Audio recording of interview with Art Koura - abridged

Dublin Core


Audio recording of interview with Art Koura - abridged


Bainbridge Island (Wash.)--History
Japanese Americans--Washington (State)
Yama Project


Recording at end of record under Files.

Art grew up on Bainbridge. He and his family were/are integral to Bainbridge Island.

The interview concerns the history of Art’s family in Japan before they immigrated to the U.S. The interview then focuses on the family’s history on Bainbridge and their farming. It includes details about the Japanese farms and the history of Bainbridge. Art discusses World War II incarceration and Art and his family’s post war return to Bainbridge Island.

Recording quality: Good


Tanaka, Stefan


Digitized to a master raw uncompressed WAV file with the resolution of 96,000 hz at 24 bits. Access copy MP3 file of 44,100 hz at 16 bits with reasonable enhancements made for intelligibility.


Olympic College Libraries




Vernon & Associates, Court Reporters, LLC, transcription
Hartse, Caroline, edits & revisions
Krattiger, Angela, edits & revisions
Crabbe, Jocelyn, digital editing


Olympic College Libraries. Rights Reserved.






Oral History



Oral History Item Type Metadata

Original Format

Audio cassette tape. On bottom of case is typewritten ART KOURA Pt 1 27 May 76. No writing on either side of the cassette. Cassette is a D*C60 TDK. Note: Date and name match with what is in Tanaka's thesis (p. 140) with the exception that the person listed is Arther Koura and with added information Bainbridge Island, Washington.



Bit Rate/Frequency

44,100 hz at 16 bits


Title: Art Koura Interview

Interviewee: Art Koura (AK) and Florence (Flo) Yoshitake Koura (FYK)
Interviewer: Stefan Tanaka (ST)
Location: Bainbridge Island
Date: May 27, 1976

ST: Did your father ever say why you came to the United States?
AK: He was here. My brother was here in Washington.
FYK: Was it in Washington he was here?
AK: Yeah.
ST: Was he working at the sawmill?
AK: Yeah, he’s always talked to me about his working in shingle mills.
ST: Oh, he was a shingle worker?
AK: Yeah, that’s -- and practically all Issei was --
FYK: Worked on the railroad.
AK: -- railroad track, railroads and shingle mill, farms, Alaska.
AK: Well, getting back to this, I myself was very fortunate because I had grandparents beside my mom and dad.
ST: Okay, so your grandparents were Issei and your mom and dad were Issei also.
AK: Issei also.
AK: The reason I brought up grandparents and parents is I don’t -- that was kind of unusual for Nisei to have their parents were Issei in the States and also grandparents living together.
ST: It is. I do think it’s kind of important because it tells you something about why people migrated to the United States. Or it also tells you a little bit more about the family cohesiveness. Like the story is that when Japanese or immigrants come to the United States and they no longer have extended families, they just have nuclear families, and this is different. And so I think this is kind of important.
FYK: His grandfather came to Canada in 1889.
AK: Yeah, my grandfather.
FYK: Your grandfather.
ST: Okay. And then -- 1889?
FYK: And then -- 1889 to Canada. And then his grandmother, the one we’re talking about, the one who married this grandpa came to Hawaii in 1890. And then his dad came to America in 1906.
ST: Okay.
FYK: And his mother came to America in 1914.
ST: Was she a picture bride?
FYK: Well --
ST: Or was it a family arrangement?
FYK: It’s a family arrangement because, see, Grandma arranged it for her to come over from Japan to be bride to this Yoshi they got.
ST: Okay. So it wasn’t really a picture bride then?
FYK: No, it’s a family arrangement. They were married in 1916.
ST: Wow. Okay, then what did your grandfather do when he first arrived in Canada, and then how did he end up in Seattle?
FYK: I don’t have that information. I don’t know what he did.
AK: Well --
AK: He became -- he was -- Grandpa was a frail type of a man, and he was -- started as a houseboy from Dr. Mandot, and he was a dentist. And by the time the marriage and everything was completed, I know they tried various things before they came to Bainbridge.

FYK: They came to Bainbridge in 1920.
FYK: Your grandma came to the (Inaudible) --
AK: (Inaudible) well, no, no.
FYK: -- to the mainland from Hawaii.
AK: -- to -- from Hawaii to --
FYK: I think she was still in her teens or something when she came to the mainland. I think she was about sixteen or seventeen when she went to Hawaii, something like that.
AK: Yeah, my grandpa was unusual. In fact, when we were farming, Grandma and Mom and -- were always cooking for us, we were always in and out trying to run this farm here. And people would call up to order for berries or different people call up for different things. And Grandma spoke such good English that they didn’t even know she was Japanese.
ST: Oh, really?
AK: Yeah, she’s --
FYK: Yeah.
AK: She couldn’t read or write.
FYK: She came to the States so young.
AK: But she had perfect English. She was really unusually -- everybody loved her.
AK: (Inaudible) spoke very little English. He was a very religious man, a very frail type of man. My dad and my mom spoke English, but nowhere near as good as my grandma. When I grew up, I had four Issei telling me what to do and everything. It was really unusual, you know.
I have five brothers and sisters. Six of us grew up together on Bainbridge, very close family. I think I’m fortunate in my mother and dad were fortunate, too, that we all grew up and still live in this one area here except one brother.
AK: Yeah, three generations live together right here. So we have -- Grandpa died, he was one of the first ones to die at a relocation camp . So after the war it was Grandma, Mom and Dad, Flo and I.
FYK: And our two kids.
AK: What I’m trying to get at, Steph, is that we were very happy, you know, always been happy, and consider ourselves to be lucky even if we did have evacuation, hardship, separation. Probably our biggest sorrow was when we were evacuated.
The government gave us ten days to leave our belongings here, our farm and everything. And we were fortunate that we had the man who owned the property, who we were buying the property from, moved up here.
ST: Oh, so you left it in their name, so you just kind of had an informal agreement that you would pay for the property and pay the taxes and he would keep it in his name?
AK: As it turned out, we deferred our payments, our yearly payments. And I had to renegotiate another mortgage when I came back because, like you say, there’s taxes involved that we didn’t pay. There was some new fields that he planted that we should not be involved in. And there was a little disappointment in Mr. Raber because he did not think that we would come back.
And many Hakujin people did not have any thought of that Nihongo come back to Bainbridge. Other families who had no close ties with the owner of the -- see, we were buying it, but our -- the owner who was buying it from -- we were buying from lived right close by. Other farmers had to leave it with a Filipino family.
AK: So every family had their own problems when they came back. We had our problems, too. In other words, we want to come back; the people who had -- that we were buying a property from, we had title to -- we had title to twenty acres; that was ours free and clear, so.
ST: Was it in you and your brother’s name?
AK: Uh huh.
ST: I see.
AK: It could have been any other -- I mean my parents name because they were non-citizens then.
AK: The property that we were buying on the mortgage was 80 acres.
ST: 80 acres?
AK: And we bought outright before the war, we had twenty acres that was deeded in our name already.
ST: How was the 80 acres deeded?
AK: Well, the 80 acre was the purchase by -- most of the property was in my name, AY Koura. If you look in the old Metsker Maps it’s listed as AY Koura because I was the oldest and I was the only one that -- I mean Mom and Dad didn’t -- couldn’t have legal rights to the property, so we were buying it under my name originally.
And then I came back and negotiated with Mr. Raber. It was a difficult time. He was like a second father to me. But that was the only reason I volunteered was so I could come back. And so he greeted me like a son, you might say, that came back from the war. But when it came to the -- he was hoping that we would sell our -- I mean he would buy us out is the way he was hoping it would happen.
But it didn’t happen that way because I definitely wanted to come back to the farm. So as it turned out, my attorney friend came with me. Not to force him or anything, but to show what legal rights we had. I think there was a discussion in our family, too, at that time that Dad was in favor of selling out.
In fact, Mr. Raber brought that up again, that if we went that way that things would have been different. I also told Mr. Raber that if he continued to farm this place, he might have gone bankrupt because it wasn’t that easy to farm. During the war time when anything you raised it was like gold.
ST: Right.
AK: Whereas after the war, it was -- even for us experienced farmers it was like a big struggle, you know?
ST: I see. I mean you had the 80 that you were starting to clear or whatever?
AK: Out of the 80 there was twenty, 30, 40, 50 -- at first Mr. Raber gave us the opportunity to come up here the year I graduated -- no, the year before, but we didn’t move up here until -- let’s see, 1936 we were farming in Winslow. And Mr. Raber had all this vacant land up here, and he said he was going to clear ten acres of very marginal land. I guess (Inaudible) didn’t want that.
So, we came up and raised berries on that one piece. And then -- see, you plant berries in one year, and then you don’t harvest it till next year, so.
ST: Yeah.
AK: We got our first harvest in 1937. And we completely divorced ourself from where we were raising berries in Winslow.
ST: I see. Where were you raising berries in Winslow?
AK: You know where the library and the Catholic church is?
ST: What part of the—where Paul Sakai is at?
AK: Well, Paul Sakai is -- he raised strawberries where the shops, realty is?
ST: Yeah, yeah.
AK: That was Sakai berry farm. There was a ten acre field there. And then they -- after Paul graduated out of school, they bought a piece of property where Commodore Bainbridge School is now. And we raised strawberries where the Catholic church is today.

ST: Okay, so that’s just across the street from Commodore, or from the junior high school.
AK: We were -- all the Japanese were fairly close together there. And then where the library and snack shop is was our berry field. And it ran down to part of where the shopping center is today.
ST: So how many acres did you have there then?
[Tape/Interview stops for a few seconds): 30:26 to 0:30:32]

AK: So when we moved up here, Mr. Raber built this house for us with the help of Japanese friends and us young boys, you know, built this house. So we were very fortunate we came up here. Mr. Raber said that we could rent this. He would build a house for us and we could pay him $15 a year rent.
Just before New Years, Christmas, before Christmas, in fact, I went down to Mr. Raber’s home, which is right below the hill here, to pay our year’s rent. And he took a liking to me and he made a remark that said you people are not getting anywhere paying rent. Just like (Inaudible) talking real estate today. If you pay rent you don’t have any equity.
ST: Yeah, it’s true.
AK: So he said he would like to -- he said why don’t you buy that farm, you know, up here? And he said -- I said with what? Even then I knew that you had to have some kind of a down payment.
ST: Yeah, exactly.
AK: So Mr. Raber said he will sign a real estate contract, I think the interest was about three percent. I think it was three; maybe it was five, I don’t know. And we could pay him the $1,500 a year on this real estate contract for $15,000 and paid interest. So we’d have to just work a little harder to pay for the interest, right?
ST: Yeah.
AK: So we were getting -- he really gave us a break, you know? I mean for him to even suggest this was -- I don’t know what was in his mind, that this was a burden on him or what. Of course we had to pay the taxes and all.
ST: Yeah.
AK: There was 80 acres involved and this house, and he was willing to write a real estate contract for $15,000. That was in 1938.
ST: But you already had the twenty acres?
AK: No, that was before we had the twenty acres.
ST: This contract was before? This contract for the 80 acres was before you had the twenty acres?
AK: Well, that I am not too sure. But that twenty acres was -- it had to be after because I remember we barely had enough money to, you know, $1,500.
ST: Uh huh, okay.
AK: But we -- it was sure funny when we started farming up here. I told -- we kept telling -- my brother and I, you know, by then he -- see, my brother graduated in ’38, so by then it was my brother and I and Dad were working up here full time. And working with a horse was really miserable, you know? So we kept telling Dad, we said we should get a tractor to cultivate up and down these hills, you know, and do the plowing and so forth.
And Dad says the strawberries won’t grow if you use a tractor because your wheel will pack the soil, which was true, you know? But with tagalong type equipment you’d break it up again. But he said no, it’ll pack the under soil and we’ll never be able to raise the kind of strawberry that you can with a horse. So he was stubborn. And then one day Dad and I were up in the barn together and Mr. Raber visited us. And before he came in -- and I think I told Mr. Raber that my stubborn dad wouldn’t consider, you know, buying a tractor. I think I asked him to ask, you know, ask him that.
See, without saying anything, you know, I -- Mr. Raber says I think, Mr. Koura, you need a tractor now. And he said I think so. God, I darn near, you know, I was careening the old horse down. And that was the beginning of tractors. That’s what made us, you know, being able to farm with a tractor.

FYK: I still remember you going around the raspberries with (Inaudible), going down the --
AK: I had a smart horse (Inaudible) at 12:00 I had two more rows to cultivate so I didn’t have to, you know, bring it back after lunch. He wanted to go home, but I just hated the horse. I still hate horses.
FYK: That’s why you won’t let _ have a horse.
AK: Yeah.
ST: Had its own mind.
AK: But I mean I just -- if you work with a horse, try to farm with a horse, you begin to realize how much of a slave you are. And that’s what it was to us, where you can sit on a tractor and do your work, you know, five, ten times faster --
ST: Yeah, yeah.
AK: -- without getting tired.
ST: So --
AK: And then when we got the tractor, we had to kind of spread our responsibility. And Nobe was a better driver, so he became responsible for all our tractor work. And just in emergency is why I would take over. So that was the beginning. And we kept getting bigger and bigger and more responsibility, and then we got ulcers where we kept on going. We had to get more pickers and we were very, very fortunate.
ST: So if -- did your -- did your father ever work at the Port Blakely Mill? Or he came after that, and so when he came -- as soon as he came to Bainbridge Island did he start farming? Did he start strawberry farming --
AK: No.
ST: -- in 1938?
AK: That’s another story, too. Mom and -- I mean Grandpa and Grandma – Frail as Grandpa was the Furukawa family convinced them that they could come to Bainbridge, and within a few years make enough money to go back to Japan. And they came over and started farming and --
ST: Did they farm -- did Furukawas give them land or did he just (Inaudible)?
AK: Well, (Inaudible) part of it. That was what I’m talking about by the cafes and churches today. This is the way Dad told me one time, that Grandpa and Grandma couldn’t make it. And I think Dad had a laundry in Seattle, wasn’t it?
FYK: Yeah, I think so.
AK: Either a laundry or restaurant. He tried everything in Seattle.
FYK: Yeah, laundry and restaurant, both they tried.
AK: And either one of those he was operating or had interest in. And then (Inaudible) was having such a tough time over here, they sold their business; picked me up; I was the only one born at the time, and arrived in Bainbridge Island in 1920 because I was born in 1918, so I was two years old when I came over here.
And the rest of the family, they were born after. They were -- after they started farming, you know, my five brothers and sisters.

ST: So then your whole family, from your grandfather and grandmother on down to you were farming at Winslow strawberries?
AK: I wasn’t farming, I was still away at school.
ST: All right. So the family was doing all the farming?
AK: Uh huh.
ST: How did -- did you ever find out who got the land for your grandfather or how he got it, whose name it was in, or --?
AK: No. Mr. Eastman was the owner of the property.
FYK: Was that Bob Eastman?
AK: I don’t know. I know he was -- he must have been -- I think he was Catholic. I remember somebody mentioned Catholic. That’s why the Catholic church is there, I think. Anyway, my grandparents or my dad, I don’t know who, was responsible for signing their name or getting -- whether they had it on paper or just word of mouth.
But if they cleared an acre of land, everything was done with horses then. If Dad and (Inaudible?) cleared an acre of land, Mr. Eastman would give him seven years of free rent.
ST: I see.
AK: And then after seven years they have to pay rent. So they were clearing an acre here and then extending it little by little. That’s how they raised six of us kids over there.
ST: So it was kind of -- it was probably an informal agreement because --
AK: I really don’t know. I don’t know whether they had a written agreement or something.
ST: And then you went to Bainbridge -- what was it, Franklin Elementary School?
AK: No, Bainbridge High School. Well --
ST: The elementary school?
AK: -- you mean the --
ST: You were at the Bainbridge High School. How about elementary school? Did you go to Seattle?
AK: No, there was an elementary school in Winslow --
ST: I see.
AK: -- called the -- it was at that time called Winslow school because it had grades from one to twelve. And then when the high school was built around 1932 or so, all the people of high school age from all of Bainbridge ended up at that big building that burned down.
ST: Yeah, just burned down last summer.
AK: And they had area grade schools one to six, one in Winslow, one in Uniondale, there’s one in Pleasant Beach, there was one up here at Port Madison.
ST: So -- well, did you like learn Judo and go to the Japanese Association (Inaudible)?
AK: We were -- that’s one thing Isseis felt they had to -- I think they must have thought that someday they might have to take all their family back to Japan, maybe. But I don’t know why, but every family, whether they had before they scraped up the money to hire a Japanese schoolteacher, but there was a Japanese hall that was built by volunteer help and work and everything. And we all went to Japanese school.
Whether we learned anything, that was a big if, especially young boys. Like if they turn out for baseball, they couldn’t show up for class during the springtime, and so on down the line, basketball or football.
ST: Yeah.
AK: So we didn’t learn anything. The girls certainly learned a lot. And Judo, I got started, how, I really don’t know. But all of a sudden, every Issei family wanted their -- they didn’t have a chance to have this time for recreation and so forth to and really our parents, I think went overboard trying to have a son who excelled in Judo. To them that was part of the old country, you know?
ST: Oh, I see. Were you a member of the Berry Growers Association?
AK: Yeah, we -- every Japanese family was a member of the Berry Growers Association. I think from about -- as far as Issei goes, I think there was some Takayoshis, some Hayashida and Sam Nakao and myself, they start relying a little more on Nisei to become officers.
ST: What was the function in the Berry Growers Association?
AK: I would say just assist (Inaudible) in having cooperation from all the Japanese farmers.
ST: I see.
ST: How often did the Nihonjankai meet, the Japanese Association? Was it (Inaudible)?
AK: Well, Mom did say something about that.
FYK: She didn’t say anything about how often they met there. She just said that Dad was president for so many years, about four years, four or five years or something.
AK: No, just prior to this evacuation time. No, wait a minute; maybe not. But --
FYK: Before that.
AK: -- anybody who was at one time an officer of this Nihonjinkai were suspected as being spies because they were called Japanese Chamber of Commerce or something like that, you know? If you --
FYK: Nihonjinkai is Japanese Chamber of Commerce.
AK: -- Japanese Chamber of Commerce. And they had their gatherings, their picnics; had nothing to do with the Berry Growers Association because they didn’t have -- the Japanese Chamber of Commerce included other types of people, you know, there were schoolteachers, there were people who raised -- had greenhouses, other types of people on the island. So these officers were suspected, so they were interned, you know, not -- they were interned before the evacuation.

Arnold Raber
Thor Madayag
Maldur Flodin
Japanese Association
Japanese Hall
R.D. Bodle
Berry Growers Association
John Nakata
FBI arrests
Ed Stacker
Bainbridge Gardens
Masajiro Furuya

inter-ethnic relations and conflicts


Tanaka, Stefan


Koura, Art


Tanaka, Stefan, “Audio recording of interview with Art Koura - abridged,” Olympic College Libraries Digital Archives, accessed June 24, 2024,