The Hunt for Hunt Hostel

Japanese Language School at 1414 Weller Street, circa 1937

Japanese Language School at 1414 Weller Street, circa 1937                                                         Courtesy of Puget Sound Regional Archives King County Assessor’s Office

If the historic buildings at 1414 S. Weller Street could speak, what stories would they tell? The floors of the Budokan Judo Dojo might tell you of the smells and smoke of hundreds of family dinners prepared during its years as a communal kitchen. The west facing windows could reminisce about summer baseball games and winter snowball fights. One room might remain silent, still in mourning.

Historic structures, like books, are tactile objects that can teach, transport and evoke a collective community memory. The Japanese Language School buildings, with over 100 years of stories to tell, are no exception.

The Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Washington is now working to unearth a hitherto untold story about the buildings at 1414 S. Weller Street through the Unsettled~Resettled: Seattle’s “Hunt Hostel” project, funded by a generous grant from the National Park Service.

This story takes place from 1945 to 1959 in the wake of WWII when the Japanese Language School buildings served as temporary housing for Japanese and Japanese Americans returning from incarceration camps. Local leader and community figurehead Genji Mihara established and managed the facility, calling it the “Hunt Hostel” as most residents were returning from the Minidoka Incarceration Camp in Hunt, Idaho.

Within these walls, over thirty families began to rebuild their lives. Children were raised, loved ones were lost, and little by little the rooms were vacated – giving way to community organizations, classrooms, and storage.

Then in 1976 two errant firebombs were thrown into two first-story rooms of the building, one of which was Genji Mihara’s office. Included in the personal affects, antique furniture, and books that were lost in the fire were all records of the Hunt Hostel and the people who lived there.

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By preserving the memories of those who found temporary housing at the Hunt Hostel, we hope to shed light on a larger narrative: the continued struggles endured by over 100,000 unjustly incarcerated Japanese and Japanese Americans in the wake of WWII and the strength and resilience of the Seattle Japanese community.