History of Japanese Americans in Texas: The Hirasaki Family

The Hirasaki Family

In the early 1900s, Tokutaro Hirasaki came to the US with two of his sons, Tokuzo and Kiyoshi, who remained in the county after Tokutaro eventually returned to Japan. Kiyoshi stayed in California, where he would run a successful farm in Gilroy and become known as the town’s “Garlic King.” Tokuzo also stayed in California, where he went to high school and then the Davis College of Agriculture, but afterwards went to Orange County, Texas, to seek employment at the Kishi colony. Here, he met Kichimatsu Kishi’s daughter, Toki, and the couple married in December 1936 at the Terry Chapel. The two families thus became inextricably connected in Texas.

Tokuzo and Toki had six children – Henry, George, John, Hana, Ida, and Frances – and were said to be a devoted and loving couple. Tokuzo is remembered as a perfectionist, and Toki as an active member of Christian community. Their family history is largely told through the experiences of the two eldest, Henry and George, who recall difficult experiences as schoolchildren. Henry, the first to attend school, initially struggled because he did not know English, so the Hirasaki family began speaking English at home. George, who started school in 1946, right after the war, was picked on by other children for his identity, an experience shared by the other Hirasaki siblings as well. John, for example, recalls that he faced prejudice as a child, but was nonetheless proud of his grandfather’s contribution to the community and their Japanese-American identity.

Before they died, Tokuzo and Toki got to visit Japan to visit their relatives with Henry’s wife, Becky, and Henry and Becky’s daughter, Amy. Becky, who became the family historian, remembers the trip and her parents-in-law fondly. The Hirasaki siblings did well in school and grew up to make great contributions to the community. John Hirasaki, for example, worked at NASA, where he would spend time with the crew of the historic Apollo 11 mission (there is an article pertaining to this accessible below). Most notably, George eventually gained his Ph.D. at Rice University in 1967 and worked at Shell, before returning to Rice as a professor in chemical and biomolecular engineering. He also became President of the Japanese American Citizens League, whose website forms the basis for this exhibition. For more details on the Hirasaki family, please see the sources below, which include an interview with Dr. Hirasaki conducted by the Houston Asian American Archive.

John Hirasaki NASA Article

George Hirasaki HAAA Interview


1. Interview with Dr. Hirasaki conducted by the Houston Asian American Archive

2. Brian Niiya. "Kiyoshi Hirasaki," Densho Encyclopedia https://encyclopedia.densho.org/Kiyoshi%20Hirasaki