These Century-Old Businesses Define Japantown in Seattle

The sun-bleached Douglas fir flooring on the Panama Hotel and Tea House could also be 111 years outdated, however they nonetheless assist the shoppers who sit at tables sipping steaming mugs of nutty genmaicha. Below, in the property’s basement, is a long-shuttered however marvelously preserved public bathtub. Its neat rows of wood lockers and deep marble tubs made it indispensable through the early twentieth century when few individuals had non-public baths. But it additionally served as an necessary gathering place the place the day’s information flowed freely amongst residents of Seattle’s Nihonmachi, or Japantown, an space simply east of Pioneer Square.

During the neighborhood’s glory days, between the 2 world wars, it was the nation’s second-most-populous Japanese district, and its streets buzzed with eating places and retailers. The 12 months after Japan’s assault on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an government order ensuing in the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans residing alongside the West Coast. Few of Japantown’s once-booming companies remained by the point their house owners have been launched from internment camps; even fewer have lasted the 75 years since. Today, the survivors are tapping into the identical spirit of perseverance in responding to COVID-19. These authentic eating places and retailers give guests a glimpse of the previous whereas providing a testomony to the neighborhood’s resiliency and evolution.

Mapping Seattle's Japantown

Mapping Seattle’s Japantown

Panama Hotel and Tea House

A transparent panel in the teahouse flooring reveals suitcases that Takashi Hori stashed for fellow Japanese Americans who have been forcibly relocated to camps throughout World War II. Hori ran the hotel from 1938 till he retired in 1985, when present proprietor Jan Johnson bought the property and got down to protect its authentic particulars. The restoration efforts of Johnson, mixed with the presence of the nation’s solely intact conventional bathhouse, earned the lodge a spot on the checklist of National Historic Landmarks.


Opened in 1904, Seattle’s oldest Japanese restaurant has been a mainstay ever since for dishes like wild salmon nigiri and bluefin negitoro. Its 90-year-old hostess and bartender, recognized merely as Mom, has been mixing robust, easy cocktails since 1960. “Maneki has been through the Spanish flu, two world wars, internment camps, and recessions,” says proprietor Jean Nakayama in regards to the restaurant’s probabilities of making it via the present pandemic. “We’ll be here—we’re too stubborn to go away.”

Kobo at Higo

Beginning in 1907, Japanese Americans got here to the Higo Variety Store (initially the Higo 10 Cent Store) for all the things from conventional sandals to kites. When its founders, the Murakami household, have been interned, neighbors watched over the property and paid the payments. The retailer closed in 2003, however Paul Murakami, a relative of the unique proprietors, nonetheless owns the constructing. The present tenants turned the house into a store and gallery, Kobo at Higo, the place, as a solution to honor the constructing and neighborhood’s historical past, they show authentic stock from the shop, like vintage followers, alongside up to date artwork.


When Seattleites want contemporary uni or new chopsticks, kumquats or miso, they flip to Uwajimaya. Fujimatsu Moriguchi started the enterprise in 1928 by promoting selfmade fish muffins from the again of his truck. After internment, he opened a little bit grocery retailer in Japantown. Though the shop has moved a number of occasions (and expanded all through the Pacific Northwest), the present-day Seattle outpost is close to the historic coronary heart of the neighborhood. Today, Fujimatsu’s granddaughter Denise Moriguchi runs the enterprise.

This article appeared in the April 2021 problem of Condé Nast Traveler. Subscribe to the magazine here.


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