Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2021/Summer/105/Section 08/Kosaku Sawada

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Overview[edit | edit source]

Kosaku Sawada was a Japanese-American nurseryman who lived primarily in Mobile, Alabama. After facing many hardships in life, he eventually created and took ownership of the Overlook Nurseries. [1]

Biography[edit | edit source]

Personal Life:[edit | edit source]

Sawada was born in 1882 at Osaka in central Japan. He had a family of six, which included two brothers and one sister. After graduating Osaka University with an agriculture degree, he travelled to America for better opportunities in 1906 while his family remained in Japan. In 1916, he married his wife in San Francisco. Until her sorrowful death, Sawada and her had four children together. One studied landscaping and horticulture at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute and another studied business administration and commerce at Spring Hill College. [2]

Professional Life:[edit | edit source]

Sawada came to Texas to work in the rice fields, but decided that it was not for him due to the intense labor and gaining no progression in life. Eventually, he moved to Alabama in 1910 and bought thirty acres of land in hope of selling orange and pecan trees. Unfortunately, a severe winter storm killed all the orange trees he intended to grow. After this major setback, he hoped for the best and decided to buy another eighty acres of land in a better area. This was eventually named Overlook Nurseries. While his nursery became successful, it was threatened to be shut down by the government due to Sawada’s Japanese origins. [3]

Social Context[edit | edit source]

Social Issues in Japan:[edit | edit source]

Working under the hot Southern sun changed Sawada’s skin color from yellow to brown. When he went back to Japan for the first time, everyone thought he was Filipino and mocked him. He did not have parents or friends to live for in Japan. The only family he had left were his brothers and sister, whom he did not feel connected with at all. He decided that he was American and did not belong in Japan. He completely separated himself from the Japanese culture and didn’t even teach his children Japanese. [4]

Pearl Harbor Bombing:[edit | edit source]

This was a time when hundreds of thousands of Japanese were immigrating to the United States for better opportunities.[5] "On February 19, 1942, 10 weeks after the Japanese military bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 and authorized the removal of all persons of Japanese ancestry from the western United States."[6] This affected more than just the Japanese-Americans in the West Coast. Anyone with a Japanese ancestry was facing racism and inequality all over the nation. During this time period, there were two Japanese nurseries in Mobile, Alabama: Overlook Nurseries and Kiyono Nurseries. Both were scheduled to be seized and sold by the government. Kiyono Nurseries was sold at auction. "Overlook was scheduled to be seized and sold, but the nurserymen of the surrounding area went as a group to the authorities and pled K. Sawada and his families’ case." They stated that he was basically American and talked about his great generosity. He was eventually allowed to keep Overlook Nurseries. [7]

The Great Depression:[edit | edit source]

The Great Depression didn’t affect Sawada’s wealth and economic life to a great extent. Gardening was a popular leisure activity during the Depression because it was a fun way of increasing food supply. Although seeds and plants were given to customers at reduced prices, the life of a nurseryman was not as hard during this period compared to other workers. [8] While the economic impact on Sawada was not significant, the social progression for Japanese-Americans was. These miserable times allowed for Japanese Americans to expand their cultural identity within America and gain basic civil rights. They did this by forming organizations that could amplify Japanese efforts in political and social frameworks. Also, rather than competing against each other’s businesses, the Japanese worked together to stimulate production and improve their economic status. [9]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Prine, Ida. Kosaku Sawada. Mobile, Alabama: Federal Writers Project, 1939
  2. Prine, Ida. Kosaku Sawada. Mobile, Alabama: Federal Writers Project, 1939
  3. Prine, Ida. Kosaku Sawada. Mobile, Alabama: Federal Writers Project, 1939
  4. Prine, Ida. Kosaku Sawada. Mobile, Alabama: Federal Writers Project, 1939
  5. "The U.S. Mainland: Growth And Resistance". 2021. The Library Of Congress.
  6. Nagata, Donna, Jacqueline Kim, and Kaidi Wu. 2019. "The Japanese American Wartime Incarceration: Examining The Scope Of Racial Trauma". NCBI.
  7. Ray, Bill. 2015. "MBG History - "Kosaku Sawada, American" By Bill Ray - Mobile Botanical Gardens". Mobile Botanical Gardens.
  8. "A Short History Of The Seed And Nursery Catalogue In Europe And The U.S. - Special Collections & Archives Research Center". 2021.
  9. Maeda, Yukio. 2021. "Emerging Opportunities In Dark Times: Japanese Americans In The Northwest, 1933-1934". The Great Depression In Washington State.