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Yoshimi Shibata: A Floral Industry Pioneer

Update: Yoshimi "Shimi" Shibata, passed away peacefully in his sleep on October 31, 2015. He was at home, with family present. We are grateful that he had a distinguished and fulfilling career in the flower industry that he loved so much. 

 

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In May, family and friends joined together in Palo Alto, CA to celebrate Yoshimi Shibata’s upcoming 100th birthday.*

Floral Industry Pioneer Yoshimi Shibata celebrates 100

The celebration was a heartfelt reunion of people from various walks in Shimi’s life, some connected by family ties, others through friendships forged in the earlier days of working in the floral industry. But all have been similarly touched by Shimi’s life, career, and friendship.

Shimi celebrates 100

Formerly president of Mt. Eden Floral Company, Shimi has always been passionate about flowers and business. Even though he’s been retired for many years now, sometimes you can still catch him at Mt. Eden Floral’s store in San Jose taking a look at the flowers in the cooler, or catching a peek at one of Mt. Eden’s design shows. Work, for Shimi, was always more than just a job.

In celebration of Yoshimi’s career and friendships formed through his involvement in the floral industry, we’ve put together a short video looking back at highlights from his career. The video also touches on some of the intricacies of the floral industry that still come into play today.  

This video was first screened at the CalFlowers Fun ‘N Sun Conference in Monterey, CA when Shimi was awarded the CalFlowers 2015 Distinguished Service Award.

 

Chronology of the life of Yoshimi “Shimi” Shibata

Floral Industry Pioneer Shimi Shibata life chronology

1916 January 25. Born to Zenjuro and Koyuri Shibata in Oakland, California.

1917 December. Yoshito “Jerry” Shibata, Shimi’s second brother, is born.

1918 Zenjuro Shibata, Shimi’s father, buys Mt. Eden property.

1921 September. Yoshiye “PA” Shibata, Shimi’s third brother, is born.

1920 August 20. Oldest brother Yoshio is killed in an accident involving another child in the neighborhood. Shimi becomes the oldest son.

1920 Mt. Eden Corporation is formed in the names of the Shibata children.

1923 April. Yoshikuni “Kuni” Shibata, Shimi’s fourth brother, is born.

1923 Shimi enters Mt. Eden Grade School.

1925 October. Shibata family visits Japan for two months.

1931 March. Yayoi “Yatch” Shibata, Shimi’s only sister, is born.

1931–35 June. Attends Hayward High School.

1932 The Shibata family visits Japan for three months.

1935–39 Attends UC Berkeley with a brief break between 1937 and 1938

1939–40 Attends Ohio State University.

1940 Works at Ohio State Department of Greenhouses, earning $25 a month for four months.

1940 April–July. Helps conduct tests at Ohio State Experiment Station for $200.

1941 Returns to UC Berkeley for four months.

1941 December 7. Pearl Harbor is attacked by Japan.

1942 February 19. Executive Order 9066 is signed, leading to the eventual forced removal of Japanese Americans from certain areas on the West Coast.

1942 March. Shimi leases his land and business to William Zappettini, one of his customers. The Shibata family then “voluntarily” relocates to Marysville to avoid being interned. Shimi and the family begin working in the fruit orchards.

1942 July. The Shibata family is interned at Tule Lake War Relocation Center. Shimi begins working as high school teacher at Tule Lake, earning $16 a month and becomes secretary to the City Council.

1942 December. Begins job as the assistant general manager of Tule Lake Cooperative Enterprise.

1943 June. Granted indefinite leave clearance after declared “loyal” by the government. Moves to Des Plaines, Illinois, to work for Premier Rose Garden for $35–$40 a week.

1943 July. Shimi’s parents and siblings join him in Des Plaines for three months.

1945 Returns to take back Mt. Eden Nursery; family eventually follows.

1945 June 25. Drafted into the U.S. Army.

1946 March 10. Honorable discharge from the Army.

1947 May 17. Shimi’s father Zenjuro dies at the age of 67.

1947 September 28. Marries Grace Eto of San Luis Obispo in the Japanese garden at Mt. Eden in Hayward, CA.

1948 Active in Civil Rights Defense Union.

1949 Forms rose pool and joins Roses, Inc.

1950 March. Naomi Shibata is born to Shimi and Grace. She is their first child and only daughter.

1951 Experiences nervous breakdown and spends several months in Soquel, California.

1952 November. Robert Shibata is born to Shimi and Grace. He is their second child and first son. Shimi starts driving off to the hospital across the San Mateo Bridge and forgets to take Grace.

1955 July. Michael Shibata is born to Shimi and Grace. He is their third child and second son.

1956 Moves his immediate family across the San Francisco Bay to a small house in Mountain View. Decides to form the mum pool with chrysanthemum growers. California-Florida Plant Company (CFPC) is established to grow mum cuttings year round.

1958–59 Shimi and Grace buy a plot of land, design a house, and move their family to Atherton.

1960 Takes extended trip to see South American flower production. Reports findings to rose growers.

1963 Shimi starts Salinas Greenhouse Company with eight partners from Kagoshima Prefecture. The 540,000 square feet of greenhouse is built for the cultivation of carnations and mini-carnations.

1968 January 25. Shimi’s mother, Koyuri, dies at the age of 73.

1968 Monterey Greenhouse is built; a 500,000 square foot greenhouse is designed to produce cut roses. Mt. Eden starts using computers.

1972 Elected president of the Wholesale Florist & Floral Suppliers of America. Carmel Greenhouse is built to produce cut carnations. Mt. Eden enters the floral supply business. Takes trip to South America with brother Jerry to evaluate the Colombian flower industry.

1973 Plans the first WF&FSA trade fair with John Van Hanford. Appointed chairman of the second World Kendo Individual Championship in San Francisco.

1976 Carmel Greenhouse stops growing carnations and starts producing roses.

1977 Shimi’s youngest son, Michael, joins the company for six years. 

1980 GM Floral Co., a joint venture between Growers Wholesale and Mt. Eden, is established in the Southern California Flower Market. Mt. Eden International begins exporting to Japan.

1983 Shimi’s son, Robert, joins Mt. Eden. Expands into California Flower Market in San Francisco.

1984 September 5. Graduates from University of California at Davis along with his son Michael.

1985 Shimi’s daughter, Naomi, joins Mt Eden for ten years.

1987 Receives a medal—Order of the Rising Sun, Fourth Class—from the Japanese government. It is the highest civilian award given by the Japanese government.

1988 CFPC Fremont is closed due to highway expansion.

1989 CFPC Salinas is opened in partnership with Sumitomo Corporation.

1994 The buildings at the original Mt. Eden Nursery site are torn down, including the white house, packing shed, and greenhouses. The Japanese garden and teahouse are preserved.

1994 February 13. P.A. (Yoshiye), Shimi’s brother, dies.

1994 April. Shimi undergoes open heart surgery for a valve replacement and a double bypass.

1995 Shimi, Jerry, and members of PA’s family, decide to separate the majority of their business interests. Following the separation, Shimi and his immediate family restructure Mt. Eden Floral Company.

1998 The Mt. Eden Nursery site is leased to a commercial developer. High-tech R&D buildings are built, but the Japanese garden and tea house are preserved.

2001 Carmel Greenhouse stops growing roses and is retrofitted and leased to CFPC. 

2003 Salinas Greenhouse is sold.

2004 August. Kuni, Shimi’s youngest brother, dies.

2006 June 25. Celebration at the Japanese garden for Mt. Eden’s 100th anniversary, Shimi’s 90th birthday and release of Shimi’s memoir, Across Two Worlds: Memoirs of a Nisei Flower Grower.

2011 The fourth generation of Shibatas officially join Mt Eden. Shimi’s grandson, Alex, starts working for the company. After 56 years, the Mountain View operations move to San Jose.  The intellectual property of Cal-Florida Plant Co. is sold to Snow Brand of Japan and CFPC operations cease.

2014 October. Daughter Naomi Shibata completes Grace’s biography, Bend with the Wind

2015 May 30. Celebrates 100th birthday with family, friends, and flower industry colleagues in Palo Alto, CA.

2015 July. Shimi is awarded the CalFlowers 2015 Distinguished Service Award. Honorees of this award are recognized for the highest levels of leadership, strategic thinking, and contributions to the floral industry in California.  

2015 October 31. Yoshimi "Shimi" Shibata passed away peacefully in his sleep. He was at home, with family present.

 

*Shimi's 100th birthday is in January of 2016, however in kazoedoshi (数え年), a traditional Japanese age system, Shimi was already 100 at the time of his birthday celebration in May of 2015.