While our physical offices are closed until further notice in accordance with Austin's COVID-19 "stay home-work safe" order, the Handbook of Texas will remain available at no-cost for you, your fellow history enthusiasts, and all Texas students currently mandated to study from home. If you have the capacity to help us maintain our online Texas history resources during these uncertain times, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible contribution today. Thank you for your support of TSHA and Texas history. Donate Today »


Abbie L. Grubb

OKASAKI, TSUNEKICHI [TOM BROWN] (ca. 1866–?). One of the first known three Japanese immigrants to the Lone Star State, Tsunekichi Okasaki, restaurateur, came to the United States in 1888 from Okayama Prefecture, Japan, and by the 1890s had arrived in Houston, where he was known as “Tom Brown.” Okasaki was proprietor of the “Japanese Restaurant” at 1111 Congress Avenue in downtown Houston. The fare at his restaurant was ironically not rice and traditional Japanese cuisine but American food. The establishment became quite popular, perhaps because he was known for the low price of ten cents to twenty-five cents for a substantial meal. 

In 1905 Okasaki entered a partnership with future Communist party member Sugataro Yabuki, often known as Sen Katayama. For the purpose of rice farming, Okasaki purchased more than 10,000 acres of land in Live Oak and McMullen counties and sought investors in Japan, while Katayama recruited supporters and laborers in Texas. Their partnership eventually ended due to Katayama’s involvement in and association with the American Socialist movement. Okasaki attempted additional rice farming ventures with another local Japanese Texan immigrant Kuniemon Sando (also from Okayama), but poor weather caused the ruin of Okasaki’s crops and his ultimate return to the restaurant industry. Though rice farming was a popular industry for many Japanese Texan immigrants, Okasaki’s efforts in the business failed. 

As a leader in the Houston Japanese American community, Okasaki often employed other immigrants in his businesses. After the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, Okasaki invited displaced West Coast immigrants like Otsukichi Matsumoto to Houston to work in his restaurant. Many Japanese waiters, dishwashers, and cooks worked for him, and he often hosted traditional holidays, including New Year’s and the Emperor’s Birthday, at his establishments. In contrast to his farming endeavors, he had such business success that he became a partner in the Japan Art and Tea Company in 1911, along with Junzo Fujino and Yoshimatsu Konishi. He independently owned the Japanese Art Store at 715 Main Street, just blocks away from his other business partnership. Unfortunately, one of his art stores burned down, pushing Tsunekichi back towards the restaurant industry. He opened two more establishments, including the “Eagle Café,” which was listed as a “chop suey parlor” in the local directory. 

Okasaki may have been married to a woman named Kumae. Both names appeared on a 1908 passenger list from Hong Kong to Honolulu, and they were listed as married. Tsunekichi’s age was recorded as forty-two, and Kumae’s age was given as twenty-two. She was also listed in a 1911 Houston city directory, but was not listed in the 1910 census (though Tsunekichi Okasaki was listed as being married). Kumae’s name did not appear in city directories after 1911.

By 1910 nearly 350 Japanese settlers were in Texas, and by 1920 there were almost 450. Many of these immigrants entered the state from the south, where they had worked in the mines or railroads in Mexico. Many of these early arrivals were laborers and others established themselves as businessmen or entrepreneurs. Okasaki continued to operate his Houston restaurants until after World War I. The last year that he was listed in Houston city directories was 1919. In 1920, three Japanese restaurants were listed in Houston city directories. The Japanese Café was operated by Okasaki’s fellow countryman Kuniemon Sando. Two other restaurants (both listed as “Japanese Restaurant”) were run by Benjamin Kinugasa and Hideharu Numano. According to Thomas K. Walls, author of The Japanese Texans, Okasaki returned to Japan where he bought a small hotel and lived the rest of his life. The date of his death is not known. 


Marilyn Dell Brady, The Asian Texans (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2004). Abbie Salyers Grubb, “From ‘Tom Brown’ to Mykawa Road: The Impact of the Japanese American Community on Houston in the Twentieth Century,” Houston History, 13 (2015). Thomas K. Walls, The Japanese Texans (San Antonio: University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures at San Antonio, 1997).

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Abbie L. Grubb, "OKASAKI, TSUNEKICHI [TOM BROWN] ," accessed May 26, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fokas.

Uploaded on December 20, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...