Members of the the JACL-AZ community gathered on March 18, 2023 to celebrate the life of Hiroshi “Nick” Nakagawa, the proprietor of the only surviving florist shop from the historic south Phoenix “Japanese Flower Farms.” Nick died at age 97 on January 2, 2021, but the pandemic prevented family and loved ones from having a public celebration of life until now. Hiroshi Nakagawa was born on July 1, 1923 in Lewiston, Idaho, where his father was a farmer. The family lived in Utah before settling in Arizona in the 1930s to continue farming. Nick was one of 11 children and the eldest son (an older brother predeceased him, dying at seven months old). He and his family faced racism and anti-Japanese sentiment and were imprisoned during WWII at the Poston, Arizona incarceration camp along with thousands of other Japanese Americans. They were forced from their home and lost the farm and all their possessions; Nick graduated high school by correspondence course while in Poston. He enlisted in the U.S. Army during the war but had to return home to help care for his family when his father fell ill.
After the war, Nick and his family returned to farming along Baseline Road. Due to his father’s poor health, a lot of responsibility for taking care of the family fell on Nick, and he used his connections and business sense to make deals to purchase land and expand the farm (some deals were made on his word and a handshake!). Other Japanese American families also farmed there, and some, like Nick, experimented with new techniques and seeds to help agricultural researchers. Eventually the area became a major tourist attraction, known for acres and acres of beautiful, fragrant flowers. Nick was one of the first farmers along Baseline Road to ship his flowers out of state and was the first to enclose his building and install air-conditioning. In the 1960s he built a pagoda-style tower so tourists could climb to the top and view the surrounding flower fields. He married in 1960 and he and his late wife, Tatsuko (Tats), ran every aspect of the business from farming to flower design. After a devastating fire in the 1990s Nick and Tats rebuilt the business with help from neighbors and friends. Today it is the last remaining flower shop on Baseline Road. Until this Thanksgiving, Nick was there every day and enjoyed visiting with customers and friends who would stop in at the shop.
In recent years, Nick was honored by the Arizona State Florists Association, which gave him its Crystal Crescent Award in 2017; spoke to college students and community members about the history of the Japanese flower farms; and recorded stories with KJZZ and the South Mountain Community College Oral History Project. Those who were fortunate to know Nick appreciated his sense of fairness, hard work, perseverance and kindness.
Nick was loved by many, especially his children and grandchildren. He was a wonderful friend, father and grandpa who was fond of sports, occasional casino gambling, following the stock market and solving sudoku puzzles (which he did daily). He is survived by his children Mark, Kathy (Tim Eigo) and Naomi (Keith Taylor); grandchildren Willa and Thea Eigo; as well as siblings, cousins, and many nieces and nephews. Services will be held at a later date. Donations in his name may be made to the Japanese American Citizens League-AZ Hiroshi and Tatsuko Nakagawa Scholarship Fund or the Arizona Buddhist Temple.