giants!.

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