By: Edward J. M. Rhoads

Type: Overview Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: April 5, 2017

The Japanese first moved to Texas in significant numbers after a fact-finding tour of the Gulf Coast by a consular official, Sadatsuchi Uchida, in 1902. Local officials and businessmen told Uchida that rice farmers from Japan would be especially welcome in Texas. Soon thereafter, various Japanese made at least thirty separate attempts to grow rice in different parts of the state. The two most successful sites were at Webster (Harris County), near Houston, founded by Seito Saibara in 1903 and at Terry (Orange County), near Beaumont, established by Kichimatsu Kishi in 1907 (see KISHI COLONY, TEXAS, and RICE CULTURE). By 1910 the Japanese population in Texas numbered 340, in contrast to thirteen in 1900.

Saibara and Kishi, each of whom had been quite well off in Japan, traveled to Texas to settle. Saibara, a lawyer and a party politician, had been president of Doshisha University in Kyoto before immigrating to the United States; Kishi attended Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo. Both brought families and tenants to help work the land; the tenants in time sent for their wives or, if single, arranged for "picture brides" to join them in Texas. As the two settlements prospered they attracted other Japanese, who purchased and operated rice farms nearby. After World War I, however, the rice market collapsed, nearly ruining the Japanese along the Gulf Coast. Some, like Kishi, switched to truck farming; others operated plot nurseries; still others left Texas. Meanwhile, in the second two decades of the twentieth century, another group of Japanese had come to Texas. Many were fleeing from the anti-Japanese agitation in California. They too farmed, but they generally settled in Cameron and Hidalgo counties, in the lower Rio Grande valley, and grew citrus fruit and vegetables. In 1914 Japanese geographer Shigetaka Shiga erected a monument at the Alamo in San Antonio and a similar one in Okazaki, Japan, to draw parallels between the battle of the Alamo and similar battles in Japanese and Chinese history.

Though initially welcomed, the Japanese faced increasing hostility both locally and nationally. The American Legion post in Harlingen in 1920 warned Japanese newcomers to stay away from the Valley. The Texas legislature in 1921 passed an alien land law that prohibited foreign-born Japanese from purchasing or leasing additional farmland. Three years later the Unites States Congress banned Japanese immigrants and barred foreign-born Japanese from acquiring American citizenship. Finally, when the United States went to war with Japan in 1941, there were widespread doubts about the loyalty of the Japanese Americans. Many Japanese men in Texas were rounded up by federal authorities for interrogation, though the detention of Japanese in Texas was brief and not universal. In San Antonio the Jingu family, who for two decades had been entrusted by the city with the care of the Japanese Tea Garden, were forcibly evicted, and the site was renamed Chinese Tea Garden. Suspicions of the Japanese Americans, however, proved unwarranted. Many Japanese men joined the armed forces, and some served in Europe with the famous all-nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

A large new group of Japanese arrived in Texas during the war, but their stay was brief. Of the 5,000 to 6,000 aliens sent to the three federal internment camps set up in Texas- at Seagoville, near Dallas, and at Kenedy and Crystal City, south of San Antonio-a majority were Japanese, some from the West Coast of the United States and others from Central and South America (see WORLD WAR II INTERNMENT CAMPS). Few, however, remained in the state after the war. Among the exceptions was Isamu Taniguchi of California, an internee at Crystal City, who settled as a farmer near Harlingen and later retired to Austin, where he designed and built the Japanese Garden in Zilker Park.

Up to the 1940s the Japanese in Texas were mostly an agricultural population scattered across the state. One-third were living in Harris County, mostly near Houston. Other counties with a sizable number of Japanese in 1940 were Bexar, Cameron, and El Paso, which together accounted for another third of the Japanese population. By this time a second generation of Japanese, known as nisei, had been born and reared in Texas; 41 percent of the 458 Japanese in Texas in 1940 were women, and 63 percent had been born in the United States. Both because they were residentially dispersed and because their children had attended American schools, the Japanese were relatively well assimilated into the mainstream of American life. Kichimatsu Kishi's son, for example, played halfback for the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (now Texas A&M University) in the mid-1920s. Many Japanese families joined local Christian churches. Urban Japanese often operated restaurants.

In 1950 the Japanese in Texas totaled 957; of this number 56 percent were still rural. But after 1950 the Japanese population in Texas changed greatly, both in size and in composition. By 1980 Japanese residents numbered 10,502, a ten-fold increase. Even so, they composed less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the state's total population. Some of the increase, particularly in the early 1950s, was a result of an influx of war brides of United States servicemen stationed in Japan during the American occupation and the Korean War; they were so numerous that among the Japanese in the state women have greatly outnumbered men in recent decades. The ban on Japanese naturalization was lifted in 1952. Unlike other Asians, however, Japanese did not immigrate to the United States in significant numbers in the 1950s and 1960s, despite liberalization of immigration laws.

The more recent increase is a result of growing trade with Japan. Many Japanese have been posted temporarily to Texas to represent their home companies. In Houston, where more than 100 branches of Japanese firms are located, representatives of such firms constitute the largest group of Japanese in the city. Most of these temporary Japanese Texans, however, do not interact much with the Americans, including Japanese Americans. Meanwhile, the second and third generation (sansei) descendants of the original Japanese settlers in Texas have left farming, entered the professions, and joined the move to the cities. Whereas in 1950 the Japanese in Texas were still predominantly rural, by 1970 they had become overwhelmingly urban; half of them are concentrated in the Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio areas.

Francis Edward Abernethy and Dan Beaty, eds., The Folklore of Texan Cultures (Austin: Encino, 1974). Margit Nagy and Don Olsen, The Japanese Monument at the Alamo (San Antonio: Our Lady of the Lake University, 1989). Stephan Thernstrom, ed., Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1980). Fred R. von der Mehden, The Ethnic Groups of Houston (Houston: Rice University, 1984). Thomas K. Walls, The Japanese Texans (San Antonio: University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures, 1987).

  • Peoples
  • Japanese

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Edward J. M. Rhoads, “Japanese,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 09, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/japanese.

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April 5, 2017