by Victor Simoes
On Feb. 1, “Meet Me at Higo: An Enduring Story of a Japanese American Family,” the traveling exhibit from the Wing Luke Museum, opened on Level 8 of The Seattle Public Library’s (SPL) Central Library location. The exhibit tells the story of a Japanese American family in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District before, during, and after World War II, allowing visitors to get a sense of the profound historical roots of the Japanese American community in Seattle.
Through a range of personal photos, journals, and artifacts, such as reproductions of letters, “Meet Me at Higo” tells the story of the Murakami family and their family business, Higo 10 Cents Store (now KOBO at Higo). The exhibit illustrates the devastating effects of Executive Order 9066 (EO 9066), signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in World War II, Japanese Americans on the West Coast were seen by the government as a national security threat. Executive Order 9066 decreed forced evacuation of Japanese Americans into prison camps. Entire families and communities were removed from their homes, which also meant abandoning property, belongings, and jobs. Not a single Japanese American was ever found guilty of espionage or sabotage.
More than 125,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly relocated to internment camps. Many from the Seattle area were first imprisoned at “Camp Harmony” at the Puyallup Fairgrounds. Later, they were sent to Camp Minidoka in Idaho, or to other prisons in California or Wyoming. Roosevelt suspended EO 9066 in 1944, after hearing that the Supreme Court’s decision in Ex parte Endo would advocate against forced imprisonment of Japanese Americans. The last of the camps closed in March of 1946, and those incarcerated were left to rebuild their lives from the ground up. Some reparations were made through the Japanese American Evacuation Claims Act of 1948 and later through the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which gave surviving Japanese Americans $20,000 each in reparations.
In 1942, the State forcibly removed the Murakamis from their home and business to Minidoka. The family returned to Seattle in 1945 to reopen their business, which had been founded in 1903, and rebuild their lives. Their store, located at 604 Jackson St., served as a social space for the local Japanese American community, selling everything from household goods to Japanese snacks. Now called KOBO at Higo and operated by different owners, the store still occupies its original location in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District.
“One of the things we had heard from folks who had come to our space in the past is that there was a real and strong desire to learn more about local history,” said Abby Bass, a librarian in Arts, Recreation, & Literature Services at Seattle Central Library. “So we started to look around and see what was already out there, like what work folks had done that we could provide a bigger platform for.”
“The Day of Remembrance contributed to us wanting to have this exhibit at the library during February,” Bass told the Emerald. “It’s essential to mark that anniversary and recognize the profound impact this forced incarceration had on many of our neighbors and the effects that still linger today.”
Celebrated on Feb.19, the Day of Remembrance serves as a reminder of the impact the incarceration experience has had on the Japanese American community. This day of observance for the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II is an opportunity to learn and educate about these events that have had such lasting effects in American, and Seattle, history.
To help visitors deepen their understanding of the exhibit, librarians at The Seattle Public Library have created a “Meet Me at Higo” resource list that includes books and websites about the local history of Seattle’s Chinatown-International District. Also included in the exhibit is a Japanese American Remembrance Trail map, created by the Wing Luke Museum as a guide to an urban hike through the CID on a journey that explores historical sights and current community favorites.
“Meet Me at Higo” runs through March 26 at the Central Library’s Level 8 Gallery. The exhibition is free and open to the public Wednesday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Friday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m..
For more, check out the Wing Luke’s “Resisters” exhibit or graphic novel We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration by local authors and illustrators.
Editors’ Note: This article was updated on 03/07/2023 to clarify that the Japanese American Remembrance Trail map was created by the Wing Luke Museum, not The Seattle Public Library.
Victor Simoes is an international student at the University of Washington pursuing a double degree in journalism and photo/media. Originally from Florianópolis, Brazil, they enjoy radical organizing, hyper pop, and their beloved cats. Their writing focuses on community, arts, and culture. You can find them on Instagram or Twitter at @victorhaysser.
📸 Featured Image: The Murakami family visits Volunteer Park in 1923. (Photo: Murakami Family Collection, courtesy of the Wing Luke Museum.)
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