From 1914 to 1941, the Vancouver Asahi, a baseball team composed of Japanese-Canadian immigrants, thrilled Vancouverites with their unique playing style, teamwork and sportsmanship. They were the only ethnic baseball team to play in the Vancouver senior leagues and won ten city championships in their 27-year history. When World War II broke out, the team was disbanded and the players were dispersed throughout Canada, ending the Asahi dynasty.
Inspired by their legacy, the Shin Asahi, a youth baseball team, will play ball on Sept. 5 and 6 at Richmond’s Minoru Park and Vancouver’s Nanaimo Park. Formed last October, the team has attracted youth interested in the Asahi history and participated in several goodwill ceremonies celebrating the Japanese-Canadian relationship through baseball.
“It’s a proud thing to be a part of, and everyone wants to be a part of it and to learn about what the Asahi baseball meant to the community – so we wanted to carry the tradition,” says Russ Kada, one of the Shin Asahi coaches.
Winning games and respect
The Asahi, which means morning sun in Japanese, was formed by a Powell Street dry cleaner named Harry Miyasaki, who made up a team consisting of first and second-generation Japanese-Canadian immigrants. In an era where power hitting, homers and sluggers were prevalent among Anglo players, the Asahi distinguished themselves by employing the “brain ball” playing style, emphasizing speed and precision bunting – enabling players to steal bases with a single bunt. This technique helped the physically smaller Japanese players compete competitively with their Caucasian counterparts.
“Everyone bunted in order to get first base and a steal. They won championships with that strategy,” says Sammy Takahashi, one of the Shin Asahi youth club founders, reminiscing about the original team. “Instead of the power hit, it was the power hip.”
In recent years, the Asahi has been increasingly recognized and honoured for their contributions to baseball and the community. The Sleeping Tigers documentary, their induction into the Canadian Baseball and B.C. Sport Hall of Fames and an annual tribute game held at Oppenheimer Park, the home field where the Asahi played their greatest games, are among the various ways the Asahi is re-entering the civic consciousness today.
Shin Asahi taking up the mantle
The origin of the Shin Asahi team was sparked by the movie The Vancouver Asahi which premiered at the Vancouver International Film Festival last September. Inspired by that dramatic retelling of the historical team, the Shin Asahi was formed with 15 youth playing their first exhibition game on Oct. 11, 2014. But it almost didn’t happen.
“It was raining for two weeks [leading up to the game day] – and we were shaking our heads and thinking we would just do a ceremony [for the 100th anniversary]. But I remember the night before – I looked up – and saw a dragon in the sky [clarification: a dragon-shaped cloud set against the setting sun],” says Takahashi. “I had chills going up and down my spine – perhaps we could still be lucky.”
On the day of their first game, it did indeed stop raining, allowing the legacy game to take place. He felt it was a sign of approval from the legendary players.
“The spirit of the Asahi must have been happy that we revived the tradition,” Takahashi says.
Since then, the club has been involved with promoting the Asahi legacy throughout the community and beyond, such as representing the Asahi at the Vancouver Yokohama Golden Jubilee and organizing medal presentations to Asahi players’ relatives. They also travelled to Japan to play ball and promote the team spirit, following in the footsteps of the original Asahi team, who toured Japan in 1921.
In the future, they hope to join a league in order to train and compete regularly and to re-establish the Asahi tradition of “brain ball” in 21st-century Vancouver baseball.
“The team and interest level from all ethnic backgrounds who want to be a part of this is growing. And it’s been a lot of fun at the same time,” says Kada.
To learn more about the historical Vancouver Asahi team, visit www.virtualmuseum.ca
To learn more about today’s Shin Asahi team and their upcoming Asahi Legacy Games, visit www.asahibaseball.com