Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Rev. Howell. SJ, Seattle University Professor School of Theology & Ministry

Reverend Howell of Seattle University shares a little of the history of the campus gardens and the Japanese citizens who even after internment contributed over many years to their design and installation. 

Rev. Howell. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

I’m speaking with Reverend Howell, SJ, D.Min. from Seattle University, who very generously offered to talk with me a little bit about the campus gardens and their history. How long have you been at Seattle University?

I got here in the fall of 1985. I’d been acquainted with the campus beginning in the 60s after it became Jesuit because I’d come up here. I’d known the Jesuit community but I didn’t really know the neighborhood.

Can’t say I really know the neighborhood. Period.

Seattle U. Garden Detail. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

That makes sense; there’s plenty going on at Seattle U to be absorbed in.


Now, I’m particularly curious about the Japanese Gardens that are partially in honor of the Japanese community here.


Let’s start with that.

(Laughs) Well, there’s one piece, but there are several Japanese features on the campus that go back before the memorial piece was even thought of.

Seattle U. Garden Detail.  Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

The Jesuits became connected with the Japanese American community right at the end of WWII. Some (from that community) were able to start coming back to the coast (due to internment/incarceration). I believe only a third ever came back to this area.

They had a hard time finding jobs. A lot of their possessions, their land, homes and everything had been lost. So, the Jesuits reached out to them and hired a good number of Japanese Americans for the grounds, for the laundry, for the cleaning, for all kinds of different roles. One of the gems in that group was Fujitaro Kubota, I think he came to the states in the early 1920s.

At that time, Father Ray Nichols was the Jesuit in charge of the grounds. The students called him ‘Father Green Thumb’ because he was always working in the gardens. He hired Fujitaro Kubota, and they became partners for designing the campus.

Seattle U. Garden Rock Detail. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

Now, building of those gardens started with what’s now called the Administration Building, it was called the Liberal Arts Building in 1938 or so. It was finished in 1946, and then they needed to do the landscaping. Fujitaro Kubota and Father Green Thumb (Father Nichols) designed the grounds there.

As far as first Kubota feature, it’s along the back west side of the whole Administration building as well as the front. Then for roughly the next 25 years, as the campus grew and added more buildings, those two men would design these Japanese designed gardens around the buildings.

I think we now have nine or ten Kubota features on campus.

I saw this just once but others had seen it too, as Fujitara got older he would sit on a stool, and direct his sons and the students, “Put the rock over there, put the tree there.” He design it as he went with his sons.

Seattle U. Pine Tree Detail. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

That’s the core of the story in terms of the Japanese American Gardens. It was done early on, right after the war. As the University acquired more property some of the gardens have been torn out when older buildings were torn down and then redone. Sometimes they don’t catch the original spirit.

There are a good number of trees and plants that are unique to this campus, that are not found in any other place in Seattle. Since Kubota had connections in Japan, he would bring these plants over from Asia. So, it’s really kind of a remarkable design.

I have spent time on campus looking at the gardens over the years. Somebody told me that it had been done by Ciscoe. I thought, “Oh, he did an incredible job!” but it turns out that the story is much more complicated.

Actually, Ciscoe was very proud of it, he would like show it off to people. And since then he has done a great deal to publicize them in his TV show.

It is lovely; whoever does it does an incredible job.

Seattle U. Garden Rock Detail. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

Yes, now it’s in incredible shape. Ciscoe is great for new projects (laughs). A lovely guy though, he and his dog, Koki. You’d always know he was around because you’d see the dog. His idea of the campus was more of a bird sanctuary so a lot of it is actually overgrown. He wanted thick shrubs where birds could roost and everything. So, it was quite a different concept from the sculptured look that you would get with the Japanese American gardens. Those gardens were the first phase, if you will.

Then, many years later in the year 2000, when I was the Dean of our School of Theology and Ministry, I was told by the Provost, “Get ready for your new building.” So, we got the Student Union building, which is now Hunthausen Hall, down by the Chapel there. I got involved with the fundraising and with architects to redesign it. We hired a really good firm and we were trying to tie the building in with the Chapel.

The Chapel is kind of a masterpiece on the campus. It has its own unique sculpture and design with an Oriental or Japanese/Asian feel to it.

Seattle U. Chapel St. Ignatius. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

It is very spare and elegant.

Yes, very spare. One day we had the blueprints of the chapel out. I said, “It would be really nice if we had a Zen Garden to tie in the two buildings together.” The architect just wrote right on the plan Zen Garden. (laughs) I thought these were sacred pieces - you don’t write on them.

Then, Bill Malcomson, a big supporter of the school, who had also been acting Vice Dean before I had come to SU. He said, “Oh, I think I know some people who would be interested in that” because he had a connection with the Japanese American Baptist community. That was the link with Yosh (Nakagawa) Yosh had gone to the public grade school in the area which is now Logan Field for intramurals. Then, there were even others who were very significant fundraisers. Larry Matsuda, a faculty member whose parents had been interned in Minidoka, chaired the committee.

Seattle U. Japanese Memorial Garden Plaque. Photo: Madeline Crowley

He had this kind of almost zen-like contemplative attitude. When he came for the interview, he said, “Well, I don’t have Powerpoint.” All these other boys (architects) had Powerpoint, and a show, and all this about all they’d done. Instead, Allan Kubota said little, a bit reticent about what he did. We had to ask him a few questions before he would disclose anything. Finally, we asked him, “Well, what is the difference between your design and your grandfather’s?” He said, after a long pause, “My rocks are bigger.” (laughs)

Of course now we have these large cranes to move stuff around, so it wasn’t just human labor as it had been before. Then, he explained his design, he said, “Well, I just start with a pine tree and a rock. Then it unfolds.” That was about it. That was his presentation. We were all captivated by it, just his presence. He had this depth you could just feel.

Yes, he was going work with the actual space and not impose something on it.

That’s a very good way to put it.

Seattle U. Garden Detail. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

By the time he had started on it we had moved in the building. My office looked right down onto that space. I could see him standing out there with his grandson, who was about 4 or 5. And he (Allan Kubota) would just stand there and gaze at the space as the workers were there. Then he would have them move something this way or that way.

So he was very much his grandfather’s grandchild.

Very much.

Now, to skip back in time, when the Japanese Americans were interned in Minidoka, Idaho, Fujitaro (and others, who I don’t know) started building gardens over there. There are Kubota gardens in Minidoka, especially at the entrance. So, we’ve had a connection there that we’ve established with Minidoka.

That came out of this conversation with Allan Kubota. Also, then there was interest in the library (Special Collections). As a result, we’ve got quite a bit of material from the camps and people that were connected with that, especially with the Kubota family.

That’s the more immediate connection.

Seattle U. Garden Detail. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

I have a good friend, a Jesuit, whose family lived in this area, Father (Ron) Hidaka. I’m trying to think of his mother’s family name… Takasaki. Anyway, they had a grocery store on the other side of Jefferson. His uncles tell a story of this guy, Frank Hidaka, who kept walking by the grocery store and looking up at Teresa all the time. Later, Frank Hidaka and Teresa became Ron’s parents.

Ron’s parents were kind of pulled together, arrested really, and sent to the Puyallup State Fairgrounds (where Japanese American citizenswere held in animal paddocks). They decided to get married so they wouldn’t be separated in the camps. They were married on the Fairgrounds down there by a Catholic priest, a Maryknoll priest.

The other part of that story is that the marital priest had a (Maryknoll) parish up here on 16th and Jefferson; do you know that part or have you ever seen it?

It was largely Japanese American and Filipino both.

 Courtesy of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers Maryknoll US

The Maryknoll priest was a priest from Kansas named Father Tibesar. He had actually worked in Manchuria ministering to Japanese. He came to Seattle in about 1936. He insisted on going to the camps with the Japanese Americans. This did not please the Army because he could then be a kind of spokesperson for them, to make sure they were being treated properly. Conditions in the camp were harsh. I’ve heard from people whose parents and grandparents were in the camps and the elders had a really hard time of it. The teenagers had a ball.

Yeah, that’s what I’ve heard too.

You’ve heard that too?

It makes sense. When you’re a kid, all of a sudden…

It was like going to camp.

You’re in a place with all kinds of other kids, and there’s nothing to do but play.

Yeah, right.

Seattle U. Garden Detail. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

So for the young, it was fun.

They had a very different experience from the parents. Ron’s younger sister was probably born somewhere around 1952, her name is Mary Jane Patterson now. They were studying history when she was in the 6th grade, about Japanese Americans who had been in the camps. She had never heard this story. She came home and asked her parents about it. She didn’t find out about it until she was about 11.

Yes, the older generation didn’t speak of it.

Yes, just complete silence for all those years. Then later, there was a lot of the interest in the Memorial Garden. Then we did it and (long pause) it came out as the Japanese American Memorial Garden. That was the purpose of it.

Seattle U. Garden Detail. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

I know Yosh had something to do with advancing that as the topic but we were all on the same page before that. The children from those camps, who had been teenagers at the time, wanted to commemorate their parents and grandparents and what they had endured.

The garden was started in roughly what year?

That would be about 2003. It was about the same time when another Japanese American garden over on Bainbridge was built. It’s a much bigger operation than ours; ours was kind of a tiny little thing.

That was sort of the biggest concentration wasn’t it? I've seen these poignant photos of family members carrying suitcases, whatever they could and then being boarded on the ferry to take them off the island. 

Seattle U. Garden Detail. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

Ron’s Hidaka’s uncle lived around here on about 9th and James before it was all developed. He was a scholar so he had been back and forth to Japan a couple of times. (Due to that travel) he was arrested about two days after Pearl Harbor, December 11th and rushed away (to special Department of Justice isolation camps for leaders in the Japanese American community). The family didn’t know where he was; turns out he was over in Bismarck, North Dakota.

I grew up in North Dakota. We never heard about any of this. Never heard that there had been camps in our own state. It was all rather hush hush -- on both sides.

Seattle U. Garden Detail. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

Ron grandfather (Takasaki) had an antique furniture place right around (he pointed it out to me once) Providence Hospital (now Swedish, Cherry Hill). It was someplace up in that neighborhood. I think the family lost that.

Yes, no one wants to talk about what happened to all the possessions, the businesses that had to be left behind. People know what happened to all of those goods are either gone or won’t say because they don’t want to stir things up. There were many, many businesses where all of their goods were acquired without a penny given in return.

Right, right, right.

It’s amazing to me that these people, many of whom would have been middle aged, had built these businesses and lost everything. Then were essentially booted out of the camps and made homeless. Yet with no obvious bitterness, they integrated their children fully into American society and made their lives successful and their childrens’ lives even more successful. It’s a real testimony to the backbone, culture and heart of those people.

And their resilience.

Seattle U. Garden Detail. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

Ron Hidaka and I were in the novitiate together down in Sheridan, Oregon. He had graduated from Gonzaga/Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma. I remember we got talking - we had a lot of time to talk there. We were out for a walk and I said, “Oh, where were you born?” I told him I was from North Dakota, and he said, Idaho. I was just oblivious, I asked him “Idaho?  What were your parents doing in Idaho?” Then he told me that he was born in the (Minidoka) camp about a year after they’d arrived. So it’s always been kind of personal because of that connection.

I would imagine that even people your parents’ age in the Dakotas would have had no idea.

No, that wasn’t so. I remember my dad saying after the war, “This just isn’t right. It just wasn’t right to do.”

Seattle U. Garden Detail. Pine needles. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

What’s interesting to me is that the Japanese who lived west of the mountains, and the Japanese who lived in Idaho, could come into the camp, see their friends, and then leave. It is staggering.

The Hidakas were able to move to Spokane before the war was over because they had relatives there. You could do that. You could not come back to the coast, but if you had other connections, you could move elsewhere.

A Law school professor here, Margaret Chon, did research to find how many students we had of Japanese origin (during internment). At a graduation ceremony a few years ago we honored them because of her work. There were 14 of those students but by the time we got around to recognizing them, I think there was only one left still living. Most of them had been freshmen or sophomores (during internment). Some of them finished degrees elsewhere in nursing or such. A few of them had connections in Denver and could get out of here before they were rounded up so they didn’t have to go to the camps.

Seattle U. Garden Detail. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

It was a really a startling time in American history. I didn’t know people could, of their own will, could move to the mountain states. That’s something I didn’t know until now.

I learned some of this because of the research of the law professor, Maggie Chon, the Seattle University Professor I mentioned earlier.

I may have seen once that the only civic figure in Seattle that I understand stood out against it was the Bishop of Seattle (Bishop Shaughnessy).

That’s interesting. I’ll look that up. That’ll be good to include.

There’s a history of the cathedral written by Corinna Laughlin. It’s a really nice history of the Cathedral Parish. She’s a Catholic historian of the area who works on staff at Saint James Cathedral. Everybody knows Corinna; she’s a twin actually. I always get them mixed up.

Seattle U. Chapel St. Ignatius, Interior Detail. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

Have you been in the lobby of the Minor & James Clinic over here? If you’re on the first floor there, they have pictures of the old mansions of old there. Some of the housing for the campus was there with these old mansions. The University had about three of them; they were practically like fraternities. There was usually a Jesuit living in them, but there could be as many as 12-14 young men living there. That would have been on the other side (west) of Broadway here. I think it was mainly white families on that side of the street. The city was moving up (the hill) at that time too. We eventually sold a couple of those mansions to Swedish Hospital. Swedish is a bit like this octopus that keeps growing.


I’m sure some people say the same thing of Seattle U.

Seattle U. Chapel St. Ignatius, Interior Detail. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

Well, I remember when Qwest (now Century Link) had that building on 14th. That was hardly a loss to the community. It looks great the way that it does now especially the plantings are wonderful.

Oh, yes. We got a new buildings and ground person about 5 years ago. I remember talking to him when he first got here. He said, “Wow, this is the first space I’ve ever been to where the grounds are more important than the buildings.” He was looking at design. We only have really two buildings that are noteworthy, I think, and those are the Chapel and the Garrand building, the first building on campus. The others are just kind of functional.

Seattle U, Chapel St. Ignatius. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

I always tell people, “Walk through the campus” because it’s beautiful.

Quite a few relatives of people who are patients in the hospital walk the campus for a little relief. They come to the Chapel or the Mass there.

Now (pause) I’m guessing you can answer this question. My impression is that even when the campus was smaller, postwar, that the Jesuit community didn’t see this institution as a purely Catholic institution; and that remains the case.

That’s not the Jesuit way of doing it. Even before (the war) I don’t think it would have been that.


Seattle U. Garden Detail. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

Can you explain that a little bit? Most people don’t know much about the Jesuits unless they’re Catholic.


What’s the philosophy of the Jesuits relative to the larger non-catholic community? Just to give you a little, easy question (laughs).

There are levels to that question because it depends on which era you’re talking about. When I give talks to the faculty or students on the history of Seattle U and Jesuit involvement, I break it into three periods.

The first period is from the founding, from 1891 to about 1950, where Seattle U was a Catholic University in a Catholic culture in a Protestant country. Then, most of the university would have been Catholic, although Protestants were certainly welcome. We might have had a few Jewish students, too, but probably not. That’s because it was so specifically catholic in terms of its orientation and requirements, a lot of philosophy, a lot of theology. The core curriculum was pretty Catholic.

Seattle U. Garden Rock Detail. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

Then you have this whole upheaval starting in the 1960s and 70s, this huge transition occurs, not just in the Catholic Church, but also in the culture, in the United States. By 1980, you have a Catholic Ecumenical university in a secular culture. It’s no longer a Protestant culture; that had faded out in the late 50s or so.

So, if you look at where the Jesuits focused in those different periods, well, early on it was training Catholic laypeople to be leaders in society, to help out the civic good but also to create leaders for the church as well as people who embraced and could explain their faith.

In the 60s and 70s, we didn’t know what was going on regarding how we were supposed to do that, I think. Still, they did a good job. You had to be rolling with the punches as you went. That meant that those (Jesuits) who were flexible and could handle or even enjoyed chaos, they did great. Those who were more traditional, it was not so good for them.

Seattle U. Garden Detail.Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

Then, in the 1980s we had a much better sense of our identity. By then the Second Vatican Council had called for much more interfaith and ecumenical dialogue. That frankly was right up our alley. There was actually a Jesuit who drafted the document on religious freedom for the whole church, Father John Courtney Murray.

There were other Jesuits who were involved with these key documents. The Jesuit take was finding God in all things. There’s a bit of a presumption that God has been active in a foreign land or another person long before you ever showed up on the scene. That mutual respect is always something to be learned in dialogue with someone else.

Seattle U. Garden Detail. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

The fact that we now have a lot of religious diversity is just a big plus on the campus here. Part of that, though, is Seattle. Only a third of our student body is Catholic. If you were living in Philadelphia in the Jesuit university of Saint Joseph’s, probably 70% of the student body is Catholic. A place like Fordham University in the Bronx, would be, 60-70%. A lot of it depends on the kind of local culture that gives coloration as to how the university reacts and responds.

We have the largest non-white student body in the state, if you put it that way.

That is a real testament to how welcoming this community is.

Right. Sometimes people walk through our Residence Halls and remark, “Wow, you have a lot of international students.” We don’t actually have that much; it’s similar to other campuses, 8 or 9%. It’s just that we’re also a very diverse America.

Seattle U. Garden Detail. Lilies. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

This is a digression but I think you’ll find this interesting. It’s a real testimony to Seattle U. I tutored students on this campus from the International Students Division. I had a student who at one point said to me “Why do Americans adopt?” I tried to explain that it’s a way of giving, and it’s a way of having a family if you can’t, or adding to your family. It’s a way of sharing, and she found that very odd. Then at another point, we were talking about something personal in her life. I said, “Giving is the most beautiful thing you can do for someone else.” She responded by saying, “I don’t understand why anyone would want to give or share.”

Then she was required to take the Ethics class here. She contacted me a couple years after school and said, “You know what’s interesting? I’ve learned you’re right. Giving is the most rewarding part of life. But I would never have appreciated that if I hadn’t had a Jesuit education.” It really did transform her as a person because she was here at this school. It became an integral part of her character.

Seattle U. Garden Detail. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

That’s a good testimony. Yes. It’s very encouraging.

It is. You guys are changing people.


Thank you! What a pleasure to meet you.

 ©  Madeline Crowley People of the Central Area 2015   All material is covered by copyright. Express written permission must be given for any copyrighted material on this page. Email to request permission to copy or paste materials. 

Special thanks to Zachary Hitchcock for his hard work with the transcription!!

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Seattle, WA, United States
I am not a professional photographer nor a trained journalist. At community meetings, it became clear that many of us don’t know each other. We haven’t heard each other’s stories and don't know each other’s circumstances. This is my attempt to give a few people the chance to tell their story, to talk about our community, to say their piece in peace. As such, comments have been disabled. The views and opinions expressed here are those of each narrator and do not necessarily reflect the position of views of the CentralAreaComm.blogspot blog site itself. The is not responsible for the accuracy of any information supplied by narrators of this project. All interviews have been edited and in places condensed.

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