“The Vancouver Asahi” reviewed by a 91-year old fan
by Miyuki Nagata & Kai Nagata
Miyuki Nagata (née Yoshida) was born in Vancouver in 1923, attending many Asahi games at Oppenheimer Park before the Japanese Canadian internment forced the team to disband. Over the Christmas break Miyuki and family members attended a screening of Bankûbâ no Asahi / The Vancouver Asahi, a fictionalized retelling directed by Yûya Ishii for Fuji Television Network in Japan. Afterward her grandson Kai Nagata asked how the movie compared to her experience as a girl.
Kai: Can you tell me what it was like going to Asahi games in real life?
Miyuki: Well, the stands were always packed full. The menfolk especially would yell at the players if they didn’t do well – or if they did do well, both! It was really fun.
Kai: Who was your favourite Asahi player?
Miyuki: Roy Yamamura, the shortstop. He came from Kitsilano. He would be dancing around, and wherever the ball came, he was ready. He had a good sense where the ball would go. He was amazing. He really was a star. There was catcher Reggie Yasui, pitcher Naggie Nishihara, first baseman Yuki Uno, and infielder Frank Shiraishi. Frank’s parents took me to the games in Frank’s car, a two-seater driven by Frank, his parents sitting beside him – and I sat in the rumble seat, which was thrilling!
Kai: What do you remember about [infielder] Kaye Kaminishi?
Miyuki: Oh, he was a very quiet boy, who came back from Japan after he spent many years over there. He was in my grade 12 class in 1942 at King Ed.
Kai: He must have been drafted to the team when he was still a teenager.
Miyuki: Yes, that’s right. While he was in the high school. So I heard about it and I thought, oh wow!
Kai: Where were you living at that time?
Miyuki: Fairview, a little east of Cambie, that area. There were many Japanese living there because there was a big sawmill and Japanese gathered around these sawmills and places where they got hired.
Kai: But the biggest Japanese neighbourhood was around Oppenheimer Park?
Miyuki: That’s right. That was the capital, shall we say.
Kai: Can you describe what it sounded like, what it smelled like?
Miyuki: Oh, the smell was lovely. Shoyu cooking, barbecues, it really made you hungry if you walked through those streets. And you could buy just about anything in that two or three blocks around around there. There were two Japanese bookstores, and there was at least one confectionery store, you could buy tofu and kamaboko and there was a fish market – Mr. Mori was the proprietor. There were bathhouses, too, because many families lived in small apartments where they didn’t have a real bathroom with a bathtub in it. And there were lots of rooming houses too.
Kai: So what was it like seeing that neighbourhood recreated on the big screen?
Miyuki: Well, there were always people going back and forth in that area, around the ball grounds. I didn’t notice that in the film. The camera showed the background, the buildings, but I didn’t see many people walking around!
Kai: So they skimped on extras.
Miyuki: I think so. It just hit me like, oh gee, this is weird. I couldn’t figure out at first why. There was a lack of vibrant street scenes around the ball park – old vehicles, pedestrians and street cars running along Powell Street.
Kai: What else did you notice?
Miyuki: The ball park was far too big in the movie! Or the camera angle might have made it look larger. It was just a dinky little place in real life, if you ask me. That’s why it was always overflowing with people. And the spectators were too quiet and polite except for a small group. The crowd in the stands was always noisy, standing up, waving their arms, having a jolly good time.
Kai: What did you think of the characters in the movie?
Miyuki: Well, because they were Japanese actors they couldn’t speak English well enough. The Nisei were quite chatty, you know. We were North Americans. I thought the actors were too quiet for Nisei boys!
Kai: What about the character of Reggie’s sister? You said there was something about her walk that gave her away.
Miyuki: Yes, I think nobody taught her how to walk like a North American! Her walk viewed from behind was pigeon-toed and made her appear bow-legged. It’s a cultural difference. In Japan the girls are told that walking with feet apart is unfeminine. Nisei girls never walked like that. We were Canadians.
Kai: Did you ever play baseball?
Miyuki: A little bit, in elementary school or was it high school? I can’t remember.
Kai: What was your favourite part of the game?
Miyuki: Being at bat.
Kai: You have a small strike zone, so you’d make it very hard on the pitcher.
Miyuki: (Laughing) I don’t think I hit too well either!
Kai: They didn’t have any girls playing baseball in the movie.
Miyuki: No. But many girls played even in those days, I would say.
Kai: Do you think there are still some things about Japanese Canadians that the Japanese in Japan don’t understand?
Miyuki: I think so.
Kai: What was it like watching the evacuation scenes in the movie?
Miyuki: It reminded me of what I read about in post-war Japan, on the trains, you know? Everybody would go in from the windows and throw their belongings in. But I really never noticed anything like that going on in this country when we evacuated.
Kai: In real life it was a process of months, wasn’t it?
Miyuki: Oh yes, because after Pearl Harbor – that was December the seventh – the evacuation started in the early spring. And the people living farthest away from Vancouver were the first ones to be sent out. They were from the coast, you know, like Ocean Falls, Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands. But those of us who lived in Vancouver, we were the last ones. My family was evacuated in October. So we didn’t have that kind of a crowd at the railway station to see us off. I think most of the people were gone by then.
Kai: So, my last question. If a studio came to you and said, Mrs. Nagata, we’ll make a movie about anything you want – what movie would you like to see that hasn’t been made yet?
Miyuki: (Laughing) That’s a difficult question, isn’t it.
Kai: (Laughing) I’m just throwing you a curveball.
Miyuki: Well maybe how the Japanese from Japan who landed here evolved over three or four generations. Life got gradually better, but only in small steps, you know? So the first generation and second generation – Issei and Nisei – suffered the most, I think. Then the Sansei, they were accepted as Canadians. So that wasn’t bad. And the Yonsei, you’re a hundred percent Canadian. Now the Gosei are coming along. So I think that transition was kind of interesting.
Kai: Anything you want to add?
Miyuki: I’d like to thank the Fuji company for the powerful movie. I’m happy that our hidden heroes were finally recognized on film – and in the books by Pat Adachi and Ron Hotchkiss.
This interview has been condensed and edited.