________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 10 . . . . January 21, 2005


Sleeping Tigers: The Asahi Baseball Story.

Jari Osborne (Writer & Director). Karen King-Chigbo (Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2003.
51 min., VHS, $99.95.
Order Number: C9102 144.

Grades 6 and up / Ages 11 and up.

Review by Julie Hunt.

**** /4

In the 1930s, the Asahi Baseball team was made of up Vancouver's best Japanese ball players. Children as young as eight were recruited as potential players for this prestigious team. Businesses would close their doors and the stands would be packed as the Japanese community cheered on their heroes. The Asahi first played baseball within their own community but soon took on the larger, stronger Caucasian teams. They developed their own brand of game to compensate for their small size and less powerful batting. With cat-like fielding, strategic bunting, lightening quick base running and strategic play, the Asahi became an unstoppable force. It was David against Goliath, and for five straight years, until the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Asahi won the Pacific Northwest Baseball Championship.

"It was a period when, you know, if you were Asian, especially on the West Coast, people just thought you were almost subhuman. We didn't have the vote. There were places you couldn't go. I wondered for years why it was that all my memories of theatres are looking down and it's because we had to go upstairs. So I mean in that kind of world to be accepted as an equal, that meant a great deal." Midge Ayukawa, Asahi baseball fan.

"They were our team, regardless of where you lived on the coast. They were fighting for us, fighting for all Japanese, despite the hardships that were imposed on us. They showed us they could fight. They showed us they could overcome anything." Kiyoshi Suga, Asahi secretary.

     On December 7, 1941, Japan bombed targets across the Pacific, including Pearl Harbor and Canadians defending Hong Kong. Japanese people became the enemy, and, whether immigrants or Canadian born, they became enemy aliens. There was mass evacuation of Japanese people to ghost towns, detention centres, and work camps. Some families had only 24 hours to leave their homes, but amongst their treasured possessions were Asahi photos, uniforms, scrapbooks and baseball gloves. The Japanese community, including members of the Asahi team, was dispersed to a variety of different sites.

     On January 23, 1943, Ottawa passed an Order in Council under the War Measures Act that all confiscated property belonging to Japanese Canadians be sold. "But there was one thing that could not be sold, confiscated, or taken away. Little by little it (baseball) began to reappear in the camps."

     As baseball teams formed, R.C.M.P. guards lingered to watch them play. In time, the Mounties allowed players to travel from camp to camp. Not only did the R.C.M.P. enjoy taking in the games but so too did local townspeople. In Lilloeet, the Japanese players were able to cross the bridge into town to play in desegregated games. Baseball in the camps helped strengthen the spirit and morale of the people interned.

     As the war ended, Japanese people in the camps were told to go east or repatriate to Japan. They needed to start their lives over again. Perhaps the Asahi baseball team would now be forgotten except in the minds of the few remaining players and fans if not for the efforts of the Toronto Blue Jays. The Blue Jays decided to mark great moments in baseball including the feats of the Asahi team. In 2003, surviving members of the Asahi team were honoured at the Sky Dome and were inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

     Sleeping Tigers: The Asahi Baseball Story is a powerful film marking an important chapter in Canadian history. In addition to chronicling the Japanese experience in Canada during World War II, the ideas of hope, tenacity, and the power of a game to transcend adversity and racial barriers are well delivered by filmmaker Jari Osbourne. How fortunate that this story has been captured while a few members of the Asahi and their supporters are here to tell the tale. These interviews combined with archival photos, recreated scenes, and appropriate music to match the changing moods, make this an engaging, thought-provoking story. Highly recommended for classroom viewing and discussion.

Highly Recommended.

Julie Hunt is a teacher-librarian in West Vancouver, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.