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Seattle Dojo (#42)

Behind the double doors lies a wealth of history. Home to the oldest judo dojo in the United States, established in the early 1900s. Located in Japantown hotel basements until it moved here in 1934. Visited by Professor Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo, in 1936 and 1938. Host to judo tournaments, first in 1903 and then from 1907 to 1941, held at the Nippon Kan (see waypoint #17). Forced to close during World War II, reopened in 1948, host to first post-war tournament in 1953 at the Nisei Veterans Committee Hall (see waypoint #34), which was the first Pacific Northwest tournament to include women competitors, and annual host every year after that.

And the pioneers who started it all? Immigrant Itaro Kono arrived in Seattle on November 29, 1905 on the Japanese cargo steamship Iyo-Maru as a declared “Judo Teacher.” He stayed at least until September 18, 1909, when he demonstrated judo at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition world’s fair before leaving to start judo clubs in Spokane and Chicago. Professional wrestlers solidified the club: Tokugoro Ito made the club his headquarters while in Seattle from 1907-1911; Eitaro Suzuki wrestled for Japan during the 1932 Olympics; and Kaimon Kudo was popular during the 1930s and 1940s.

Although simple in appearance, don’t let looks fool you. The building’s main floor is mounted on truck springs to give it the necessary give for judo workouts. The building was designed by architect Kichio Arai, who also designed the Nichiren Buddhist Church (see waypoint #32) and Seattle Betsuin Temple (see waypoint #38).


The dojo’s unassuming double doors lead to activity within.

Alabastro Photography. Courtesy of Wing Luke Museum.

Artist Karime Martinez picks up the spirit of action, movement and fluid captured at the dojo.

By artist Karime Martinez. YouthCAN, Wing Luke Museum.