By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
A new wrought iron fence and security camera at the Highline SeaTac Botanical Garden are being installed to protect it from vandalism. Many of its stone lanterns are either missing or damaged.
Volunteer coordinator Markus Burdine works there on a regular basis to offer his watchful eye.
The Seike Japanese Garden — located at the east end of the Highline SeaTac Botanical Garden — continues to provide tranquility and peace for its visitors despite the problem.
Aside from the thunder-like sounds from airplanes landing at nearby SeaTac International Airport, the garden has become a place for reflection. On June 12, it will be one of five featured gardens in the 2010 Highline Garden Tour.
“We want people to respect it,” said Wendy Morgan, president of the Highline Botanical Garden Foundation.
A questionable lack of respect occurred decades earlier when garden creator Shinichi Seike — an immigrant from Ehime Prefecture in Japan in 1919 — his wife Kameno, his third son, Hal, and his second daughter, Ruth, were forced to relocate to the Heart Mountain and Tule Lake internment camps under President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. The order — signed in 1942 — set in motion the evacuation and incarceration of 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry living on the West coast.
Seike’s eldest sons, Ben and Toll, could no longer continue attending Washington State College, currently known as Washington State University. Toll would later join the U.S. Army and become a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the most decorated military unit in U.S. history. During this time, Shinichi Seike’s oldest daughter, Shizu, was attending a college in Spokane.
Fortunately for the Seikes, a German American family stepped in to save their 13-acre lot in Burien from seizure during World War II. The family returned the land to the Seikes after the war. Shinichi Seike then started Des Moines Way Nursery in 1947.
“[My dad’s] first thought was that the garden, itself, would enhance the nursery, and then, when the garden was almost complete, the family thought it would be a good idea to dedicate this garden as a memorial for my brother [Toll], who was killed in France in 1944,” said Ben Seike in a DVD documentary, “The Seike Garden: An American Story.”
“It would enhance sales of the specialized pines, maples, and stone lanterns we were selling,” said Hal Seike, 83, during a recent interview.
“Its style is mountain-and-waterfall,” he added.
Garden designer Shintaro Okada from Hiroshima, Japan, arrived in the United States a month before construction began in January 1961.
On June 25, 1961, the Seike Japanese Garden — complete with koi fish — officially opened adjacent to the Des Moines Way Nursery.
Respect was eventually extended. Instead of a government seizure, the Port of Seattle purchased the 11,000-square-foot garden in November 2002 to make way for its $773 million third runway at SeaTac International Airport. The Seikes received $2.7 million for their entire 13-acre property, including the garden. They were also responsible for selling and moving the garden’s large stones and plants, mostly trees.
Morgan said Craig Ward, former SeaTac city manager, and State Rep. Bob Hasegawa were among the leaders in finding a new location and financing the relocation of the Seike Japanese Garden.
On June 24, 2006, a Shinto Purification Ceremony marked the opening of the garden at its new location at the Highline SeaTac Botanical Garden site, slightly more than a mile away from its original location.
Hal and his wife, Frances, agree on one thing about the Seike Japanese Garden. He said, “That it’s for the public, and I think they should come and enjoy it.” In regard to its future, he said, “They have to put more [Japanese maple and pine] trees back there. It’ll come. I’d like to see more plants.”
Frances admitted that her favorite garden activity was “doing the work here, the weeding, and raking.”
Ken Slusher’s documentary, which chronicles transfer of the Seike Garden to the Botanical Garden site, is scheduled for a 3 p.m. showing on June 12 at the SeaTac Community Center. The event is for garden-tour ticket-holders only.
The annual fundraiser takes place at the Highline SeaTac Botanical Garden, and tickets are available at Burien Bark (13258 1st Ave. S. in Burien), Herr Backyard Garden Center (107 S.W. 160th in Burien), and the Highline Historical Society by phone at 206-241-5786.
“Volunteers will be available to give private tours to people as they come,” said Morgan. ♦
For more information about the Seike Japanese Garden, visit www.highlinegarden.org/gdn_Seike.html. For more information about the Highline SeaTac Botanical Garden, visit www.highlinegarden.org or call 206-391-4003.
James Tabafunda can be reached at email@example.com.