Posts Tagged ‘Japanese-American-Houstonians’

Mykawa Road

February 24, 2011

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.