A Road in Texas
Hellmut Klicker

Introduction

As my daughter Linda was checking the daily newswires in the Los Angeles Bureau of The Mainichi Newspapers last summer, she came across an item from Texas that caught her attention. A “Jap Road” in Texas was to be renamed. Sandra Tanamachi, a Japanese-American, supported by the Japanese American Citizens League, the Anti-Defamation League, the Japanese American Veterans Association and others, had lodged a complaint against Jefferson County regarding the name. The 4.3-mile road on the outskirts of the southeast Texas town of Fannett, 15 miles southwest of Beaumont and 70 miles east of Houston, was so named in memory of Yoshio Mayumi, who had once owned a farm there. His farm had been referred to as “The Jap Farm” because of the difficulty locals had in pronouncing his name. Yoshio Mayumi and his brother Yasuo had been well liked by their neighbors. Sandra proposed that the road be renamed “Mayumi Road” to truly honor the Mayumis and their contribution to rice farming in Texas. The residents disagreed. They felt that losing the name of the road was like losing a part of their history.


Sandra had struggled alone since 1992 to have the name removed, but all her efforts had been to no avail. Only in April 2001, she came to know about the like-minded Thomas Kuwahara, who had been independently pursuing this issue since 1999. The two joined forces and formed the “Committee to Change Jap Road” with other supporters. This group finally succeeded in breaking the deadlock, when the Jefferson County Commissioners Court voted on July 19 to get rid of the “Jap Road” sign. But the choice of the new name was to be left to the residents. They were requested to present their suggestions to Judge Carl Griffith on July 29.

Linda was surprised that there was a road with such a name. But even more surprising was the name of the man associated with it. Mayumi was her middle name and her mother's maiden name. She knew that her great-grandfather had owned a farm in Texas. Was Yoshio Mayumi her great-grandfather?

He was indeed.


Yoshio Mayumi


Yoshio Mayumi was born on December 1, 1874, in Tsukiji-machi, Tsu City, Mie Prefecture, as the first child of the old and famous Mayumi family. As the name meaning “Truthful Bow” suggests, the Mayumis were samurai. They had served the feudal lord of Tsu as administrators and been in charge of finance and accounting. Yoshio's grandfather, Yoshimasa, a charismatic, brave and hardy man, had an exceptional gift for accounting, which was quite unusual for a warrior.

As the samurai class lost its privileges and fell on hard times at the end of the Edo and early Meiji Period, Yoshimasa made good use of his talents and launched into several private business ventures that soon made him one of the wealthiest men in Mie Prefecture.

When Yoshio was born 6 years after the Meiji Restoration, Japan was already well on its way from an obscure backward country to a world power. This was an exciting time. The whole nation was gripped by a sense of awakening.

Yoshio Mayumi


Young Yoshio, the son of a wealthy landowner, was bursting with energy to do his part in serving his country. In May 1890, at the age of 16, he went to Tokyo to enter Keio Gijuku, which is now Keio University. He must have been thrilled to travel by train. The Tokaido Line connecting Tokyo with Kobe was only completed in 1889. Arriving in the great metropolis, he must have gazed in wonderment. The city was already aglow with electric lights, introduced in 1887, and the first telephones had just been installed.

Yoshio was an ardent student. Inspired by Yukichi Fukuzawa (1835-1901), the founder of Keio University, his teacher and mentor, he saw the need for Japan to break out of its isolation and learn from the West. Fukuzawa believed that Japan's only choice for catching up with Western technology and social structure was to "always strive for progress and enlightenment, and provide the academic and moral education needed to create a generation of wise and capable leaders."(3) Fukuzawa, whose portrait graces the current ¥ 10,000 bill, is still being revered today for his pioneer spirit in the pursuit of education, prosperity and progress. He still serves as an example for the people of Japan.

At Keio, Yoshio developed a keen interest in overseas projects. While most of his fellow-students were looking towards Europe, he was captivated by the growth potential of the South Pacific region. He would go into raptures about this subject and was nicknamed “King of the South Pacific” by his peers. His grandfather wanted him to continue his studies in Europe, but he had set his sights on the South Pacific, and that was where he wanted to go.

When he was 19, he learned about the establishment of a Japanese-Australian trading company by Shinji Tsuji and Viscount Eiichi Shibusawa, a government official, who had helped establish the reform that put Japan on a firm financial footing and who had founded one of Japan's largest financial cartels. He immediately bought 1,000 shares in the new company, but the project failed for reasons attributable to the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95.

Yoshio graduated from Keio in December 1895. There is a photo of the Class of '95 including faculty members, but Yoshio cannot be positively identified, since no other pictures of him as a youth seem to have survived. Fukuzawa sits in the center of the first row. He wears a kimono like most of the others. The group also includes two foreign instructors.

Keio Class of 1895


Yoshio soon headed for Australia, but his trip was not a success. He came back empty-handed and disappointed. It was the end of his dream of going to the South Pacific.

During the intervening years before he set out for America, he became firmly established in business and society with his outgoing personality and exceptional social skills. He made friends with leading politicians and businessmen with the aim of going overseas. He also got married and had a son.


Texas

Although he now lived a comfortable life, he never ceased to think about going abroad. When he learned that Junzo Hashimoto, one of his classmates at Keio, would go to Texas for farming, he immediately traveled to Tokyo to collect further information.

Hashimoto was the brother-in-law of Sadatsuchi Uchida, the then Japanese Consul General in New York. Uchida had visited southeastern Texas on a fact-finding tour in 1902. He found a rice industry that was still in its infancy, but he was impressed with the land he saw and its potential for rice cultivation. During his stay in Texas, he met with representatives of the Texas Governor's Office, the Houston Chamber of Commerce, the Southern Pacific Railroad and the Rice Growers' Association of America, all of whom let him know that rice farmers from Japan would be especially welcome to Texas. When Uchida published his report describing the vast prairies in southeast Texas suitable for rice farming, the news spread fast and became a popular topic of discussion in Japanese newspapers, books and magazines.(8)

The response was almost immediate. Various Japanese came and made at least thirty separate attempts to grow rice in different parts of the state. One of the earliest and ultimately most successful sites was at Webster, Harris County, founded in 1903 by Seito Saibara, a lawyer, former President of Doshisha University in Kyoto and first Christian member of the Japanese Diet.

Yoshio was thrilled by the prospects described in Uchida's report and discussed it with Foreign Minister Jutaro Komura (1855-1911). Komura was one of Japan's leading statesmen in the Meiji era. He is noted among other things for obtaining a revision of the Unequal Treaties Act and for restoring Japan's sovereignty on customs rights.(12) Yoshio had met him some years earlier on a trip to Europe.

Komura, a Harvard graduate, knew America well. He told Yoshio that rice farming in Texas was not only promising as a private enterprise, but also meaningful from the viewpoint of promoting Japanese American relations. Komura's encouragement had a strong influence on Yoshio's ultimate decision to head for Texas. Komura introduced Yoshio to important officials in the Foreign Ministry, viz. Kikujiro Ishii, Head of the Department of Foreign Trade, and Kijuro Shinohara, Head of the Telecommunications Department, requesting them to assist Yoshio in his project.

But the most difficult obstacle for Yoshio to overcome was his family's opposition. All were strongly against his intention. He was now 30 years old and had a family. He was also the chonan , the eldest son, with important filial duties. In the end, they reluctantly gave in, when they learned of Komura's support.

The first thing for Yoshio to do was to go to Texas and see for himself what the place was like. It would, after all, be a high-risk undertaking and need a sizeable investment.


Sail to America

In March 1903, he sailed alone for America on the “Kanagawa Maru.” He had high hopes and no idea of the great difficulties that lay ahead. With a letter of introduction from Komura, Yoshio was highly welcomed in New York by Consul General Uchida. Uchida was delighted with the visit of such a potential major investor. He had only recently received a delegation from the Governor of Texas and the Houston Chamber of Commerce reaffirming the state's interest in developing rice farming with the help of Japanese settlers.

Uchida delegated Matsuzo Nagai, who was to become ambassador to the U.S., to accompany Yoshio on his fact-finding tour to Texas. The two left New York in early May and traveled to Houston via New Orleans. They investigated various locations over a period of one month and settled on an area east of Houston facing the Gulf of Mexico. The land was flat and fertile and ideal for rice farming.

Yoshio made another trip to Texas the following year for further study. On a third trip in December 1905, he purchased 1,734.43 acres, corresponding to approximately 7 km ² , near Fannett, 10 miles south of Beaumont, for the sum of $ 35,000 from Joseph H. and Maggie A. Hoopes. He paid $ 15,000 in cash for this property, which included water wells, pumps and several old houses. The balance of $ 20,000 was due in 5 years bearing interest of 5% p.a. payable annually. Although the boundaries of the land were precisely demarcated in the contract, the warranty was limited to 1,645 acres. This may have led to the subsequent boundary dispute.

Yoshio did not require any outside help in settling payment, unlike many other settlers. He reportedly had cash and property worth $ 100,000 with him when he entered the U.S.(13)


Fannett, Texas

As soon as he had finalized the purchase, he returned to Japan to prepare for the startup of his new venture. Most essential to the project was the recruitment of skilled Japanese farmhands, but this proved to be most difficult. He needed at least 30 workers, but could hire only 8. He nevertheless started out for Texas, hoping to make up the deficiency later. In fact, another 7 men joined him in the next year.

The farmhands, who were hired on a 3-year contract, were unskilled workers with little, if any knowledge of rice farming. Some of them had left their families behind, but most of them were bachelors. Working conditions were poor, and they found the hot, humid climate quite unbearable.(13) Unhappy and alienated, they lacked the commitment of the tenant farmers, who worked the land on the Saibara and Kishi properties, the two other large Japanese rice farms in southeastern Texas. Another problem was the inexperience of the Japanese with the machinery that was already in use in America, but unknown in Japan, which led to frequent breakdowns and downtimes. Most of the Mayumi workers left the area after their contracts expired. By the summer of 1909, there were only 4 Japanese workers left.

Yoshio could not provide the thorough guidance his men required. Although his family owned large rice farms in Japan, he had insufficient hands on experience with actual farming and farm management.


Yasuo Mayumi

Fortunately, his younger brother Yasuo, who joined him a little later in Fannett at the age of 18, proved to be a great help. With Yoshio's drive and authority and Yasuo's calm and friendly nature, the two brothers could resolve labor issues and raise efficiency.

For now, Yoshio needed a competent manager and hired Fuminari Enno, a previous vice-consul introduced by Uchida. Enno, formerly an instructor at Tokyo's prestigious Gakushuin University and a cultured man, proved to be a bad choice. He was unable to deal with the rough farmhands and gave up soon to return to New York.

To replace him, Yoshio hired Kageuma Iwamura, the son of Baron Iwamura. Iwamura was a forceful and dynamic leader and quickly got a grip on things. In the second year of rice farming, he improved the irrigation system and brought in a bumper crop in spite of the continuing drought. Unfortunately, much of the harvest was destroyed by a week-long downpour when the grain was stacked on the fields to dry.

 

Yasuo Mayumi

Rice, Livestock, Fruit, and Oil

Yoshio realized that he had to make some changes. He made a contract with an American for rice farming, which led to success. In 1908, he planted 705 acres in rice, from which he harvested 7,500 sacks, or approximately 680.4 tons, which sold for $ 27,000. Most of the work was done by local labor. There were only 4 Japanese left.

Although Yoshio's only crop was rice, he also owned and raised livestock. In 1909, he had 100 hogs and 10 heads of cattle, and to help with the work on the farm he had 33 mules and 4 horses. Of the total acreage, 1,100 acres were tillable. The rice culture in Texas was already highly mechanized at that time. The entire round of operations from planting to trashing was already on a machine basis. According to a publication of The Immigration Commission in 1909, the Mayumi Farm ranked third in size among the Japanese rice farms in Texas after the Kishi and Saibara properties. It did well in the early years and became one of the most progressive in the area. A large 3-story main house was built together with quarters for the workers. Roads were laid out and irrigation pumps installed.

When the Department of Agriculture recommended that farmers in Texas cultivate citrus fruit, Yoshio immediately set out to import onshu mikan (tangerine orange) saplings from Japan. He sold thousands in many places and also planted them on his own land. For the first time, since coming to Texas, he made a good profit. But his success was short-lived. In the following winter, his tangerine orchard was totally destroyed by a freak cold spell. His hopes had again been dashed, and all his labor had been in vain.

There was also an ongoing boundary dispute with a neighbor that weighed on his mind and caused him much annoyance. It had been dragging on for 3 years and there had been 5 hearings, all of which had ended in his favor. But the dispute remained unresolved. He was gradually losing his optimism.

To make matters worse, tragedy struck in 1915, when his father died. Yoshio was devastated. In spite of misgivings about the Texas venture, his father had always provided him with generous financial support, without questioning his losses and risky undertakings. He thought about returning to his ancestral home. He had been back many times over the last 9 years, but this time it might be for good.

A little earlier, he is said to have missed a golden opportunity to sell his farm with a good profit, because he had decided to carry on with his project. Now, he realized that he had made a grave mistake.

According to the Mieken-Jin Hokubei Hattenshi , a chronicle of life histories of citizens of Mie Prefecture who went to North America, a promising oil vein was discovered near the Mayumi Farm. There was a run on drilling rights, and Yoshio is said to have received an offer of $ 1 million for his property, which would have allowed him to recoup his losses and still make a huge profit.

The accuracy of this account could not be verified and needs to be taken “with a pinch of salt.” Yoshio did in fact grant an oil and gas lease to the Roxana Petroleum Corporation in 1924. In the end, there seem to have been no oil discoveries to speak of and real estate prices did not appreciate.


Family Responsibilities

After his father died, there was a quarrel over the estate, and his mother requested his immediate return. Yoshio, who had come with the intention of living out his life in Texas, realized that it was time to go home and entrust the farm to his brother. He sailed for Japan in May 1915, 12 years after he had left Yokohama in joyful anticipation. Now, it was a sad farewell.

It is mentioned that his wife, Shigeko, was with him. She had joined him from time to time, but had spent most of the 12 years in Japan, looking after Yoshio's two sons, Tsutomu and Atsushi. Atsushi later became a medical doctor.


Mayumi Colony

Yasuo stayed behind to carry on. The people of Fannett, who had first looked upon the Japanese with suspicion, gradually warmed to their new neighbors. The Mayumi brothers were friendly and hospitable. Visitors could always depend on a cold drink and an offer of tea or coffee. Youngsters rambling on the prairie found a piece of fruit or a sweetmeat an inducement to stop and visit.(13) When a neighbor needed to go to town, the Mayumi's car and Shuzo Matsuoka were at their disposal.(5) In fact, their Studebaker is said to have been the only car around in those days. Matsuoka was Yasuo's personal assistant.

Community dances were hosted in a long one-room building especially built for this purpose, and people would come from miles around to join the fun. The Mayumis had broken the barriers of suspicion!

In records left by former residents, Yoshio's name does not appear often for the simple reason that he spent much time traveling back and forth between the U.S. and Japan. Being the eldest son, he had to return frequently to deal with family matters. But he was always there, when he was needed. It was he, who made all the important decisions. He wanted to be a good member of the community. This is why he built the dance hall.

Yasuo and Matsuoka, on the other hand, are often mentioned in the records. The neighbors seem to have felt particularly at ease with Matsuoka, who appears to have adapted very well to his new home.

In 1916, Yasuo was joined by his “picture bride,” Toshiko, who had been chosen for him by his parents. They were married in Japan. Their first child was born prematurely in Fannett on December 11, 1917. Sadly, the infant lived for only one day and lies buried in the Magnolia Cemetery in Beaumont. Gwendolyn Wingate describes this tragic episode in an article on Yasuo in the Beaumont Enterprise. Her words reflect the sympathy and affection the people of Fannett felt for the Mayumis.

A daughter, Kiyoko, was born one year later. To the neighbors, Toshiko appeared shy and withdrawn. Actually, she was a cheerful and positive person according to her son, Dr. Hisashi Mayumi, a medical doctor. Her inability to speak English may have been the reason for her apparent shyness. In 1919, she returned to Japan with her little daughter. Thereafter, Yasuo went back for occasional visits.


End of the Mayumi Colony

Meanwhile, the heyday of the Mayumi Farm was over. Crop yields declined, but more disastrous was the collapse of the rice market after World War I that bankrupted many farmers. The Mayumi Farm survived the crash of 1920, but more trouble lay ahead.

Though initially welcomed, the Japanese were facing increasing hostility. In 1921, the Texas legislature passed an alien land law that prohibited foreign-born Japanese from purchasing or leasing additional farmland.

Three years later, the United States Congress banned Japanese immigrants and barred foreign-born Japanese from acquiring American citizenship.(9) Yasuo felt it was time to leave.

At the end of December 1924, Yoshio, acting through Yasuo as his authorized agent, sold his property to the brothers John Jay and George Burrell for cash payment of $ 21,000. The sale comprised all property, i.e. 1,734.43 acres, including transfer to the new owners of the rights and benefits from the oil and gas lease given by Yoshio to the Roxana Petroleum Corporation by lease agreement dated July 1924. Also, the benefits from a contract of Yoshio with the Southern Land and Lumber Company were transferred to the new owners.

In addition, the contract mentioned a suit pending between I.R. Bordages as plaintiff and Yoshio concerning title to a piece of land included in the given acreage. The dispute was to be settled by ceding an area not exceeding 16 acres to the plaintiff. Yoshio's rights to take water from Taylor's Bayou for the purpose of irrigation were also transferred to the Burrells.

Before leaving for Japan, Yasuo gave away many of his home furnishings, including his Japanese china dishes and bowls, to his friends in Fannett. Many families treasure the gifts to this day. Matsuoka stayed behind and eventually became a naturalized citizen.


Yoshio Mayumi in Japan

Back in his ancestral home, Yoshio entrusted him with the supervision of the remaining Mayumi farm holdings. He valued Yasuo's balanced nature and interpersonal skills in dealing with the farm workers. Sadly, Yasuo's beloved wife, Toshiko, already passed away in 1928 of influenza. Her untimely death made her son Hisashi vow to become a medical doctor. It was the last wish of his mother. Yasuo is said to have kept up a correspondence with his American friends until the outbreak of World War II. He died in 1948.

After returning to Tsu in 1915, Yoshio withdrew for some time from society and lived the life of a recluse, communicating only with a few good friends. Seeing him so despondent, his old teacher, Hiroshi Kawamura, encouraged him to become active again. He helped Yoshio obtain a position as auditor and director in the Mie Agricultural and Industrial Bank. That appointment brought him success and recognition. He became a respected figure in the financial world, even beyond the borders of Mie Prefecture. The years with the bank were his happiest and most successful. He held the post for 15 years until the bank merged with the Kangyo Bank.

During this time, he also founded the Prefectural Overseas Association on the suggestion of Junji Nakazawa, who had worked in the Postal Ministry and made a fact-finding tour of North America. Nakazawa believed that an organization was needed to promote emigration from Mie Prefecture. Yoshio and Nakazawa called on the Governor of Mie, Yamaoka, to obtain his consent.

The association was founded in December 1924 under the Governor's chairmanship. Yoshio was appointed executive director. He called a meeting of mayors and county leaders to discuss emigration issues and helped people planning to emigrate. He gained recognition for his work and was asked to join the board of directors when the Overseas Emigration Association was established in 1927 in a parallel development. As the United States shut its doors on Japanese immigration, he focused on Brazil. He helped many people resettle and was very popular with the emigrants. It gave him much satisfaction to pass on his dream, which he had not realized, to others. After his retirement from the bank, he devoted himself entirely to the Overseas Emigration Association.

After his beloved wife, Shigeko, passed away in 1941, he led a quiet rural life. In World War II, he moved to a village near Tsu. His ancestral home in the city was destroyed in an air raid and burned to the ground.

When the war ended, he returned to Tsukiji-machi in Tsu City, where he was born, and led a tranquil life, reading and writing Chinese poetry. His eventful and adventurous life ended on January 25, 1960.

Yoshio failed in his dream of building a life for himself in Texas, but he succeeded in his higher aim of building bridges between the Japanese and people of other countries and fostering friendship and mutual understanding. He could have enjoyed a comfortable and carefree life as a rich man's son, but he chose instead hardship and uncertainty to realize his bold ideas. He and his brother Yasuo were able to win the hearts and minds of the people in Fannett through their modesty, sincerity and generosity. They not only introduced intensive rice farming to Texas, in which Japan excelled, but also the virtues of their homeland.


Road Name

On August 2, 2004 the Jefferson County commissioners voted 4:0 to accept the new road name that residents had chosen. “Jap Road” was renamed “Boondocks Road” after a popular, now defunct catfish restaurant, which had stood there. It was also decided to erect a historical marker by the side of the road in memory of the Mayumi Farm and the pioneering work of Yoshio and Yasuo Mayumi in developing rice farming.

Although the name “Jap Road” was never meant to hurt or denigrate anyone, but merely used to identify the roadway, where the Mayumis lived, it is good that it is now gone. It is simply not acceptable in this day and age.


Modern Photographs of Mayumi Farm

Rice field on the old Mayumi Farm near Fannett, Texas
Bayou on the old Mayumi Farm
Cows grazing on the old Mayumi Farm
Panoramic view of the old Mayumi Farm

Acknowledgments

The names of Yoshio Mayumi and his brother Yasuo suddenly entered my world, when the “Jap Road” issue hit the media. I knew very little about Yoshio Mayumi, except that he was the grandfather of my wife Michiko and that he once possessed a farm in Texas. Through postings on the Internet and information my daughter Linda obtained from the parties involved in the renaming issue, Yoshio Mayumi gradually took shape in my mind. The more I learned, the more fascinated I became by this courageous and adventurous man, who had set out from rural Japan a hundred years ago to try his luck in Texas. I decided to put my findings on record.

Since Yoshio Mayumi did not leave any memoirs and there were no surviving friends of his to interview, his life story had to be reconstructed bit by bit, which was only possible with much support.

I am especially indebted to Sandra Tanamachi for opening my eyes to the legacy of Japanese settlers in Texas and to Japanese American history. She set a milestone, not only for the Japanese American community but also for all Japanese throughout the world.

I would like to express my deep gratitude to Earl and Janette Callahan for the wealth of information, including important historical documents and a videotaped interview with their late relatives, concerning the Mayumi Farm and the life of the Mayumis in Fannett. I am also most grateful to Wayne and Polly Wright for inviting Linda to their lovely home, built with lumber from the old Mayumi house, and for sharing their memories of local history. They even presented Linda with a piece of Mayumi lumber, which was passed on to Dr. Hisashi Mayumi, Yasuo Mayumi's son. The Wrights' work on the historical marker is much appreciated, and so is the help of Jodi Bernstein in realizing this project.

Here in Japan, Dr. Hisashi Mayumi has been most helpful. By sharing historical documents and his recollections of his parents, and by showing me the former holdings of the Mayumi family, where rice is still being cultivated, he evoked their past and made them more tangible.

I would like to thank Linda for flying to Texas to meet the people and to witness the official name change. She also collected information on the Mayumis and their farm. Last but not least, I would like to thank Michiko for her efforts to gather material in Japan, visiting the Mie Prefectural Library and contacting the Fukuzawa Memorial Center for Modern Japanese Studies. She was a great help in translating Japanese texts and making valuable suggestions.


References

( 1) Mieken-Jin Hokubei Hattenshi , published by the Mie Prefectural Overseas Association in 1966 (available at the Mie Prefectural Library in Tsu City)

( 2) Records of the Fukuzawa Memorial Center for Modern Japanese Studies, Tokyo

( 3) Website of Keio University

( 4) Publication of The Immigration Commission, Recent Immigration in Agriculture (1909)

( 5) “Saga Of Yasuo Mayumi Stirs Fannett Memories” by Gwendolyn Wingate, Beaumont Enterprise

( 6) Purchase contract dated December 18, 1905

( 7) Sales contract dated December 23, 1924

( 8) http://www.texancultures.utsa.edu/txtext/japanese/htms/2.htm

( 9) http://www.rra.dst.tx.us/C_T/PEOPLES/JAPANESE.cfm

(10) http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/view/SS/fsagp.html

( 11 ) http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Komura%20Jutaro

(12) http://metropolis.japantoday.com/tokyo/448/japantravel.asp

(13) http://hirasaki.home.att.net/Family_Stories/Mayumi/Mayumi.htm

(14) http://www.southeasttexaslive.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=12403658

(15) http://news.myway.com/odd/article/id/370720|oddlyenough|07-29-2004::11:46|reuters.html