Mykawa Road

Early Japanese Houstonians were Agricultural Pioneers.

Mykawa Road.

It sounds like a great book title, and maybe that’s one of the reasons it also now serves as the name of a local Houston rock band in 2011, but that’s not what it was about one hundred years ago. Back then, it was not even about the road itself, but the nature of what was going on in that very rural area of SSE Harris County, in what is now covered by zip code area 77048, north of the Sam Houston Parkway, east of Scott Street and south of Griggs Road,

During the 1950s, Mykawa Road was famous to my adolescent generation as the home of the “Hi Nabor” drive-in movie theatre, one of the many in our Houston circuit search for the perfect date flick. You traveled down a long asphalt stretch of two-lane darkness on Mykawa to reach a movie screen that shone brilliantly in the absence of light competition from any other source in the area. The theatre grounds rested upon some of the very rich rice field land made productively famous by the Japanese immigrant to Houston who originally settled here to cultivate the area.

Many people hold the impression that Houston’s Asian community began with the displacement immigration period that followed the end of the Viet Nam War in the 1970s. Not so. We’ve had a smaller Chinese, Korean, Filipino, and Japanese population in the Houston area to some extent dating back to the 19th century. Of these groups, it was the Japanese, and one leader in particular, who led the growth here of a people who came to do a specific contributory kind of work in the greater Houston early community. The Japanese people came here to survive as some of earliest dedicated crop farmers.

Early Grafting of Orange Crops Fails as Houston Proves Too Cold.

Shinpei Maekawa was a Japanese National who came to the Houston area at the turn of the 20th century to raise crops that would prosper in the rich soil available to farmers of this area. Maekawa, whose name was inevitably re-spelled phonetically as Mykawa, was familiar with the abundant rains we receive and he came here with a very good idea that rice crops could flourish in our area.

The long road stretch that fingered its way south to the Japanese farmer’s land easily came to be known as Mykawa Road over time. And the kindly and industrious Mr. Mykawa proved himself right on target with rice. By 1906, his rice fields flourished. Another crop, oranges, did not fare so well. As shown in the previous post card photo, the Japanese came here with good knowledge of grafting as a significant help to orange crop productivity. What the Japanese farmers did not know at the time, as did none of their other racial farming peers, was the hard fact that Houston winters were simply too cold to make raising oranges a practical crop on the upper Texas coast. After a few hard freeze winters wiped everyone out, raising oranges north of the Rio Grande Valley was pretty much abandoned throughout the entire State of Texas.

Harvesting Rice on Mykawa Road in the Early 20th Century.

Planting rice in the Houston area, on the other hand, was here to stay – and it rapidly expanded to include much of the cultivable land west of Houston in the current Katy, Texas area. In fact, most of Houston’s and Harris County’s far western and southwestern neighborhoods have been built on lands formerly used for planting rice.

To the best of my knowledge, and I really have not researched the matter deep enough to be happy with all I don’t know about the impact of World War II on Houston’s Japanese-American population, there was no internment of citizens and land seizure policy that also came down so heavily upon the citizens of Houston. It’s bad enough those suspension of basic rights were illegally forced upon Japanese-American citizens in California.

If you have anything to contribute on how Japanese-American Houstonians may have been effected by World War II internment policies, please comment here. I will try to research the matter further too and post another column on this subject when new information merits the coverage.

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10 Responses to “Mykawa Road”

  1. Ronald Vaughan Says:

    I remember this street. And also an old newspaper story called “How That Road Got Its Name”. Don’t remember if it was the Houston Chronicle/Post/Press.

    You didn’t mention the part about how one of the Japanese workers was
    accidentally killed when he got into the way of one of the harvesting
    machines (and the rice-growing project was abandoned). That’s what I
    remember from that other article.

    But very good that Houston DIDN’T intern those foreigners. Glad that you
    mention a very important (and mostly forgotten) part of American culture!
    ***********************************************************
    BTW,I have a second (and unrelated) comment to make: I saw somebody else’s blog…a writer for the Houston Chronicle commented
    elsewhere about the music of a Houston band called “The Sound Investment”. They had a big hit with the song “Don’t Stop The Carnival”,
    and were even on the “Smothers Brothers Show” (clip mysteriously
    deleted from YouTube,and vinyl copies of the song selling for at least
    $20 each,LOL!!) I didn’t have a way to email comments to their thread
    or contact that writer.

  2. David Munger Says:

    Don’t Stop The Carnival was popular around ’67 or ’68, It was on the Milby Cafeteria Juke Box. Other Houston groups were BJ Thomas and The Triumphs, The 11th Floor Elevators{Billy Gibbons}, The Coastliners,
    Sonny and The Sunliners, Mickey Gilley, Archie Bell and The Drells, and
    of course Jackie Wilson to name a few.

  3. mike Says:

    During WWII, Shinpei Mykawa’s gravestone in Hollywood Cemetery was removed due to fear of vandalism. It is marked in Japanese and English.

    Actually the City of Houston and the Chamber of Commerce contracted with the Japanese government around 1900 to bring settlers from Japan to incorporate better rice farming techniques. The Emperor donated a few tons of Japanese rice seed, which was superior to what was being used here. The crop yields were greatly improved around the region. The leader of that group sponsored by Houston was Seito Saibara, and the settlement grew in the Webster area.

  4. Mike McCroskey Says:

    Bill,

    Is that you on the donkey?

    Mike

  5. Loretta McCarthy Says:

    Thank you for these tidbits of history! I enjoy reading them & the comments.

  6. Ronald Vaughan Says:

    Bill:

    Thanks for publishing my other comments. BTW,you’re still back in Houston….Any chance of finding my very first appearance in a newspaper (as a young boy)? That would have been because of a Science Fair,somewhere between 1959-61. The article (Houston Post/Press/Chronicle) would have been about “Our Mr. Sun” (with a photo of myself (Ronald Vaughan) gazing at a paper-mache solar system). I’ve lost track of that for many years,as that item (and others) was stolen before I could move from Houston to California.

    I graduated from C.B.Allen Elementary in 1962. Graduated Hamilton Jr.
    High in 1965. Graduated John H. Reagan in 1968. One year of University
    of Houston college,1968-69. Lost those yearbooks and photos also.

  7. Eddie Eddings Says:

    David, that was the 13th Floor Elevators, with Roky Erickson.

  8. the causes of seizures Says:

    the causes of seizures…

    […]Mykawa Road « The Pecan Park Eagle[…]…

  9. Whisper World Says:

    Where did you get the images from? I want to know where you found them

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