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Sairen (#9)

Also known as: Momo; Jackson Loan Office

The War Relocation Authority, the civilian federal agency that assumed supervision from the U.S. Army of the 10 major “relocation centers” around the country for the Japanese Americans during World War II, encouraged its charges to leave the camps by relocating away from the U.S. West Coast. College-age Nisei students went off to attend schools in the Midwest or East Coast. Entire families start new lives elsewhere in cities like Chicago, Denver and Minneapolis.

Before the Minidoka camp closed in October 1945, the Murakami family was “the first ones to come out” of the camp, Aya and Masa claimed, since they had a home and business to return to in January 1945. Jackson Building tenants Julius Blumenthal and Maurice Zimmer of the Jackson Loan Office oversaw and protected the Building for three years until the Murakami family returns.

Other Japanese American families returning to Seattle weren’t as lucky, having abandoned their homes and businesses when they left Seattle, and having neither to return to. Families lived in the Seattle Buddhist Church and Seattle Japanese Language School. Jobs were hard to find.

Many Issei and Nisei did not return to live or work in Nihonmachi. Many of Nihonmachi’s former businesses never restarted.

“They [Seattle’s Japanese Americans] were not nearly as concentrated as it was before the war because everybody had to find their own survival way – anywhere where they could find homes and jobs, so it was a real big dispersal,” says Shokichi “Shox” Tokita, 11 years old when returning to Seattle’s Nihonmachi after leaving Minidoka.

Nihonmachi was still there after the war, but not the same bustling ethnic island it was before.

But, at the Jackson Building, the Higo 10 Cents Store revived, and later as the Higo Variety Store, survived.

Started in November 2007, this corner of the Jackson Building, once the Jackson Loan Office, was home to beloved community business anchor Momo. In 2020, it became Sairen, a modern and creative shop filled with an eclectic mix of Japanese, Hawaii and Seattle made goods. Its mission is to highlight and support a growing movement of independent Asian American, People of Color and local designers.

Visit KOBO at Higo (waypoint #8) and the Jackson Building Warehouse (waypoint #10) to learn what happened to the Murakami Family, their store and their building before, during and after World War II.

Images

Once Momo and now Sairen, this corner shop of the Jackson Building welcomes people into Japantown.

Alabastro Photography. Courtesy of Wing Luke Museum.

The Murakami Family Jackson Building with anchor businesses Jackson Loan Office, Higo 10 Cents Store and Chihara Jewelry, 1937.

Washington State Archives.