Last week I did a post on how Choji Murata was the first Japanese pitcher to undergo Tommy John surgery under the knife of the late Dr Frank Jobe. Greg Dunn left a comment asking if maybe Masaharu Mitsui might have been the first instead of Murata. I had never heard of Mitsui, so I started doing some research.
Mitsui was taken in the second round of the 1973 draft by Lotte and was the Pacific League Rookie Of The Year in 1974 (the year Lotte won the Nippon Series). According to his Japanese Wikipedia page, he hurt his arm in the late 1970's and was operated on by Jobe. That page does not say what kind of injury it was or what type of surgery Jobe did (or at least the Google translation doesn't say) but the page for Tommy John surgery lists him as the first Japanese recipient.
Press reports when Jobe died indicated that Murata was the first Japanese pitcher to undergo the surgery. Robert Whiting devoted the better part of a chapter to Murata's experience but after reviewing the book again last week, I see that at no point did he ever explicitly say that Murata was the first to have the surgery. Whiting related the story in the context of how Japanese baseball's culture at the time made it difficult for Murata to seek medical attention for his arm.
The two players experienced very different outcomes from the surgery. Murata famously pitched for another seven seasons. Mitsui only appeared in eight games over two seasons after the surgery before retiring in 1982 at age 28, the year before Murata went under the knife.
So ultimately I'm not sure of who the first was, but it looks like it certainly could have been Mitsui.
Mitsui has very few baseball cards. The only card that was produced during his career was from the 1975 NST set. He only has two other cards - one from the 2008 BBM Lotte 40th Anniversary set and one from last year's Epoch Rookie Of The Year set. Here's the BBM card (#25):