James Masaru Imahara was born on Sept 4, 1903, in Watsonville, California, a son of immigrants from Hiroshima, Japan. At age 20, Pop bought 60 acres of farmland for the family in the outskirts of Sacramento, where they raised strawberries, grapes, and an orchard of fruit trees.
Pop married Haruka Sunada in 1927 and they began their long, productive life together. Starting a few years before the war, they also raised poultry for meat and egg production until Dec. 7, 1941. The onset of World War II brought total disruption to the life of Pop and Mom, who at the time were raising a growing family of seven children. In spite of the turmoil, not only in their life, but in the life of all the Issei, Pop, being bilingual, helped the Japanese immigrants who couldn't speak or write English as he was among the oldest of the Nisei.
From May 1942 to 1945, the Imahara family was relocated to the internment camp at the Fresno Assembly Center in California, and then to camps in Jerome and Rohwer, Arkansas. After the war, Pop moved his family of ten to Louisiana to start a new life. "In those years," he said, "I crawled and I cried…those days in New Orleans were rough, rough."
With endurance and a never-give-up attitude, Pop and Mom worked very hard to provide for their growing family of 9 children. He founded his own landscape company in Baton Rouge, along with a greenhouse nursery and sod farm. He liked to say he started "with a shovel," but with hard work and tremendous expertise, Imahara's became a real success story, a million-dollar business which would become the leader in Baton Rouge's largest corporate landscape accounts. Working with his son Walter and daughter May, they built the business to one that continues to this day, now owned by his granddaughter, Wanda Chase. Higher education for his children was always his priority and motivation, and despite the struggles and the hard times, all nine of his children received Louisiana college degrees.
In the year of Showa (1977), Pop was honored when he received the Fifth Class of the Order of the Sacred Treasure, conferred upon him by His Majesty, the Emperor of Japan, for his help with the Issei prior to being sent to the relocation camps.
At the age of 79 (1982), he wrote a book, James Imahara - Son of Immigrants, the story of his life. The book characterizes his never give-up attitude which brought he and Mom a vision of giving each of their children higher education and a better life. Indeed, he was a man of determination, endurance, courage, patience and love.
After 45 years of being in Louisiana, and the passing of Mom in 1990, Pop moved back to California with an invitation from his son-in-law, Ralph, and daughter Flora. This was his heart's desire and proved to be a blessed time for him.
After his retirement, Pop pursued his favorite hobby of Japanese calligraphy wood carving with his chisel and mallet. His greatest pleasure was sharing hundreds and hundreds of his wood carvings as gifts to friends and family.
In the Plum stage of his life (Bai-Ume, the final years) at the age of 96, James received the best gift of his life from God, when he accepted Jesus Christ in his heart as his Lord and Savior and had the peaceful assurance that he would have eternal life in heaven with Mom and his loved ones.
James Masaru Imahara passed peacefully from this life into the presence of his Lord Jesus Christ on April 24, 2000. He was truly a blessed man who had a grateful heart and a non-complaining spirit. His heart was full of love for each of his 10 beloved children, 19 grandchildren, and 16 great grandchildren.
We'll miss you Pop and we'll remember you forever.
Walter M. Imahara, by Lily Imahara Metz
What does it take for a man to achieve a measure of success? Foremost, it has to be individualized - one man’s dream and his personal goal. Upon this premise, a pattern emerges that nearly all success stories have in common.
A few of the similarities are a purpose and meaning, dedication, sacrifice, ambition, perseverance, conditioning of mind, body and soul, a consuming desire to do the best and be the best. Beyond that, the benevolent gift of God bestowed on individuals turns the ordinary into a extraordinary life.
For Walter Imahara, the sixth child of a family of 10 children born to James and Haruka Imahara, there existed a destiny to carry on the duties of the first born son, a Japanese tradition. Trained and disciplined to shoulder this responsibility overtly and often covertly by his loving and caring parents, Walter had an early training that conditioned and stabilized him to go forward to a lifetime of fulfilled accomplishments.
“I always knew that I had to do a little better than the rest,” Walter has often said. This inner conviction has been the driving force throughout his life.
As a horticulture student at what was then SLI (now Southwestern Louisiana) in Lafayette, he developed a method of raising orchids in native pine bark for which he received a scholarship. Despite his honor, Walter did not quite measure up to his given Japanese name, Manabu, meaning a scholar. Between classes, Walter became involved in weightlifting that consumed more time than his schooling could afford, causing his dad to say that he paid for Walter’s brawn instead of his brains.
Nevertheless, with a diploma in one hand and a dumb-bell in the other, Walter joined the Army in the 60s. The planned family business would have to be put on hold for several years because the elder Imahara wanted to wait for Walter.
Soon, the Berlin Crisis became everyone's concern even with Germany so far away. At one point, Walter’s mother, frightened and overwhelmed by the harsh news of the conflict, cried out to God to let her see her son once more. However, the family knew that this was impossible.
But it was the weightlifting, which Walter had continued into his Army career, which helped fulfill his mother’s prayers. One day the family received news that Walter was coming home. According to him, there was an opportunity to compete in the national championship back in the States. He qualified and entered the contest. In Pennsylvania, he won the title, then had a week to spare. But the Deep South was a long way away and he had no money. A friend heard of his predicament and offered to help. This brief time was enough for his mother and father to bear the separations all other parents did.
Back in Germany, a beautiful thing happened. Walter met another Japanese American, Sumi Matsumoto, a school teacher for the Army personnel’s children. They married and Walter brought his bride home to Baton Rouge. Together, the couple joined his father at James Gardening Service which became Pelican State Nursery and later Imahara Nursery and Landscape Co., Inc.
Walter put aside his personal interest and hobby for 10 years and established the business on Florida Blvd. Again, following his best instinct and his parents’ advice and guidance, Walter asked his sister May and her husband, Sam Kaga and their two daughters to leave Georgia and join the family business.
First the father, then Walter, then May, this was the Japanese ideal — the tripod. By himself, James Imahara was wobbly. With Walter, two legs were stronger. But with May, the three legs became a tripod, very strong and unbreakable.
The family business grew with Baton Rouge. As success stories go, they labored in love — love for each other, love for the gardening business and love for the Baton Rouge community. It has been said that the “Imahara's make Baton Rouge beautiful.” And, indeed they did. In 1979, the business grew and expanded from 3.5 acres on Florida Blvd. to another location on Old Hammond Highway. In 1984, the entire operation was consolidated and relocated to Perkins Rd. In 1987, his niece Wanda Metz Chase returned as the third generation of Imahara landscape, and in 1999, Walter turned the business over to Wanda allowing him to continue his commitment to industry groups and be involved in development activities and concentrate on his real passion, weightlifting.
Walter now enjoys building and expanding his own shopping developments, and continues to dream of other business ventures. He has climbed the chairs to Presidency at the Southern Nursery Association as well as the National Landscape Association. Walter has been honored as Louisiana’s Nurseryman of the Year on three different occasions and bestowed the James A. Foret Award in 1999 for lifetime contributions to the Louisiana nursery industry. He was also honored by the American Nursery and Landscape Association in 2002 for his contribution and lobbying advocacy for the industry on the national level.
And his love for weightlifting continues. After returning to the sport in 1980, Walter won an astonishing 26 consecutive National Gold Medals, and 11 consecutive World Gold Medals, as he traveled the globe competing and over-seeing the Sport in distant lands. Walter retains many world records, including the 187 pound snatch and 221 pound clean and jerk lift made in 2000 competing in 69 kilo, 60-64 age classification. In 2008, Walter retired as President of the International Weightlifting Federation after 20 years of service, and put down his barbells for competition.
Walter and Sumi continue in ‘active’ retirement, completing two beautiful private arboretums in St. Francisville, Louisiana, where Walter says “it all began”, and home to “remembering his roots.” They continue to travel the world, visiting family and friends, and gathering ideas “for the next project.”
A measure of success is for anyone who dares to dream and set a goal. A gardener’s son, while helping his father and family to realize their dreams and goals, achieved his own measure of success along the way.
Wanda Metz Chase, by Anne Butler
Mrs. Chase is the third generation of her family to own and operate one of Baton Rouge’s oldest and largest landscape contracting businesses, begun on a shoestring by her grandfather, Mr. James M. Imahara, shortly after World War II.
Wanda Metz Chase is a 1984 graduate of LSU School of Landscape Architecture. Upon graduation, when she received the Excellence in Plants award, Mrs. Chase worked several years as a landscape accounts manager with the J. R. Ross Company in Dallas, then moved to Woodbine, Maryland, as marketing representative for Chapel Valley Landscape.
In 1987 she returned to Baton Rouge to join her uncle Walter Imahara at Imahara’s Landscape Company. She introduced new business concepts and youthful enthusiasm, leading the Company to become a “design, install and maintenance” business. She is a licensed Landscape Architect and past president of the Baton Rouge Landscape Association. Among many civic commitments, she accepted an appointment by the mayor to the East Baton Rouge City-Parish Tree Commission, and served as Louisiana’s lobbyist to the American Nursery and Landscape Association (1993-2007), representing state horticultural and agricultural interests in Washington, D.C.
In 1993, Mrs. Chase received recognition as the Louisiana Nursery and Landscape Association’s Young Nurseryperson of the Year, and in 1995 was honored with the Distinguished David Laird Award from the Southern Nurserymen’s Association, the first Louisianian and first female to receive this award presented by the sixteen states of the southeast regional association.
In January, 2000, she was honored as the 2000 Louisiana Nurseryperson of the Year at the Gulf States Horticultural Exposition in Mobile, Alabama. She served as the Education chairperson for the Southern Nurserymen’s Association 1999-2007, and is an industry spokesperson on gardening, design and business management within the profession. Mrs. Chase served as the first female and youngest president of the Louisiana Nursery and Landscape Association, representing a $1.3-billion industry of state growers, retailers and contractors, as climbed the ranks to Presidency in 2007 of the National Landscape Association in Washington D.C..
Wanda Metz Chase is married to Don Chase, a licensed Civil Engineer employed by Entergy River Bend Station Nuclear Power facility. They live in Baton Rouge and are actively involved in their church Woodlawn Baptist. She is the daughter of Lily and J.C. Metz of St. Francisville, and is one of seven children.
A devout born-again Christian, she strives to follow her grandfather Imahara’s advice given her as a 16-year old. “Stand firm in your convictions.” She proudly displays a Japanese calligraphy carving created by the elder Imahara which reads “Keep a soft face and a strong heart.”