Program Notes

  1. Panama Hotel – trumpet, guitar, piano

Welcome to the Panama Hotel Tea Room. Thank you for coming this afternoon. You are listening to (introduce band). We hope you enjoy today’s performance.

The first piece was called “Panama Hotel” and was written specifically for this concert. In fact, the whole musical program you will hear today I composed for this event.

A few years ago I spoke with Jim Wilke, disk jockey for Jazz After Hours. As we talked about Seattle jazz history, he suggested I read Jamie Ford’s novel Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet because of the musical scenes set on Jackson Street. The book is a love story between a Chinese boy and Japanese girl in Seattle around the beginning of World War II. A key token of their relationship is a record of a fictitious jazz performance that gets stored in the basement of the Panama Hotel.

So last year, the Panama Hotel was selected as a location for site specific art funded by King County. I recalled the novel and the symbolic jazz record. I decided to learn what I could about the history of the building and its role in the community. I also searched Seattle’s jazz history to imagine how the song stored in the Panama Hotel basement might have sounded.

I want to thank the owner of the Panama Hotel, Jan Johnson and her staff, for hosting this series of concerts.

Thanks to Charlie Rathbun and the 4Culture Historic Site Specific program for supporting this project so that it is free of charge.

Thanks for Jamie Ford, author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and Paul de Barros, author of Jackson Street After Hours, for their books which served as the initial sources for thematic material.

I want to thank the Holden family for their interest and support of this project.

I want to acknowledge the thousands of Japanese Americans who published their experiences and the many thousands more who have not.

As I researched for this project, I was overwhelmed by the number and extent of stories published. You can see my bibliography online. Today’s presentation is by no means a complete depiction of stories and events. But I hope that it raises awareness about this historic building and its role in our shared history.

The building was designed by Sabro Ozasa, the first Japanese architect to practice in Seattle. It was built in 1910 continuously operated as a hotel since the day it was built. The first owners were Japanese umbrella organizations with non-Japanese members as the publicly listed owners because Japanese were excluded from property ownership. Takashi Hori bought the hotel in 1938 and operated it until Jan Johnson purchased it in 1985. The basement contains the only intact Japanese public bath or Sento left in the United States. Many Japanese immigrants lived, worked or were visitors in this building.

  1. Rain Drop Poem – sax, bass, vibes
During my research of Japanese esthetics practiced by immigrants, what resonated with me is the desire for every person to infuse daily tasks or common objects with art – to enhance the natural beauty of the world. One story told of a Japanese American farmer who collected stones for his garden. The extra stones he placed under the eaves of his house. When it rained and no one could work outside, he called everyone in to create poetry to the sound of rain falling on the stones. The next piece I titled “Poem.”

  1. Nihonmachi – piano, guitar, trumpet
Immigrants have been part of Seattle ever since the Denny party landed here in 1851. The land south of Yesler Street and the filled in tidal flats of the Duwamish River became home for much of Seattle’s non-white population. Chinese, attracted by the possibility of finding gold on the West Coast, immigrated in the late 1800’s. In fact, they called AmericaGold Mountain.” They dug mines, built railroads, milled lumber, and canned salmon. Racial discrimination led to a federal Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 that suspended immigration and prevented American citizenship. Then local government forbade Chinese from owning property. Riots broke out in Seattle to ship all Chinese to San Francisco. The violent protests led the state governor and U.S. President to declare martial law in Seattle.

Japanese came to fill the labor shortage but were stopped by the Immigration Act of 1924. Then, groups of Filipinos and African Americans came to Seattle.

The Panama Hotel is located at the heart of Seattle’s Nihonmachi, or Japan town. Since the 1920’s, Main Street between 4th and 7th Avenues, and businesses on a few nearby streets, provided all the services the Japanese American community needed. Japanese businesses also extended beyond Nihonmachi. In 1940, even though Japanese were only 2 percent of Seattle’s population, they operated 63 percent of the greenhouses, 63 percent of the hotels and apartments, 45 percent of the restaurants, and 17 percent of the groceries.

This piece is called “Nihonmachi.”

  1. Alley Cat Strut – sax, trumpet, vibes
Jazz flourished in Seattle’s non-white neighborhoods. Nightlife on Jackson Street fostered diversity. In 1933, the newspaper Northwest Enterprise described the scene. “Here all races meet on common ground and rub elbows as equals. Fillipinos [sic], Japanese, Negros and whites mingle in the same hotels and restaurants and there is an air of comradeship.” Traveling jazz musicians like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Billie Holiday stayed in hotels and ate at restaurants here because they would not be served in other parts of the city.

Jazz musicians wrote music about Seattle. Pianist Jelly Roll Morton performed at the Entertainers Club at 12th and Main in the 1920s and wrote a song called “Seattle Hunch,” perhaps in tribute to his notorious gambling. Ray Charles wrote “Rocking Chair Blues” after the Rocking Chair club at 14th and Yesler and he played at the Black Elks club a block away from here on Jackson Street.

In Jamie Ford’s novel Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Seattle jazz musicians perform and record a song called “Alley Cat Strut” dedicated to the two main characters. Although this is an imaginary song created by the author as a device in his book, I took the liberty of imagining how it might have sounded.

  1. Desert – guitar, piano, sax
The attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 changed Nihonmachi forever. Within a 24 hours, Japanese born men were taken to the Immigration Office just south of Dearborn Street. Some were sent to military camps. FBI agents confiscated items from Japanese American homes. Japanese American families shed things that displayed loyalty to Japan. Families destroyed items linked to Japan - dolls, books, records, and family photographs.

In a book titled Looking Like the Enemy: My Story of Imprisonment in Japanese-American Internment Camps, Mary Matsuda Gruenewald tells the following story.

"We stood in front of the table looking at all of our cultural treasures. Papa-san took a deep breath and said, 'This is it. Let's get this difficult task done.' He picked up the first phonograph record, read the label and said to Mama-san, 'This one, 'Sakura,' is my favorite. Yoshiko-san's voice is so clear and beautiful and the words evoke such feeling in me.' With doleful eyes he handed it to Mama-san who also read the label. With teary eyes she broke it into small pieces, stepped over to the stove and slipped it into the flames. One by one they looked over each record and took turns reading them, silently feeding their beloved music into the stove until every record was destroyed. The flames illuminated my parent's sad but determined faces."

President Franklin Roosevelt issued an Executive Order that allowed the military to designate areas that would exclude people of Japanese ancestry. With no criminal charges or evidence of espionage, 120,000 Japanese Americans, two thirds of whom were born in America and thus citizens, were sent to Assembly Centers and a few months later to 10 camps in desolate locations. The personal items that they couldn’t take with them or sell were stored in places like the Panama Hotel basement. When arriving at camp, many described the barren landscape, desert heat, dust storms, barbed wire, and sentry towers.

  1. Kimi Ga Yo – bass, vibes, guitar
The Japanese national anthem “Kimi Ga Yo,” while patriotic, can also be seen as a metaphor for personal endurance. Roughly translated the lyrics say,

"May thy peaceful reign last long.
May it last for thousands of years,
Until this tiny stone will grow
Into a massive rock, and the moss
Will cover it deep and thick."
Endurance meant survival for Japanese Americans. Endurance of misunderstanding, endurance of discrimination, endurance of injustice, endurance of hardship, endurance of hatred.

  1. Loyalty – trumpet, sax
The U.S. government assumed that familial piety was paramount for all Japanese Americans. With suspicion that elder Japanese Americans were loyal to the Japanese Empire, cultural deference and respect for one’s parents brought into question the perceived allegiance to this country.

In an attempt to distinguish loyal from disloyal, the government required every inmate over 17 years old to answer two questions while they were imprisoned.

First, "Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty wherever ordered?" The average age of first generation Japanese American immigrant was 54. Answering “yes” was inconceivable.

The second question asked, "Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, or any other foreign government, power, or organization?" Japanese born inmates were not permitted to become American citizens by law so answering “yes” to forswearing allegiance to Japan would leave them stateless. Children answering differently than parents might separate families.

How can one pledge allegiance to a government that denies citizenship to immigrants, restricts civil rights based on race, assumes guilt by association, and incarcerates citizens without charging them with a crime?

  1. Family – piano, vibes
Japanese American families did what they could to support one another. The Seattle born and educated architect Minoro Yamasaki, who would later design the World Trade Center in New York, had his parents join him in his East Coast apartment to avoid incarceration. Deems’ father George Tsutakawa, whose sculpture stands a block away, met his future wife while he visited family in a camp. Takashi Hori, who owned the Panama Hotel, was the first to be allowed to return to Seattle from camp without an escort. He and his brother came back to the Panama Hotel for a week in September of 1944 to sort through items in the basement and ship things back to families at the Minidoka camp in Hunt, Idaho.

But camp life eroded familial bonds. Takashi Hori told the Seattle Times in 1944, “Camp life is a terrible thing, just as it would be for anyone. What you miss most is the home life. It isn’t normal to be crowded together with hundreds of other people.” Mess hall meals, abundant free time, fathers separated from families, and little or no privacy damaged the traditional Japanese family structure.

  1. Affirmation – sax, trumpet
There are many negative lessons of how people treat each other during war. But I find inspiring some positive examples of those who experienced injustice. I admire the value of thoughtful planning, patience, restraint, faith, and hope. This piece is titled “Affirmation.”

  1. Densho – bass, guitar
A common thread through many Japanese American stories is the desire to provide for the next generation. A Japanese term for legacy is “Densho.” An organization called Densho, run by Tom Ikeda, is collecting oral histories from those who were incarcerated to advocate for equity. You can hear and see more than 700 of these stories online. This piece is called “Densho.”

  1. Mending – vibes
Before we perform our last song, I want to thank you again for coming. We will perform here every Saturday until the 3rd Saturday in September, but not on Labor Day weekend. You are welcome to come back and please tell your friends.
We will be recording this music in early September and if you are interested in getting a copy, please give me your email address so I can let you know when it becomes available.

Once again, you are listening to…

Over time, the American government has acknowledged its injustice. Over 40 years after the war ended, a government commission, finding scant evidence of Japanese disloyalty, recommended payment of $20,000 for each camp survivor. President Ronald Reagan signed legislation that apologized on behalf of the U.S. government for actions based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and failure of political leadership.” President George H.W. Bush apologized again on the 50th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor bombing. The City of Seattle paid $5,000 to municipal employees that had been unjustly dismissed. Washington State supported the Seattle School Board’s reparations to 27 Japanese American citizens who were forced to resign as clerks for Seattle Public Schools.

This piece is called “Mending."