Thursday, June 11, 2015

A lunchtime walk to Japantown in the heart of Salt Lake City

"It is impossible to remain indifferent to Japanese culture. It is a different civilisation where all you have learnt must be forgotten. It is a great intellectual challenge and a gorgeous sensual experience."
~Alain Ducasse

Now don't get too excited. Japantown in Salt Lake is a whole lot different than it is in San Francisco. In fact it's quite a ghost of what it once was about fifty, seventy-five, even a hundred years ago. You'd likely miss it if you didn't know it was there. The area consists now of one block of 100 South between 200 and 300 West and I walked there for today's lunchtime walk.

The only buildings left to remind us of a bygone era are the Salt Lake Buddhist Temple and the Japanese Church of Christ, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

The rest of the block feels pretty desolate and is comprised of parking lots, the Salt Palace storage and loading docks, a bookstore/gift shop associated with the Buddhist Temple called Lumbini's Garden, and a small Japanese-style garden which was incorporated into the block when the Salt Palace made extensive expansions into what used to be a bustling neighborhood.

The Japanese Church of Christ, built in 1924, is on the north west side of the block, closest to 300 West.

The Japanese-style garden, though oddly wedged between the Church of Christ and a underground parking lot entrance, is quite cute and very zen. Walking in the garden is not permitted, but I enjoyed seeing several trees (Japanese maples and bonzai types) with ropes tethered to stakes in the ground, training them to grow sideways instead of up.

Just east of the parking lot which borders the garden, are tall walls with attempting to hide the Salt Palace loading and storage docks. The gates that have been put up all along the rest of the north side of the block to 200 West are called the Kimono Gates.

Again, a nice touch by the Salt Palace -- despite taking over much of the land after the city's residents overwhelmingly voted to approve a 17 million dollar bond to build the Salt Palace complex in 1964 -- to help the Japanese culture endure in the area and to honor those who lived and worked in generations past where these structures now stand.

On the southeast corner of the block sits the Salt Lake Buddhist Temple.

I was glad to see at least some preservation of what used to be a vibrant neighborhood. But, of course, I was sad to know of what used to be there: a Japanese language school, a produce market, a fish market, two thriving newspapers, a tailor's shop, the Colonial Hotel, and countless families of Japanese descent.

In a city where the Mormon pioneers and their stories dominate historical discussions, seldom is anything heard about the strong, compassionate Japanese community, numbering in the thousands, which endured generations right in the heart of the state's capital city.

I hope since the naming of the street, Japantown Street, which happened in 2007, that eventually sometime soon, at least the empty above-ground parking lot on the southwest half of the block will be turned into land for businesses, restaurants. One can hope!


Shauntel said...

And just like that, we need to go back to Japan.

eclaires said...

Right? Let's go together. I was thinking about you the whole time I was posting this. :)