In the early 1900s, Japantown (Nihonmachi) stretched from 4th Avenue South to 23rd Avenue South, a bustling enclave of family homes and independently owned shops, grocery stores and entertainment venues. In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor came Executive Order 9066 in 1942, which forced all persons of Japanese ancestry into concentration camps – Nihonmachi never fully recovered.
Nihonmachi Alley is located on the north side of Jackson Street between 6th and Maynard Avenues。 It features murals of four landmark businesses that undauntedly continued upon the families returning from incarceration: Kokusai Theatre, Maneki Restaurant, Sagamiya Confectionary and Uwajimaya Grocers。
The murals in Nihonmachi Alley are a collaborative effort between Friends of Japantown and local Japanese artist Amy Nikaitani. In this space, history meets art to invite you to explore the often unseen community treasures in Japantown: Chiyo’s Garden, Danny Woo Community Garden and Kobe Terrace.
Originally called the Atlas Theatre, the movie house located on Maynard and Jackson was founded in 1918 by a benshi (silent film narrator) to show Japanese films. After incarceration, the Kitamura Family took over, and in the 1960s renamed it the Kokusai Theatre. Kokusaí means international, and the cinema lived up to its name showing Japanese, Chinese and Filipino films. The theatre was one of the few places audiences could view Asian actors playing heroes and in leading roles. The entire family, including the children, worked at the theatre, taking breaks in shifts at Tai Tung restaurant down the street. A labor of love, the Kitamura children closed the theatre only after their mother passed away in the late 1980s.
Opened in 1904 at 6th and Washington, the original building resembled a three-story Japanese castle, seated up to 500 people, and was a popular location for weddings, funerals and visiting dignitaries. Local history says Takeo Miki, who went on to serve as Japan’s Prime Minister from 1974-76, was employed as a dishwasher here during his college days at the University of Washington. After World War II, the restaurant moved to 6th and Main, where Maneki continues to be a popular destination under the ownership of Jean Nakayama. In 2008, the James Beard Foundation recognized the Asian comfort food with an America’s Classic award. Today, Maneki is recognized as Seattle’s longest-standing Japanese restaurant with the first sushi bar, tatami rooms and karaoke.
Sagamiya Confectionary opened in 1900, named after Unosuke and Take Shibata’s hometown, Sagami. From the corner of 5th and Main, the scent of mochi and senbei enticed the neighborhood. This little shop gained global attention during the 1909 World’s Fair, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, where Sagamiya was given an award for their traditional rice-based treat. When Take retired to Japan, she left the business to her nephew and his wife. Partnering with his cousins, they expanded Sagamiya to offer stationery, books, magazines and a soda machine. The windows often displayed local pride, such as the year’s biggest salmon and largest matsutake mushroom. Sagamiya reopened after the War, delivering its beloved sweets for another three decades, finally closing in 1978.
幸运快3 Fujimatsu and Sadako Moriguchi started Uwajimaya in 1928, selling fishcakes and other Japanese staples out of the back of a truck in Tacoma, Washington. After the incarceration, they opened their first store at 4th and Main, adding imported gifts and food from Japan so local Japanese families could prepare traditional dishes. Fujimatsu seized the opportunity to host a kiosk at the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle and introduced his offerings to a wider audience. He died shortly after, never to witness the results of his efforts as his stores gained popularity in the Pacific Northwest. Since then, the specialty supermarket has moved twice within the neighborhood, ultimately establishing its flagship store at 6th and Weller in 2000.
About the Artist: Amy Nikaitani
Although Amy Nikaitani only more recently moved to the Chinatown-International District, settling into senior housing on Yesler Way in 2008, she is no stranger to the neighborhood。 Born in 1923, Nikaitani took her first breath in an area hotel。 In the 1980s, she would spend time once again among the storefronts and hotels here, drawing elevation views not from photographs but directly from the buildings themselves。
Nikaitani moved to Kent when she was five years old and graduated from Kent Senior High School in 1941. Although her high school did not have an art teacher, Nikaitani drew figures of people on her own, a lifelong passion started in grade school. After graduation, though discouraged by her father from entering art school, Nikaitani enrolled in a costume design school with figure drawing classes her favorite. Her studies were cut short however by the forced removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast during World War II. Evacuated to Wyoming, Nikaitani continued drawing, embellishing letters to soldiers overseas with her figures. Married in 1944, she returned to Seattle in 1946 to raise her family. No matter her stage in life, she has always returned to art, whether studying advertising art and then contemporary graphics, working at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair drawing portraits, serving as a supervisor in Boeing’s graphics department, or attending local drawing sessions twice a month.
Sponsors and Community Partners
This project is funded by Seattle Department of Neighborhoods and Office of Economic Development.
Featured Artist: Amy Nikaitani
Art Designer: Erin Shigaki
Partners: Friends of Japantown and Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority