Go the heart of Seattle's Rainier Beach neighborhood, where an immigrant family and thousands of volunteers turned 20 acres into a Japanese garden unlike any other. Hear the story of Fujitaro Kubota and the garden that carries his name, told by Joy Okazaki, President of the Kubota Garden Foundation. Travel with the Kubota family to Camp Minidoka, where they were interned along with 7,000 other Seattle residents of Japanese descent during World War II. Take part in Earth Corps’ restoration efforts to bring Salmon back to Mapes Creek, which runs through Kubota Garden into Lake Washington.
Learn more at GrowingOldProject.com.
Subscribe on your favorite streaming platform, and follow the Growing Old Project on Instagram.
This series was created in collaboration.
Lylianna Allala, Colleen Echohawk, and Tamara Power-Drutis
Zoey Echohawk-Hayashi, Lily Warrior, Collen Echohawk, Lylianna Allala, along with various members of the Growing Old team.
Music for the series by:
Black Stax, Glass Heart String Choir, Lacey Warrior, and Talaya Logan Marque Studios with engineering and mixing by Katie Mosehauer and Greg Fields and mixing and mastering by Pierre Ferguson.
Music in Episode 2 by:
Kai Engel and Tamara Power-Drutis.
Katie Mosehauer, Tamara Power-Drutis, and Katie Myers
In Partnership With:
Chief Seattle Club and Earth Day Northwest 2020
Promotion and Community Engagement by:
Katie Myers and The Vida Agency
Fiscal sponsorship provided by:
Earth Day Northwest 2020 and Forterra
Someone, somewhere, at some point in history, got inspired. Inspired to restore. Inspired to create. Inspired to do… something. Anything. Even if it felt insignificant. Inspired to contribute what they can.
The reason why I got involved in environmentalism is I heard about this woman, her name is Wangari Maathai. She is incredible. She started this Greenbelt Movement in Kenya, and it's kind of exploded. She tells a story about a hummingbird. It's so poetic and beautiful. The lesson in the story is: what can you do? Do the best that you can.
And so when I just came out here was doing Americorps, living on a very small stipend, I wasn't able to do much in air quotes. But I spent, you know, 10-hour long days every day in the field, restoring habitat, enhancing, riversides and banks. It definitely feels better to be doing something.
Here’s how the story goes:
READING OF STORY BY WANGARI MAATHAI:
We are constantly being bombarded by problems that we face, and sometimes we can get completely overwhelmed. The story of the hummingbird is about this huge forest being consumed by a fire.
All the animals in the forest come out and they are transfixed as they watch the forest burning. And they feel very overwhelmed, very powerless. Except this little hummingbird.
It says, “I’m going to do something about the fire!” So it flies to the nearest stream and takes a drop of water. It puts it on the fire, and goes up and down, up and down, up and down, as fast as it can.
In the meantime all the other animals, much bigger animals like the elephant with a big trunk that could bring much more water, they are standing there helpless. And they are saying to the hummingbird,
“What do you think you can do? You are too little. This fire is too big. Your wings are too little. Your beak is so small that you can only bring a small drop of water at a time.”
But as they continue to discourage it, it turns to them without wasting any time and it tells them, “I am doing the best I can.” And that to me is what all of us should do. We should always be like a hummingbird.
I may be insignificant, but I certainly don't want to be like the animals watching as the planet goes down the drain. I will be a hummingbird. I will do the best I can.
This is the kind of story that begins in a forest. On the traditional lands of the Duwamish and Coast Salish People, past and present. It’s a story about Seattle’s urban forest and the humans that live within it. It’s told with gratitude, to honor the trees who care for us, and those who care for this land. To learn, or to remember, the medicines that have been a part of this place since time immemorial.
We start in the year 2070, imagining what our City might look like if we planted the right seeds today. We follow the story of Chief Seattle Club, as they turn concrete into a Medicine Garden at Eagle Village. And we end each episode with you and me. And how we might work together so that the humans and trees in our community can grow old.
This is Growing Old, from Seattle, Washington.
In this episode, you’ll continue to hear from the Growing Old Project team:
Felicia V Loud.
You’ll also hear from some friends and leaders in our community, including Joy Okazaki, President of the Kubota Garden Foundation and Lisa Kenny, volunteer manager at Earth Corps.
In Episode one, we shared visions for the year 2070, and what our city might look like if we planted the right seeds today.
But before we can begin working toward that future, before we can once again see healthy, abundant orcas in the Salish Sea, before we can walk through a bountiful, edible landscape or create affordable multifamily homes in proximity to beautiful old trees, before any of that, there has to be a spark.
In this episode, we explore what turns an ordinary human into a steward of the forest. What instigates the kind of action that has already begun restoring our ecosystem locally? And how we might begin to care for this place like we want to live here in 2070?
In the heart of Rainier Beach lies an urban forest unlike any other, with hills, valleys, streams and waterfalls running across twenty acres of living history. It’s a Japanese garden grown from indigenous Northwest plant life. This is Kubota Garden.
Fujitaro Kubota was kind of a pioneer. He came here as an immigrant. He didn't start landscaping right away. He did what most Japanese immigrants did. He started in other businesses or other trades where he could actually make a living as an immigrant.
That’s Joy Okazaki, president of the Kubota Garden Foundation. We asked her to share Fujitaro’s story with us, and to explain how a place as unique as Kubota Garden came to exist at all.
And it wasn't until the early 1900s, that he started helping his friends that were doing landscaping. What he discovered was that he had a talent for doing these landscape designs. But he was using lots of Pacific Northwest plant material, not stuff that was native to Japan, and many of his signature trees became things like the Blue Atlas Cedar, the Weeping Blue Atlas Cedar, the Tanyosho Pine. In addition to using things like Black Pine and Red Pine, things that would be more commonly found in Japan.
Fujitaro was one of the few garden designers at the time who had a crane, and could himself provide the plant material, stone, and trees of any size to complete a project. He nurtured an enormous nursery and display garden, much of which has grown into what is now Kubota Garden.
You know, he couldn't own land when he first bought the property, because there were alien land laws, and Japanese weren't allowed to own land. So he bought the land through a family friend, who held the property in their name until one of his sons became old enough and they could transfer that property to him. And I'm sure that happened over time because he acquired a bunch of land. And then the War broke out.
So the war breaking out meant that all Japanese on the West Coast had to be evacuated or incarcerated. And so just like all the rest of the Japanese, they were incarcerated at Minidoka in Idaho, and away from the property for I think it was about three years.
At the time, they were fortunate. We've heard that there was a banker who knew of the family and had potentially had them work for them. And he actually helped them keep current with taxes and things like that. So that was the only way that they could actually maintain the land while they were gone.
In December 1941, nearly a century of hate-campaigns against people of Japanese and Chinese descent living on the West Coast reached a tipping point. The U.S. Government began arresting Japanese residents here in King County that were considered a risk in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor. People like Buddhist priests, Japanese language teachers, and community leaders.
Travel for people of Japanese descent was restricted. Business licenses were revoked. Bank accounts were frozen. At King Street Station in Seattle, Japanese redcap porters were replaced by Filipinos. White parents began complaining to Seattle elementary schools that employed Japanese clerks.
And on February 19th, 1942, President Roosevelt authorized Executive Order 9066, setting in motion the imprisonment of over one hundred and ten thousand people of Japanese ancestry, almost all of whom were residents of the West Coast, and nearly 7,000 of whom lived in Seattle.
This decree was issued with the overwhelming support of the courts, the public, and elected officials including then-Seattle Mayor Earl Millikan, Washington State Governor Arthur Langlie, Senator Henry M. Jackson, and Senator Monrad C. Wallgren.
Evacuation notices were posted on telephone poles and bulletin boards throughout Seattle, ordering the Japanese community to leave in three groups within the week. They were first bussed to Puyallup where a temporary “assembly center” had been set up on the site of the annual Western Washington State Fair, and spent the summer confined amid empty roller coasters and grandstands before being sent to the “Minidoka Relocation Center” in Idaho.
Sixty-two percent of the people interned were U.S. Citizens at the time.
At Minidoka, 500 barracks provided minimal defense from the extreme weather, with temperatures dropping 10-20 below zero in the winter, and reaching as high as 115 in the summer. But in spite of the indignity and justifiable anger, over the course of three years, inmates turned Minidoka into a city, with a library, fire station, schools, churches, a hospital, and even a newspaper.
By 1945, internment camps began to close, and those confined to Minidoka were encouraged to relocate East rather than returning to the West Coast. Few returning to Seattle were met with a welcome reception.
The Japanese were very dutiful, you know, about how they responded. So when the government gives you an order, most of the Japanese complied.
Over 100,000 Japanese were evacuated off the West Coast into these prison camps essentially. And even though there were some dissent, the majority of the people, I think it comes from the Japanese culture, but were very dutiful. They did what they were told, even though they didn't understand why it was happening, even though it was not fair, even though they got short notice.
And then after the war, people that came out from that experience, they faced discrimination, they faced hardship, they lost homes and businesses and things like that. But there wasn't this huge outcry.
They figured it out. They banded together as a community. Many of the leaders helped others in their community. And similarly with Kubota Garden, the family came back to the property and just started to work.
Joy shared with us that the Kubota’s had been worried about coming back to Seattle after the war, as hostilities toward people of Japanese descent continued along the West Coast. However, his younger son Tom, who would later come to run the landscape business with his brother and then his son, returned from the army and visited Seattle to gauge things for himself.
Lucky for Seattle, he received a favorable response from former clients, and the Kubota’s returned home to Rainier Beach.
From what I've heard through the family that was a very hard time for Fujitaro to come back to the land. Even though it was still theirs, it was overgrown, the grass was waist high, had to be cut with a sickle. It took a long time for them to restore the garden to where they thought it was actually presentable to people.
Decades later, many citizens and leaders would recant their support for Japanese Internment and Order 9066.
In 1980, under pressure from the public, President Jimmy Carter opened an investigation on the decision to intern Japanese Americans, ultimately finding little evidence of disloyalty, and concluding that the incarceration had been a product of racism.
Nearly 50 years after the internment, President Reagan signed into law the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. He apologized to survivors on behalf of the U.S. government, noting that its actions had been based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership,” and issuing reparations of $20,000 to survivors or their heirs.
Recognition, apology, reparations -- these are important steps. But these steps alone don’t make “we the people” immune to those failings again.
Thirty-two years ago our President was apologizing for racism against people of Asian descent. Today, our President is referring to COVID-19 as the “Chinese Virus” and FBI analysts are predicting a surge of hate crimes against Asian Americans in the United States.
When H1N1 was declared a pandemic, you didn’t hear it referred to as the “American Influenza.” Same thing with the annual flu. But when it comes to SARs, or Ebola, or COVID-19, xenophobic rhetoric tends to find a way in.
Following the first case of Coronavirus in our State, the Seattle-based Asian Counseling and Referral Service released a statement saying that “immigrant and refugee community leaders and organizations have noticed an alarming increase in bias and harassment against our Asian American communities.”
We’ve been here before, and not that long ago. But this time, maybe we can learn from past wrongs and mistakes.
In a joint statement on March 31, 2020, Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best and former local news anchor Lori Matsukawa urged residents to call 911 to report hate crimes or hate-based harassment. Chief Best confirmed that Seattle Police will investigate every reported hate crime, and that even racist name-calling should be reported to police.
Calling racism out when we see it can feel risky in the moment. But it’s far riskier to let it lie. Even talking about injustice, in the past or in the present, can feel uncomfortable.
So what does it look like, to begin talking after a long period of silence or avoidance? And who begins?
When the Foundation first started, we were kind of silent to the incarceration or the time away during the War. And I think that really was a remnant of many Nisei and Sansei, second and third generation Japanese Americans whose parents were incarcerated, but really didn't talk about it much.
And it wasn't really until, maybe 20 years ago, when people started sharing their stories and talking about that, and it was really prompted by the younger generations telling the Isseis and Niseis that that was wrong.
Otherwise it was just history in the minds of the Japanese that were immigrants or that were second generation. You know, it was kind of like, oh, it was kind of embarrassing that that happened. It was, at least they were together and not separated in most cases.
When we started talking, telling the story about the Garden, we didn't say that they were there during the war. We definitely said that they had left, but we really didn't talk about how that could have changed history for the garden. We could have lost the garden. We could have lost the Kubota’s. They might not have come back to this area.
But after he came back, after the war, and discovered his garden and restarted his business, it's incredible where this man took his business.
Fujitaro brought his talents to the Blodel Reservation, Seattle University, and Japanese gardens across the Seattle area, leaving a lasting impact on our greenspace and human health.
His home garden would one day come to carry his family name, and inspire generations of neighbors to wander, observe, and volunteer within its canopy.
I think that there was a notion that well then if it was a Japanese garden, it really wouldn't relate to other cultures or wouldn't relate to the community. And we found the opposite, actually, because it's got such a strong tie to the history of the Japanese American immigrant, in the Japanese immigrating to the United States, the Japanese American story, the fact that they were incarcerated and then brought back, and that it's been a community space all along. I think that that actually is what's resonating with people.
Being a hummingbird couldn’t have been easy for Fujitaro or his family. With alien land laws, racism, internment, and the unstoppable growth of weeds all working against them. But our city, and especially Rainier Beach, would be entirely different today if they hadn’t kept trying anyway.
In an urban, dense city, it's really important to have some relief. There's 20,000 people that live within half a mile at the entrance of Kubota garden. And then 75% of the population of the Rainier Beach neighborhood is minority, people of color. And that is one of the highest diversity percentages in the State.
The garden has about 65 feet in elevation change. So you come in, if you're a first time visitor and you come in at the parking lot and go through the entry gate, at that level, you start descending down into the Garden and go down to the core garden, where Fujitaro first made his Japanese gardens. And you don't realize you've gone down 65 feet until you turn around and try to come back up.
I think there's something there for anyone. You really could spend less than hour’s time and feel like you've been, transported into the mountains or somewhere else.
There's a creek that runs through the Garden. It's been now studied and mapped and the upper reaches of Mapes Creek start up on the hillside to the south of the garden, flow through the garden, where Fujitaro back in 1930 or so made ponds out of parts of the creek and probably didn't really realize that it was going down through Sturdivant Ravine to the North, underneath the Safeway by Rainier Avenue, and out at where it's been now daylighted at Be’er Sheva Park.
So there's a connection between the upper Mapes Creek Watershed and Lake Washington.
What I would say to people is that, these places, they don't just exist. It has to be intentional for the garden to remain the respite that it is. People are going to have to participate in order to assure that we have Kubota Garden 50 years from now.
Less than 50 years ago, Fujitaro died at the age of 94. Within the decade, the City purchased the Garden from the Kubota Family, and it was designated as a Historic Landmark.
All that has happened at Kubota Garden since Fujitaro’s passing -- The building of the Moon Bridge by Tak and Tom Kubota. The founding of Kubota Garden Foundation. The completion of the Maple Woods. And countless volunteer hours spent tending to the forest and battling invasive plants -- all of that happened within the past 50 years.
On a drizzly day in Rainier Beach, we asked volunteers and members of Earth Corps to share what they hope Kubota Garden looks like 50 years from now, in the year 2070. Many of them spoke specifically about Mapes Creek, which runs through Kubota Garden and Rainier Beach into Lake Washington. If restored, Mapes Creek would provide an aquatic habitat for Chinook salmon rearing and migration, as well as an accessible environmental amenity for the local community.
We asked Lisa Kenny, volunteer manager at Earth Corps, to tell us a bit more about the Creek, and what it would look like for our community to come together around it.
This is Mapes Creek. And there's been a lot of talk of trying to daylight this creek.
For the majority of its journey is under like roads and stuff so there's been some community chatter about trying to daylight it, so bring it above ground. This used to be a salmon passage and currently there are no salmon in this creek.
For the majority of it, looks pretty exposed. So an issue with that is sediment runoff getting flushed into this creek. We do see a couple of secondary growth trees close by and so seeing more of those trees would definitely be useful in this area. So it begins to shade out some of those aggressive weeds that we've been talking about people have been talking about and diggin’ up.
That would be cool, to see some salmon return. See what that does for the community members and things like that.
More conifer trees. Way more conifer trees. I mean, all trees are great. But especially in the wintertime in the Pacific Northwest, it's really essential to have the conifer cover around because of the influx of water rushing through places.
I feel like there is a disconnection between the importance of places like this. And I think it's because people sometimes think that climate change is going to happen or that it's, it will be something that happens eventually. But there's this like, lack of understanding that it's here and it's happening and it's been happening.
We followed Mapes Creek through Rainier Beach, past the Safeway, to where it lets out into Lake Washington at Be’er Sheva Park. Be’er Sheva is a small park near Rainier Beach High School, with a dock, playground, and a grove of Western Redcedar and Douglas Firs. South of Seward Park, it’s one of very few Lake Washington access points available to the public.
It’s become a cherished community space, in spite of the fact that it doesn’t yet meet the City of Seattle’s standards for neighborhood proximity to either an extended public shoreline or a signature waterfront park. Rainier Beach and the Duwamish River Valley are the only two remaining neighborhoods not up to standard.
Residents of Rainier Beach have been working since 2017 to bring Be’er Shiva up to standards, with a community input and planning process, park design and permitting, and advocacy. They envision a lively, safe, and beautiful neighborhood corridor from the Rainier Beach light rail station all the way up to Lake Washington, and their vision begins at Be’er Sheva Park.
I visited Be’er Shiva on a weekend in March 2020 to collect field recording for Growing Old. While many of Seattle’s parks were flooded with people escaping the isolation of our homes during COVID-19, Be’er Shiva seemed relatively at ease, relatively calm. At least, the humans there seemed calm.
I called Katie afterward to tell her what I had seen.
Hello, how’s it going? Do you have a second for me to tell you this story?
I get into the woods, and I start hearing what I think is crows but what turns out to Bald Eagles, who break into battle right above my head, dive bombing, and one of them has the carcass in their hand that they’re fighting over it, and there’s a circle of crows above them that are trying to get the seconds.
I wasn’t the only human watching, and went to find out what they’d seen.
You were right in the crosshairs of the fight there.
Did you see the whole thing?
Yeah. I think there were two bald eagles, and one of them had a kill in their hand. And they’d been kind of arguing in the sky, and one of them dropped something, I thought maybe it dropped really near you.
That’s pretty amazing.
Yeah that’s a crazy series of events.
Be’er Sheva park isn’t where we expected to encounter Bald Eagles. But the experience highlighted how important every greenspace is, no matter how small, for not just humans in our community, but wildlife as well.
We’ll be back at Be’er Sheva Park this summer for a tree walk, and we invite you to join us there. You can register for the free walk, and learn more online at Growing Old Project dot com.
It’s easy sometimes to forget that we’re still in the middle of the story. That the tale of our City, Kubota Garden, and Mapes Creek is being written as we speak.
How will you be a part of the story of natural spaces in your City? How will you be the hummingbird?
This series was developed in collaboration.
It was co-created by Colleen Echohawk, Lylilanna Allala, and Tamara Power-Drutis.
It was produced by Katie Mosehauer.
Music for the series was created by Lacey Warrior, Glass Heart String Choir, and Black Stax.
Promotion and marketing was provided by Katie Myers and The Vida Agency.
Support for this project is provided by the Henry M. Jackson Foundation and Arts in the Parks, a partnership between the City of Seattle Office of Arts & Culture and Seattle Parks and Recreation.
This is Growing Old.