History of the Japanese in Houston

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This article discusses Japanese Americans and Japanese citizens in Houston and Greater Houston.

As of the 2010 U.S. Census, there were 3,566 people of Japanese descent in Harris County, making up 1.3% of the Asians in the county. In 1990 there were 3,425 ethnic Japanese in the county, making up 3.1% of the county's Asians, and in 2000 there were 3,574 ethnic Japanese in the county, making up 1.9% of the county's Asians.[1] Patsy Yoon Brown, the director of the Japan-America Society of Houston (JASH, ヒューストン日米協会 Hyūsuton Nichibei Kyōkai), stated in 2013 that the Japanese American community in Houston had about 3,000 people, and that, as paraphrased by Minh Dam of the Houston Chronicle, is "a relatively small number compared to other Asian-American communities in the area".[2]


A few Japanese, mostly working as laborers, were present in Houston by 1900,[3] and due to a lack of required English knowledge some Japanese in Houston opened small restaurants that catered to working-class people and served inexpensive American meals. In the 1890s a man named Tsunekichi Okasaki, who took the American name "Tom Brown", opened a Japanese restaurant in Downtown Houston, which employed many recently arrived Japanese Texans.[4]

Sadatsuchi Uchida visited Houston in 1902. There, city leaders of Houston told him that they were interested in allowing Japanese people to operate and own rice colonies. In Japan Uchida talked about the information with friends and published literature in that told about the rice-growing opportunities.[4] Seito Saibara arrived in 1902,[5] or 1903, and after meeting newspaper editors, bank presidents, and a Southern Pacific Railroad "colonization agent", he purchased land on a railroad near Webster, Texas, using Uchida's advice.[6] He used a type of rice that could grow well in Texas, the shinriki grain. Saibara took his wife and 14-year old son with him to Texas.[5] Saibara convinced Japanese men to work for him, and paid bonuses for men who brought wives with them. Saibara was the first Japanese person who Uchida had convinced to establish a rice plantation in Texas.[6] The Webster farming colony was 225-acre (91 ha) in size.[5] After the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, prominent Japanese people visited his colony and other Japanese attempted to start rice farming. Sen Katayama, a socialist, started a rice colony and failed, while Rihei Onishi, a journalist, succeeded with his venture with his cousin Toraichi.[6] Shinpei Mykawa, who had visited Texas in 1904 during a trip to the World's Fair, returned there in 1906. After he died in an accident that year, the Santa Fe railroad officials renamed the railroad stop in his community from Erin Station to "Mykawa" and Mykawa Road received its name from Mykawa.[7]

Okasaki later began a rice farming operation by 1907, established two more restaurants including one Japanese restaurant, and in 1911 established the Japan Art and Tea Company.[4] After World War I the price of rice fell.[6]

Thomas K. Walls, the author of the book The Japanese Texans, stated that Japanese Texans, including Japanese Houstonians, were generally treated well, unlike Japanese in California. Texas was not in proximity to the anti-Japanese attitudes in California. Karkabi wrote "The World War II years were one of the few times Japanese-Texans encountered problems."[5]

The Japanese owners of the Webster farming colony lost much of their land during the Great Depression.[5]

For a period the place Mykawa had a community of Japanese rice farmers. John M. Moore of the Houston Post said that it "seems to be" that salt water and waste oil introduced by a nearby oil field destroyed some rice field crops cultivated by the Japanese farmers, causing them to leave the area before World War II; Moore said that area residents erroneously believed that the farmers left as a result of World War II.[8] By 1951 the nearest Japanese farmers were located near Minnetex. During that year many of the Japanese farmers formerly in Mykawa resided in north Harris County.[8]

By 1991, Interstate 45 bordered the area of the original farm. A Fiesta Mart opened. In 1991, there were two members of the Webster rice colony who were still alive. One of them, Kichi Kagawa, lived with her son Bill on a 30-acre (12 ha) plot of land that was once part of the original farm. The name of Kichi's husband and Bill's father was Yonekichi.[5]


Houston has one Japanese market, the Nippan Daido (大道 Daidō[9]) at Westheimer Road at Wilcrest,[10] in the Westchase district.[11][12] As of 1998 Japanese is the predominate language and most items are marked in Japanese and English.[13] In 1988 Leslie Watts of the Houston Chronicle wrote that it is "[v]irtually identical in appearance, sound and smell to the small neighborhood markets found in Japan".[14] As of 1988 the store offered noodles, fruit and vegetables. vegetables, cigarettes, video rental, underwear and lingerie, socks, origami kits, toys, dolls, cockroach traps, and pharmaceuticals.[14] As of 1998 the store offered fish, teas, soy sauces, frozen potstickers and dumplings, alcohol, tofu sauces, miso soups, rice cookers, chopsticks, and Japanese videos.[13] It is a branch of a chain based in White Plains, New York;[15] In 1988 this chain, a Japanese American business, had four other U.S. locations.[14]


The Japanese Language Supplementary School of Houston, a supplementary Japanese school, is located in the city. Its classes are held at the Westchester Academy for International Studies.[16] and the school office is located in the Memorial Ashford Place office building.[16][17] The school, operated by the Japanese Educational Institute (JEI, ヒューストン日本語教育振興会 Hyūsuton Nihongo Kyōiku Shinkō Kai[18]), is for children between ages 5 and 18 who are Japanese speakers.[19] Many of the students are temporarily residing in the United States.[2]


The Japanfest (Japan Festival), sponsored by the Japan-America Society of Houston, is annually held at Hermann Park. It is the only outdoor festival of its type permitted to be held at the park. In 2013 almost 2,700 people attended that year's festival.[2]


The Consulate-General of Japan in Houston is located in 2 Houston Center in Downtown Houston. The consulate serves Texas and Oklahoma.[20]

Notable residents[edit]




  1. ^ Klineberg and Wu, p. 12.
  2. ^ a b c Dam, Minh. "Japanese community feeling right at home." Houston Chronicle. April 14, 2013. Updated April 15, 2013. Retrieved on February 17, 2015. Print version: "Culture - Japanese festival bittersweet for 4 girls - The teens have spent 3 years at Cinco Ranch schools, but now it's time for them to go home." Monday April 15, 2013. p. B1. Available from NewsBank, Record Number 15275809. Available from the Houston Public Library online with a library card.
  3. ^ Brady, p. 39-41.
  4. ^ a b c Brady, p. 41.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Karkabi, Barbara. "PEARL HARBOR: 1941-1991 - THE INTERNEES - Farms lured Japanese here - Common interest in growing rice smoothed relations." Houston Chronicle. Sunday December 1, 1991. Special p. 6. Available at NewsBank, Record Number 12*01*825948. Available at the Houston Public Library website with a library card.
  6. ^ a b c d Brady, p. 42.
  7. ^ Connor, R. E. "How That Road Got Its Name." Houston Post, Sunday May 2, 1965. Spotlight, Page 3. - Available on microfilm at the Houston Public Library Central Library Jesse H. Jones Building
  8. ^ a b Moore, John M. "Mykawa Is Fading Into City's Shadows." Houston Post. Sunday July 1, 1951. Section 1, Page 14. Available via microfilm from the Houston Public Library Main Library Jesse H. Jones Building.
  9. ^ "WELCOME TO DAIDO JAPANESE MARKET" (Archive). Daido Japanese Market. October 20, 2007. Retrieved on May 8, 2014.
  10. ^ Reid, J.C. "Natto from Nippan Daido." Houston Press. Tuesday September 22, 2009. Retrieved on March 30, 2014. "Natto isn't widely available in Houston, so I went to the source of all things related to Japanese food in Houston -- the wonderful Nippan Daido Japanese market at Westheimer and Wilcrest."
  11. ^ Houston Chef's Table: Extraordinary Recipes from the Bayou City’s Iconic Restaurants. Globe Pequot, November 6, 2012. p. 142. Retrieved on March 30, 2014. "For exquisitely fresh fish to make sashimi plates or sushi at home, the Nippon Daido market in Westchase is the spot to go."
  12. ^ "Land Use Map" (Archive) Westchase. Retrieved on May 11, 2014.
  13. ^ a b Feldman, Claudia. "Explore a tiny corner of Japan in a Houston market." Houston Chronicle. Thursday, July 9, 1998. Preview section p. 17. Available at NewsBank, Record Number 3068120. Available online from the Houston Public Library with a library card.
  14. ^ a b c Watts, Leslie. "TO MARKET, TO MARKET - Take a tour of Houston's ethnic grocery stores for a taste of foreign foods and cultures." Houston Chronicle. Friday October 7, 1988. Weekend Preview p. 1. Available on NewsBank, Record Number 10*07*575608. Available online from the Houston Public Library with a library card. "Japanese videos to rent and cigarettes are also available according to manager Yoshimasa Kobayashi, who explains that the store is part of a Japanese-American company with only four other locations in the United States."
  15. ^ "Our Stores" (Archive). Daido Market. Retrieved on March 30, 2014. "HOUSTON 店 11146 WESTHEIMER HOUSTON TX, 77042"
  16. ^ a b Home page (Archive). Japanese Language Supplementary School of Houston. Retrieved on March 30, 2014. "借用校: Westchester Academy 901 Yorkchester Houston, Texas, USA 77079" and "連絡先(事務局) 火曜 - 金曜日 12651 Briar Forest Dr. Suite 105, Houston, Texas, USA 77077"
  17. ^ "Memorial Ashford Place" (Archive). Moody Rambin. Retrieved on May 13, 2014.
  18. ^ "沿革概要" (Archive). Japanese Language Supplementary School of Houston. Retrieved on May 13, 2014.
  19. ^ "Japanese Language Study Program Spring Branch Independent School District." Spring Branch Independent School District. Retrieved on March 30, 2014.
  20. ^ "Consulate-General of Japan in Houston." Embassy of Japan in Washington, D.C. Retrieved on December 24, 2008.

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