The attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941, by the Imperial Japanese Navy shook America to its core. The US government turned on its own people for fear that they were spying for an enemy’s country. In February of 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized the forced removal and incarceration of “any and all persons” from select cities around the country that were seen as vulnerable to an attack. By March, the government focused on people of Japanese ancestry and began forcefully removing families from their homes and placing them in one of ten American internment camps. Japanese families were incarcerated for four years before being allowed to return to their communities.
The Richmond and El Cerrito area was home to a large Japanese flower growing community and many of those families were evacuated to Topaz Relocation Center in Utah. Returning home after incarceration, many Japanese found their properties had been vandalized or reappropriated.
Of the 23 Japanese American flower growing families living in the area before World War II, 14 attempted to rebuild their businesses following their forced evacuation.
The rose garden at the Richmond Museum of History and Culture is dedicated to the legacy of the Japanese flower growing community.
Isaburo Adachi arrived in California from Gifu, Japan in 1897 at the age of 25 with 28 dollars in his pocket. He worked as a houseboy to save up money and then brought his brother, Sadajiro, over from Japan to join him. By 1905, Isaburo had saved enough money to buy a plot of five acres in El Cerrito. When World War I began, Isaburo had twelve greenhouses.
With love on his mind, Isaburo traveled back to Japan in 1910 and met Wakako Maeda. They married the next July and moved back to Richmond in October 1911. The Adachi’s had five children together and the family moved to Japan temporarily for the children to get educated there. The family did not leave Japan until 1926 when they traveled to Richmond again and Isaburo became a permanent citizen of the US.
In 1930, the family opened a floral shop, which specialized in roses. When World War II began, their oldest child, Fujiko Elsie, was in Japan and contact was stopped during the war. Their second child, Toshitatsu, was drafted into the Army in September 1941, prior to the bombing at Pearl Harbor.
During the forced removal in 1942, the Adachi’s evacuated to Berkeley with their three children. However, Isaburo was arrested by the FBI and sent to prison in Bismarck, North Dakota. He was eventually allowed to return to his family in Topaz, Utah at the Relocation Center.
While at the Tanforan Assembly Center, Wakako and the children slept in horse stalls that had been fumigated and converted into living quarters in a rush. After being moved to Topaz Relocation Center, the three remaining Adachi children worked during their incarceration as a seamstress, a timekeeper, and an orchard picker.
The Adachi’s returned to El Cerrito in August of 1945, where they found the family house in ruins and the greenhouses shattered and stripped. With the help of the family, they were able to open the floral shop and start growing roses again. Toshitatsu was honorably discharged from the Army after the war and returned to help his family with the business. The Adachi Florist and Nursery was located on Sobrante Road until the remaining family closed the business in 2017.
Kukichi and Maruo Fujii were brothers who moved to California from Fukuoka-ken, Japan with their parents in the early 1900s. The family began the Fujii Nursery Company in Berkeley in 1929, which grew roses originally, but switched to bedding plants in the 1930s.
Though most of their family returned to Japan before the war began, Kukichi and Maruo remained in the US. Kukichi was sent to the Internment Camp in Santa Fe, New Mexico, while Maruo’s family was sent to the Relocation Camp in Gila, Arizona in 1942. By December 1945, the brothers returned permanently to Japan to be with their family. Meanwhile, Maruo’s son moved back to the Richmond area in 1948 and returned to the bedding plant business with his family.
Eiichi and Yuuko Mayeda moved to Richmond from Wakayama-ken, Japan around 1914, where they had five children, and grew carnations for the Richmond Nursery Company. Eiichi passed away in 1925, which left Yuuko to raise the children and tend the nursery alone.
When they were required to evacuate Richmond in February of 1942, Yuuko and her daughters went to Tanforan Assembly Center before being moved to the Topaz Relocation Center in Utah in September.
Yuuko attended English classes while in the incarceration camp and became a US citizen upon her return to Richmond in August 1945 where they continued the family nursery. Ben Mayeda did not go with his mother and sisters to the incarceration camp in Topaz, Utah. He volunteered for the Army and was part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Unit, where he received a purple heart for his combat in Italy.
Shikataro and Sugi Miyamoto moved to San Francisco in 1910 from Takamatue, Japan. They moved across the Bay to Richmond after a couple years to open a nursery on Wall Avenue. They had eight children together, but Sugi was left to raise them alone after Shikataro died unexpectedly in 1927.
The Miyamoto family was taken to Tanforan Assembly Center and then moved to the Topaz Relocation Center in 1942. Nevertheless, after their release from Topaz, they returned to Richmond and continued their floral business until the property was sold to Home Depot and the remaining family retired.
Hikojiro Mabuchi came to America from Mie-Ken, Japan in the early 1900s on his own. He worked his way around the west through San Francisco, Alaska, and Salt Lake City, Utah, before finally settling in the Richmond and El Cerrito area. He married Tomi Nabeta, had three daughters, and built greenhouses to aid in their family business. The family was pushed out of the fruit business by a supermarket, so they transitioned into a retail floral business.
The Mabuchi’s relocated their business about a mile north after Target bought their original property. The family continued their business until their incarceration in the Topaz Relocation Center in 1942. Upon returning to Richmond in 1945, Hikojiro had had several strokes and was in poor health.
Hisajiro Honda arrived in California from Wakayama-ken, Japan in 1899 to work with his uncle, Yataro Nabeta. He did not begin working with his uncle until 1904, however, Hisajiro was not satisfied with the wage his uncle gave him, so he left to work for another farm. He did not return to the El Cerrito area again until 1912, when he and his cousin bought three acres of land and started in the flower growing business.
Hisajiro traveled back to Japan in 1913 to get married before returning with his new wife, Masue Kimura, to Richmond where they had six children together. By 1918, Hisajiro’s cousin, whom he started the business with, no longer wanted to be part of it, so in 1919 Hisajiro’s brother, Hisazo emigrated from Japan to work with his brother at the nursery. In October 1920, their business was incorporated into the West Richmond Nursery Company. Hisazo worked with his brother until 1937 when he moved to San Pablo to begin his own family and nursery.
By the beginning of the war with Japan in 1941, Hisajiro and his wife were required to evacuate the Richmond area, so they went to Berkeley and rented a house with the Mabuchi and Sugihara parents. They reunited with their children and Hisazo’s family in May of 1942 when the families were forcefully evacuated to Tanforan Assembly Center and then moved to the Topaz Relocation Center.
Hisazo and his family remained in San Pablo after the war with their nursery until he retired in 1968.
Hisajiro was held at a different incarceration center for a short time before joining his family in Topaz due to his affiliation with an organization that helped raise funds for the Sino-Japanese War, supporting the Japanese cause. The family remained in Topaz until their release in 1945 when they returned to the El Cerrito and Richmond area.
One of Hisajiro’s sons, Jun, was drafted into the US Army in 1944, where he served with the 442nd Regimental Combat Unit and fought in France and Italy.
Upon the family’s return to Richmond, they only found the framework of their greenhouses overgrown with weeds. They began cleaning up the glass from the windows to be able to plant again. It took years for the nursery to reach its pre-war state. However, in 1948, the State of California told Hisajiro’s family that a freeway would be constructed (I-80) and 2/3 of their property would be required for the new roadway, which forced multiple families to move from the area.
The family moved to North Richmond where they began the rebuilding process once more and continued the business until it closed in 1990.
Yataro Nabeta worked as a gardener when he came to California from Wakayama, Japan in 1892. This led to him owning his own flower business by 1900 in Berkeley, which later moved to El Cerrito. Yataro had a son, Torataro, with his first wife in Japan. He called Torataro to join him in the US and work in the nursery. Yataro and his second wife had a son, Shigeharu, while in El Cerrito. Yataro involved both of his sons in the nursery business. Torataro took over the nursery from his father, while Shigeharu opened his own.
Shigeharu Nabeta married Hisajiro Honda’s daughter, Hisako, and shortly after they bought the San Pablo Florist and Nursery in Berkeley in 1934. They were taken to Tanforan Assembly Center and then Topaz Relocation Center and during that time their business was leased out from 1942-46, when they returned to the area.
Shigeharu’s family rebuilt the shop and resumed business in 1947 at the San Pablo Florist and Nursery. They continued running the business until the property was sold at the end of 1995. Shigeharu died in 1994 and Hisako retired in 1995 just before the business was sold.
Torataro Nabeta married Takayo Sumiya in 1918 and had 3 children. In 1942, he was arrested by the FBI, “classified as an enemy alien” and taken to North Dakota. The FBI moved him after a year to Lordsburg, New Mexico, until he was allowed to rejoin his family at the Topaz Relocation Center in 1943.
The family moved to Chicago in 1944 and found work at a nursery, a garment factory, and a Christian bookstore. However, within a year Torataro and Takayo returned to Richmond with their son, Toshiro, where they began to reconstruct the nursery, which had been vandalized and destroyed. Their daughters followed soon after to assist in cleaning up the property and restarting the business.
As soon as they had bounced back with their business, the State of California bought their land in 1947 to build the East Shore Freeway (I-80). They relocated to Brookside Drive in Richmond and began to grow roses. In 1994, their nursery was bought by a bedding plant grower and the remaining family members retired from the business.
Related to Yataro Nabeta, Kumakichi Maida arrived in California in the early 1900s from Wakayama-ken, Japan to join the growing Japanese American community in Richmond before he opened his own nursery on Wall Avenue. His wife and two children joined him later around 1912. They made friends in the community with the Nabeta’s, Mayeda’s, Oishi’s, and Sakai’s. As the children grew and started their own families, Kumakichi bought more land to expand his nursery, while his son, Eiichi began his own first nursery adjacent to his father’s.
Kumakichi’s daughter, Kane had three children, Meriko, Asako and Junko. Meriko was sent back to Japan in 1937 for education and returned to Richmond two years later.
When the US entered World War II, Kane burned Japanese records and pictures she had in the house in fear they would be arrested like their friends and neighbors after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Meriko said her mother “wept bitterly while asking for forgiveness” when burning the Buddhist altar with tablets of their ancestors.
When the Executive Order was given, Kane, her husband, and their youngest child, Junko fled to Montara, California where Meriko and Asako joined them a month later, in March and the family searched for tenants to rent their nursery while they were forcefully evacuated.
May 1942, the Maida family was placed in Tanforan Assembly Center, which had been roughly converted from horse stalls to living quarters. All they had was what they could carry in their two hands, as was customary for those declared as an enemy alien.
Visitors were allowed at Tanforan and some would bring necessities to their neighbors and friends, but by September, they were relocated again to Topaz, which was not much better than Tanforan.
In 1944, the Army allowed citizens deemed loyal to the US to relocate to the East or Midwest. Meriko and her two sisters, Asako and Junko moved to Rochester, New York, where Junko attended college. They each found jobs that offered room and board, such as a live-in cook or babysitter.
Meanwhile, the family returned to Richmond in 1945 and found their nursery in ruins. It took months to clean up. Her sisters left to start their own families in the late 1940s, but Meriko and her parents stayed in the nursery business until they sold it in 1961, after her mother passed away and her father moved back to Japan to be with his remaining family.
Tokutaro and Seizo Oishi were brothers who arrived in California in the 1890s from Hyogo-Ken, Japan.
Seizo opened the Oishi Nursery in Richmond in 1909. He and his wife had eight children, seven of whom survived to adulthood. When they were forcefully removed from their homes during the war, the family was split between multiple Relocation Centers, such as Amache, Tule Lake, and Topaz. The family returned to Richmond in 1945 and operated the Oishi Nursery until it closed in 2006.
One of Seizo’s sons, George Oishi married Toshiro Nabeta’s great-granddaughter, Fumiko, after he served as a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Unit and earned a purple heart for his service.
Tokutaro and his wife had six children together. They settled in San Jose before moving to Stege and then finally Oakland in 1922. Tokutaro owned a nursery in each city that he sold before his family moved.
All of Tokutaro’s children and grandchildren were taken to Tanforan Assembly Center and then to the Topaz Relocation Camp during their wartime relocation. There is not much written about Tokutaro’s process of rebuilding after the war.
Kotaro Oishi was the younger brother of Tokutaro and Seizo and was adopted by the Sakai family when he was two and only returned to the Oishi household to attend high school. He kept the Sakai name and married Chu Sakai in 1897.
Seeing the success of his older brothers, Tokutaro and Seizo, Kotaro, left his wife and child in Japan to establish a life in California in 1898. His wife, Chu joined him later that same year, and together they overcame the language barrier and culture shock of America and had six children: Tetsuma, Sam, Roy, Jun, Agari, and Ruby.
They bought a couple acres of land in Richmond in 1906 and were able to relocate a broken greenhouse from Berkeley to their new property after the earthquake. The family grew carnations until 1924 when they switched to roses. The nursery took a lot of work in the beginning, but by 1915 the family was expanding their property and building new greenhouses. However, after the Executive Order calling for Japanese Americans to evacuate came in 1942, the family turned their business over to an Italian family with the Oakland Flower Shop.
Roy Sakai joined the US Army during World War II, but not much else is written about his service. The rest of the Sakai family was taken to the Stockton Assembly Center and then transferred to the Rowher Relocation Camp in Arkansas. At Rowher, there were almost 10,000 Japanese Americans at the camp surrounded by barbed wire and armed watch guards.
When they returned to Richmond in 1945, Kotaro’s oldest son, Tetsuma, reclaimed their business from the Oakland Flower Shop and the family began to focus on regrowth. The nursery had been well taken care of, so extensive rebuilding was not necessary, but that was not the case for many other families in the area. Though nothing had been improved or replanted, Tetsuma was able to begin cutting flowers shortly after they returned.
Kotaro and Chu’s children began their own families and the Sakai Nursery continued growing roses until it closed in 2003.
Jiro Ninomiya arrived in America around 1900 from Okayama, Japan and settled in Berkeley. His son, Tamaki did not join him until after he had completed middle school in Japan. Jiro bought a nursery in San Pablo and had two greenhouses where he grew roses. He was neighbors with the Sugihara’s, Kawai’s and Aebi’s. The Aebi’s would later watch over their nursery during their incarceration in the war. In 1938, Jiro traveled to Japan for the first and last time since he had moved and sold his remaining property there to his cousin.
The Ninomiya family moved to Livingston when the orders came to evacuate Richmond during World War II. Jiro and three of Tamaki’s children left first. Tamaki, his wife and their younger two children were supposed to follow the next day. However, Tamaki was arrested by the FBI and taken to North Dakota and then Lordsburg, New Mexico. His family did not see him for almost two years until he returned to them at the Amache Relocation Center.
The family moved five times in 1942 alone. They were originally at Stockton Assembly Center, but when they heard that Stockton was relocating to Arkansas, they moved to Merced Assembly Center for Jiro’s health. They were relocated from that camp to Amache in the southeast desert of Colorado. There they experienced sandstorms, their first snow and the children were warned to stay away from the fences because they were guarded by the US Army. The Aebi’s would often write the Ninomiya’s with updates about their nursery at home in Richmond.
Life in the Amache camp was relatively positive and hopeful. Youth were encouraged to go outside of Amache to enroll in college, while many enlisted in the Army.
After the school year ended in 1945, the family moved back to Richmond via train and was met by their neighbors, Mr. Aebi and Mr. Kawai. Unlike other Japanese American families, the Ninomiya’s were fortunate to have their home and nursery in good condition upon their return.
After the war, Tamaki began night classes in 1952 to become a US citizen. The family bought the Kawai Nurseries in Richmond and Salinas in 1969 to expand their own. The Ninomiya Nursery is still in operation today.
Yuhei Oshima emigrated to San Francisco in 1906, where he worked in an office before quickly switching to farms and orchards. Yoshi, his wife, arrived several years later and they settled down in Richmond where Yuhei bought a chicken farm on Wall Avenue. Soon after, Yuhei also bought the nearby carnation nursery with his friend Goro Kawai.
During the forced evacuation in 1942, the Oshima’s were taken to Tanforan Assembly Center before being moved to Gila Relocation Center in Arizona.
One of their sons, Fred volunteered for the Army and served in the 552nd Company C Artillery in Europe.
The Oshima’s returned to Richmond in 1945 and found their nursery abandoned and collapsed. There is not much written about the family’s process in rebuilding after the war.
Goro and Masa Kawai moved to California in 1913 from Gifu, Japan. Goro went into business with his friend, Yuhei Oshima, and bought a carnation nursery on Wall Avenue. Goro died in 1940, and there is little written about the family during the time of their forced removal. When the family returned in 1945, their original nursery had been vandalized.
The family rebuilt the Kawai Nurseries and expanded them to Richmond and Salinas. In 1969, the Ninomiya family bought the rebuilt nurseries, allowing the Kawai’s to retire.
Leaving Kyoto, Japan in 1910, Jujiro Sugihara worked his way around the American West where he met a father and son pair from the Kobayashi family in Santa Fe. By 1914, the family had arranged a marriage between Jujiro and their daughter, Teru. Within a year the couple had a baby, bought land in Richmond, and opened the Sugihara Nursery, where they had four more children.
When the war erupted with Japan, many Issei^ were forcefully evacuated from their homes and families that did not migrate out of Richmond were taken to Tanforan Assembly Center and then Topaz Relocation Center. Two of Jujiro’s sons, John and George, returned to Richmond with their parents in 1945. They helped their parents re-establish the business and later bought an adjacent five acres to develop the nursery further. The Sugihara Nursery continued operating until it closed in 2000.
^ First generation immigrants from Japan