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

Motoji Kodama, one of the founders of the Vancouver Asahi

Motoji Kodama, one of the founders of the Vancouver Asahi
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As already explained in my preceding essays, many Vancouver Asahi players or their families didn’t receive their honorary medals despite being inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame because their contact information were unknown. Motoji Kodama was one of the founders of the Vancouver Asahi that was formed in 1914 as well as the Nikkei Canadian Baseball Team ”Nippon,” that was formed four year ahead of the legendary Vancouver Asahi Team. He is also one of the Asahi members whose induction medal was unclaimed.  

Motoji Kodama was born in Hiroshima, Japan in 1877. In 1898, at the age of 21, he left Japan for the United States. He originally lived in Tacoma and Seattle, WA, but he subsequently moved out to Vancouver to work for a Japanese Canadians company as one of the directors. He was also engaged in providing Japanese workers to Canadian Pacific Railways and Canadian Northern Railways. I also found that he went back to Japan in 1918 and started to work for Kotobukiya Western Liquor Store, former Suntory Holdings Limited.

According to Suntory’s official history book, Motoji was an outstanding and important officer, serving as the secretary to Shinjiro Torii, president of the company. He was involved in a project to establish the first ever Japanese Whisky Distillery in 1923. He remained single all his life. He became amicably close to the Torii family that he was allowed to keep living at Torii Family’s mansion at Hibarigaoka, Hyogo even after his retirement from Suntory.

Motoji Kodama in his retirement.

I initially thought to inquire Suntory about the Kodama family.  However, since I’m not related to Kodama, I was afraid that they might not give any information to me as a non-family member due to the company’s privacy protection policy. I proceeded to contact with Suntory via my friend Jimmy Taniyama, a former employee of Suntory. As a result, I found out that Motoji’s relative Mrs. Kazuko Kumanaka was living in Osaka. Kazuko is a daughter of Chie Yoshimura, Motoji‘s maternal cousin.   

(Front row from left) Chie Yoshimura with her husband,  Kazuko’s son, and Motoji; (back row) Kazuko Kumanaka and her cousin. 

Chie's daughter Kazuko lost touch with Motoji’s paternal relatives a long time ago. Chie had been his closest relative until he passed away in 1974 at age 98. It became apparent that Motoji had closer relationship with his maternal relatives than his paternal relatives. In fact, Kazuko’s husband was the chief mourner at Motoji’s funeral.

I shared all the above information to the BC Sports Hall of Fame who determined that Kazuko Kumanaka was the most qualified person to receive the medal on behalf of her grand uncle, Motoji Kodama. They passed the medal to Kazuko through me.

The Medal Presentation was made at the VIP Room of Ritsumeikan University as arranged by Prof. Norifumi Kawahara who has a deep knowledge of Japanese Canadian history. From left: Yobun Shima, Kazuko Kumanaka, and Yuko Yoshimura (daughter of Kazuko).  

As an additional episode, Kazuko Kumanaka and her daughter Yuko Yoshimura later visited Shingo Torii (Vice Chairman of Suntory) to proudly show the induction medal. Shingo fondly recalled Motoji living happily with the Shinjiro family at his grandfather’s mansion.  

Kazuko Kumanaka and her daughter, Yuko Yoshimura, visiting Shingo Torii (Vice Chairman of Suntory) with the induction medal.

Also, the famous Japanese novelist Shizuka Ijuin wrote a novel on Shinjiro Torii, Kohaku no yume (A Dream of Japanese whisky). In this book, Motoji was depicted as an important management staff member. Motoji also appeared in a Japanese TV drama of the same title based on the novel.

I am very impressed that Motoji appeared in both the novel and the TV drama.

 

© 2021 Yobun Shima

baseball Canada issei Japanese Canadian Motoji Kodama 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.