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

In search of the two earliest Asahi players, Kodama and Tabata - Part 1

The first Asahi team photo in 1915. Some players were marked as unidentified, but all members' names have been identified now. From left to right: In the back row: Shuichi Fukunaga, Ihachi Miyazaki, Takeo Asai, Kinzaburo Fukunaga. In the middle row: Kenshiro Suzuki, Suekichi Kodama, Mickey Hatsujiro Kitagawa, Tom Nichi Matoba. In the front row, Ted Furumoto, Yozaemon Kondo, Yo Horii, Kaichi Tabata, Shoichi Shima. (Photo courtesy of Nikkei National Museum 1994.60.22)

The Legendary Vancouver Asahi baseball team was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003 and in 2005, the Asahi team was inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame. Although the Asahi team and the players were inducted, there were 26 Asahi players whose induction medals from the BC Sports Hall of Fame remained unclaimed by their families. It was because more than 60 years had passed since the team was disbanded in 1941 after the war broke out. Many Japanese Canadians including the Asahi players were forcibly interned into the interior camps without being allowed to return to Vancouver. 

My uncle, Shoichi Shima, was one of the first players of the Vancouver Asahi and Satoshi Matsumiya’s grandfather, Sotojiro Matsumiya, was the early president of the team. When we found out that there were 26 unclaimed medalists, we started to track down and successfully searched out the families of 20 players who were awarded the medals thanks to the cooperation by the parties concerned. And presently six medalists’ families remain missing.

In parallel with the ongoing research into the six unclaimed medalists of the Vancouver Asahi, we also looked for information on the two unidentified players of the earliest Asahi team, namely Kodama and Tabata, who could neither be registered nor inducted due to lack of their first names.

After exploring articles of old newspapers and by contacting relevant people in Japan and Canada, we determined the full names of the two players as Suekichi Kodama and Kaichi Tabata. Apparently, it was the first time that their full names were uncovered in more than a century since the formation of the Asahi team in 1914 because the newspapers did not mention their first names. The B.C. Sports Hall of Fame acknowledged our findings and immediately included their full names on the Asahi roster for Asahi induction. 

Suekichi Kodama (left) and Kaichi Tabata in 1915. (Photo courtesy of Nikkei National Museum 2010.

* * * * *

Suekichi Kodama’s family was successfully tracked down

Satoshi Matsumiya successfully tracked down the families of Suekichi Kodama. He shared the story of how he found Akie Takahashi, who is a surviving daughter of Suekichi in Canada.

In Fall 2018, when I was reading the Tairiku Nippo (The Continental Daily News), I found news about Suekichi Kodama. I began to think that Suekichi Kodama might be the first Asahi player Kodama himself.

I checked more information and finally I found out that Suekichi Kodama was originally from Oyabucho in Hikone City, Shiga prefecture. Furtherly, I visited Shodaiji temple in Oyabucho and requested the priest to check the Kodama family’s registration of deaths. The priest could not immediately find Suekichi Kodama on the temple’s registration. However, he suggested that I meet with a lady named Chiyoko Kodama whom the priest knew in the neighborhood.

In early March 2019, accompanied by the priest, I visited Chiyoko Kodama. She confirmed that Suekichi Kodama was her uncle. Her father was the first son of the Kodama family and his brother Suekichi was the second son, out of eight brothers and sisters.

According to Chiyoko, Suekichi immigrated to Canada in 1908, accompanied by his mother as a yobiyose by his father. He and his family settled down to live with Yoshiya Horizen, who was Suekichi’s relative. Yoshiya was operating the Horizen Store on 453 Powell Street in front of the Powell Ground, the same store connected to Vancouver Asahi’s famous Kitagawa brothers. 

Suekichi and his wife Masa.

Suekichi, after marriage, had eight children but seven children passed away as they aged. Surviving was only Akie (Kodama) Takahashi, who was over 90 years old.

The next day, I phoned Akie in Canada and asked about Suekichi. She told me that she was the only surviving child of Suekichi and that Suekichi was playing baseball as a short stop for a couple of years.

On March 20, 2019, I visited Chiyoko again to invite her for a welcome party on March 23 for the Shin Asahi baseball Japan tour team, scheduled to visit Hikone City soon. As we chatted about baseball, Chiyoko told me that her sister’s grandson Taiga Kitagawa is a member of Hikone little senior baseball team and was going to play with the Shin Asahi team.

What a coincidence! Taiga, whose great granduncle was Suekichi, was preparing to play with the Shin Asahi team, after more than 100 years since the formation of the original Asahi team!

The Asahi team photo in 1916. (From left to right) In the back row: Takeo Asai, Shuichi Fukunaga, Ihachi Miyazaki, Kinzaburo Fukunaga. In the middle row: Yozaemon Kondo, Nichi Matoba, Suekichi Kodama, Mickey Kitagawa, Kenshiro Suzuki. In the front row: Kaichi Tabata, Ted Furumoto, Yo Horii, Shoichi Shima.

Kaichi Tabata’s family was successfully tracked down

In the case of the player named Tabata, we successfully tracked down his family members who live in Canada, but it took a while to find their contact information.

Kaichi and his son Peter Takashi.

The Lemon Creek Internment in 1942 listed the “Kaiichi Tabata Family was composed of Kaichi (47 years old), Nobu (wife), Keiko (8 years old), and Peter Takashi (2 years old).”

Later I found that Kaichi’s son Peter Takashi Tabata had passed away in 2016 in Ontario and his daughter Tomi had passed away in 2013 in Burlington, Ontario. But there are three surviving daugthers: namely Enright-Tabata (and husband Robin), Lori Tabata (married name unknown), and Shari Tabata (possibly unmarried), as well as daughters of Tomi Tabata, Courtney and Danielle.

Unfortunately, we were unable to find their contact information. On April 6, 2019, however, after Nikkei Images and Discover Nikkei shared an article about our search of Asahi family members in October 2018, Lisa Uyeda, Collections Manager of the Nikkei National Museum & Culture Centre, suddenly emailed me as follows:


I'd like to introduce you to Matthew Kariatsumari, Greg Kariatsumari, and Roberta MacDonald who are descendants of Kaichi Tabata!

Roberta MacDonald is the eldest daughter of Keiko Tabata and granddaughter of Kaichi Tabata. They have confirmed Gaichi is incorrect and his name was in fact Kaichi. 

I am pleased to share the news and even more pleased to introduce you all together. Yobun, please be in touch with the family to update them on the Asahi medals and all related news. 


Lisa Uyeda

I contacted Matthew Kariatsumari, whose mail in reply came as follows.

April 10, 2019

It's so great to meet you! We've all read your article, thank you so much for your hard work and research. It means so much to us to learn more about our family history and connect it to the history of Japanese-Canadians in British Columbia.

Kaichi and his daughter Keiko.

Keiko Tabata is the daughter of Kaichi Tabata. Roberta MacDonald, Debbi Craven, and Greg Kariatsumari are the children of Keiko Tabata and Chester Kariatsumari.

Matthew Kariatsumari (me), Steven Kariatsumari, and Katie Kariatsumari are the children of Janice Kariatsumari and Greg Kariatsumari.

That makes Kaichi my great grandfather! Roberta and Greg lived with Kaichi, their grandfather, for close to twenty years.

I'm wondering if you would be open to speaking with me on the phone or via video conference? I have some questions about the Asahi and your research and how it relates to our family.

Let me know if that's something you would be open to doing and we could look at scheduling a date and time that is convenient for both of us.

Looking forward to continuing the conversation.

Thank you again for getting in touch and for your research.


Later Matthew sent me the below letter and a photo.

Kaye Kaminishi and Chester.

May 28, 2019

Chester Kariatsumari loved playing baseball! I just received this letter and a photo from my great uncle, Yosh Kariatsumari (Chester's youngest brother), of Chester and Kaye Kaminishi, as you know, the last remaining Asahi Player. They played together in Lillooet B.C. where my grandfather's family (Kariatsumari's) was interned. The photo was taken in East Lillooet, B.C. in 1946-47.

In addition, I also received the below email.

…..Keiko Tabata, the last living descendant of Kaichi. Kaichi and Nobu Tabata lived with Keiko from 1961 until 1981 at which time Kaichi went into a Japanese senior residence. Kaichi had a loving relationship with Roberta, Debbi, and Greg Kariatsumari, all grandchildren of Kaichi Tabata.  

I'm living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The rest of our family, including Keiko Tabata, are living in Burlington, Ontario, Canada....

I also inquired with Matthew how Keiko’s family names changed. Matthew explained as follows:  

… Keiko Tabata is my grandmother's maiden name, and the name she uses at present. Keiko was married to Chester Kariatsumari, at which time her name was changed to Keiko Kariatsumari. After Chester's passing my grandmother remarried and her name was changed to Keiko Alice Waggoner.

Hall of Fame Medals to the Kodama and Tabata Families

We finally found out the contact information for Keiko Tabata, Kaichi‘s daughter, and Akie Takahashi, Suekichi’s daughter. I informed Jason Back of the BC Sports Hall of Fame of our findings.

However, Jason replied: “… I do not have any record from 2005 of who received medals and who did not (except for the four living Asahi players who attended the Banquet of Champions induction dinner in May 2005 in person)…”

I cannot believe that any honorary medals were issued to Kaichi and Suekichi because their first names had been unknown for more than a century and their names were not in the Hall of Fame list.

In reference to this point, I contacted Matthew and asked if anybody in his family member had received the induction medal on behalf of Kaichi Tabata.

April 12, 2019

Thank you for the note from Jason.

I can confirm that our family (descendants of Keiko Tabata) did not receive the induction medal. It would mean so much for us to receive Kaichi's medal! Please feel free to contact Jason Beck and let us know if you need any support from us.... 


With all the information having become available and ready, it was finally decided by the BC Sports Hall of Fame that Keiko Tabata was to receive the medal on behalf of her father Kaichi Tabata.

Keiko wearing an inducted medal with Greg Kariatsumari in Burlington Ontario.

Later I confirmed that Akie, a daughter of Suekichi Kodama, didn’t receive the inducted medal. The Hall of Fame later issued a medal for Suekichi.

Read Part 2 >>


© 2020 Yobun Shima

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Each article submitted to this series was eligible for selection as favorites of our readers and the Editorial Committees. Thank you to everyone who voted!

Hall of Fame Kaichi Tabata NikksiSports Suekichi Kodama Vancouver Asahi

About this series

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?

For the ninth edition of Nikkei Chronicles, Discover Nikkei solicited stories related to Nikkei sports from June to October of 2020. Voting closed on November 30, 2020. We received 31 stories (19 English; 6 Japanese; 7 Spanish; and 1 Portuguese), with a few submitted in multiple languages. We asked an editorial committee to pick their favorites and our Nima-kai community to vote for their favorite stories. Here are the selected favorite stories. 

Editorial Committee’s Favorites

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