I was born in San Antonio, Texas in 1925 in a house in Brackenridge Park with a Japanese Tea Garden. My father helped the city design this beautiful garden with lily ponds and gold fish, rock walk ways and bridges. The Portland cement company used the quarry for their use, and then when they abandoned it, the city decided to use it for public use and a garden was built. Most of the quarry rocks were used to create the edge of the ponds and walkways in the garden which was built in the abandoned rock quarry. A two story home built out of the rocks from the quarry was built on the property and our parents, Mr. & Mrs. Kimi Jingu were asked to live there. My mother and father had 2 children, Mary and Ruth, when the city asked them to live in the house and the first one born at the house in the park was Rae, named after the park commissioner, Ray Lambert. When my parents realized the name Ray was a name for a man, they found out that the spelling for a female was Rae. All together, there were six girls, Mary Yuriko,,Ruth Emiko,Rae Sayoko, Helen Eiko, Mabel Yoshiko, and Lillian Isoko, and two boys, James Eiichi and Kimi. Eizo My mother said she gave us all bible names, but as you read them, I think she gave some us non-bible names, like Rae, who was named after the first park commissioner, Ray Lambert, when they first moved into the house in the garden.
After my folks moved into the house, my father designed a tea room with split bamboo he placed on the walls and he painted four watercolors and placed them in the ceilings framing them in split bamboo. (all of the bamboo was harvested from the garden, split and burnished by my father.) That became a tea room where green and black tea was served to guests. My father became a representative of the Japan Tea Association and imported large 50 pound wooden boxes of tea. I remember that all the boxes had beautiful silkscreened Japanese prints on them. So, they served tea to all the tourists that came to the garden and soon my father sold the tea in beautiful lacquered canisters. One of the teas that became quite popular was the Japanese powdered green tea, which in Japan was used as a ceremonial tea. This tea had a very bitter taste and not something he could serve to the people coming to the tea room, so he developed a cold iced green tea with a tablespoon of sugar and filled the glass with ice and a slice of lemon. Then an ice cream was created with the powdered green tea and the local Bordens ice cream company made this ice cream to be served. I am surprised that this green tea ice cream is now a very popular ice cream.
Our garden that was developed in an abandoned rock quarry and next to our quarry was another quarry nearby which eventually became an open air theatre used for plays and operettas. Since the theatre was in such close proximity to our house, we went to bed hearing all the music of the operettas and many times we were allowed to sit on the railing at the theatre by the orchestra on the evenings they would practice. And in the daytime, I would go there with my sister, Lillian, and we would dance and play on the stage. After all, it was right down the path from our house. What a wonderful memory, to have the whole park as our play ground. There was a large zoo on the other side of our house, so we would run down this lane (that we called “lovers lane”) to the zoo. The first cages at that part of the zoo were the lions and tigers. Sometimes, we would hear the roar of the lions before it was their feeding time. I would go down at feeding time and watch a zoo worker called Joe feed the lions and tigers, and then go to the next cages where the monkeys and chimpanzees were. My favorite cage was where the gorilla was kept. Sometimes, I would stand in front oof his cage, he would jump up and down and then make a lot of noise jumping on the cage where I was standing. The gorilla’s name was Jerry. One time one of the smaller monkies must have gotten out of a cage, and came to our house. ( home was part of Brackenridge Park, next to the zoo) I was so surprised to see a monkey standing outside at one of our bedroom doors. I opened the door and gave him a stick of chewing gum. After that, when I would go to the zoo and he would see me at his cage, he would move his mouth and make faces like he was chewing gum!
All of the children in our family, (there were eight!) went to Lamar Elementary School and we all had the same fifth grade teacher, Miss. Alice Delery. All the teachers knew our family very well, and every Christmas, the teachers received a gift of Japanese green tea! The school was across Broadway, which meant that we had to walk through Brackenridge Park, across the San Antonio river which had a wooden walk bridge for us to cross and the cars had to go through a crossing with water running through it. Every morning I would walk through the park with my sisters, Lillian and Helen. One morning, Helen was walking backwards over the narrow plank that was the wooden walk bridge and she fell into the river! Needless to say, we were late to school that morning because she had to go home to change her clothes! When we came home after school, I wrote on a wall in a room that was like a laundry room, “ Today, Helen fell in the San Antonio River.”
When we came home from school, our mother always had a snack ready for us. If I had homework to do, I would sit outside overlooking the beautiful garden look at the plants and water lilies and gold fish. The city had a gardener, Hugo Gerheardt, that took care of the garden and the lily ponds. He would put on a large rubber body boots to go into the ponds and clean the lily plants of old leaves. I remember that he was always working in the garden and my younger brother,Kimi,would go down to the area where Mr. Hugo (that’s what our family called him) and Kimi would follow him around and watch him work. Mr. Hugo lived in one of the little houses down the hill from the garden. He always came to the garden early in the morning and worked until the sun started to set. I remember seeing pictures of my three older sisters, Mary, Ruth and Rae,when they were very little, sitting on large Victoria Regina lily pads with Mr. Hugo standing beside them,in the pond, wearing a rubber “body boot” that went up to his arm pits. He would put on this rubber body boot when he would go into the pond to trim the lily plants.
As I am writing this, I wonder what happened to the people we knew who would come to the garden. There was a man that came everyday carrying his harp to play for the enjoyment of all the tourists that would come to the garden. Sometimes, his son would come with his violin, both neatly dressed with pressed trousers, white shirts and neat jacket. There is one person I am still in touch with, by phone or letters, and that is Terrellita Maverick, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Maury Maverick, Mr. Maverick was one time a mayor of San Antonio, and a Congressman in Washington D.C. They had two children, Terrellita and Maury Maverick Jr. The Maverick family lived near the park across Broadway, and they would come visit us. Mr. Maverick would sit with my Dad to talk and drink tea, and Terrellita would come and she and I would run around the garden,climb up the walls, to sometimes sit on one of the benches to eat a lemon! We lived at the Japanese Tea Garden until World War ll. My sister, Helen, had the radio on December 7,1941 when we heard the announcer say that Japan had bomber Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii. Being of Japanese ancestry and living in the public in Brackenridge Park was difficult for our family. Soon after the news came on the radio and in the papers, the city took action to evict us out of the house we lived in. My father had passed away and my mother was given papers saying we had to leave the house immediately. With such short notice, and being a widow with 7 children, my mother had no where to go. Then the city turned off our water supply to try to force us to leave. As soon as the water was turned off, my mother had it turned back on again. The FBI came to our house to search for “contraband” and any “weapons”. My father’s Japanese swords were confiscated, which was sad for us, as they were very special to him. My sister, Helen, saved all the newspaper articles telling of the eviction by the city. My mother had been a member of Travis Park Methodist church and all of us were members of Travis Park Methodist Church and we received help to find a house. We couldn’t take the three large beautiful teak cabinets, hand built by a Japanese carpenter friend of my parents, and when I talk about the beautiful bamboo room and four watercolors in the ceiling, everyone would ask me, what happened to the watercolors? Of course,they were left in the house. The house we moved to was on French Place and close to Jefferson High School where Helen, Lillian and I went to school and and Mark Twain Jr. High school where Kimi went to school. By that time, Rae, Ruth and Jimmy were out of high school and Jimmy was a student at the University of Texas. Rae and Ruth had jobs to help pay house payments. Helen and I worked after school and on week-ends at a flower shop, the William C. King, in the Gunter Hotel in downtown San Antonio. Rae had experience with secretarial work and applied for a job, passing a civil service test to work at an airport base, Kelly Field. She was fired by the Lt. in charge, saying he didn’t want a “Jap” working in his office. Soon after, she had a job at the Brooke General Hospital at Ft. Sam Houston, when one of Raes friends father, a Lt. Col. Wyrick, helped her get a job as a receptionist. When the war started, Jimmy rushed home to help us. When the all American 442nd Japanese American troops were formed, Jimmy volunteered into the 442nd and joined the services at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, and was shipped overseas to Italy and France. During that time, he was a radio operator. He was stationed at the top of a mountain, and was shot, suffered a schrapnel would in his hand. It wasn’t long before he was back atop a mountain working as a radio operator again. Fortunately, he returned home safely,after the war was over. and he finished his education at the U.of Texas. He married Alice Ishii, whom he met at Camp Shelby, Miss. when girls from the nearby Japanese relocation camp came to dance with the soldiers in the 442nd. Living in Texas, the Japanese families were few and far between. We had Japanese friends in San Antonio, but not many our age. When we attended school, we were the only Asian students, other than two or three Chinese students. When I was in high school, a Chinese boy wanted to date me, but his mother did not want him dating a Japanese girl. By the time the war started, there were Nisei soldiers that the U.S. army shipped from the California coast and shipped “inland” to Texas. Not only were they sent to Texas but to other states away from the coast, so that they would not be a “threat” serving in the army on the coast. It was quite a surprise for our family of girls to meet the Japanese-American boys. The closest Japanese families we knew were about 250 miles away, in Houston on the eastern part of Texas, or the southern border of Texas, in McAllen Texas. There were Nisei in Houston who formed a Nisei club and a group of Nisei on the southern border who formed a club and every once in a while the groups would meet for a week-end get together, coming to San Antonio and we would have get togethers with the Nisei from different areas in Texas. When the group decided to form a “club”. It was called the Lone Star Club. Even though the meetings were few and far between, it was fun to get together for picnics and socializing. When the war started and the Nisei soldiers were stationed at Ft Sam Houston, it wasn’t long before the G.I.’s came to the Japanese Tea Garden where we lived. My older sisters worked selling cold drinks and were very surprised to see the Nisei soldiers coming to the Garden and slowly, but surely, my mother knew that they had not had Japanese food, or rice, and one evening served at least 25 young soldiers, rice and chow mein.(not really Japanese food, but they were happy to have some real Japanese rice and see a Japanese family. We didn’t stay in the park at the Garden much longer than the spring of 1942 Since the city evicted us from our home, which was in the park, on public city property, my mother had to find a home in the residential part of San Antonio, near schools for those of us who were still attending middle school and high school, which included, Kimi, Lillian, Helen and myself. By that time, my brother was attending the U.of Texas, but soon left to volunteer into the U.S. Army. My older sisters had jobs and when my mother found a house for all of us to in, my sister Helen and I found part time jobs in a flower shop in downtown San Antonio, working after school and week-ends. All of us, Rae, Ruth, Helen and Lillian and I helped our mother, by giving her our paychecks to take care of the house and cook for all of us when we would come home from school and work. Our mother never had to work as she stayed home and took care of the house and cook for us. One by one, my sisters and myself got married to the soldiers we met, except for our oldest sister, Mary, who met a U. of Illinois student Kenji Onodera in 1933. Our father, a representative for the Japan Tea Association, took my older sisters, Mary and Ruth to the World Fair in Chicago to help him in at the Japanese Pavilion where he sold tea. The tea was shipped in beautiful boxes with silk screen Japanese prints covering the 25 pound boxes. There were also small lacquer contaniners with Japanese green powdered tea which were sold, as well as small containers holding the green and black leaf tea. My sister Mary, married Kenji Onodera when he graduated from the U. of Illinois as an architect and they livid in his home town, Honolulu, Hawaii after they were married and had two children, Robert and Tamiko.I had a friend from school who once told me that she wondered who we would marry when we grew up, because there weren’t any Japanese for us to marry. It didn’t seem to enter our minds who we would marry, Japanese or not. When I was very young, I was not aware of my ethnicity, so when I was in elementary school, someone asked me, “what are you”and I would said “ I’m just plain,”
During the war, when the Nisei soldiers were stationed at Ft. Sam Houston, they were curious about something they read about in the tourist guide books, the Japanese Tea Garden, so they took a city bus out to the park and walked to where my sisters were working in the pavilion serving tea and cold drinks, the soldiers were very surprised to see my sisters serving tea and cold drinks, a business our parents started when they first moved into the home the city built for our family. As stated earlier, my father created a “bamboo room”, lining the walls with split bamboo and then set bamboo strips in the ceiling around four watercolors, my father painted. The bamboo room was the first place tea was served and my mother dressed in a Japanese kimono, and instead of wearing Japanese slippers, my father bought her some shoes, which she had never worn before, and when she wore them, she complained that they hurt her feet. My father told her she had the left shoe on the right foot and the right shoe on the left foot. No wonder her feet hurt. Another obstacle she had to overcome and learn was how to handle money to give change! A real challenge, learning the English and Spanish language and wearing the correct shoe on the correct foot!
Both my mother and father integrated themselves into the American way, very quickly, starting a business, having to learn English, and needing to hire domestic help, as well as helpers in the Tea room, they quickly learned to speak Spanish also. To this day, my main language is English. I cannot speak the Japanese language, but I can speak a little Spanish. My father and mother spoke Japanese to each other, Spanish with the domestic help and and for necessity to speak with the customers, they learned English. As a youngster, I would ask our maid,Lusa: “plancha me una vestida, por favor” ‘Please iron a dress for me”. In those days, they washed the laundry away from the kitchen, and there was a helper in the kitchen who helped Lusa, named Maria. When Lusa had to do the laundry she would build a fire, away from the house down by our garage, to heat a wash tub of water, and use a scrubbing board to scrub the clothes and hang the laundry outside on clothes lines, with wooden clothes pins. I remember Lusa coming to our house early in the morning, walking from a street called Pastoras street, just outside of the park. Since our home was situated away from the closest gas lines, we had heated water with propane gas, available to us, delivered to a tank by our house. Our bath water was heated with a water tank in the bathroom. Every morning our mother would pack our lunches in paper bags and when it rained our father would drive us to school through Brackenridge Park to Lamar Elementary School across Broadway, a large street by the edge of the park. When it didn’t rain, we would walk to school through the park, across the San Antonio river, and one morning my sister Helen was walking backwards to cross the bridge because she was watching a man with a cane behind us. Needless to say, she lost her footing and fell in the river and had to go home to change her clothes. When we came home that afternoon, I wrote on one of the walls in the house, “ Helen fell in the San Antonio River this morning,” and signed it with my name and date. All of us attended Lamar Elementary School and most of us had the same teachers, one by one we all had the same fifth grade teacher, Miss. Delery. After graduating from Lamar, we went to the Jr. High School Mark Twain Junior High School. We walked to each school except when it rained, when our father would drive us. After Mary, Ruth and Rae graduated from Mark Twain jr. High School, they went to Tech High School and when a new high school was built, namedJefferson High School ,Jimmy, Helen, Lillian Kimi and I went to Jeffeerson. By this time, wwll began and we lived in a residential house on French Place and we would take the bus,We all had friends who attended school from elementary through high school. The friends I had that went to all the same schools and attended the same classes were Gloria Moffett and Vane Hugo. Gloria and I remained friends long after we graduated from high school. She passed away two years ago when she was eighty years old.
I will continue my life story by saying that I have had a most wonderful life and at 82 years of age I am energized by all my memories and planning to add more memories as each day goes by. I have been very blessed to have so many people around me who have been my inspiration and love of life. For fifty eight years I have been happily married to Renso Enkoji and we have three wonderful daughters: Ann Orion, Nancy Gay, Peggy Lynn and her husband, David Nishio, and we have three grand daughters, Mariko, Miyoshi and Stefanie. Even though some of the family live hundreds of miles away, we all make an effort to have family gatherings here at our home for Christmas.
As a wife and mother all these years, I found time to become a professional ceramic artist with all the encouragement from my family. One of my most outstanding ceramic exhibit was a one woman show I had at the San Antonio Museum of Art when the city invited my family, sisters,brother and all the family to come back to San Antonio for the re-naming of the Japanese Tea Garden, since the name JAPANESE was changed to CHINESE during ww.11 when our family was evicted. There is still a cement structure at the entrance of the garden with the Chinese Tea Garden sign when the Chinese family opened a restaurant at the Garden. I have heard that the sign will stay there, but with the history of the days gone by, maybe the sign should read Japanese Tea Garden, as it once was. Today, I am so pleased with all the help from the San Antonio Friends of the Parks Foundation. There has been a tremendous outpouring of support to bring the Japanese Tea Garden back in all its glory! And what fun for me to be able to send e-mails about my memories of living there. Two years ago I made a trip back to the Garden to show two of my grandchildren where I was born and raised. When one of them knew my father had served powdered green tea ice tea and green tea ice cream, she wanted to go to San Antonio to find the recipe “somewhere” and to go with me to see the place where I was born and raised: The Japanese Tea Garden. We will be back very soon, Spring of 2008, they tell me. We will be there!