Friday, January 31, 2014

Imperial Friends of Texas: Japan

Most would assume that there could be no two places more father removed than Texas and Japan. However, there is, in fact, quite a deeply rooted historic connection between the Lone Star State and the Land of the Rising Sun. The most poignant, yet often overlooked, reminder of this connection dates back to 1914 and can be found in the heart of Texas, in the city of San Antonio and the most sacred spot for all Texans: the Alamo, “shrine of Texas liberty”. In a small courtyard at the Alamo, visitors will see a small monument bearing the following inscription:

Nagashino is the Alamo of Japan;
The Alamo is the Nagashino of America.
Whoever knows the heroes of the Battle of Nagashino
Knows the heroes of the Alamo

Likewise, if one were to travel to Okazaki, Japan to the remains of Nagashino Castle on the Shitaragahara plain in Mikawa province, one will find the exact same monument with the exact same inscription. This came about thanks to the efforts of Dr. Shigetaka Shiga, a professor of geography from Waseda University in Tokyo. Doctor Shiga was studying and noticed striking similarities between the 1836 battle of the Alamo and the 1575 battle of Nagashino in Japan. Both involved a small band of soldiers, barricaded inside a fortress, holding off a vastly superior enemy army, led by a young commander and sending out messengers calling for help. The difference was in the ending. In Japan, the defenders of Nagashino Castle were eventually rescued by the forces of Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu while, as we know, there was no rescue for the Texans in the Alamo who fought to the death in the Mexican attack on the morning of March 6, 1836. The monument marks the similarities between the two events, telling their stories with exchanged names to highlight this. And, even though the outcomes were different, the fate of the Alamo defenders was also noted by the Japanese scholar as it called to mind the samurai spirit of preferring death before dishonor and, as he wrote:

But their fame, like the blossom’s fragrance, is still in the air.
The custom of the West does not necessarily condemn surrender…

The idea of a group of warriors fighting to the death against hopeless odds was something familiar to Japanese culture at the time and something to be respected. However, the monument had a more peaceful purpose, to encourage friendship and goodwill between the peoples of Japan and Texas, and thus the United States as a whole. When the monument was dedicated in 1914, attended by descendants of the Alamo defenders, Dr. Shiga said his goal was to, “make my people understand the friendliness, generosity, and hospitality of the inhabitants of far-off America”. Because of this shared historical bond, even today, Japanese tourists are a very common sight at the Alamo and the battles of the Alamo and Nagashino hold a special significance for Texas and Japan in relation to each other.

In other fields, although the Japanese presence in Texas has never been a large one, it has had a tremendous impact on Texas, particularly in areas such as agriculture and architecture. Rice cultivation has been common in East Texas ever since it was brought over from Louisiana but it was greatly improved thanks to the efforts of some of the first Japanese-Texans who were interested in finding more efficient ways to grow more rice to benefit both Texas and Japan. In 1903 Seito Saibara and 30 other Japanese colonists arrived in Webster in southern Harris County. Rice seed was sent as a special gift from HM the Emperor of Japan and within three years the rice harvest had almost doubled. Seito Saibara, along with his family, among the first Japanese-Texans, have been credited with establishing the Gulf Coast rice industry in Texas. Today, thanks to those early efforts, Texas is one of the largest rice producers in the United States. Later, other Japanese colonists arrived and joined the rice farming industry in various parts of Texas such as Port Lavaca, Fannett, Terry, Mackay, El Campo and Alvin, Texas. Many Japanese also settled in Mission, San Juan and San Benito in the Rio Grande Valley to grow vegetables and citrus orchards. Later, other Japanese families migrated from California to Texas due to racial bigotry being prevalent in California. Texas, the “Friendship” State, was more welcoming.

Of course, World War II put a strain on relations as with the rest of America and in one of the most shameful pages of American history, Texas was home to several of the concentration camps where Japanese-Americans were interned during the war. However, when it was over, goodwill returned quickly as Japan and America became Allies and even looking back at the war years, both sides were able to have a mutual respect for each other. A particularly beautiful example of this can be found in the hill country town of Fredericksburg, hometown of U.S. Admiral Chester Nimitz who led the naval campaign against Japan in World War II. There is a large museum there covering the admiral and the Pacific War as a whole but also a lovely garden, the Japanese Garden of Peace that was gifted to the museum by the Japanese government in 1976 on the 130th birthday of the town of Fredericksburg. The garden is an exact replica of that of the famous Japanese Admiral Togo. One of the greatest naval leaders in world history, Admiral Togo was greatly admired by Admiral Nimitz. Aside from the small town of Fredericksburg, big Texas cities like Austin, Ft Worth, Houston and San Antonio also have Japanese gardens. The Japanese-Texan who built the garden in Austin had a son, Alan Taniguchi, who trained thousands of architects as the dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Texas and director of the School of Architecture of Rice University.

There are also, of course, numerous Japanese restaurants, tea houses and art galleries in most every major city in Texas. One area in which Japan and Texas have grown quite close in recent years may be overlooked. Texas is known for cattle ranches and oil wells, space exploration and computer development but few probably know that it is a major center for Japanese anime in the United States. Today there are centers in New York and Los Angeles but Texas is still home to the biggest adaptors and distributors of this widely loved area of Japanese pop-culture. The cities of Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth are where much of Japanese anime is sent to be dubbed into English and shared with the American public. Anime Network, Funimation Entertainment, Sentai Filmworks and many other of the biggest names in the industry are based in Texas and they largely employ local talent for their dubbing work so that a great many fans will by now by very used to watching Japanese animation performed by Texan voice-actors. With this industry of rather recent years, combined with the earliest Japanese colonists to East Texas to make rice cultivation a major industry, it is no surprise that Houston, Texas has probably the largest Japanese population in the state. Texas shares many values and interests with Japan and the Japanese have made quite an impact on Texas in business, agriculture, medicine, architecture and even the landscape and in food and entertainment. With great mutual respect and long-lasting ties of friendship, Texas and Japan will certainly only continue to grow stronger in the future.


  1. I actually didn't know about Texas technically being the center of anime in the U.S. What I do know is that it's trying to make itself into the Hollywood of video games.

  2. Just curious...what's your favorite color, cup of tea, romantic movie, type of utensils, preferred chemical element, time frame of a day, etc. would you please volunteer personal information directly so my exhausted brain would be able to stop guessing :)

    1. Most of those would be 'no preference' or 'not limited to one'

  3. Blogger is really hard to understand =.= I just spent the physical energy to type a lot...and the message did not show up. :(
    Given you have been blogging for about 5 you know how to create several blog threads in one universe in Tumblr?
    BTW, not sure if you would/could/shall receive mails from my invitation to go visit Midway,Utah treat :) if interested, please contact me ASAP before Ieave...running out of time...bye :) Enjoy your sleep tonight or today ;)

    1. I know nothing at all about Tumblr, can't help there. As for the rest, I think you may have mistaken me for someone else and, in any event, I haven't lost anything in Utah and have no need to go looking for it.

  4. Interesting post. It reminds me of a certain online friend of mine named Tony. I've always said that if I were to move to the US for any reason I would choose Texas as my new home. Or perhaps Alaska. The former has better weather though so probably Texas.

    While we are on the subject of monarchist relations between the United States and East Asia, I must ask, have you ever considered writing a post about Her Imperial Highness Princess Julia Lee of Korea, born Julia Mullock in Pennsylvania, United States? I've been reading about her life lately and it's quite fascinating to see how she ascended to her Imperial position from such unlikely beginnings. Now divorced from Prince Gu for never having produced an heir, she'll be turning 86 years old next month and remains in South Korea. I think an account of her sometimes sad but never boring life up to this point might interest your blog's audience and, even more than that, I'm interested in reading your perspective on her.

    1. I would like to, I've thought about it, tried to do it several years ago but just couldn't come up with enough solid info for a good profile (that happens sometimes). Maybe one of these days a fresh look will turn up more.


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