Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and Japanese Texans

Caroline Jones, Reference Archivist


This month we are celebrating the contributions of those Americans with Asian and Pacific Islander heritage, and in particular their special contributions to the state of Texas. This article focuses on the history and impact of Japanese Americans in Texas. The resources cited here come from TSLAC archival records, library publications, and our vertical files.

Rice threshing scene, Matagorda, Texas, undated, William Deming Hornaday photograph collection,1975070_4596. TSLAC.

According to information found in the vertical file “Japanese in Texas,” the Texas Chamber of Commerce worked to attract Japanese immigrants to Texas during the St. Louis Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904 and through the Japanese Consulate in New York. Many Japanese immigrants came to Texas and became rice farmers in areas near Beaumont and the Lower Rio Grande Valley. One such example was Kichimatsu Kishi, who founded a colony of Japanese immigrants near Terry in Orange County in 1907 and bought a 3,500-acre farm to grow rice and cabbage. Some images of rice farming are shown below in images from the William Deming Hornaday photograph collection.

Harvesting rice in Texas, undated. William Deming Hornaday photograph collection.1975070_4584. TSLAC.
Japanese rice field, Texas, undated. William Deming Hornaday photograph collection. 1975070_4590. TSLAC.
Threshing rice in Texas, undated. William Deming Hornaday photograph collection, 1975050_4597. TSLAC.

Japanese immigrants in Texas did many different things. As shown in this close-up image from the 1904 Dallas City Directory, Hideo Muta had an art good store located at 314 Elm Street. Another page of the directory shows that George M. Sekiya was the proprietor of a Japanese Restaurant on Main Street. City directories can be a great resource to provide researchers with a glimpse of what a city was like at a particular point in time.

Close-up image of a 1904 Dallas City Directory.

The influence of Japanese culture can be found in Japanese Gardens throughout Texas. The Sunken Japanese Tea Garden within Brackenridge Park in San Antonio was built in 1919 and designed with the help of Japanese artist Kimi Eizo Jinzu. San Antonio is also home to the Kumamoto En (“en” means garden in Japanese), which was built as a gift to the city of San Antonio from its sister city, Kumamoto, in 1989.

Japanese Tea Gardens, San Antonio, undated. Color slides and transparencies, 2012193_63_02_066. Texas Tourist Development Agency photographs and audiovisual materials. TSLAC.

The Japanese Garden of Peace at The Admiral Nimitz State Historical Park in Fredericksburg was a gift from the people of Japan to the people of America as a symbol of peace and friendship. Files found within the “Admiral Nimitz State Historical Park, 1983-1988” of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Parks Division records provide a wealth of knowledge about this garden. The Japanese Garden of Peace was designed by Taketora Saita of Tokyo, Japan. A “Self-Guiding Leaflet” for the Garden includes detailed descriptions of each section of the Garden and their significance. For example, “The Japanese House” within the garden is a replica of the study of Admiral Heihachiro Togo. It was built in Japan before being brought to Texas and reassembled by the same builders. The pool and stream beside the house are also copied from Admiral Togo’s study in Japan. According to the leaflet, the pool is shaped as the Japanese characters meaning “one heart” or “loyalty”” and “the stream of life symbolizes the raindrop which finds its way to the sea.”

Admiral Nimitz State Park, Fredericksburg, undated. Color slides and transparencies, 2012_29_03_050 Texas Tourist Development Agency photographs and audiovisual materials. TSLAC.

The Taniguchi Oriental Garden within the Zilker Botanical Garden was created by Isamu Taniguchi as a gift to the city of Austin and the University of Texas. While living in California in late 1941 Taniguchi, like so many other Japanese Americans during WWII, was arrested and placed in a Japanese Internment Camp. Later he was reunited with his wife and one of their children at the Crystal City Internment Camp in Texas, where the three of them lived with other imprisoned Japanese Americans until 1945. After the Taniguchi family was released from the camp, Isamu and his wife moved to the Rio Grande Valley and prospered as farmers. After many years, the couple retired to Austin where Taniguchi started creating the garden. He started developing the garden by hand at the age of 77 and completed the beautiful garden in 18 months. The garden opened to visitors in 1969.

Zilker Gardens, Austin, undated. Color slides and transparencies, 2012193_26_04_068. Texas Tourist Development Agency photographs and audiovisual materials. TSLAC.

Other Japanese gardens around the state include the Japanese Garden within the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, the Japanese Garden in Houston’s Hermann Park, and the Meiners Garden in Grand Prairie.

Japanese Gardens, Fort Worth,1975. Color slides and transparencies, 1991077_0706_001. Texas Tourist Development Agency photographs and audiovisual materials. TSLAC.
Japanese Gardens, Fort Worth, Texas, 1975. Color slides and transparencies,1991077_0706_002. Texas Tourist Development Agency photographs and audiovisual materials. TSLAC.

Want to learn more? Check out the resources used to create this blog post, and more, online: