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Goro Mikami, First Japanese Professional in the U.S.

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  • Goro Mikami, First Japanese Professional in the U.S.

    Goro Mikami, First Japanese Professional in the U.S.

    Jap Mikado
    Goro Mikami

    Goro Mikami was born on November 6, 1889 in Kofu, capital of the Yamanashi Prefecture in the Chubu region of Japan’s main island of Honshu. Around the turn of the century Japanese middle schools started forming baseball teams. At age 15 Mikami began playing the game.

    A few years later he entered Waseda University in Tokyo. By that time, Waseda already had a strong baseball rivalry with nearby Keio University. The two began an annual series in 1903 (called the Sokeisen) which was became the nation’s most popular college rivalry.

    Waseda was founded by Count Shigenobu Okuma in 1882 (as Tokyo College or Academy). In 1902 the school was granted university status. Okuma was a statesman, holding many posts within the government including Prime Minister in 1898 and again from 1914-16. For the most part he embraced western culture, which included becoming a big benefactor of Waseda baseball.

    In 1905 Waseda became the first group of Japanese ballplayers to barnstorm in the United States.

    In 1909 Waseda invited the University of Wisconsin to Japan for a series of baseball games. They accepted; though, it is unclear if Mikami was a part of the baseball team during his freshman year.

    1910 TOUR

    In 1910 the University of Chicago accepted a similar invitation from Waseda. Both universities prepared heavily for the upcoming matches. Chicago ballplayers, coached by Amos Alonzo Stagg from 1893-1912, took summer classes (since they would be away in the fall) and practiced daily. Stagg would be unable to travel to Japan since, as many know, he oversaw the football team as well.

    Waseda players took off for Honolulu at the beginning of July 1910 to practice and play an Oahu club for two months. Former University of Chicago baseball players Albert W. “Stuffy” Place (Chicago’s top hitter for much of the 1890s until 1902) and Fred Merrifield met Waseda in Hawaii to instruct the players. Both Place and Merrifield spent time coaching Japanese ballplayers in Japan in 1904 prior to the first Japanese barnstorming tour of the U.S.

    Merrifield was Chicago’s baseball captain in 1899. Merrifield and Place first went to Japan in 1904 as recruiters for the Baptists Missionaries and YMCA. They also taught at Waseda. Eventually, Merrifield spent years there training ball players during the first decades of the 20th century, establishing a resume as one of the game’s founders in that country. He would be named the University of Chicago’s baseball coach in 1921.

    Twelve University of Chicago players plus their player-manager Harlan Orville “Pat” Page took off for the Orient on September 2, 1910. Page was the university’s former football captain and the first Chicago athlete to play on Big Ten Conference championship teams in three different sports: football end, 1907-08; basketball guard, 1908-10; baseball pitcher, 1909. He would managed the schools baseball team from 1913-20 and ’31, succeeding Stagg.

    The Chicago players arrived at the end of the month (September 29). They returned to the United States (Seattle) on December 23 after visiting Japan, China and the Philippines. The only loss suffered by Chicago was to the Marine Club in the Philippines. The games in Japan (all Chicago victories):

    October 4 over Waseda 9-2, attendance: 12,000
    October 6 over Keio 3-1, attendance: 10,000
    October 8 over Waseda 5-0
    October 14 over Keio 2-1
    October 18 over Waseda 15-4
    October 19 over Keio 5-2
    October 20 over Waseda alumni 11-2, no-hitter
    October 25 over Waseda 8-4
    October 26 over Waseda 20-0
    October 27 over Waseda 12-2

    1911 TOUR

    Near the end of the tour the Chicago club invited Waseda to visit the United States in 1911. They accepted. (It has been reported that major leaguer Tillie Shafer went to Japan to train Waseda players over the winter of 1910-11. In actuality he worked for Keio University. Keio also visited the U.S. in 1911)

    On March 28, 1911 Sixteen Waseda players and their manager, Professor Takasugi, left Yokohama aboard the Nippon Maru. The group included (with age and position if known):

    Jannori Hara, 23, second baseman
    Kyosuke Yahata, 22, left field
    Katashi Iseda, 25, shortstop
    Goro Mikami, 21, centerfield
    Takayaki Omura, 22
    Jukichi Ogawa, 23
    Mitsuzo Fukunaga, 18, catcher
    Inasahuro Masuda, 20, right field
    Masao Yamamoto, 20
    Sutekichi Matsuda, 24, pitcher, captain
    Masataka Omachi, 21
    Takizo Takasugi, 40, manager
    Seiji Tachibana, 24
    Hitoshi Oi, 24, first base
    Masanobu Fukahori, 22, third base
    Takeshi Yamaguchi, 20, catcher
    Onoji Watanabe, 26

    All the Japanese players were between 5’2” and 5’8” tall. All of them, save one, are business students studying commercialism. The other is a politics major. They expect to find jobs after college as statesmen, exporters (which presumably included Mikami), diplomats, bankers, lawyers and educators. They are said to be a varying backgrounds like all college students. Two are sons of farmers, two are sons of wealthy importers and yet another’s family has a royal connection.

    They arrived in San Francisco on April 13, 1911. Pat Page met the men in San Francisco and will travel with them back to Chicago. The University of Chicago had set Waseda's schedule and made all arrangements. Page was present to handle arrangements along the way.

    An incomplete list of games:

    April 17, San Francisco, Waseda over Waseda alumni (men who had relocated to California) 18-0 – It was noted that Waseda went through the entire game without making a sound. All communication was done through signals.

    April 19, Palo Alto, Stanford University over Waseda 11-2
    April 22, Berkeley, Waseda over the University of California 4-1

    Waseda arrived at their host city Chicago on May 5

    May 6, Chicago, University of Chicago over Waseda 6-4

    On May 8 Waseda players took in their first professional game. They attended a game between the Cubs and Cardinals.

    May 20, Ames, Iowa, Waseda split a doubleheader with Ames College
    May 24, Iowa City, University of Iowa defeated Waseda 2-0

    May 31, University of Wisconsin
    June 3, Chicago, University of Chicago defeated Waseda 9-6

    The Waseda baseball team was among the 300 guests at the wedding of Pat Page and Louise Speed in Chicago on June 15.

    June 17, final game in Chicago, University of Chicago over Waseda 12-11, with Waseda scoring five runs in the bottom of the ninth

    July 1, New York City, Waseda over a mixture of college (from Manhattan College) and local semi-pro players at the Lenox Oval by a score of 10-4 in ten innings (Waseda scored seven times in the 10th) – Pitcher Matsuda was the star. He induced 13 hits back to himself, throwing out twelve. Mikami (batting second and playing center field) went 2 for 4 (one hit down the right field line), a sacrifice in the tenth, a steal and was tagged at the plate trying to score on a short passed ball. The game was umpired by ex-National Leaguer Jack Doyle.

    July 7, Baltimore, Waseda lost to the Maryland Athletic Club 13-2

    On August 1 the Waseda team departed from Seattle headed for home. Pictures of the Waseda team in 1910-11 can be found here at the first 20 or so posts:


    After graduating from Waseda in 1913, Mikami returned to the United States on September 4, 1913 (in San Francisco from Yokohama) aboard the Chiyo Maru to attend Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. (Waseda had played Knox College on May 10, 1911)

    Reports suggest that Mikami may have been the baseball captain at Knox College. He left Knox after two years to attend University of Illinois to study economics. He graduated there in 1917.


    During the summers, Mikami played for a traveling professional club called the All-Nations of New York from 1914-16 (This is not the club owned by John Wilkinson that became the Kansas City Monarchs). As such, Mikami is the first known Japanese national to play professional baseball in the United States (Surely, there were Nisei who played the game in Hawaii and on the west coast prior to 1914).

    The All-Nations were a barnstorming outfit which attracted fans by providing international ballplayers (or those that might pass as such). The team routinely fielded those purported to be Japanese, Chinese, American Indians, Spanish-speaking and from other exotic locals. African Americans also filled out the roster. Mikami was also known as “Jap Mikado.” Here is a copy of an August 5, 1916 box score versus the Bacharach Giants at:
    I happened across this discussion (from three years ago) of the first Japanese baseball player to play professionally in the United States. No, it wasn’t Hideo Nomo; nor was it Masanori Murakami, the San Francisco Giants’ reliever from the 1960s....

    The All-Nations also played against Federal League clubs.


    After graduating from the University of Illinois in 1917, Mikami joined the Mitsui Bussan, the international trading arm of the Mitsui Company. At this point his career in baseball ended.

    The Mitsui Company originated as a cloth-dealing and dry goods firm in the late 17th century in Kyoto and Edo (Tokyo). After Japanese ports were opened to foreign trade in 1858, Mitsui opened the Mitsui Bussan in 1876 (also opened the Mitsui Bank in 1876 which would become one of the largest banks in the country) in order to expand their commodity base. They traded nearly any and all products that would provide a profit. Initially, the bulk of the foreign trade was confined to China (with branches in Shanghai and Hong Kong). The major products here included exporting coal to China and importing raw cotton from China.

    Mitsui first opened its first New York branch in 1879, but it was later closed for lack of profitability. By 1900 though, it was reopened sparked by the importing of American cotton and the exporting of Taiwanese oolong tea to the U.S.

    Mitsui Bussan did extremely well during World War I, necessitating the hire of Mikami and others for the New York branch. During the 1920s, Mitsui became the largest zaibatsu, an industrial and financial business conglomerate.

    Like many others in the U.S. in the late 1910s, Mikami registered for the draft. In June 1917 he was living at 559 Broadway in Paterson, NJ and working for the Mitsui Company at 87 Front Street as an importer.

    U.S. immigration records indicate that part of Mikami’s responsibilities at Mitsui included international travel. He is logged with trips to Havana and San Juan.

    After the middle of 1919, Mikami drops off the grid in the United States. He does not appear in the 1920 Census (at least if unfound). Mikami did return to Japan (probably by the middle of 1920) to spend the rest of his life there (immigration records indicate that he did not return to the U.S.).

    Mikami died of a gastric perforation in 1958.

    A book was written about his life in 1997 by Kazuo Seyama called "Jap Mikado no nazo.” Unfortunately, the work, like nearly all Japanese baseball books, has not been translated into English.
    Last edited by Brian McKenna; 05-19-2008, 11:23 AM.

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