The Kishi Colony was one of at least three small Japanese settlements established on the Texas coastal plains during the early twentieth century. The community, about ten miles east of Beaumont in central Orange County, was founded by Kichimatsu Kishi, a veteran of the Russo-Japanese War and a graduate of the University of Tokyo. Anxious to get land of his own, Kishi moved to the United States in 1906 and visited California, the Carolinas, and Mississippi before deciding upon the Orange County site. Borrowing heavily, he secured a tract in 1907. The following year he and several fellow Japanese immigrants planted their first rice crops. Several, including Kishi, brought their families to the United States, and the Japanese colony at Kishi eventually included thirty-two men, five women, and four children.
The new settlers faced severe problems in their daring enterprise. The dredging of the Sabine River (see SABINE-NECHES WATERWAY) allowed salt water to infiltrate Cow Bayou and thereby ruin their irrigated rice crops. The general collapse of the rice market in 1920 led the colonists to turn to truck farming in an attempt to pay off their loans. With the new emphasis also came a number of Hispanic and Cajun laborers. Kishi also sought to diversify through cattle raising and oil exploration. Despite such efforts, the Great Depression led to the Kishi Colony's final collapse, when the settlers were unable to pay off their mortgages.
While refusing to forget their traditional ways, the Kishi colonists adapted to their new culture well. They built a school and church, and several of their descendants fought for their new country during World War II. A few of the former immigrants remained in Southeast Texas, and many of their descendants still live in the area.
The colony's founder, Kichimatsu Kishi, died in 1956. A Texas Historical Commission marker was dedicated on Farm Road 1135 seven miles southeast of Vidor on October 3, 1982, in honor of the efforts of Kishi and his fellow immigrants.