Japantown (International District)
Shady Walking Paths
Danny Woo Community Garden
South entrance at Main and 7th.
Garden entrance near Main and Maynard.
North entrance at top of Washington.
The Seattle International District has been home to ethnic groups from all over East Asia since the 1800s, but there are three distinct sections: Chinatown (where Hing Hay Park is), Nihonmachi (Japantown), and Little Saigon (Vietnamese).
At one time Nihonmachi covered a sizeable area and was a vibrant, thriving community full of businesses owned by Japanese immigrants and their American-born descendants. All that changed in 1942 when the U.S. government rounded up over 12,000 Washingtonians of Japanese descent, more than half of whom were U.S. citizens, and sent them to internment camps.
Many of those sent to the camps lost everything, their homes, businesses, and most of their personal belongings. After the war some returned to Seattle to rebuild their lives, but Nihonmachi never fully recovered. When Interstate 5 was built over land that used to contain homes and businesses, the size of the community was further reduced.
With that said, Nihonmachi still exists. Kobe Terrace Park and the next door Danny Woo Community Garden help celebrate the tenacity of the remaining community.
Kobe Terrace Park is named for the city of Kobe, Seattle’s sister city in Japan. As the name states, it’s a terraced park, full of shady paths and benches, nestled on a hillside right next to the freeway. It’s not a park for activities. It’s the sort of place you go to enjoy being outside while engaging in quiet contemplation, eating lunch, or reading a book.
The easiest entrance to use for those with mobility issues is the north entrance on Washington Street, right across from the old Nippon Kan Theater. The following description assumes you enter from there.
To the right of the park sign is a wood ramp that leads out to a small platform with benches that looks out over the Danny Woo Community Garden and provides a territorial view of the International and SoDo districts. If you bring binoculars you can even catch a glimpse of fans in the stands at the Clink on game days.
To the left of the park sign is the start of the paved path that travels south through the park to the Main Street entrance. Immediately after entering the park on the path you will see a large Japanese stone lantern. The lantern was a gift to Seattle from the city of Kobe to commemorate the U.S. Bicentennial and the completion of Kobe Terrace Park.
Three parallel paved paths travel along the hillside terraces at this end of the park, linked by stairs between the levels. Despite the significant slope to the hill, the steps are shallow and surprisingly easy to navigate. Plenty of benches line the walkways.
While the park itself is a very peaceful and restful setting, the constant roar of nearby vehicles on I-5 doesn’t make for a quiet peace.
I didn’t venture down into the community garden, but you can include it as part of your park visit. From what I could see, most of the gardeners seem to concentrate on growing food rather than flashy decorative flowers. That might change as the season progresses.
I was there in early May and the park was quite colorful with blooming flowers. A bit earlier in spring when the cherry trees are in full blossom would be quite pretty as well. I’d guess the park is at its second best when leaves turn color in the autumn.
For most people, Kobe Terrace Park isn’t the kind of place to arrange a special visit to see. But if you’re already in the area you might want to drop by as part of your International District tour.
Nearby Attraction – Panama Hotel & Tea Room
Located about three blocks west of the park, on the corner of Main and 6th, is the Panama Hotel, which is a National Historic Landmark. The hotel opened in 1910 and was home to Japanese immigrants, along with Alaskan fishermen and international travelers.
In the hotel’s basement is a preserved sento, a Japanese bathhouse. It’s the only one of its kind still intact in the US, though it closed for business in the 1950s. By that time private baths in apartments were common, and many people recently returned from the internment camps shunned the Japanese tradition of communal bathing.
The Panama Hotel basement also stores trunks full of personal belongings left behind when people were rounded up for the internment camps. (They were only allowed to take one piece of luggage each.) The hotel owners have attempted to reunite the trunks with their original owners over the years, but many were never found.
The hotel is still open for business and is one of the cheapest places to stay in downtown Seattle. The rooms are furnished with antiques. It’s not for everyone though, since the historic hotel hasn’t changed much from its early days. The rooms are small, the stairs are steep, there’s no elevator, bathrooms are shared on each floor, and there are no amenities. But if you want to take a step into the past for a night or two, this is the place.
Tours of the hotel can be arranged with the hotel’s owner.
On Main Street is the entrance to the Panama Hotel Tea & Coffee Room. They serve a wide variety of teas and coffees, along with pastries and sandwiches. The exposed brick walls are covered with historic photos of Nihonmachi, and in the back room a window in the floor provides a view into the hotel’s basement with a museum display of some of the belongings left behind by those sent to the camps.
Things to Know
6 am to 11:30 pm
Lots of benches.
No picnic tables.
Free street parking on Main Street on the south side and Washington Street on the north side.
There’s also a dirt lot with free parking across from the park entrance at Main and 7th.
The streets are on a hill. If you want to use the most level entrance, see if any spaces are available at the top of Washington Street near the park path.
I arrived at about 11 am on a Sunday and there were some spots on both streets. I have no idea if it’s different later in the day or on weekdays.
Kobe Terrace Park is used almost exclusively by people living and working in the area, with an occasional tourist or photographer wandering around. A lot of people simply use it as a pedestrian corridor to pass through.
On a late Sunday morning in spring only a couple other people were in the park. My guess is that in warmer weather more people make use of the park as a nice neighborhood spot to cool off and enjoy being outside.
Blooming trees, flowers, Japanese lantern, fall leaves.
Best light: overcast day or afternoon.