The Powell Street area in Downtown Eastside in Vancouver, western Canada, flourished as a Japantown from the 1890s to the beginning of the 1940s. The only remnant of those days, however, is the Vancouver Buddhist Temple, and today, Chinese signs stand out along the streets instead.
In the centre of the former Japantown is Oppenheimer Park, which used to be the home ground of the Vancouver Asahi, an amateur baseball team formed in 1914 by Japanese-Canadians.
Today, the team's logo at the top of the backstop and a monument erected in a corner are the only traces of the history of the baseball team. Parts of the surrounding area are now the haunts of drug addicts and homeless people, making it difficult to visualize what the town must have been like a century ago.
The Vancouver Asahi joined an amateur league, and the players dedicated themselves to practicing between low-paying, grueling shifts at timber mills and other workplaces. They achieved outstanding results, winning championships eight times during their 14-year period in the league from 1928 to 1941.
Because the Vancouver Asahi players had smaller physical frames compared to players on other teams, they had their own playing style - stubborn defence and systematic offence using mobility with bunts, squeeze bunts and base stealing. The clever tactics were called "brain ball."
The Asahi players, who believed in fair play, never protested against umpires, quietly ignored prejudiced jeering, and controlled themselves even when they got hit by a pitch.
Their gentlemanly style of play gained popularity not only among Japanese-Canadians, but also among the other people of Vancouver.
Kaye Kaminishi, 93, the last surviving Vancouver Asahi player, reportedly said: "Every second-generation Japanese-Canadian respected the Vancouver Asahi. They were a symbol of the Japanese-Canadian community, and their pride. When I was given my uniform, I was so happy that I couldn't get to sleep that night," according to materials at the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Center.
The fate of the Vancouver Asahi took a dramatic turn due to World War II. The Japanese military attacked the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor in December 1941, and Canada also declared war against Japan.
Japanese immigrants, who were considered enemies, lost their jobs and their property, including fishing boats and cars, which were confiscated.
In 1942, the order was issued for the removal of all persons of Japanese origin. Japanese Canadians, the Japanese community and the Vancouver Asahi disappeared from Vancouver. A game held in September 1941 became the last for the players of the Vancouver Asahi.
It is said, however, that although the players were sent to different internment camps in inland areas and became separated, they took up baseball again regardless of their everyday hardships. Baseball has always been closely connected with Japanese-Canadians.
It was after 2000 that the Vancouver Asahi started attracting attention in Canada again, following the broadcast of a documentary featuring the baseball team.
In 2003, they were enshrined into Canada's Baseball Hall of Fame. Last year, marking the 100th anniversary of the team's founding, a movie about the Vancouver Asahi was released in Japan.
A New Vancouver Asahi baseball team was formed last autumn, centering on Japanese-Canadian youth teams, and 50 players aged 7 to 17 now belong to the team. They visited Yokohama; Obu, Aichi Prefecture; and Hikone, Shiga Prefecture, this March, and promoted friendship through friendly games.
"We want more people to know about the Vancouver Asahi, our pride, through the new team," said Sammy Takahashi, who made efforts to establish the new team.
Tomio Fukumura, who coaches the team, said: "We want to show respect for baseball through our playing style, as the Asahi players used to do, and bequeath the legacy to future generations."
First Japanese migration in 1877
Manzo Nagano from Nagasaki is said to have been the first Japanese to migrate to Canada. He boarded a British ship in 1877 and arrived in British Columbia, Canada. He started salmon fishing, and later moved to Vancouver and made a fortune loading timber onto cargo ships. He was officially recognised by the Canadian government as the first immigrant, and a 1,950-meter mountain in British Columbia was named Mt. Manzo Nagano in 1977.
After World War II, with the abolition of the War Measures Law in 1949, Japanese-Canadians were able to move freely again. In 1988, then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney officially apologised for having sent the about 22,000 Japanese-Canadians to internment camps and for having relocated them during the war, and decided to pay compensation to them.
The history of Japanese-Canadians is introduced through the permanent exhibition at the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Center. The cultural centre also conducts tours to Hastings Park, the site of internment camps where nearly 8,000 Japanese-Canadians are said to have been sent. On Powell Street in Vancouver, where many Japanese used to live and where Oppenheimer Park, which used to be the home ground of the Vancouver Asahi, is located, the Powell Festival is held every summer to boost exchanges between Japan and Canada.
The Vancouver Asahi was an amateur baseball team formed in 1914 by Japanese Canadians living in Vancouver. The Tokyo Giants, the predecessor of the Yomiuri Giants, played against The Vancouver Asahi when they visited Vancouver during their tour of North America in 1935 and 1936. The Asahi disappeared following the outbreak of war between Japan and the United States in 1941. In 2002, when Ichiro Suzuki played for the Seattle Mariners, a Major League Baseball team, five former players from the Vancouver Asahi were invited to a game, where a ceremony praising their achievements was held.
Guide to Vancouver
Vancouver is a major city in British Columbia, western Canada. It is surrounded by nature and was host to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. There are direct flights from Haneda and Narita airports to Vancouver, which take about eight to nine hours. It is about 30 minutes by monorail from the airport to the downtown area in Vancouver. There are many other public transportation options, such as buses. The Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Center, where materials on the Vancouver Asahi are exhibited, is located in Burnaby, close to Vancouver.