Nikkei Concerns executives and prominent supporters at the Sept. 19 ground-breaking. Photo credit: Eugene M.Tagawa.
Nikkei Concerns executives and prominent supporters at the Sept. 19 ground-breaking. Photo credit: Eugene M.Tagawa.

“This looks like hell. We have to do something about this,” said Jeffery Hattori about one year ago, as he looked out at Seattle Keiro Rehabilitation Center’s current garden, with an uneven ground, an abandoned nursery and scattered plants.

Hattori, CEO of Seattle Nikkei Concerns, the umbrella organization of Seattle Keiro, had a vision: a beautiful garden space with a tranquil waterfall, lush greens and smooth pavement for the elders at the Seattle Keiro to enjoy. In a green space, their residents can experience a better quality of life and wellness opportunities.

On Sept. 19, with the help of community leaders, generous donors and hard-working staff, Hattori’s vision came to life with a ground-breaking ceremony to celebrate the launch of the garden’s renovation project.

The day was also coincidentally Japan’s Keiro No Hi holiday, which celebrates and honors elderly citizens. The ground-breaking began with a Shinto ceremony and then proceeded to speeches from prominent individuals such as Consul General Kiyokazu Ota, Seattle Deputy Mayor of Community Darryl Smith, and Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell.

The Seattle Keiro Garden project is projected to finish in December. The entire project will cost $500,000, and has currently raised $175,000. Though ambitious, Hattori believes the fundraising will succeed.

“Oh, it will work,” confirmed a confident Hattori. “As people start to see it grow, it is tangible.”

The project is more than an idea. It’s a philosophy and a hope for members of the API community who have unique senior needs. But back in the 1970s, it was the rallying point for young activists.

In 1972, a group of Nisei, or second-generation Japanese Americans, shared a concern for their aging parents and family members who sacrificed to immigrate and establish themselves in the United States.

At that time, nursing homes in the United States did not cater to the culture, language and food needs these elderly Japanese Americans needed to feel comfortable and culturally connected.

In 1975, community leaders formed Nikkei Concerns, a one-of-a-kind organization which has evolved to serve not only Seattle’s Japanese American elders, but also elders from other ethnic groups. It watches over several nursing and care programs including Seattle Keiro, a rehabilitation and care center; Nikkei Manor, an assisted-living facility; Kokoro Kai, a senior activity program; and Nikkei Horizons, which provides continuing education for active seniors.

Hattori, who has served at Seattle Keiro in numerous capacities since his teens, said he’s held Nikkei Concerns close to his heart. His aunt Mitzi Hara was Keiro’s first director of nursing services, and his mother was one of Keiro’s residents who spent her last days at the care center.

That passion is how Hattori, who became administrator of Keiro in 1999, and now serves as its CEO, has shaped Seattle Keiro from a 2-star facility to a bonafide 5-star facility today. But he isn’t stopping there. He and the Nikkei Concerns team continue to set new goals and aim high for a community that few others understand.

Hattori wanted a place where residents can “hear the water and rain drops,” breath in the fresh air and create a bond with their family and with nature. Hattori describes that the garden will be a place where residents can come and reflect on their life’s achievements and hardship and find peace through the harmony in the garden. But Hattori emphasizes that it’s only possible with community support.

The garden is designed by Scott Murase, principal designer of Murase Associates and a fellow Japanese American. To ensure that he meets the residents’ needs, Murase met with a core focus group and staff about what the program’s needs are.

“The vision was to create a Northwest sort of garden and small courtyard,” said Murase. His goal is to create a garden with Japanese influence to form a look that is “timeless.”

“The use of stones is an integral part,” described Murase. The garden is also designed to have some “water feature to create some intimate type of space and have a lot of trees to create a backdrop.”

“I think of the residents here as my parents,” said Hattori, “I would want them to stay in the best place possible.”

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