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Yobun Shima Uncovers a Baseball Legacy

From left: Kay Kaminishi, the author, and his cousins Eiyo Shima and Yvonne Shima

Yobun Shima was born and raised in Kyoto, Japan, and lived in Tokyo for most of his life, working for a shipping company until he retired about a decade ago. That is when he started tracing his family’s footsteps.

Yobun’s grandfather moved from Japan to Vancouver in 1907. A few years later, his grandfather’s family, including a son named Shoichi Shima, joined him. In 1914, Yobun’s father, Fred, was born in Vancouver.

Yobun discovered that his uncle Shoichi was one of the earliest members of the legendary Vancouver Asahi baseball team that played from 1914 to 1941. This was the start of his instrumental work in piecing together little, fragile parts of B.C. history. He would go on to help track down some 30 other families whose connection to the Asahi would have otherwise been lost.

Growing up in Kyoto, Yobun never knew that his uncle had played for the Asahi. The family eventually returned to Japan one by one by the end of the 1930s.

After Shoichi died, the family found in his old files a 1916 Asahi team photo with him in it.

First Vancouver Asahi Baseball Club, ca 1915 (NNM TD 1113 Ed Kitagawa Collection). Gaichi Tabata is second to the right in the front row. Suekichi Kodama is second to the left in the second row.

That got tucked away until a cousin, Eiyo Shima, visited Vancouver more than 10 years ago and happened to find a book entitled Asahi : A Legend in Baseball by Pat Adachi. It was a “big surprise” to the family to see Shoichi in the first Asahi team photo ever taken in 1915.

In 2005, the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame inducted the Asahi team, naming 74 former players as medalists for their contributions as athletes. This was a poignant nod to the times in which the Vancouver Asahi played. But then things stalled. There were still 25 unclaimed medals, including the one belonging to Yobun’s uncle Shoichi. The list would languish for another decade.

In October 2014, 100 years after his uncle first played for the Asahi, Yobun visited the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre (NNMCC) to attend the Medal Award Ceremony presented by Jason Beck, curator and director of the Hall, joined by Grace Eiko Thomson, historical consultant on the movie Vancouver Asahi, and Linda Reid, research archivist of NNMC. In the ceremony, Yobun was accompanied by his son Yugo and two cousins, Eiyo and Yvonne.

Grace Eiko Thomson at front left and Linda Reid at back left.

Since then, Yobun began to look for families of other former players who had not yet claimed their rightful medals. Emiko Ando, funding member of the New Asahi baseball team that was formed in 2014, offered to assist him in his research.

Yobun eventually got connected to Norio Goto, author of the The Vancouver Asahi Story, and other Asahi family members, including Satoshi Matsumiya, whose grandfather was president of the Vancouver Asahi team in the early years. They were greatly helpful in tracking down those families in a short time.

In an interview in the Vancouver Sun, Jason Beck said, “Yobun has become the driving force, based in Japan. He’s our Japanese division for the search for those players. We have a much fuller picture of who was on these teams.”

The list of unclaimed medals is now down to six names.

  • K. Endo, possibly from Tottori Prefecture, who played in 1938.
  • Tashiro Omoto, from Shiga Prefecture, who played in 1929 and 1932.
  • Barry Kiyoshi Kasahara, from Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, who played from 1919 to 1923.
  • Yuji Uchiyama from Niigata Prefecture, who played from 1918 to 1921.
  • Yoshio Miyasaki, hometown unknown, who played 1925 to1926.
  • Dr. Henry Masataro Nomura, from Tokyo, who was the president from 1919 to 1921.

In parallel with the search into the unclaimed medalists, Yobun and Satoshi Matsumiya were interested to identify two of the earliest Asahi players, Tabata and Kodama, whose first names had not been known or registered. Eventually, after exploring old newspaper articles and contacting people in Japan and Canada, they uncovered the players’ full names: Gaichi Tabata and Suekichi Kodama. The B.C. Sports Hall of Fame welcomed the findings and immediately included the information on the Asahi roster for induction.

In this connection, induction medals become a point of concern. Jason Beck of the Sports Hall of Fame says that he does not have any records of whether the Hall had already issued medals to the families of Tabata and Kodama.

Yobun and Satoshi Matsumiya have been working to track down and contact the families of Gaichi Tabata and Suekichi Kodama. Suekichi Kodama’s daughter has been identified and contacted. Gaichi Tabata’s family has been identified, but no contact information is available to reach them. Unfortunately, Gaichi’s son Takashi Peter Tabata passed away in 2016. Yobun and Satoshi welcome contact information for Peter’s surviving families, namely Enright-Tabata (and husband Robin), Lori Tabata (married name unknown), Shari Tabata (possibly unmarried), plus Courtney and Danielle, daughters of Tomi Tabata (who passed away in 2013 in Burlington).

* * * * *

Yobun and Satoshi welcome any information about the Tabata family. Please contact them via email at Sevenseas1990@hotmail.co.jp

 

*This article was originally published in Nikkei Images (Vol 23, No.1).

 

© 2018 Yobun Shima

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