Showing posts with label Seattle Japantown. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Seattle Japantown. Show all posts

Saturday, August 3, 2013

WAWeekend: On the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Product DetailsIf you are a reader, you probably recognize the title of this post as part of the title of  Jamie Ford’s New York Times best-selling historical novel, Hotel On the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.

His story of love and friendship during a dark time in our country’s history is set in Seattle. It was during World War II, when President Roosevelt issued an Executive Order sending Japanese-American citizens (many born here) to internment camps for the duration of the war.

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Like elsewhere in the country, it uprooted families in the Seattle/Puget Sound area. Many families  stashed their bags in the basement of the Panama Hotel, before leaving for the camps.  (Some of those belongings were never reclaimed. They can be seen through a section of glass flooring in the present-day Tea House.)

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A few weeks ago while researching another article I am writing, I made my first I visit to The Panama Hotel, located in Seattle’s Chinatown/International District – the same hotel as featured in Ford’s book. 

So taken with its ambiance and history, was I, that I’ve since returned to its Tea and Coffee house with another  friend.

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Panama Hotel Lobby

Both visits have prompted me to not only read the novel but to also learn a bit more about what was once  Seattle’s Nihonmachi, or Japantown, that grew up in this southeastern corner of Seattle.

Main Street, on which the hotel is located, was once the main spine and economic hub of Nihonmachi, an area which reportedly stretched for many blocks.

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History is everywhere in the hotel and tea room pictured here
The walls of the hotel and its Tea/Coffee House are lined with photos of this once-bustling part of town along with hand-drawn maps reconstructing the former area. Names are added by those who still remember.

The vibrancy of that long ago Japantown was described by

“This neighborhood became a diverse tapestry of homes, churches, grocery stores, theaters, language schools, hotels, restaurants, bathhouses, and other businesses interweaving with the edges of other Seattle communities nearby.

Seattle's Japanese American population reached its peak in the early 1930s with a population of roughly 8500, but it didn't last.”

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Hing Hay Park - Chinatown/International District Seattle

While the pulse of the entire International District seems to be getting stronger in recent years, the renovation of the Panama Hotel -- designated a National Historic Landmark in 2006 -- is contributing to the life of the area. 

My friends and I were among a  steady stream of customers – hotel guests and those, like us, who had come for the refreshments – at the hotel. 

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Teas galore are available as well as Italian roasted coffee drinks

We had hoped to see the hotel’s basement where there remains one of the few intact Japanese bathhouses, (Sento) on the West Coast.  We didn’t, though, as we’d missed the regularly scheduled tour, led by the hotel owner  . . .Next time!

If  I’ve encouraged you to visit, keep in mind they have a regular Happy Hour in the Tea/Coffee room. This August and September (2013) at 2 p.m. on Saturdays there’s Panama Hotel Jazz, featuring music inspired by the novel and Oscar Holden, ‘the patriarch of Seattle Jazz’.  Admission is free.

If You Go:

Map picture

Panama Hotel, 605 1/2 Main St.  is European style with shared bathrooms; published rates are $90 single, $125 double. (TripAdvisor reviews swing wildly on this hotel, and make for entertaining reading). Phone: (206) 223-9242      Fax: (206) 624-4957  E-mail:, web:

Panama Tea and Coffee House, adjacent to the hotel lobby, at 607 Main St., Phone: (206) 515-4000
Call for tour dates, times, and prices.

The links above take you to the site to read more about the book.


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