Matsumoto & Zenimura: U.S.-Japan Baseball Ambassadors

Matsumoto & Zenimura: U.S.-Japan Baseball Ambassadors

PHOTO: Takizo "Frank" Matsumoto (left) and Kenichi Zenimura (right), Japan, 1924.

On January 18, 2016, the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame announced five new membersMasaki Saito and Kimiyasu Kudo, a pair of former MVP hurlers, and Kihachi Enomoto, Masatake Yamanaka, and Takizo Matsumoto

For those with an interest in Japanese American baseball history, Takizo Matsumoto is a noteworthy and fascinating selection. 

Matsumoto was born in Japan but moved to the U.S. as a toddler and was raised in Fresno, CA. There he changed his name to "Frank" and went by the last name "Narushima" after his mother remarried. Frank Narushima was a multi-sport athlete at Fresno High School who excelled at both baseball, football and track. In 1919 he co-founded the Fresno Athletic Club, which would later become one of the most successful Nikkei teams on the west coast. In 1920, Kenichi Zenimura moved from Hawaii to Fresno, and there he and Narushima/Matsumoto developed a life-long friendship and, mutually-beneficial relationship that would help each other operate as successful ambassadors between the U.S. and Japan. 

Back in 2007 the Nisei Baseball Research Project submitted a proposal to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame nominating Kenichi Zenimura for enshrinement. In that proposal the NBRP not only focused on Zenimura's accomplishments, it highlighted the importance of Narushima/Matsumoto as well. The recent addition of Matsumoto to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame is a great honor for this important and overlooked figure in U.S.-Japan baseball history.  Matsumoto's enshrinement is a sign of hope that his counterpart in the U.S., Kenichi Zenimura, who also served quietly behind the scenes as an ambassador between two baseball-loving nations, will someday receive the same honor.

Below is a timeline of Matsumoto and Zenimura's lives, highlighting their individual paths and intersecting collaboration. In addition to sources from Kerry Yo Nakagawa with the NBRP, Professor Kyoko Yoshida of Keio University contributed research to the timeline as well (see KY NOTE).

Takizo Matsumoto (1901-1958), a.k.a. Takezo Matsumoto, Frank Matsumoto, Frank Narushima.

Kenichi Zenimura (1900-1968), a.k.a. Kenichiro Zenimura, Jacob Zenimura, Ken Zenimura, Zeni.


Kenichi Zenimura born in Hiroshima, Japan. In 1907 he moved to Hawaii with his family.

Takizo Matsumoto born in Japan.  When he was a toddler his family moved to Fresno, California and shortly after their arrival Matusmoto’s father passed away. His widowed mother, Kiyo Matsumoto, remarried restaurant owner Hichiza Narushima, a man 14 years her senior.[1] Afterwards, young Takizo took on both an American first name and his step-father’s surname to become Frank Narushima.

In Honolulu, Zenimura became a diminutive (five feet tall, 105 lbs) star infielder and catcher with the champion Mills High School squad and the semi-pro Honolulu Asahi.

In the states, Narushima became a star athlete at Fresno High School (FHS), excelling in football (halfback and end), baseball (outfielder) and track (sprinter). 

Along with FHS teammate Al Sako and pitcher Ben Shintaku, Narushima forms the Fresno Athletic Club Japanese American baseball team, sponsored by the local athletic club of the same name.

In April 1920 Zenimura moved to the U.S. and joined the F.A.C. He was originally on his way to play ball in Iowa when his cousin Katsuo “Jimmy” Hirokawa, also an F.A.C. team member, encouraged him to stay in Fresno with the team.

Narushima and Zenimura are F.A.C. teammates for the 1920 season.

Narushima attends the California Institute of Technology for two years.

Zenimura travels back to Hiroshima to coach the Koryo High School baseball team. On this squad is his cousin, Tatsumi Zenimura. After one season, Zeni returns to the states.

(KY NOTE: Narushima entered Koryo High School of Hiroshima when 22. Joined their baseball 
club. His club mates include Tatsumi Zenimura.)

Narushima decides to move back to Japan to learn how to speak his native tongue with plans on returning to the U.S. in two years.  His plans change.  At the end of two years (1924) he becomes proficient enough in Japanese and enters Meiji University. Once established in Japan, he changes his name back to Matsumoto.

While in Honolulu returning from Japan, Zenimura forms the All-Hawaiian All-Stars and barnstorms the Western U.S. He encourages several members of the team to stay in Fresno and join the F.A.C.

Zenimura and the F.A.C. tour Japan; Zenimura and Matsumoto reconnect in Japan when the F.A.C. plays the Meiji squad.

Nisei club San Jose Asahi, led by team captain Russ Hinaga, tours Japan. Upon their return San Jose player “Duke” Sera extends an offer on behalf of Waseda University of $15,000 to Babe Ruth to tour Japan.

Tatsumi Zenimura, Kenichi’s younger cousin, joins the Meiji nine; Matsumoto is the team manager (see 1929)

Zenimura and the F.A.C. tour Japan for the second time; joining them is the Philadelphia Royal Giants (PRG), an all-star Negro League squad led by Biz Mackey and Andy Cooper. Zenimura’s business relationship with PRG manager Lon Goodwin dates back to 1925.

Zenimura plays in exhibition game with Ruth and Gehrig in Fresno on October 29 (PHOTO)
Narushima and Meiji come to the US for tour; while in Fresno, Meiji and F.A.C. combine squads and take on to defeat a local semi-pro team.  This appears to be the first-ever Nisei and Japanese University combo lineup.[2] (PHOTO: Matsumoto /Narushima front row, far left, in hat.)

(KY NOTE: At Meiji, he was a "manager," but this in Japanese means a student assistant to coaches and the real manager. It sounds that he wasn't a player but kept involved with the sports throughout. In 1929,  the Meiji team toured around the world.)

Matsumoto graduates from Meiji and joins the faculty teaching English and economics.

MLB Tour, Gehrig to Japan; no record of Matsumoto’s involvement of this tour, however later articles (see 1947) suggests he might have played a role as a translator for the visiting U.S. squad.

(KY NOTE: When O'Doul came in 1931, he (Matsumoto) was the translator. Moe Berg encouraged and helped him to go study at Harvard's business school in 1937. When he was back, he became a professor (later a board member) of Meiji Univ.)

Zenimura said, “I got a call from Japan to see if I could get Ruth to go to the island and play for a $40,000 guarantee. I contacted Ruth and he said he would go for $60,000. It was too much but a few years later he went and made a big hit.”[3]

Kenso “Howard” Zenimura, son of Kenichi, verifies that Frank was one of his father’s key contacts in Japan (the other being Nobuo Fujita, Big Six University pioneer). Kenso said, “Any time my dad went to Japan, or Narushima came to the U.S., the two of them would always get together.”[4]

The Philadelphia Royal Giants make a second tour to Japan; Mackey, Cooper and manager Goodwin return. Japanese historian Kazuo Sayama credits the ’27 and ’32 tours as important inspiration for the start of professional baseball in Japan.

Matsumoto gains the distinction of being the first person to introduce American football to Japan. On Thanksgiving 1934, a crowd of 36,000 people saw their first gridiron game in Japan between a team from the universities and a team of American and British players from the Yokohoma Athletic Club. [5]

(KY NOTE: He was also involved with many sports. He is actually an enshrinee of  the Japanese "American Football Hall of Fame." He was involved with the early college American football in Japan. You can see his photograph at: Japan's American Football Hall of Fame (class of 2004)

MLB Tour, Ruth and Gehrig to Japan; photos feature Matsumoto and Gehrig together in playful poses as though they are familiar friends (suggesting Matsumoto might have had a role in the ’31 Tour). (PHOTOS below)


Note: These photos appeared in the fall 2007 Sotheby’s auction catalog; description reads “Gehrig with Japanese official.” Zenimura’s son Kenso immediately identified Matsumoto with Gehrig when he saw the photo.

Newspaper publisher Matsutaro Shoriki is stabbed by a fanatic member of the “Warlike Gods Society” for being disloyal to Japan by sponsoring Ruth’s recent barnstorming tour.[6]

Matsumoto is named the leader of the Japanese Olympic Games Committee in preparation for the 1940 games in Tokyo. He traveled to Berlin (site of the 1936 games) and Los Angeles (1932 games) to study the operations of the games.

Matsumoto is named president of the World’s International Baseball Federation, comprised of 16 nations and Hawaii. Other board members include Steere Noda, founder of the Honolulu Asahi. “Leslie Mann of Miami, FL accepted invitation to his team to Japan next summer (1937). Similar invitations will be extended to the Hawaiians for a Japanese-American-Hawaiian series. Many nations are planning to send teams to the Panama sports carnival in 1938.” [7] 

Zenimura makes his third and final goodwill tour to Japan. He returns inspired by the promise of the 1940 Olympic Games and begins making plans for a return trip to Tokyo. He books sixty rooms in a Tokyo hotel and plans on bringing a team (or teams) back to tour in 1940. [8]

Matsumoto receives his MBA from Harvard.

(KY Note: Moe Berg encouraged and helped him to go study at Harvard's business school in 1937.)

Matsumoto is being groomed for the next Japanese ambassador to the U.S. when the war developed.[9]

Escalating war between Japan and China cancels 1940 Olympics in Tokyo.

Matsumoto becomes representative to the diet from the Hiroshima District.

(KY NOTE: After the war, he represented Hiroshima. In fifties, he played important diplomatic roles in a few cabinets (1952, 54, 57). It sounds that he had some conflicts with the top figures of the Japanese professional baseball. He was instrumental in resuming baseball games in Japan along with Cappy Harada.)

As a member of the House of Representatives, Matsumoto pitched a few innings against the House of Councilors in Tokyo. The House wins, 22 to 3.  The article also states: “… the former Fresnan (Matsumoto) was a close friend of Lefty O’Doul, San Francisco Seal manager; Connie Mack, manager of the Philadelphia Athletics, and the later Lou Gehrig. He served as interpreter for American baseball teams on tour of Japan.”

Zenimura negotiates contracts for his two sons Kenso and Kenshi to play for the inaugural Hiroshima Carp.

Hiroshima Carp team photo features Kenshi Zenimura and a man who closely resembles Matsumoto. (PHOTO) Q: Did Matsumoto have a role with the Carp?

Photo: 1954 Hiroshima Carp, Kenshi “Harvey” Zenimura and Matsumoto spotlight from image featured above.

Matsumoto visits U.S. as executive director of the Japanese Olympic Association; “visits many Japanese and American friends in Fresno for the first time since 1951 …” Later says, “Sure I know Harvey Zenimura and Fibber Hirayama, who doesn’t? They’re almost national heroes in Hiroshima. Each has his fan clubs. So do most of the baseball stars of Japan these days.”[10]

Matsumoto is Deputy Chief Secretary of the Japanese Diet; slated to be named Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines.[11]

Matsumoto joins Japan’s Premier Nobuske Kishi in four-day visit to America to improve relations between Japan and U.S. Serving as the Premier’s interpreter, Matsumoto plays in a golf foursome with President Eisenhower and Senator Prescott Bush of Connecticut (father of U.S President G.H.W. Bush (Prez 41), and grandfather of G.W. Bush (Prez 43). Matsumoto also meets with Dulles and MacArthur, among others.[12]

November 1, Matsumoto dies of a liver ailment at age 57.[13]

November 13, Zenimura dies as the result of a car accident at age 68.


BILL STAPLES JR. of Chandler, Arizona is a baseball historian with a passion for researching and telling the untold stories of the “international pastime.” His areas of interests include Nisei and Negro Leagues history. He is a Board Member of the Nisei Baseball Research Project (NBRP; Fresno, CA), a non-profit organization founded to preserve the history of Japanese-American baseball history and a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).

[1] 1920 U.S. Census, Narushima Family, Fresno, California
[2] Sciots take beating at hands of All-Star Japanese Club, 10-3, Fresno Bee, April 15, 1929
[3] Zeni Recalls, Fresno Bee, May 20, 1962
[4] Interview with Kenso Zenimura, February 23, 2008
[5] Ex-Fresnan to Land High Post in Japan’s 1940 Games’ Program, Fresno Bee, November 20, 1936
[6] Overseas: Some Crank; New York Times, February 24, 1935, pg. E1
[7] 16 NATIONS FORM BASEBALL GROUP, New York Times, Aug 9, 1936, pg. S2
[8] Sport Thinks by Ed Orman, Japanese Baseball Playing Improves Greatly, Fresno Bee, August 11, 1937
[9] Sport Thinks by Ed Orman, About Matsumoto, Fresno Bee, October 29, 1947
[10] Former Fresno Japanese says 800,000 fans see Prep Baseball Playoffs, Fresno Bee, September 9, 1954
[11] FHS Graduate of 1920 May be Named Japanese Envoy, Fresno Bee, May 29, 1956
[12] Eisenhower takes Kishi out for Golf, New York Times, June 20, 1957
[13] Rites Pending for Ex-Fresnan, Fresno Bee, November 2, 1958