A Tale of two Sports
With this issue’s focus on ice hockey, it is interesting to compare the pre- and post-war periods of Japanese Canadian history in terms of the sports that were played and who played them. The prewar period of course is dominated by baseball, with the Asahi taking on the role of hometown heroes for a Vancouver community that needed heroes. With their success on the diamond the Asahi broke the colour barrier, levelling the playing field in the only way they could. They are rightly celebrated for their achiements on the field and the part they played as ambassadors, gaining some small measure of respect for their community at a time when respect was hard to come by.
The internment of course meant the end of the Asahi, and while baseball was a popular diversion in the camps, that era was essentially over. It is impossible, after all, to have a hometown team when one’s hometown has been declared off-limits.
As families began to move east in accordance with wartime governnment policy, youngsters found a different climate, one more conducive to winter sports like hockey. The frozen ponds and flooded fields of Ontario opened up a whole new playground and young nisei took to skates like ducks to water. Soon leagues began to form and hockey took the place of baseball for many.
Was it also a way to show that they were as “Canadian” as their non-Japanese friends? Perhaps. But for whatever reason, hockey has worked its way into the post-war Japanese Canadian story just as surely as baseball once did. Of course with the community dispersed as it was, it was difficult for hockey to bring people together the way that baseball once did, but then, nothing was ever the same for the community following the war, for better or for worse.
The Canadian Japanese Hockey League now serves as a way for young Japanese Canadians to connect in a a way that they othwise would not, playing Canada’s game. It is ironic, is it not?
It’s interesting to note that in the world of pro sports, the Japanese players in the major leagues are all from Japan, while the few players of Japanese descent who have made it to the NHL are all Canadian-born. Make of that what you will.