Photo courtesy of National Archives
HistoryLink.org Essay 1058 : Printer-Friendly Format
Although Seattle's Chinatown-International District has been disrupted several times by the suppression of the Asian American community, it has persisted as an important neighborhood for new immigrants and their American-born descendants. It is located southeast of Pioneer Square and due south of the central business district. The International District's character derives from entrepreneurs of various Asian backgrounds and the community's strong family ties. Its diverse ethnic restaurants and shops attract tourists as well as locals.
The initial Chinese settlers were evicted from Seattle in 1886, but by 1889 the Chinese population had rebounded to about 350. Chin Gee Hee built one of the first brick structures to rise from the ashes of the Great Fire of that year, at 208-210 S Washington Street. His Quong Tuck Co. supplied workers for railroads and mines while selling goods to local Chinese residents. In 1909, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition celebrated the growing importance of Asian trade to Seattle. Still, this did not assure that the racist violence of the 1880s would not be repeated against the Chinese and the growing number of Japanese and Filipino immigrants.
Video courtesy of Youtube
Video courtesy of Youtube
Photo courtesy of Oscar Holden
For half a century, Japantown thrived with bathhouses, dry goods stores, tailors and barber shops. This all changed, following the attacks on Pearl Harbor, when Executive Order 9066 forced residents of Japanese descent to leave their homes, businesses and communities and enter ramshackle internment camps. More than 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, including adults and children, immigrants and citizens alike, were incarcerated. This compelling history has recently caught the public’s imagination with the best-selling novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. The book features the century-old Panama Hotel where, today, locals meet to sip fragrant teas.
Although Nihonmachi never returned to what it once was, its presence can still be felt today. The area is lined with other historic buildings, restored by the descendants of some of the original property owners. Together with other community-minded business owners, they have spurred a revitalization effort to continue its distinct cultural essence. Kobo has moved into the former Higo Variety Store, retaining the spirit of Nihonmachi through its shop and gallery, which features artists of the Pacific Northwest and Japan. The NP Hotel was restored and the new Nihonmachi Terrace built to house families and elders. Restaurants dot the area, featuring tatami rooms and sushi bars to enjoy traditional and contemporary Japanese cuisine.
For picture of Japantown, click here.