For one summer day in 1907, Queen Anne Hill was the center of attention not just of Seattle, but of two continents. With a spectacle the likes of which has not been seen before or since, Seattle’s Japanese community hosted the city’s Independence Day festivities at just west of what is now Kerry Park on West Highland Drive.
The Seattle P-I reported that “ten thousand citizens of Seattle” packed the hill’s sidewalks, porches and rooftops to watch the exotic Oriental fireworks brought by a visiting Japanese sea captain. A military band from Fort Lawton blew march music, then colorful bombs in outlandish shapes burst against Seattle’s skyline, from the newly erected spires of St. James Cathedral to the half-moon shoreline of Elliott Bay. Straw hats, parasols and fancy dresses filled the streets. Children scrambled to capture prize-laden balloons as they landed. Prominent Seattle preachers, judges, politicians and a future U.S. secretary of the interior — stood side-by-side on a podium with sailors from the Shinano Maru, in port down at Smith Cove, and local Japanese American leaders. Waving overhead were the Stars and Stripes and Rising Sun.
UW law graduate Takuji Yamashita – an immigrant who recently had been denied U.S. citizenship and a license to practice law – gave the keynote address with a bold declaration that Japanese immigrants had a stake in American success and could help Seattle thrive if given an opportunity. “We hope to see this country prosper,” Yamashita told the crowd, in a speech later praised by the P-I as “an answer to the agitators who perpetually preach the dangers of a Japanese peril.”
Below, in Smith Cove, floated the Shinano Maru. She was part of an N.Y.K. fleet that in only a decade of calling in Seattle had helped spur the city’s boom, the spoils of trade that built fortunes that built comfortable homes on Queen Anne. Two years earlier, the same Shinano Maru had starred in a legendary battle in Japan’s victory over Russia, a victory that fed unease that Japan’s next big military showdown might be against America.
Japanese immigrants were Seattle’s largest minority group in 1907, numbering about 10,000 and boasting their own two daily newspapers and three banks. Most lived in the fledgling Japantown developing around Sixth and Main. But dozens of Japanese immigrants lived on Highland Drive – most were live-in cooks, housekeepers and gardeners. There may be no one alive who witnessed that Fourth of July 98 years ago…