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Nikkei Chronicles #9—More Than a Game: Nikkei Sports

Family History of Kenichi Doi, Vancouver Asahi pitcher in 1926

Vancouver Asahi, Terminal League Champion in 1926.  Kenichi Doi is fourth from right in the front row. (Photo: Nikkei National Museum, 2010.30.1.5.73.a-b)

Kenichi with the Championship trophy in 1922. (Photo courtesy of Cumberland Museum and Archives, C140-024.

Kenichi Doi was a pitcher for the Vancouver Asahi baseball team in 1926 who originally played with the Cumberland baseball team on Vancouver Island B.C. Canada.

I am lucky that my friend Norm Ibuki introduced me to his close friend, George Doi, Kenichi Doi’s son, who shared his father’s history with me.

George was just a child during the height of Kenichi’s baseball days, so he does not have any memories of the actual games, other than getting into the back of an open truck to go to a game and watch it. In those days, everybody loved baseball—as a player or a spectator.

George did not know that his father Kenichi played for the Vancouver Asahi team until some years later, after his father had passed away. George’s uncle, Fred Tadao, told him how Kenichi was recruited, when the Asahi went to play in Cumberland. That was when they saw Kenichi pitching and asked him to come to Vancouver to play for the Asahi. They found a job for him at a sawmill, supposedly with a place to stay as well.

Vancouver Asahi team, which won the Terminal League Championship, were ready for BC baseball playoff in 1926. Kenichi Doi is in the top row, second from the right. (Vancouver Sun, August 7, 1926)  

But Kenichi only played for the Asahi for one year, in 1926, since he got married after the championship that year and returned to his home in Cumberland. In 1927, when a wildfire razed their community, destroying their home as well as many others, Kenichi and his wife moved to Royston, which was about 5 km away. There, he found work and joined the Royston baseball team, made up of mill workers, coal miners, and loggers.

Here is a bit more background on Kenichi’s baseball years:

  • Kenichi lived with his parents in a Japanese community close to the Number 5 coal mine, abutting the Cumberland City boundary. For the sake of simplicity, the community was named No. 5 - for instance, “Doi san wa numba 5 ni sunde imasu (Doi lives in the No. 5)”

Doi family around 1915, in front of their home in the No.5 Cumberland community on Vancouver Island, B.C. Standing from the left: Kenichi, Mr. Kato (uncle), Tomiyo (mother), Umataro (father), Chiyono (sister), and Harada brothers.  Kids are Kenichi's brothers, from left: Teruko, Tadao, and Tadashi. His sister Chiyono later married Mr. Harada. Another sister Shimayo (not in the photo) was in Japan at that time. (Photo courtesy of George Doi)

  • Kenichi played for the No. 5 baseball team; the team’s name was ‘SUN.’

  • The Japanese community of No. 1 was a little further away and had about 40 families. Their baseball team’s name was ‘NIPPON.’

  • The combined NIPPON/SUN team won the Cowichan-Comox Valley Championships in 1922.

The 1922 Champion team with Kenichi Doi, second from left in the middle row. (Photo courtesy of Cumberland Museum and Archives, C140-374)

  • In 1926, Kenichi played for the Vancouver Asahi as a pitcher, the year that they won their terminal league’s championships.

  • Kenichi later joined the Royston team. They played all over Vancouver Island, against the lower mainland teams, and even into Washington state in the United States.

The Royston baseball team in 1929. Kenichi is in the back row second from the left. His brothers Clifford and Fred are 4th and 6th in the back row. (Photo courtesy of Cumberland Museum and Archives, C140-372)

My dear friend, Yoichi Nagata, was kind enough to find a copy of a newspaper article from the Comox District Free Press, dated May 23,1935, which reported that Kenichi Doi took part in the game on Vancouver Island between the Twilight League All Stars and the Tokyo Giants, who were visiting Vancouver Island.

Kenichi Doi was not a pitcher but a second fielder in the game. The Tokyo Giants pitchers in that game were Toshihide Hatafuku , and then Eiji Sawamura. Victor Starffin, the famous Giants pitcher, did not take part in this game.

I have become aware that the ancestral families of Tom Matoba, Mickey Sato, Jack Hayami, George Shishido, Ken Nakanishi, Jo Fukui, James Fukui, and Kaye Kaminishi, all Asahi players in different years, were originally from Hiroshima, Japan.

Here are some more details of Kenichi’s job history before and during World War II.

Kenichi was born 1902 in Cumberland and completed the 4th or 5th grade.

At age 12, Kenichi was working at Kishimoto Dairy Farm (between Cumberland and Royston.) Every morning, he had to get up very early to milk the six cows before marching off to school.

After he quit school, he started working at a coal mine.

But Kenichi did not work too long in the coalmines. Due to the low pay and inherent danger from gas explosions, Kenichi went looking for employment in the logging industry, or doing mill work.

Kenichi told his son, George, a story about having a buddy who substituted his shift because Kenichi was ‘spiked’ and had a foot injury from playing baseball. That day, there was an explosion in the mine. George cannot remember if Kenichi told George what had happened to his friend, but several miners died. There is a photo of baseball players gathered at the Japanese cemetery to pay respects to the miners who were lost in this explosion.

The Nippon/Sun team visited the Japanese cemetery to pay respects to the miners and teammates who were lost in an explosion. Kenichi is at the second from the left (Photo courtesy of Cumberland Museum and Archives, C140-375)

In the late 1920s, Kenichi started working at Royston Sawmill, the biggest sawmill owned by a consortium of Japanese. Kenichi worked there for about two years, but he didn’t like it, so he decided to work in the bush as a faller’s assistant and gradually worked his way up to become a head faller.

Falling in those days was complicated. The job was strenuous and definitely required lots of felling experience and experience with wedging trees. Safety was a great concern.

Kenichi’s logging work was mainly for the Royston Lumber Company. There was also a short period where he worked for his brother-in law, who had logging contracts.

In the Bay Farm Internment Camp, a small portable sawmill was set up, where Kenichi found work as a foreman.

Doi Family at Bay Farm internment camp, 1945. From the right, Kenichi, George (13 years old), and mother Tomiyo carrying the youngest sibling. Others are Kenichi's children. (Photo courtesy of George Doi)

Due to labour shortages, internees were allowed to go outside the normally restricted areas to work. In 1944 and 1945, Kenichi and several others worked in logging camps and mills in Rogers Pass and Chapman Creek, both located near Golden, B.C.

When the camp closed, Kenichi’s son, George, then a fourteen-year old boy, started work in the logging camps to help support his parents and nine siblings. Later, he joined the British Columbia Forest Service, working in many ranger districts in Kootenays. He was promoted from Deputy Forest Ranger to the position of Forestry Operations Supervisor in the Vancouver Forest Region, and later to Fire Prevention Coordinator.

Kenichi died on July 17, 1981 in Slocan, B. C.

In closing, I would like to introduce a report written by Wylie Waters, Kenichi Doi’s great grandson, who participated in the Shin Asahi Team’s Japan Tour team in 2019.

I am glad to feel the heritage of the Vancouver Asahi is still alive, and is being carried on.

Reference:

Cumberland Museum has many photos of local Nikkei baseball teams. Please check here.

 

© 2020 Yobun Shima

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About this series

With most major sporting events, including the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, either cancelled or postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people are missing the experience of live sports. For this edition of Nikkei Chronicles, we invite you to share stories about Nikkei sports. It is our hope that sharing thoughts and recollections of pastimes that we love can help to unite and comfort us during a difficult time.

What makes Nikkei sports more than just a game for you? Perhaps you’d like to write about your Nikkei sports hero or the impact of Japanese athletes on your Nikkei identity. Did your parents meet through a Nikkei basketball or bowling league? Are you intrigued by an important chapter of Nikkei sports history, like the prewar Issei and Nisei baseball teams?

Read the Nikkei Sports stories and help select the Nima-kai community favorite >>

The last day to vote is NOVEMBER 30.

* Submissions for Nikkei Sports closed on October 31. Thank you very much to everyone who submitted stories!

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