Asahi Tribute & Game Photo Gallery
On September 18, 1941, the Asahi baseball team played their final game at Powell Grounds (now Oppenheimer Park) in Vancouver’s Japan Town. In the game, the Burrard League Semi-finals, the Asahis “outhit, outfielded, outran, and generally outplayed the favoured Angels,” according to The New Canadian. A few weeks later, on December 7, Japan attacked the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, setting in motion the events what would lead to all Japanese Canadians being removed from the west coast and the subsequent disbanding of the Asahi.
Formed in 1914, the team soon became the pride of the Japanese Canadian community, a much-appreciated bright spot in the face of ongoing discrimination and other hardships.
In 1918, the Asahi began competing against Euro-Canadian teams in Vancouver’s “International League,” and against all-Nikkei teams based on the west coast of the United States. The Asahi developed a strategic style of play called “brain ball” that enabled the smaller Nikkei to not only compete, but excel against their Euro-Canadian counterparts. Their style, which emphasized bunting and base running to put pressure on the opponent’s defence, reflected the traditional Japanese cultural values of discipline and teamwork. At a time when Japanese Canadians faced unremitting discrimination off the playing field, the Asahi’s athletic and sportsmanlike performances inspired both Japanese and Euro-Canadian spectators alike, helping bridge the generation gap as a common ground of interest for Issei and Nisei.
Before disbanding after the 1941 season, the Asahi won multiple championships in Vancouver’s senior amateur and industrial leagues, and in the eleven Pacific Northwest Japanese Baseball tournaments held in Seattle between 1928 and 1941.
During and after the Second World War internment of Japanese Canadians, Asahi baseball players were at the vanguard of re-establishing baseball as a pillar of Nikkei social life, first in the internment camps in the British Columbia interior, and later in the various centres of resettlement. Through their skill and sportsmanship, the players helped mitigate the humiliation of internment and dispersal by reviving the baseball tradition, which served as a basis for closer integration and rapprochement between the Nikkei and Euro-Canadians before, during and after internment. The team became a symbol of the Nikkei’s struggle for equality and respect.
On September 18, 2011, seventy years to the day after the final game was played, a plaque acknowledging the significance of the Asahi baseball team was unveiled at a ceremony in Oppenheimer Park.
A ceremonial greeting was provided by members of the Squamish Nation and the event was MCed by Dr. Hal Kalman, British Columbia Member, Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. Taking part in the unveiling were Hon. Bev Oda, Minister of International Cooperation; Deputy Mayor Kerry Jang, Parks Board Commissioner Sarah Blyth, former Asahi member Kaye Kaminishi and historian and curator Grace Eiko Thomson. Former player Jim Fukui was also present at the event.
Following a short performance by Chibi Taiko a commemorative baseball game was held on the site of the former baseball diamond. The game, which featured three teams representing both Nikkei and Downtown Eastside residents, may have lacked the finesse of the Asahi teams they were commemorating, but wasn’t short on good spirits and good sportsmanship.
Photos by John Endo Greenaway