Japanese Rice Farmers

[Seito Saibara]

[1904 – Seito Saibara’s new house, on his rice farm near Webster]

[1905 – Japanese rice farmers on a rice farm near Texas]

[“Planting time on a Japanese rice farm near Houston, Texas”]

Per the Handbook of Texas Online:

An important event in the development of the Texas Gulf Coast rice industry was the introduction of seed imported from Japan in 1904. Seed rice had previously come from Honduras or the Carolinas. At the invitation of the Houston Chamber of Commerce and the Southern Pacific Railroad, Japanese farmers were brought to Texas to advise local farmers on rice production, bringing with them seed as a gift from the emperor of Japan. . . . Japanese rice production began at Webster in Harris County under the direction of Seito Saibara, his family, and thirty original colonists. The Saibara family has been credited with establishing the Gulf Coast rice industry.

Ironically, Saibara, while highly accomplished in other fields, had no prior experience growing rice.

While there are numerous postcards from the early 1900’s showing Japanese rice farmers wearing traditional clothing in the rice fields, the farmers otherwise wore the same style clothing as their non-Japanese neighbors. Still, the presence of Japanese natives in rural Houston was noteworthy enough at the time that even Saibara’s son’s enrollment in school was noteworthy. In September 1904, Saibara wrote a letter to the Galveston Board of Trustees, asking if his son and his son’s friend could enroll in Ball High School. As reported in the Galveston Daily News, under the headline “Japs in Ball School”, the school superintdent stated in support of the application that he had met Saibara and his son and “[found] them to be of the highest type of their race.” The Board voted to allow the superintendent to handle the matter as he saw fit. (By 1928, the same paper was reporting, in a column called “Webster Personal Items of Widespread Interest”, that Saibara’s grandson was home from Texas A&M for the summer.)

Saibara hoped to establish a large Japanese rice farming colony in Webster, and had some success in that direction. However, in 1924, the federal government barred new Japanese immigrants from the United States.

[Mykawa Rd. sign]

[Shinpei Mykawa’s gravestone in Hollywood Cemetery]

[Mykawa School – photo posted by isuredid on HAIF]

Another early Japanese immigrant to the Houston area was Shinpei Mykawa, for whom the town of Mykawa and Mykawa Rd. are named. Mykawa began a rice farming venture in the area later named for him, but was killed in the rice field, by a mule-driven seed roller, just months after he began farming. Santa Fe Railroad officials subsequently named the local railroad station after him. (The town of Mykawa had 200 residents in 1914, and a post office until 1933, but had shrunk by 1986 to a trailer park and the abandoned railroad station.) Mykawa was buried in Hollywood Cemetery. During World War II, his gravemarker was temporarily removed from the cemetery because it bore Japanese writing, and was considered by some to be a “Japanese monument”.

More information:
Walls, Thomas K., “The Japanese Texans”, TexanCultures.utsa.edu

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