Sotaro Suzuki stared up at the ship’s three smokestacks towering above him. At 16,810 tons the Empress of Russia was nearly 10,000 tons smaller than the Empress of Japan, but moored in Yokohama Harbor the 590-foot vessel seemed tremendous. After nearly two years of hard work and only six weeks left before the tour would begin in November, the preparations were nearly complete. The contracts were signed, the roster set, the travel arrangements made. Only minor details remained, such as getting balls and bats autographed by Ruth, Gehrig, and Foxx for raffle prizes.
This excursion to the States should be fun, Suzuki thought to himself. He would disembark in Vancouver and take a train across Canada—a good chance to enjoy the Rockies and the magnificent countryside—to Montreal and then down to New York to meet with Lefty O’Doul and Earle Mack. He would then accompany O’Doul to the World Series before spending a week meeting with Pacific Coast League owners to discuss bringing Yomiuri’s professional team to California in the spring of 1935. Finally, Suzuki would meet the All American players in Seattle and accompany them to Japan.1
The first day of the voyage was pleasant enough. Suzuki strode about the deck savoring the fair weather and salt air, spent the afternoon in his cabin writing an article, presumably on baseball, and in the evening enjoyed the “talkie” So This Is Africa (a Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey slapstick comedy) in the ship’s theater. Before retiring, he recorded the events in his journal—a habit he had continued since living in New York. The next morning the ship crossed the meridian, forcing the passengers to relive September 19. It was on this second September 19 that things began to go wrong.
Rain pelted the ship, preventing Suzuki from exercising on deck.