The Kishi Colony
George J. Hirasaki, August 2003
Thomas K. Walls, 1987

Kazuhiko Orii, 1983
The Kishi Family
Front row, left to right: Toki, Moto (wife of Hachitaro), Kichimatsu, Fuji, Taro;
back row: a maid, Hachitaro, Tora, and a cousin.

    Most early Japanese Texans came to either farm rice along the Gulf Coast or truck farm in the Rio Grande Valley.  However, one colony did both as well as discover oil on its property.  Surrounding the community of Terry, halfway between Beaumont and Orange in Orange County, the land associated with this Japanese settlement spread over 9,000 acres, all of which were owned by the colony's founder, Kichimatsu Kishi.  This colony was the home of many Japanese Texans, whose descendents include: Kishi, Hirasaki, Nagai, Kondo, Okabayashi, and Tanamachi.

    ‘Kishi was a stern but fair man who ruled over the colony much as a father might.  He settled minor arguments as they arose and was responsible to their parents for the welfare of the young men in the colony.  He also determined what was raised on the farm.  Rice was the primary crop of the early colony.  During the 1920's the main crop was cabbage, but considerable amounts of potatoes, onions, corn, cucumbers, spinach, celery, tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, beets and strawberries were also grown.  Although Kishi even experimented with fig and orange orchards, he had never intended to raise such a variety of crops when he first began the project.’ [1]

    ‘When Kichimatsu Kishi came to the United States, it was to farm rice.  But equally important to him was owning land.  His son, Taro, once remarked, "I believe my father had a natural urge to own land.  My great-grandfather was a big landowner in Japan, and I think my father inherited the desire.”  Although Kishi’s search for land ended in Texas, it began much earlier in Manchuria. ‘ [1

Kishi in Japan
Seeking Opportunity in America
Purchase of Kishi Colony

The Early Colony

    ‘Kishi's colony now needed people. In 1907 he brought to Texas about 16 Japanese men who were willing to work as either laborers or tenant farmers.  Also making the trip were Kichimatsu's four-year-old son, Taro, and his second wife, Fuji (Kobayashi) Kishi.  Taro's mother had died several years earlier.  Kichimatsu also had an infant daughter, whom he left temporarily in the care of his father.  All during the winter of 1907-1908, the Kishi colonists worked hard to prepare for spring planting.  They plowed the land behind teams of mules.  With the help of steam-operated dredges, they dug irrigation canals to channel the waters of Cow Bayou and built levees to hold water in the fields.  Those among the Japanese who were skilled in carpentry put up frame houses and barns, and repaired existing structures to make them serviceable.  When spring arrived the colonists were ready to begin farming.’[1]

Mules on Kishi Colony Farmers plowing field, Kishi Colony [The UT Institute of Texan Cultures at San Antonio, courtesy of J. Nagai Family]
  ‘Most of the Japanese in the Kishi colony farmed the land as tenants or sharecroppers.  Kishi provided them with land, water and seed in return for half of their harvest.  The other colonists worked as farmhands for either the tenants or for Kishi himself, who farmed about 200 acres the first year.  Many in the colony had special abilities, such as carpentry, but their main job was still farming.  The one exception was the colony blacksmith, whose skills were needed year-round.’[1]

    ‘The group's first harvest was in 1908.  From 1,600 acres of cultivated land, the Japanese harvested 15,753 200-pound sacks of rice, which sold for a total of $47,000.  When news of this success spread among the colonists' friends and relatives in Japan, most of who lived in Niigata Prefecture on the main island of Honshu, many decided to come to Texas.  Within a year the colony's population doubled to about 40.  Among the newcomers were four women and three children.  Also included was Kichimatsu's younger brother, Hachitaro Kishi.’[1]

    ‘Sakichi A. Kondo of Fannett, whose father Sataro was among those farmers who came with Kishi, recalled stories his father told of those first crops.  “They plowed all winter long,” said Kondo.  “They used a single-blade sulky plow pulled by three mules or a two-blade gang plow with four mules.”  “The drill and binder too were pulled by mules,” said Kondo.’[3]

    ‘Kishi naturally got active in protecting and promoting interests of Japanese residents, or more specifically those of Japanese farm owners in Texas.  He joined in the organization of the Japanese Association of Texas on 11/14/1908 and became one of the trustees along with Seito Saibara of Webster, Sahei Imura of Alvin, and Sadamatsu Takeda of Mykawa.’[2]

    ‘The Kishi farm did well for the next eight or nine years.  Whenever he could afford to add land to his holdings, Kichimatsu did so.  The number of colonists also grew, from both immigration and new births.  In 1912 one of Kichimatsu's relatives, Toraichi Kishi came to Texas with his wife and with four new brides for four of the colonists.’[1]  ‘On 2/2/1912 Hachitaro Kishi and Miss Moto Sakai and Junzo Nagai and Miss Hisa Kitabara, appeared and registered their marriage at the Orange County Courthouse.  Back on the farm, their friends in a Japanese-style feast blessed the two couples.  One year later, on 4/12/1913, Shunji Hasegawa and Miss Tomo Morohashi married.’[2]

    ‘Some men on the farm, such as Sataro Kondo, were already married.  Because of the uncertainty of the colonization scheme, however, Kondo had left his wife, Fumi, and their three children in Japan, and it was four years before he sent for them.  After finally coming to Texas, Fumi Kondo eventually gave birth to six more children.’[1]

    ‘Though considered large by today's standards, the Kondo family with its nine children was not unusually large for Japanese Texans in the early decades of the century; therefore, child raising occupied much time in the lives of the women.  Although they worked in the fields when necessary, most of the women in the Kishi colony had more than enough to do without that added burden.  Besides taking care of their own homes, the out-numbered women often cooked for the bachelors.  Luckily for the women, however, many bachelors lived far enough away to make mealtime visits infrequent.  During the harvest season, however, when farm work was more on a cooperative basis and when extra hands were hired, the women often did multiple duties.  They had to prepare one meal for the Japanese workers and then other meals to match the ethnic tastes of other workers, including Mexican Americans, Afro-Americans, Anglo-Americans and later even some French Americans.’[1]

    Once someone fired a shotgun at the living quarters of the Afro-American workers.  Kishi purchased a revolver and went to the neighbors to show them his firearm and told them “if anyone harms his workers, he would use this.”  No one bothered his workers again.  It is interesting that he purchased a revolver when he already had a Colt 38 automatic as his personal firearm from the Russo-Japanese War.  Perhaps he thought that Texans understood revolvers better.

    ‘Late in the 1910’s the Ku Klux Klan revived in Orange County as in other parts of the nation, but Kishi’s Japanese colony was not their target.  One day Kishi was walking a street of Orange when Klansmen appeared to hand an envelope to him.  It contained a letter informing him that they were not interested in him or his Japanese Colony.’[2]

    ‘At the center of much of this activity in the Kishi colony was Kichimatsu's wife, Fuji.  Life for Fuji had changed drastically when she came to Texas.  No longer available were many of the luxuries she once took for granted.  Gone were her elaborate coiffures, and left behind in Japan was her koto, a large, stringed musical instrument too delicate and unwieldy to make the journey to Texas safely.  In its place was a Singer sewing machine with which Fuji soon became as comfortable as she once had been with her beloved koto.’[1]

    ‘Whenever she had time, Fuji enjoyed telling her children the same Japanese fairy tales her mother had once told her.  She also gave her children lessons in reading and writing Japanese, which is what the family spoke with one another.  But Kichimatsu, who learned English from a private tutor in Tokyo, insisted that his son and daughter speak English outside the home.  He wanted them to master both English and Japanese as he had done.  With this dual emphasis the Kishi children, like many of their young counterparts in the European immigrant community, grew up with one foot firmly planted in each of two cultures.’[1]

    ‘At times, however, simply growing to adulthood was a hard task for many of these children.  A visit to the Kishi colony cemetery readily attests to this; children or young infants are buried in more than one-third of the 20 graves.  But dangers existed for adults too.  The first to be buried in the cemetery was 24-year-old Tomihachi Toba, who died in 1910 after falling from the disk harrow he was operating.  Four years later, in 1914, another Japanese man drowned when a creek overflowed.  When a hurricane hit and flooded the area in 1915, no one drowned, but Taro Kishi still vividly recalls nailing boards together to make a raft, which he used to escape to higher ground.  The main casualty of the flooding was the colony's rice crop, one-fifth of which was destroyed.  Because all rice farmers on the coast were affected, though, the resulting decrease in the supply of rice in the marketplace drove rice prices up, enabling the Kishi farm to recoup its losses.’[1]

    ‘Kishi’s introduction of the camphor laurel tree is appreciated by local citizens as “a decorative contribution to the Texas coast.”  He brought over its stones from Japan in his trip of 1911-1912.  One of them was planted in front of the house where Kyojiro Moriyama and his wife were living.  This “yellow house”, built in 1908, became the Kishi residence in 1923 after a fire burned down Kishi’s main house, warehouse, and barns on the “old farm.”  Other camphor trees were planted near Toraichi Kishi’s house on Mansfield Ferry Road, the southern border of the colony.   These have been registered by the Texas Forest Service as the largest living specimen of a camphor laurel tree in the state.  While planting those stones, Toraichi said to his nine-year-old cousin Taro that, “things like that live long after human life is gone.”  The trees, with dark green, aromatic, oval-shaped leaves still stand today and form a canopy over FM 105.’[2]

The 'Old Farm' was original site of Kishi's resident until it burned down in 1923.
The 'Yellow House' became the Kishi residence after the fire in 1923. The derrick is not an oil well. It was used to drill over 700 feet to very good quality fresh water. The camphor and pine trees are not yet evident. An irrigation canal was later built between this viewpoint and the houses.

Conversion to Truck Farming

Discovery of Oil
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto
K. Kishi versus Humble Oil and Refining Company

Colony Management

The Terry Community

    ‘The ten-year period of growth in the population of Terry following World War I was not just because of the colony's farming success but was also directly due to Kishi's attempts to make Terry an attractive community in which to live.  In 1924, adding to the town's post office, train depot, store and schoolhouse, Kishi built a small white church on three acres of land he donated.  Kishi footed the $1,800 bill for the church and paid half the pastor's salary when he came to preach once a month.  Sunday school teachers and others in town on church business regularly stayed at the Kishi home, and Kichimatsu himself taught Sunday school for those Japanese who spoke little English.’[1,3]  ‘Kishi was a devout Buddhist. Kishi once said that “there was hardly and difference at all between Buddhism and Christianity, as far as doing good was concerned. ” He said at another time that, “Man without God in his heart cannot attain the full measure of his service to mankind.” (Cleta K.T. Evans to Orii, 10/3/1982)’[2]
   ‘Although some older colonists remained Buddhists, many of their children became Christians.  Sataro Kondo, for example, told his son Sakichi “for you who are young, maybe it is good to change.  But for me, there is only the old way. I cannot change.” Kishi was another example.  He once told Miss Kennedy that, “he would always be Buddhist, but the children were Americans and should be taught Christianity to become good Americans.”  This created little conflict in the community, however, since the teachings of Buddha do not preclude a belief in other religions.  A Buddhist alter with a scroll picture of Buddha and a porcelain figurine of Kwannon, goddess of compassion, still remains in the family.  (Orii, 1983, Tomlinson, 144; Wingate, 334; OCHC, “Kishi Colony,” 10-11; Cleta K.T. Evans to Orii)’[2,3]

    ‘Kichimatsu Kishi's philanthropic activities included the sponsoring of a kindergarten class, which was held at the church four days a week, and the deeding of more than seven acres of land in 1928 for a school in nearby Orange field.  Kishi also cooperated with the county home demonstration agent, Susie Thompson, when she organized an agricultural club for the children of Terry.  Meetings every other Saturday included group singing of patriotic songs and the telling of stories about Texas history.  The children were also taught sewing, gardening, and canning and preserving of foods.  These skills were put to use by club members in Orange County Fair competitions, and on several occasions Japanese children won ribbons.  Kishi's participation in local affairs and his charitable contributions went a long way toward defusing the potential animosity or prejudice some people might have harbored against the Japanese because of their success.’[1]

Kishi Colony residents and minister posed on porch of the Terry Methodist Chapel, ca. late 1920's [The UT Institute of Texan Cultures at San Antonio, courtesy of J. Nagai Family]

Far left: Yochi Kishi and Tokuzo Hirasaki
Far right: Toki Kishi, Taro Kishi, Mr. Merkel
Second from left on front row: Frances Haven; man in center of front row: Rev. Ben Bering
Starting from fifth in middle row: Fumi Kishi, Teri Matsucha, and Ai Kishi

Financial Distress

Contribution to the Japanese-Soviet Petroleum Company

World War II

    Following Peal Harbor, Kishi did not wait to be ‘rounded up.’  On the Monday after Pear Harbor, he and Kaname Susuki, president of the Orange Petroleum Company, showed their loyalty by offering themselves to the FBI in Port Arthur.[1]  He spent two months of internment at Camp Kenedy, before he was able to have a hearing before a board headed by Steve M. King, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas.[2]  When asked, “If he was ordered by the Emperor to bomb the oil refinery in Port Arthur, would he do so?”  His reply was, “First, I am a farmer and businessman and know nothing about explosives.  Suppose I was adopted into another family and my biological parent ordered me to harm my adopted family.  I can not do so.”  The U.S. Attorney told his son Taro that Kishi answered the questions magnificently.  The family had to surrender firearms and cameras but otherwise were free.


    Fuji Kishi died in 1951, Kichimatsu five years later.  Taro Kishi farmed until 1969, then became a landscape architect.  His sister, Toki, reared six children with her husband, Tokuzo Hirasaki, who continued to farm rice on the land formerly owned by Kishi. They are all buried in the Kishi Cemetery.

    ‘Kichimatsu Kishi’s younger brother, Hachitaro and his family moved to the Harlingen area of the Lower Rio Grande Valley in 1931.  He and Moto had seven children, but two died soon after birth.  Norman Yoichi, George, and Jimmie served in the U.S. Army.  Fumi worked in New York City where she married Henry Masuda on 2/22/1941.  Her younger sister, Ai followed her in 1938.’[2]

    Junzo Nagai, Kishi’s personal secretary, and his wife, Hisa, raised two boys, Ken and Kanji who served in the U.S. Army during World War II and four girls, Fusa, Mutsu, Kiyo and Shige.  Members of the family live in Vidor, Houston, and Lampsas, Texas.

    Sataro and Fumi Kondo moved with their large family to Maricopa County, Arizona.  In 1931 they returned to Orangefield and then to Fannett in 1936.  They reared four sons, Sakichi, Shunji, Kihei and Shohei, and five daughters, Mary, Minnie, Kiyo, Fuji and Taka.  Kiyo died at the age of 11.  Fuji and Taka went to Japan for marriage.  Kiyo, Fumi and Sataro are buried in the Kishi Cemetery.

    ‘Minoru Okabayashi migrated from California in the 1920s.  He left for Houston before long and engaged in truck farming.’[2]

    ‘F. S. Otsuki and Kumazo Tanamachi lost two of their children, Harumi and Robert Christian at Terry.  The family moved to the Rio Grande Valley.  Their son, Saburo was killed in action with the 442nd Regiment and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.’[2]

    ‘The town of Terry no longer exists.  The train station was near the intersection of FM 1135 and the Southern Pacific Railroad track.  Although a few old buildings mark the spot of the once-thriving community, landmarks such as the chapel are gone.  In the mid-1940's Kishi's church was torn down and its bell and lumber used to build the Saint Paul’s Methodist church in Bridge City.  On October 3, 1982, however, the efforts of the Kishi colonists were recognized when an official Texas historical marker at the site of the old colony was dedicated.’[1]  This marker is near the intersection of FM 1135 and Kishi’s irrigation canal.


1. Walls, Thomas K. (1987) The Japanese Texans, San Antonio: University of Texas, Institute of Texan Cultures at San Antonio, 1996.

2. Orii, K. (1983) Kichimatsu Kishi’s Japanese Colony at Terry, Texas, Department of History, University of Pennsylvania.

3. Wingate, G. (1974) “The Kishi Colony,” in The Folklore of Texan Cultures, Abernethy, F. E., ed. The Encino Press, Austin.

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