Originating in 1914, the Vancouver Asahi played a brand of baseball deemed “brain ball.” They stole bases with abandon and dropped bunts with the accuracy of pool sharks. Playing their home games at the Powell Street Grounds, the Asahi team was a source of pride for Japanese Canadians. Hopeful recruits came not only from Vancouver, but from every surrounding town in the Fraser Valley. Wearing the Asahi uniform became the dream of virtually every Japanese Canadian boy.
In the ’20s and ’30s, the team’s success helped Japanese Canadians build bridges between their communities and occidental ones. Led by legendary players like Junji Ito, Roy Yamamura and Tom Matoba, the Asahi won the Terminal League title in 1926, and by the ’30s, the team was competing in the prestigious Senior City League and had become the top gate attraction on the West Coast.
Beginning in 1937, the Asahi won the Pacific Northwest Championship five years in a row. However, 1941 would be the last carefree summer the boys would play as a team. Early in 1942, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Canadian government interned all people of Japanese descent, confiscating their property, and uprooting their lives. As a team, the Asahi never played together again. Yet, when these men, along with thousands of Japanese Canadians, were removed to prison camps, they took with them the spirit of baseball. Little by little, bats and balls appeared and these former Asahi players assembled baseball teams. Soon these men were playing against their RCMP prison guards, then with local townspeople – many of who had never seen a Japanese person before and were surprised to discover they spoke perfect English. Baseball, the ultimate symbol of North American culture, was a common bond. It helped dispel suspicions and fears and led to lasting friendships that exist today.