Nikkei Concerns (Seattle)

  • By Mary T. Henry
  • Posted 4/15/2013
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 10349
Nikkei Concerns is a Seattle nonprofit organization dedicated to the welfare of the elderly Japanese American community in the Pacific Northwest. Its services are founded on quality care, respect, trust, and kimochi (good feelings) for the Nikkei, Japanese emigrants to America or their descendants. Its stated mission is to enrich and support the lives of elders and meet their needs in a way that honors and respects Nikkei culture and values. Under its umbrella of care are a nursing home, an assisted-living home, adult-education programs, and adult-daycare programs. It has become the second largest health care and educational organization for Japanese Americans and the general public, next to one in Los Angeles. 

Elderly Japanese: A Need for Care

As early as 1946, when the Japanese who were incarcerated during World War II returned to Seattle, the need for care of the elderly was apparent. With the aid of a Quaker organization, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Shungo Hirabayashi (1888-1971) and his family opened a boarding home in Seattle at 935 16th Avenue for elderly Issei bachelors. (Issei are defined as first-generation Japanese who migrated to America.). The home operated until the early 1970s, when costly renovations required by the city forced its closure.

In the mid-1960s and early 1970s, Dr. Ruby Inouye Shu (1920-2012) and Reverend Kenneth Miyake of Blaine United Methodist Church began visiting Japanese-speaking Issei either homebound or living in one of 12 local nursing homes. Dr. Shu attended to their medical care and Reverend Miyake brought the church to them. They both found that in the nursing homes the Issei had difficulty communicating their needs, were not socializing, and were not eating well because they missed their traditional food, with rice as the main dish. They stayed in their beds most of the time and did not complain. There were estimated to be more than 100 elderly Issei in need of nursing care in a culturally sensitive environment.

In 1970 Dr. Shu and her husband, Dr. Evan Shu (1920-2001), proposed building a 100-bed nursing home, but the state reduced the number of beds permitted under the "certificate of need," which made the proposal financially unfeasible. Undaunted, a group of Japanese American citizens met on November 29, 1972, at the Nisei Veterans Hall, to form the Issei Concerns Committee.

The committee's task was to investigate the possibility of opening a Japanese nursing home. In 1976 the Mount Baker Convalescent Center, located at 25th Avenue came up for sale. In order to purchase the property, formal articles of incorporation were drafted to establish Issei Concerns. Tomio Moriguchi and Tosh Okamoto were prominent members as were Glen Akai, Fred Takayesu, Harry Kadoshima, Henry Miyatake, and Sally Kazama, each offering different expertise. These founding members were known as "The Magnificent Seven."

Issei Concerns

The Japanese American community came together in a massive fundraising campaign in order to purchase the Mount Baker Convalescent Center at located in the Mount Baker neighborhood of Seattle. A kick-off banquet was held on March 4, 1976, at Sun Ya Restaurant in the International District with almost 300 people in attendance. Governor Dan Evans (b. 1925) commented on how encouraging it was to see community groups trying to solve problems. Early contributions were made by churches and community organizations, which entitled them to representation on the board.

By July the property was purchased and much effort was spent by a large number of volunteers who began cleaning and repairing the building in evenings and on weekends. Fresh coats of paint were applied to the walls and floors were stripped and waxed. The overgrown yard was completely rejuvenated. New mattresses and new washing machines were added and the kitchen was upgraded. On September 19, 1976, the gleaming new Japanese American nursing home opened and was named Seattle Keiro (respect for the elderly). By November there were 27 patients. It was not long before the facility was overwhelmed with people wanting to be admitted and three years later there was a waiting list of 50.

Nikkei Concerns

In 1980, with recognition of a need to focus beyond the Issei, the organization changed its name Nikkei Concerns to include all generations of those of Japanese descent in America. There was such a strong involvement in the community regarding Keiro that the organization decided in 1983 to explore opportunities for expansion. Two years later it began a major fundraising effort for a new 150-bed facility. Once again the Nikkei community came together, this time to raise $2 million. One of the many successful fundraisers given was by a group of 20 Sansei (third-generation Japanese Americans) at the Butcher Atrium, which featured recording artist Kenny Gorlick later known as Kenny G.

The facility was to be built in the Yesler/Atlantic neighborhood on E Yesler Way. Part of the block was owned by Dr. Ruby Shu and her husband, Dr. Evan Shu, on the site where they had planned to build their nursing home in 1970. Nikkei Concerns purchased all of the property on the block and leased the old Seattle Keiro to the Chinese Coalition Committee. This committee developed the Kin On (Health and Safety) Nursing Home for the Chinese community. (It is now, in 2013, located in South Seattle at 4416 S Brandon and is the first Chinese nursing home operated by the Chinese community in the nation.)

The New Seattle Keiro 

On June 7, 1987, the new Seattle Keiro was dedicated. It was designed by Arai/Jackson Architects and built by Sellen Construction Company.Treasured objects from the old Keiro, the stone lantern donated by the family of Shigeko Uno and the pine tree donated and planted by Masato Uyeda, were moved to the new campus.

The dedication ceremony began with invocations from Nikkei ministers from various faiths. The government officials present and on the program were Senator Dan Evans, Governor Booth Gardner (1936-2013), King County Executive Tim Hill (b. 1936), Seattle City Councilman Sam Smith (1922-1995), and Japanese Consul General Shigenobu Nagai. Tours were conducted by more than 300 volunteers who guided visitors through the 150-bed facility.

In order to fill the beds as quickly as possible, an aggressive marketing effort was set in place. In less than a year the number of residents grew to 109 and included several non-Nikkei patients, seven non-Japanese Asians, six Caucasians, and one African American. Services remained culturally sensitive and respectful of all ethnicities. By 1991 Seattle Keiro had achieved 100 percent occupancy. Keiro offers long term care, short-term rehabilitation, and care with dementia. It received a five-star rating, the highest, by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services for the last two years.

Visitors are embraced in warmth by the staff and there is beauty all around. The entrance boasts a special flower arrangement in its own built-in niche and a Paul Horiuchi (1909-1999) collage as well as stunning walls of a glass mural. Scott Murase designed the gardens with a Japanese influence incorporating rocks, pine trees, lanterns, and the sound of running water from George Tsutakawa's (1910-1997) bronze fountain "Song of Flowers."

Dragon Fly is a program designed to assist grieving families of dying patients. Geraldine Shu, whose mother, Dr. Ruby Shu, died at Keiro, recalled, "About nine of us were gathered around her bed reminiscing and thinking of things that we remembered about her. Keiro set up a table just inside the door of her room with tea, rice crackers, oranges, fig newtons and other things for us. Then she passed."

New Horizons

With the nursing home established and running well, attention was given to how the expertise of many Japanese American citizens could be used to spark the interest of retirees in a continuing education program. In 1990, Nikkei Horizons started this new program of classes with about 110 participants.

It continues with volunteer-taught classes and workshops on an array of subjects such as computers, financial and estate planning, painting, yoga, and tai chi. Local and overseas tours are planned for participants. More than 800 individuals take advantage of the classes, which are taught in different sites in Seattle: Kawabe House, Nikkei Manor, Japanese Baptist Church, Midori, Keiro, Nisei Veterans Building, and Seattle Buddhist Church.

Because there was a group of elders not qualifying for nursing care and not quite able enough for independent living, Nikkei Concerns began investigating the possibilities for an assisted-living facility. The organization decided that the place should be in the International District near shops, restaurants, and convenient transportation. The former site of the Puget Union Hotel at 6th Avenue S and S Dearborn Street fit the bill. This property was owned by the Nishimura family, who provided a long-term lease to the organization.

Nikkei Manor

Once again the Japanese community came together with fundraisers to build the 50-unit facility at a cost of more than $6 million. The state Housing Finance Commission provided $3.1 million in bonds for the construction and a capital campaign goal was for $2.5 million. Younger Japanese Americans joined the campaign, which held its first fundraiser in October 1996 and drew more than 600 people. The event raised $55,000.

On January 28, 1998, the grand opening of Nikkei Manor was celebrated. The facility offers assisted living to middle- and low-income residents. The rent of studio and one-bedroom units includes assistance with dressing and showers, meals, laundry, and daily activities.

The gardens at the southeast corner of the building were designed by Daniel Winterbottom's landscape design class at the University of Washington with input from the residents. Art by Roger Shimura, George Tsutakawa, and Paul Horiguchi grace the building's interior.

Kokoro Kai 

Kokoro Kai, meaning meeting of hearts and minds, is a program designed for elderly Nikkei living in the community. The goal of the program is to help them maintain independence, enhance their quality of life, and promote health and wellness. Open to residents of Nikkei Manor where the program is located and to elderly Nikkei living in their homes, it offers a variety of activities including cooking, arts and crafts, singing, and meals.

Transportation is provided and gives relief to caregivers on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. Some of the painting done by the participants is displayed and also printed on notecards, which are sold to visitors.

Midori Condominiums

Concern for Nikkei living independently prompted the building of a 22-unit condominium complex across the street from Seattle Keiro at 1515 E Yesler Way. The Board of Directors authorized NC Enterprises, Inc., a for-profit subsidiary of Nikkei Concerns, to purchase the property from the City of Seattle for development of the condominiums.

They were named Midori to reflect the idea of green, which is a metaphor for the spring season, renewal, and new beginnings. These attractive units have a Japanese influence in the design and attract those 55 and older. Bringing his vision of buildings he had seen in Kyoto, Japan, the architect Ken Kubota designed the project. Midori Condominiums completed the continuum of care for the Nikkei in the Pacific Northwest.

Administration of Nikkei Concerns

Jeffrey Hattori (b. 1963) was named CEO of Nikkei Concerns in 2010. A Sansei -- third generation Japanese American -- he considers Nikkei Concerns in his DNA because of his almost lifelong experiences. As a 13 year old he worked as weekend janitor at the first Keiro, then later as dishwasher. His mother, cofounder of a fundraising group, had been a resident of Keiro. His aunt had been director of nurses there. He became the administrator of Keiro from 1998-2001.

Hattori attended Rainier Beach High School, Highline Community College, and the University of Washington where he received his degree in sociology. Before returning to the Japanese organization, he worked for the Eli Lilly Corporation as a lobbyist.

His commitment to the goal of Nikkei Concerns was demonstrated in 2010 when, after reading a news article about an elderly Japanese American woman found wandering the streets, he sent a team to rescue her. She is now (2013) flourishing at Nikkei Manor.

CEOs of Nikkei Concerns as of 2013 have been:

Russ Akiyama 1976-1978

Fred Takayesu 1978-1985

Russ Akiyama 1985-1994

Anne Arakaki-Lock 1995-1997

Catherine Kanda 1997-2004

Cynthia Shiota 2004-2006

Susan Oki 2006-2009

Jeffrey Hattori, 2010-present (2013). 


Sources: "Our Community Legacy," Tayori: A Newsletter of Nikkei Concerns, Summer 2008; Nicole Brodeur, "A Scary Story with a Happy Ending," The Seattle Times, September 2, 2010 (seattletimes.com); Marsha Kemp, "Keeping Legacy Alive for Young and Old," The Seattle Times, September 30, 2000; Years of Caring: The Story of Nikkei Concerns (Seattle: Nikkei Concerns, 2010); Nan Nan Lui, "Breaking Ground: Nikkei Concerns Vision for a Green Space Becomes a Reality for its Residents," International Examiner, October 5, 2010 (http://www.iexaminer.org/2011/10/breaking-ground-nikkei-concerns’/); "Nikkei Concerns Celebrates 35 Years with Nearly 1000 of its Closest Friends." International Examiner, November 2, 2010 (http://www.iexaminer.org/2010/11/nikkei-concerns-celebrates-35-years/); "Nikkei Concerns Unveils Seattle Keiro Garden and Care Center," Northwest Asian Weekly, July 23, 2012 (http://www.nwasianweekly.com); "Co-authors and cofounders sign copies of 'Years of Caring, the Story of Nikkei Concerns,'" Northwest Asian Weekly, October 21, 2010 (http://www.nwasianweekly.com); "Nikkei Concerns: A Gathering Place with Buzz for Seattle's Japanese American Elders," Northwest Asian Weekly, September 16, 2010 (http://www.nwasianweekly.com); "Bonds Will Fund New Housing for Seniors," The Seattle Times, November 22, 1996; Geraldine Shu, email to Mary T. Henry, author, September 24, 2012; Mary T. Henry interview of Patty Hiroo Mastrude, Seattle, February 14, 2013; Mary T. Henry interview of Elaine Wetterauer, Seattle, February 14, 2013; Jeffrey Hattori,"Dear Friends," Tayori: a Newsletter of Nikkei Concerns, Spring 2010; "Jeffrey Hattori Is New Nikkei Concerns CE,." Northwest Asian Weekly, March 10, 2010; Mary T. Henry interview of Jeffrey Hattori, Seattle, March 11, 2013.

Related Topics:   Asian & Pacific Islander Americans | Health | Organizations

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