[Seattle Sights] Adventure Your Way Through the Kubota Gardens

A hidden gem of the outskirts of Seattle, and Washington state at large, the Kubota Garden boasts beautiful grounds to meander through, inspiring views and incredible landscaping. Covering twenty stunning acres of land in the Rainier Beach neighborhood in South Seattle, the Kubota Garden started as a labor of love from the Fujitaro Kubota back in 1927; sixty years later, the city of Seattle adopted it into their public park system – and let me tell you, we are all infinitely better off for having such a beautiful park in our proverbial backyard.


A fun fact, and lesser known to me before my move to the Pacific Northwest – the city of Seattle has incredible ties to Japan.

Thanks to the former Prime Minister of Japan, Takeo Miki, we get to celebrate the beginnings of Spring alongside the beautiful cherry blossoms – 1000 of which were donated to the city back in 1976 to commemoration of America’s bicentennial and the long allegiance, alliance and friendship between the people of Japan and of Washington state..

Historically, Seattle is been known for hosting the second largest Japanese population on the West Coast next to San Francisco, with Los Angeles and San Jose coming in close behind.

These Japantowns (日本人街), formally known as Nihonjin-gai or informally as J-Towns, Little Tokyo or Nihonmachi ( 日本町 )were created during the Meiji period. From approximately 1870 to 1910 an outpouring of Japanese immigrants fled home to pursue better economic opportunities, initially settling along the West Coast of America and Canada.

Though at one point there were over 40 different Japantowns in California, after World War II and the unfortunate and disappointing internment of the Japanese community – only three are now left; out of the numerous Little Tokyo’s scattered along the West Coast, the only left outside of California is Seattle.

Now, back to Fujitaro Kubota – Kubota was part of the Issei immigrants; a term used to describe first generation immigrants from Japan. Though his first job was working on the railroad, Kubota forayed into his own gardening business, the Kubota Gardening Company, in 1922. By 1927, Kubota bought five acres of logged off swampland and started work on a small garden as a hobby; fast forward a hundred years later, and that small hobby has become a pinnacle of park life in the greater Seattle area. Before his passing, the Japanese government presented Kubota with the ‘Order of the Sacred Treasure’ award for his achievements within his adopted country, and for giving life to Japanese Gardens in his new homeland.

Boasting meditative monuments, waterfalls, ponds, streams and a vibrant variety of foliage and provide a novel journey into the delicate, and decorative world of Japanese landscaping. Eventually, the gardens ballooned from five acres to twenty. Unfortunately, with their families internment – no work was done on the park for several years – but after the war, with the assistance of his two sons, Fujitaro rebuilt the grounds to feature reflection pools, incredible waterfalls and plants from his nursery that he had been keen on incorporating into the garden. In 1972, the Japanese government presented Kubota with the ‘Fifth Class Order of the Sacred Treasure’ award for his achievements within his adopted country, and for giving life to Japanese Gardens in his new homeland; unfortunately, Kubota passed away at the ripe age of 94 the following year.

When the 20-acre property became a target for condominium developers, community groups encouraged the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board to designate the 4.5-acre core area of the garden as a Historical Landmark. In 1981 the American-Japanese Garden created by Fujitaro Kubota was declared to be an Historical Landmark of the City of Seattle.

In 1981, the City of Seattle was made into a Historical Landmark in order to preserve his legacy – especially as the area was targeted for housing developments; and finally, in 1987 the city officially acquired the Kubota Garden from the family and it is currently maintained by not only the city, but plenty of volunteers. To ensure further protection of the area, the city’s Open Space Program has bought an additional twenty eight adjacent acres of land to remain as a natural area to protect the ravine, as well as Mapes Creek.

Whether you’re coming to or from the Sea-Tac airport, or live in the area and are craving an escapade in your backyard – this is one fantastic field trip that I recommend to all. For more on the colorful Kubota Gardens, head to their socials – currently, you’re allowed a visit as long as you maintain your social distance, but if you’re not willing to risk it – simply take a peak using the live view of Google Maps!

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[Artist Spotlight] Lili Lakich

The more I become acquainted with Los Angeles, the more I’ve realized that street art is literally any and everywhere around this amazing city.  My neighborhood – Melrose and Fairfax – is essentially a mecca for street artists; the area is riddled with skate shops, tattoo shops and a rich hodgepodge of different artistic types. The end result? Alleyway after alleyway, covered from head to toe in the most vivid and vibrant graffiti, street art, acrylic art and multimedia art I’ve ever seen.

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A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I were wandering around the downtown area in search of something more or less transformative; for the amount of street art we’ve come across (hint: a lot) – for everything I’ve loved, I’ve seen three things I couldn’t reconcile or wrap my head around.  Thankfully, the Little Tokyo area of downtown essentially screams in equal parts culture and art.  One thing I didn’t know until recently was that the area hosts the largest Japanese-American population in the United States and stands as one of only three Japantown’s; the other two residing in San Francisco and San Jose, respectively.   Being the urban adventurers we are, naturally we were scouring parking structures, back alleys and side streets in search of the perfect piece, picture – or, hopefully – both.  After an hour of prowling the streets, we stumbled across an incredibly industrial yet new age art gallery.  One peak inside at the fluorescent art and we knew we had to explore; it turns out we stumbled into the Lili Lakich Gallery of Neon Art and we were not mad about it!

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Lili Lakich has always craved the contrast of a dark night and bright, neon lights. Originally from Washington DC, the Lakich family migrated from Washington DC to Arizona along with her father’s military career.  His idea of vacations were road trips and her family would choose their hotels based on the awesomeness of their neon signs.  And from a young age, this helped shape her love of all things fluorescent.  Route 66, Las Vegas – they weren’t just culturally iconic cities, they had become meccas of art and creativity; they were inspirational.   After bouncing between the Pratt Institute in New York and the London School of Film Technique – she finally settled down in New York to complete her BFA in ’67 and the next year she moved to Los Angeles to pursue art as a career.  Within a few short years, she began showing her awe inspiring sculptures – first in ’73 at Gallery 707 and then in ’74 for her first solo show.  In 1982, she created the Museum of Neon Art and worked as it’s first director until 1999 and since then has had shows all over the world, from Tokyo to Paris and her work can be seen in many major publications on neon and contemporary art.

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As I mentioned earlier, she currently runs the Lili Lakich Studio in Japantown which houses tons of her works – from her latest to her greatest, in addition to showing off the works of her students.  Yes, students!  One thing we discovered while talking to her was that she hosts an 8 week workshop on creating neon art! So even the average Joe can create art that glows; genius!  Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t afford to take this round of classes but trust me when I say it’s now on my bucket list of things to do before I leave this lovely city.  There’s something to be said for passionate people and Lili Lakich sure is one of them.  If you’re based in the LA area and want to hear more, simply head on down to Japantown and meet the woman for yourself! She’s wonderful, kind and more than willing to share her love of art with anyone who walks in her doors.  Or, if you can’t find the time to stroll through the shop, pick up a copy of her autobiography – For Light, For Life, For Love; now, onto the art!

 

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