Home History Japanese-Style Gardens Played Key Role in Issei Life

Japanese-Style Gardens Played Key Role in Issei Life

Japanese-Style Gardens Played Key Role in Issei Life

By Corinne Kennedy
NAP Contributor

This is a continuation from the May 24th issue.

Plant Nurseries and Greenhouses:
Zenhichi Harui (1886-1974) and son Junkoh Harui (1933-2008)

Entry sign at Seike Japanese Garden Photo credit Linda Reeder

Zenhichi Harui immigrated from Japan to Bainbridge Island in 1908. After working at the Port Blakely Mill in Washington, Zenhichi and his older brother Zenmatsu Seko started a small fruit and vegetable farm on the island. By the 1930s, they had obtained 30 acres, purchased in the name of a Nisei friend, where they built Bainbridge Gardens and Nursery. Their property included a farmhouse, small produce stand, plant nursery, and greenhouses. In addition to growing trees and shrubs, they were known for growing flowers, including prize-winning chrysanthemums. They built a large and very successful grocery store and Bainbridge Island’s first gas station. A skilled gardener, Zenhichi also created Japanese-style ornamental gardens on the property. Eventually the property included beautiful trees and shrubs, bonsai pines, fountains and ponds with koi fish. The gardens became a well-known attraction in the Puget Sound region.

The Harui family was able to escape World War II incarceration by moving to Moses Lake in Eastern Washington and agreeing to farm there throughout the war. The only Japanese American family in the area, they endured the small community’s racism and anger towards Japan and people of Japanese descent.

After the war, the family returned home to discover that the grocery building, which had been rented out, had been well maintained, but the nursery and gardens had been severely damaged. The property had been vandalized, nursery stock had been stolen or had died, the greenhouses collapsed, and the ornamental gardens were in a state of ruin. Zenhichi tried to save his business but was unsuccessful. Decades later, in 1990, his son Junkoh dedicated himself to restoring the business and gardens on their original site. The restored six-acre nursery has thrived. Junkoh’s 2008 passing left his wife Chris in charge, and when she died in 2014, their daughter Donna Harui became the nursery’s third-generation owner.

Shinichi Seike (c1888-1983) and sons: Des Moines Way Nursery and Seike Garden
Shinichi Seike immigrated to Seattle from Japan in 1919 and ran an import-export business. A decade later, he purchased 13 acres of land including a farmhouse near present-day SeaTac Airport with future plans to open a nursery there.

During World War II, the family was incarcerated in the camps at Heart Mountain in Wyoming and Tule Lake in northern California. However, all three sons served in the U.S. military. Toll, the middle son, was killed in action in France having served in the all-Japanese 442nd Regimental Combat Team — the most decorated military unit in U.S. history.

After the war, the Seike family returned to their property, which had been maintained by a German American family. Unlike most West Coast Japanese American families, they did not lose their property and belongings. In 1953, after sons Hal and Ben graduated from Washington State University with degrees in horticulture, the family opened Des Moines Way Nursery.

On their property, the Seike family also built a traditional Japanese-style garden as a family retreat and, even more importantly, as a memorial to their son Toll. It was designed by Shintaro Okada, a family friend and garden designer from Hiroshima. Construction began in 1961. The garden included major rockwork, a stream and large waterfall, ponds, bridges, stone lanterns and meticulously pruned plants.

This important garden was saved from destruction. It was purchased by the Port of Seattle to build SeaTac Airport’s third runway. Community leaders and state and local officials worked to raise funds to move the garden. In 2006, it was placed in the newly created Highline SeaTac Botanical Garden (HSBG) and became one of the largest relocations of a Japanese garden in U.S. history. The relocation included recreating the water features and moving the stonework, bridges and lanterns. Only the most valuable plants were saved. According to the HSBG’s website, “The garden is … a faithful recreation of designer Shintaro Okada’s intent and an historical amenity.” Admission is free.