Here in Seattle there are many parks, but since this is not exactly a walkable city, I can’t say I’ve visited them all. Contrast that with somewhere like Paris, which has maybe four times the population of Seattle, but in an area 1/4th the size. In Paris, I’ve probably visited all the parks, gardens, squares, and every other type of green area, but in Seattle, I’ve not visited many, for they are too spread out and the city too sprawling. Paris also has a sort of set-up whereby events are held in the city parks– events that people might actually want to go to: musical groups from Palestine or Mexico or Bordeaux, for example. In Seattle, the events in the parks tend to be Easter egg hunts for babies or trash clean-up days, neither of which interest me all that much. The City of Paris also has the common sense to stagger (or rotate) events around to all the different parks, so that out-of-the-way parks see some action and get discovered: in this way I’ve visited any number of parks in out-of-the-way arrondissments that I wouldn’t otherwise maybe see. Seattle, by contrast, hosts events in Volunteer Park and one or two others, if that, and uses the other parks as pot-smoking refuges for underage hippies, dog-walking areas for pit bull fanciers, and frisbee-throwing areas for brawny frat boys. As these three activities don’t interest me in the slightest, and Palestinian musical groups do, I find Seattle’s parks to be lacking in excitement compared to those of Paris. That said, Seattle’s parks are certainly larger, and possibly greener, and contain some points of interest.
The Danny Woo Garden and Kobe Terrace are to be found in the Japanese area of the International District in Seattle. I was taken there by my associate and band-mate Bon-Bon, who, living in close proximity to said gardens, visits them often and was quite familiar with the whole to-do. It was my first time there.
You can get to these gardens quite easily by bus or tramway; they are about three blocks from the International District stop. That is what me and Bon-Bon did, arriving via tramway, and we wended our way up the streets to the gardens, which are across the street from Ichiban Japanese Restaurant and the Panama Hotel café (about which I’ll post something another time; it’s an interesting place and I used to deliver things there about ten years ago).
Danny Woo was a Chinese-American capitalist who, in a moment of social enlightenment, leased out this land at some point in the 1970s for the pithy sum of a $1 per year; it became a community garden for use by old folks and residents of low net financial worth, which is how people are judged these days. There are said to be about 100 plots there, and there is also a large chicken coop full of clucking birds with fanciful names. Bon-Bon said she’d never seen the chicken coop before, and surmised it must be a recent addition, as Seattle is suffering from an urban chicken craze of late as local residents become keen on caging up poor creatures in hastily-constructed backyard chicken coops. I believe the most popular local chicken name is “Henrietta”, based on anecdotal evidence.
We also spotted kale, carrots, some squash perhaps, and some various other vegetables. Actually Bon-Bon spotted these items; I being a city chap was most unfamiliar with the various stalks and above-ground parts of common vegetables. In one area there were some terraces on which were written things in some various Asian languages: I spotted Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Indonesian, and some others.
At the top of the vegetable-growing area, the garden gives way to Kobe Terrace, which butts up against the freeway and features a 200-year-old 4-ton stone lantern, which was a gift to Seattle from the people of Kobe, Japan (our sister city on the other side of the Pacific). According to the badly-copyedited City of Seattle website, the area is “adorned with Mt. Fuji cherry trees and laced with ground vines and pathways winding alongside the freeway”. We didn’t see any cherry trees at all, but a man with two pugs walked by playing what sounded like Frank Sinatra out of a transistor radio in his pocket. I asked the fellow about the music. “Big Band sound!” he told me proudly, asserting that the two pugs liked it immensely, and that said dogs were “famous in San Francisco”.
We examined the giant lantern, which sits in what appears to be a pool; Bon-bon told me she had never seen water in it, though, and there did not appear to be a mechanism by which water would be pumped into the area, so perhaps it’s meant to be a dry pool. At the same corner, next to the lantern, sits the Nippon Kan Theatre, which used to put on Japanese plays. It has since gone under, as the Japanese are no longer interested in emigrating to Seattle, leaving that to the Vietnamese. Furthermore, local Japanese-Americans have lost interest in such things, perhaps turning their attention to monster trucks or such other forms of Americana- a Seattle P-I newspaper article from 2005 (‘Seattle loses icon of Japanese heritage’) on the theatre attributes the fall of Seattle’s Japantown to lower Japanese emigrant numbers post-1965 and a general assimilation into mainstream American ‘culture’ by later generations of Japanese-Americans.
This little park is a nice place to sit around; Bon-bon also showed me an area of concrete bench-type creations which she asserted was a cool place to sit on scorching 62-degree Seattle summer days; I also found a stash in the bushes of a bunch of bags of chips, which Bon-bon believed must belong to a local transient. If I were you, I’d go have coffee at the Panama Hotel (or bring it over to the park even) and spend a nice little while there if you ever find yourself in this part of Seattle.