How That Road Got Its Name
By R. E. Connor
Kasoku Sawada is 83 now. He lives in Mobile Ala, where he founded the Overlook Nurseries.
He is one of the few today who remember Shinpei Mykawa and the ill -fated rice-growing project that linked forever the name of that tall, kindly Japanese man with that of Houston.
On some details Sawada admits he may be a little hazy. After all, it all happened 60 years ago.
Shinpei Mykawa, for whom the road in Southeast Houston over which thousands travel each day was named, “was a man of character and capacity,” recalls Sawada.
“He was graduated from the leading commercial college of Tokyo, which was more than a school of shorthand and typing. It became Hitotu Bashi University. “
“He was rather tall for a Japanese, of light complexion and with a fairly good command of English. He was particularly kind, admired by his neighbors and one who made friends readily,” recalls Sawada.
Mykawa came to the U.S. as an officer of the Japanese exhibition at the Saint Louis World's Fair in 1904. While there, he became interested in the prospects of growing rice in Texas.
He came to Texas, where he talked with some of the Japanese rice farmers who had settled here and with officials of the Santa Fe Railroad.
Shortly after, he returned to Japan and organized his Texas venture.
In Japan, Mykawa hired four young men, and in 1906 he brought them to Houston. Sawada was one of them.
The venture was to end in tragedy. One day Mykawa was driving a large wooded seed roller hitched to a team of mules.
“Although he had never driven mules, the animals seemed gentle,” says Sawada, who was there that day. “He had driven a horse and buggy with ease, and the possibility of danger never occurred to us.”
Shortly afterwards, Sawada, who was plowing an adjoining section, glanced in the direction of the roller. It was untended. Then he saw two men running that way.
“They picked up Mr. Mykawa and took him to a nearby ridge, where they attempted artificial respiration.”
He was dead.
“It was worse than losing a light in the darkness,” Sawada recalls. “We were only four months in this country. We only knew a few words of English and nothing of the prevailing customs.”
Mykawa was buried. After a few months the rice-growing project faded out.
It was to leave its mark on the city, however. Santa Fe officials honored Mykawa by changing the name of the Ellen Station to Mykawa Station.
The naming of the area had a profound effect upon the attitude of Japanese immigrants to the United States, gaining for Texas an open, unbiased reputation toward Oriental people.
Of the four young men who came to Houston with Mykawa, two became discouraged and returned to Japan.
M. Kataoka, formely of Houston and now living in Japan has done considerable research into the life of Mykawa and has written his biography.
The name Mykawa cropped up again in World War II when the granite pedestal and column that marked Mykawa's grave in Houston's Hollywood Cemetery was removed and stored for months when threatening calls protested “that Japanese monument.”
It was later restored.
And it is there today, recalling one man's brief but significant sojourn in Houston.