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The Vancouver Asahi: The Search for Hall of Fame Medalists' Families

George Iga, a Seattle-based Vancouver Asahi Player

The legendary Vancouver Asahi Baseball Team was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003 and the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame in 2005. Honorary medals were prepared for each Asahi player, but many remained unclaimed. In 2014, I happened to find that my late uncle Shoichi Shima, who was one of the earliest Asahi players, never received an induction medal. Subsequently, I received the medal on my uncle’s behalf. Since then, I have been voluntarily tracking down those Asahi families with unclaimed medals.

One of the medalists was George Iga. With huge support from Dr. Marie Rose Wong, I was able to find George’s family and pass the medal to them. Here, I will share the process of how we found his family.

George playing satsuma biwa

George Iga, born in 1887, originally played as a shortstop on the Seattle Asahi Team. He occasionally went to Canada and played with the Vancouver Asahi team so he was able to join the Vancouver Asahi team on its Japan tour in 1921. He soon got to know the team members on the ship. He performed Satsuma Biwa and entertained the team on the way to Japan. 

In June 2017, when I searched online to find George’s family, I found an article reporting on Dr. Marie Rose Wong’s research on Japanese American baseball. I contacted her immediately. 

Dr. Wong didn’t know George’s family. She, however, contacted Midori Okazaki at the Puget Sound Regional Archives in Washington. They helped my research on the Iga family. In July 2017, Dr. Wong successfully tracked down Douglas Tsujii, George’s grandson, in Seattle.

Douglas is a son of Keiko, George’s youngest daughter. Since Geoge had already passed away in California in 1935, Douglas didn’t know that his grandfather was an outstanding baseball player when he received an email from Dr. Wong.

A baseball bat with his name, Iga, etched. 

After his mother passed away, Douglas grew closer with his mother’ sister, Aki Hayashi (Iga). When Aki passed away 7 years ago, he boxed up all of her belongings and stored them at his home. He admitted that It wasn’t until Dr. Wong contacted him that he finally opened the boxes! He was very excited to find a number of photos of his grandfather including a baseball bat with his name etched on it, an old photo album with George in uniform and playing some instruments, and a newspaper article about the big Asahi win. 

George Iga (above) and a clipped newspaper article, which reported The Seattle Asahi won twice on a Vancouver road trip.

North West Asian Weekly reported Douglas’ findings in their November 2017 issue. He said, “I wish I would have known about this when clearing out [my aunt’s] home so that I would have been more mindful in finding more information about him.”

I informed both Hall of Fames. As a result, Douglas received an honorary medal from BC Sports Hall of Fame on behalf of his grandfather George Iga in 2018.

Douglas Tsujii

Unfortunately, Douglas Tujii passed away in September 20191. I was sad to know of his sudden death but now I feel relieved at least that he could receive the honorary medal before it became too late.

Note:

1. “Douglas W. Tsujii (1954 - 2019),” The Seattle Times, October. 20, 2019.


Reference:

Asahi Baseball Association, “The Search for Asahi Families Continues,” Nikkei Voice, January 17, 2018.

 

© 2021 Yobun Shima

baseball George Iga hall of fames Seattle Asahi Vancouver Asahi

About this series

The legendary Vancouver Asahi team was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003 and the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame in 2005. It was more than 60 years since the team was disbanded by the outbreak of the World War II in 1941 so that many players and their families were  unidentified or were not tracked down.

The author's uncle Shoichi Shima was one of the first Asahi players, but also one of these players who didn't receive a medal. He happened to find out about his uncle after his retirement. He not only researched the Vancouver Asahi but also read through various historical documents about British Columbia, then, fueled by this new passion, he began research to track down the other unidentified families. This series introduces my process of investigation as well as stories of Asahi players and their families.