History of Japan Town

In the mid-1880s a wave of immigration came from Japan to Seattle. Japanese came because Chinese were prevented from immigrating due to the Chinese Exclusion Act. A Japantown was developed, and Japanese became involved in the local economy. White businesspersons opposed to Japanese settlement formed the Anti-Japanese League in 1919.

After the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, ethnic Japanese in Seattle were sent to concentration camps. After an initial internment at Camp Harmony in Puyallup, Washington, about 7,000 Seattle-area persons of Japanese ancestry were forced to leave the Seattle area to go to the Minidoka Relocation Center in Idaho, while another 1,000 from the Seattle area went to other camps. Members of the Japanese community lost their businesses and residences. 450 students of the University of Washington were forced to leave the university due to their internment.

As the war ended, residents were allowed to return, initially staying in churches, other persons’ residences, and the Seattle Japanese Language School building as they recovered from the effects of internment. Japanese Seattleites who were located at Minindoka, which was renamed the “Hunt Camp,” named the school the “Hunt Hotel.” The Nikkei Heritage Association of Washington started the “Omoide” education program to memorialize the incarceration of the Japanese people. In 2008 UW held an honorary graduation ceremony, The Long Journey Home, for the Japanese who had been their studies cut short, with 200 former students, most of whom were in their 80s at the time, and family members of former students present. Tetsuden Kashima, an ethnic studies professor of the university, presented the degrees.