UNAWARE OF HER parents’ painful memories of World War II incarceration at Camp Tulelake in Northern California, preschooler Diane Taniguchi found that weekends in the early 1950s promised a family frolic.
“We used to take joy rides on Sunday afternoon after church,” she said in a 2015 video, citing drives from the family’s home in the Publix Hotel in what is now called the Chinatown-International District to a South Seattle peninsular paradise — Seward Park.
” … Those were great times,” she said. “It was carefree. I was 4 or 5 years old. Not a worry in the world.”
Welcoming the Taniguchis and myriad other park visitors was a cultural symbol that Diane says she “really loved” — an imposing, reddish span modeled on entrance structures at Shinto shrines in Japan, called a torii. Pronounced “torr-ee,” the word means “bird perch,” but such structures have become known more broadly as gateways to extraordinary spaces.
The wooden Seward Park torii had a 50-year life, starting on University Street downtown at the 1934 International Potlatch and bearing a pro-trade sign: “Seattle — America’s Gateway to the Orient.”
The following spring, the torii (sans sign) found a verdant site at Seward Park’s entry isthmus, joining other Japanese elements, including cherry trees and an 8-ton stone lantern. It oversaw festivals and countless informal meadow gatherings through mid-1984, when Seattle Parks removed it due to decades of decay.
In 2011, the park’s centennial organizers vowed to build a new version. Fueled by $360,000 in grants and donations, a 20-foot-tall basalt-and-cedar replacement stands today in a plaza 20 feet north of the original’s tree-confined concrete foundations. At an April 2 ceremony, a crowd of 200 enjoyed musicians, dancers and speakers exulting beneath the edifice.
Officiants included Don Taniguchi, 76, honoring his younger sister, Diane, a preservationist who helped raise money for the new torii but died in 2016. His thoughts also drifted to their dad, originally from Hawaii, and mom, of Tacoma, who both stayed silent about their camp challenges and the complexity of their new life while working “all the time” managing the Publix.
“They didn’t talk about the hardships,” Don says. “I guess it hurt them too much.”
From youthful eyes, he says, Seward Park and its torii bespoke “family time,” a cheerful refuge. “You felt a little prejudice, like somebody getting in line ahead of you, but you didn’t really understand why,” he says. “You didn’t think about those things. You just played. … You cherish those days now.”