A garden grows in Nihonmachi, just off a Jackson Street alley sandwiched between Kaname Izakaya Restaurant and Tiger Tiger Tattoo. Small, simple and sculpted with a wood deck and a wooden slats fence, it represents the resilience of Seattle’s Japanese and Japanese American community.
The small plot once served the Murakami family, who lived and worked in the adjacent Jackson Building. You might know the story of the Murakami’s Higo Variety Store: how it sold life’s essentials to a thriving Japanese community in a bustling Japantown neighborhood; how it was boarded up during the Japanese incarceration of World War II; and how it returned post-war for locals who wanted nothing but to rebuild and return to ordinary life. KOBO at Higo, the retail shop and art gallery, now occupies the longtime five-and-dime. But inside the business stands an exhibit with Murakami family photos and personal items, including the luggage family members carried to the Minidoka internment camp.
Seattle’s Japantown now also includes Chiyo’s Garden, named after the second-oldest Murakami daughter who died from tuberculosis in 1937. She was only 22. She and the Murakami family lived in the Jackson Building, a building Sanzo Murakami, in fact, helped build. The family resided above their Higo Variety Store, and through a window Chiyo Murakami would have stared out at this plot of land. The river rocks, a stone lantern, the Daphne and ornamental grasses are new additions for Chiyo’s Garden, a community restoration project by the Wing Luke Museum, the Murakami family and KOBO at Higo that opened this year. But the garden’s Japanese pear tree dates all the way back one century plus, still bearing round crisp fruit in late summer and early fall, its roots refusing to surrender because this patch of dirt is home.
Below: A vision for the garden imagined in watercolor. Four wooden sculptures, representing the four Murakami children, would be painted with traditional kimono patterns and placed around the pear tree. The red sculpture represents Chiyo. The frog or Kaeru echoes the original that hung on the Higo storefront sign. Watercolor courtesy of the Wing Luke Museum. | Chiyo’s Garden in full bloom, September 2017. Photo by Matt Chan and Andre Chow.