Pioneering Japanese American florist Yoshimi Shibata passes

Yoshimi Shibata

Yoshimi Shibata
Yoshimi Shibata. courtesy of Shibata family

Florist Yoshimi “Shimi” Shibata passed away peacefully in his sleep at home with his family Oct. 31, a statement issued by his family said. He was 99.

Shibata was a pioneer in the floral growers and distribution industry, having been recognized by the Japanese government with the Order of the Rising Sun, Fourth Class in 1987.

More recently, the California Association of Flower Growers and Shippers awarded him with the 2015 Distinguished Service Award at their biannual conference held last July.

In announcing the award, the association stated that Shibata had led San Jose, Calif.,-based Mt. Eden Floral Company for more than 55 years. It said that Shibata had created a co-op of rose growers in 1949, making Mt. Eden one of the largest growers and marketers of roses in the United States. He was behind the development of a chrysanthemum breeding and propagation company and later partnered with the Sumitomo Corporation to develop a carnation breeding and propagation company in 1989. He helped set airfreight standards for flowers with the Civil Aeronautics Board and helped consolidate West-to-East Coast trucking.

“Mt. Eden was one of the first growers to use pre-cooled boxes for shipping, to open its own wholesale stores for vertical integration, to sell flowers to supermarkets and to fulfill orders for online floral retailers. The company was also a pioneer in purchasing imported flowers to supplement its own production and started a joint venture with the Visaflor group to import roses from Mexico for the Los Angeles Flower Market,” CalFlowers wrote in the statement.

The association said that Shibata served as an officer or board member in a number of organizations, including the Wholesale Florist and Florist Suppliers Association, the Society of American Florists, Roses Inc., the California State Floral Association, the American Floral Endowment, the California State Chamber of Commerce, the National Japanese American Historical Society and Sumitomo Bank of California.

According to Mt. Eden, Shibata was born Jan. 25, 1916 to Zenjuro and Koyuri Shibata in Oakland, Calif. He was the second son of five and had one sister. His older brother,

Yoshio, died in an accident in 1920, leaving him as the eldest son.

During the war, his family leased their land and “voluntarily” relocated to Marysville before being sent to the Tule Lake concentration camp. He was granted indefinite leave after being declared “loyal” by the U.S. government and moved to Des Plaines, Ill. After the war, he returned to California and married Grace Eto of San Luis Obispo, Calif. They had a daughter, Naomi, and sons Robert and Michael. His legacy continues through Mt. Eden Floral Company, which is now in its fourth generation of operation with his grandson Alex working for the company.

“He was a modern day samurai,” said Robert Shibata, his eldest son. “He was a man of integrity. He tried to do what was morally right for himself and those around him. He was fearless. He was loyal. He had great intellect but was also street smart. He was generous. He was humble.” He went on to list his father as also a brother, a husband, a grandfather and great-grandfather; an athlete; an organizer; a civil rights and political activist; a patriot and an author, among many other things.

A memorial service is planned for Saturday, Nov. 21 at 2 p.m. at the Buddhist Temple of Alameda at 2325 Pacific Ave. in Alameda, Calif. Condolence cards and letters may be sent to the Shibata family at Mt. Eden Floral Company, 2124 Bering Dr., San Jose, CA 95131.

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