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A rendering of Hirabayashi Place.

Located in Seattle’s Nihonmachi, the first major outdoor memorial to Japanese American community history and its struggles for justice is set to open.

By Derek Ishihara and Leslie Morishita, InterIm CDA

‘I never look at my case as just my own, or just as a Japanese American case. It is an American case, with principles that
affect the fundamental human rights of all Americans.’
 — Gordon Hirabayashi

In the heart of Seattle’s Nihonmachi, or historic Japantown, InterIm Community Development Assn. (InterIm CDA) is completing work on its most ambitious affordable housing project to date, Hirabayashi Place.

InterIm CDA, one of the nation’s oldest community development corporations, has for more than 45 years sought to preserve and enhance Seattle’s Chinatown/International District neighborhood on behalf of low-income, limited-English-speaking immigrant and refugee communities who have historically made their first home in the neighborhood.

Building entry rendering showing the painting of Roger Shimomura.

Building entry rendering showing the painting of Roger Shimomura.

Hirabayashi Place will stand seven stories tall and include 96 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments, plus a childcare center on the ground floor. The project, named after Gordon Hirabayashi, honors the community’s local Japanese American civil rights hero, as well as pays homage to the rich cultural history of the neighborhood. Its goal is to help contribute to the re-emerging cultural identity of Nihonmachi and create a place for education, inspiration, remembrance and hope.

In today’s Seattle, with skyrocketing rents and low-income people being displaced from living in the city altogether, Hirabayashi Place will provide residents with a long-term foothold in the International District neighborhood, which is close to downtown and various transit systems as well as ensconced in a supportive and vibrant cultural environment where they can thrive.

In this way, Hirabayashi Place completes a full-circle story. In the same place where more than 70 years ago, during World War II, a burgeoning Nihonmachi neighborhood was decimated when Japanese American families were forcibly removed and incarcerated solely because of their ancestry, next year, Hirabayashi Place will welcome home 96 new families, including newly arriving immigrants and refugees seeking to build a life in this country, in this corner of the International District neighborhood we call Nihonmachi.

It seems only fitting that this project be named to honor Hirabayashi, whose story is grounded in the very notion of home and belonging and exemplifies the kind of steadfast commitment to social justice and equity that is at the heart of all of InterIm CDA’s work.

Public art and education installations, collectively referred to as the Legacy of Justice at Hirabayashi Place project, will enlighten visitors about Hirabayashi’s courageous stance for justice and contribute to the hopeful possibility that injustice like the WWII incarceration of Japanese Americans will never happen again.

The Gordon Hirabayashi Legacy of Justice Committee brings together community members and partner organizations in making sure that Hirabayashi’s story is shared and remembered. While full funding for the $30 million housing project has already been secured, the Gordon Hirabayashi Legacy of Justice Committee, along with InterIm CDA, is engaged in raising an additional $300,000 to fund Legacy of Justice at Hirabayashi Place public art installations.

Hirabayashi’s sister, Esther Toshiko Hirabayashi Furugori, a Seattle resident actively engaged with the Legacy of Justice committee, said, “To ensure that Gordon’s story lives on and inspires generations to come, our family is honored that the permanent Legacy of Justice installations of public art and interpretive elements will be the cornerstone of the mixed-use Hirabayashi Place project.”

A host of artists, including internationally esteemed artist Roger Shimomura, as well as various community-based artists, have been engaged to help make this project sing. Nationally renowned artist Norie Sato is chair of the Legacy of Justice aesthetic and art integration team. When selecting artists, Norie said, “We were drawn to artists who had some relation to the project — through the incarceration camps, the Japanese American experience in Seattle or even a new generation exploring Japanese American roots and aesthetic.”

Permanent Legacy of Justice installations will include:

  • Gordon Hirabayashi, American Patriot — 10-foot-by-8-foot painting by Shimomura depicting Hirabayashi’s life will be on display at the building’s main entry, facing outward in clear view for all who pass by. Shimomura was born in Seattle and spent two years of his childhood at Minidoka Incarceration Camp in Idaho.
  • Man From White River — Three panels as a companion to the Shimomura painting, inscribed with a poem flanked by narratives telling Hirabayashi’s story, all by poet and writer Larry Matsuda. Matsuda was born in Minidoka Incarceration Camp during World War II.
  • Illuminating History — Seven glass panels depicting Japanese American community history and its struggles for justice, on columns along the building’s street fronts, featuring artwork by Aki Sogabe and Amy Nikaitani.
  • Ai — Large stenciled panels on street-facing facades by artist Jonathan Wakuda Fischer, inspired by traditional indigo Japanese fabric, as a visible expression of Japanese and Japanese American culture.In Gordon’s Words — Quotes made by Hirabayashi will be inscribed on basalt pavers that will wrap around the building’s base.
  • Interior Historic Exhibit — An interpretive display to provide additional in-depth content about Hirabayashi’s story. Content development led by the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, with graphic design by Ryan Catabay.
  • Stand Up for Justice — One thousand origami cranes and bow ties folded by community members will be assembled into a kinetic mobile by artist Randy Jones. The mobile will hang in the building’s lobby. The cranes symbolize hope, and the bowties symbolize Hirabayashi.
  • Legacy of Justice Logo Carving — A wood carving of the Legacy of Justice logo by respected community leader, Nisei veteran and neighborhood resident Tosh Okamoto will hang in the building’s lobby.

The Hirabayashi Place street address of 442 S. Main St. lends further meaning to the project and is made possible by the serendipitous fact of the building’s location between Fourth and Fifth Ave. S. Its 442 S. Main St. address has also been designated to honor the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and all Nisei soldiers who served the U.S. during World War II.

Said Alan Nakamoto, former commander of the Nisei Veterans Committee, which is based in Seattle: “I think it is very meaningful to have 442 as the street address for Hirabayashi Place. Gordon Hirabayashi endured the same humility and loss of freedom as the 442nd Nisei who were forced to put their lives at risk for the same cause of Hirabayashi, the love of the United States Constitution.”

Young Gordon Hirabayashi standing by a tree.

Young Gordon Hirabayashi standing by a tree.

With the planned Legacy of Justice installations, Hirabayashi Place will stand as Seattle’s first major outdoor memorial to the Japanese American community that once flourished at this location and as a permanent reminder of the need for all citizens to remain vigilant in protecting their civil and human rights.

“I envision the Legacy of justice project to serve as a visible anchor for the neighborhood,” said Washington State Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, who also is a Legacy of Justice participant and supporter. “Hirabayashi Place and the Legacy of Justice project continues to advance InterIm CDA’s exemplary tradition of community-based development by establishing much-needed affordable workplace housing that serves our immigrant and refugee communities. . . . I appreciate that the Legacy of Justice project deliberately integrates public art into the building design in a fashion that residents, visitors and passersby alike will learn about Gordon Hirabayashi and his life. In addition, I hope that some of the art installations provoke further thought and public discussion about the many themes — major and minor — that influenced history and intersected with Gordon’s life.”

Legacy of Justice public art installations are slated for completion by spring 2016.

The Gordon Hirabayashi Legacy of Justice Committee extends its heartfelt gratitude to the JACL Seattle Chapter for its early donation of $10,000 and ongoing participation and support. Other community partners include Densho, Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington, Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality at Seattle University and the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, Nisei Veterans Committee, Asian Pacific Directors Coalition and Nikkei Concerns (newly renamed Northwest Keiro).

The Seattle JACL Board urges JACL members everywhere, as well as friends and supporters, to consider making a donation to the Legacy of Justice at Hirabayashi Place project to honor our legacy and protect civil liberties. With a donation of $500 or more, you may choose to have a name inscribed on a commemorative stone paver. This is a meaningful way to pay homage to a family member, loved one, community leader or the next generation of social justice advocates in a way that will become a permanent part of the public art at Hirabayashi Place.

For more information about the project or to make a donation, please visit the project website at  or email  or call Leslie Morishita at (206) 624-1802, ext. 19. 

About Gordon Hirabayashi

During World War II, when more than 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry were forcibly removed from their homes and communities solely because of their ancestry, Gordon Hirabayashi took a principled stand. While a student at the University of
Washington, Hirabayashi defied the U.S. government’s mass incarceration of Japanese Americans because it was racially discriminator and violated his rights as a U.S. citizen. After spending time in prison, Hirabayashi lost his case in an infamous Supreme Court decision in which government actions were upheld on the grounds of military necessity. Forty years later, Hirabayashi won vacation of his wartime convictions based on new evidence that proved government misconduct and discredited the military necessity of the Japanese American incarceration. Hirabayashi died on Jan. 2, 2012. Later that year, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Hirabayashi the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian honor, for his courageous stance against an unjust law.