KOBO Opening Marks a Revival of Seattle's Japantown
(Seattle, WA) - Seattle's historic Japantown is experiencing a renaissance, thanks in part to KOBO, opening in the heart of the once-thriving neighborhood known as Nihonmachi. The 3600-square-foot shop will occupy the former home of Higo Variety Store, established by the Sanzo Murakami family 75 years ago. KOBO translates from Japanese as 'artist's workspace' and features fine crafts from Japan and the Northwest, alongside the works of artists with an affinity for Japanese design. The artisan gallery will celebrate with a preview party, open to the public, Friday, November 19 from 5:00 - 9:00 pm.
KOBO at Higo will be the second shop for wife-and-husband team Binko Chiong-Bisbee and John Bisbee. Bisbee, who is also an architect with Arai Jackson Ellison Murakami, says, "We are honored to have an opportunity to be a part of this community and look forward to helping to create the next chapter of Japantown. Rarely as community members are we able to have a significant impact on the fabric of the city. In the case of the Higo Variety Store, KOBO is able to carry on the tradition of showcasing Japanese-inspired arts and in our own modest way contributing to bringing back a vitality to the neighborhood."
Higo spokesperson and nephew Paul Murakami says, "Binko and John are putting incredible effort into integrating the history of the family, Higo, and Japantown into every aspect of KOBO. They have brought new energy not only to the store itself, but to the building and to the neighborhood. They have the spirit and talent to bring new life to a place that is special to our family, and the community, as well."
Chiong-Bisbee has a personal connection with the Japantown community. Her mother was a Japanese-American who, like the Murakami family, was interned during World War II. Born in Tokyo, Chiong-Bisbee moved to Seattle and as a child, remembers frequenting the shops in Japantown with her mother. "John and I feel that this melding of two Japanese businesses--the history of Higo and the artistry of KOBO--was meant to happen," says Chiong-Bisbee. "Our seven-year-old daughter, Aya, has the same name as Sanzo Murakami's eldest daughter (today she would be 90) ... it's an unusual and significant coincidence."
KOBO at Higo is currently being developed as retail and gallery space with eventual plans for a tearoom and event space. It will maintain much of the flavor of the old variety store by utilizing its vintage fixtures, including 1930s glass cases recently unearthed from the Higo storeroom. The store clean up also uncovered treasures such as classic tin toys, an electric train set and antique Japanese paintings, all of which will be on display in the refurbished space. There will also be a mini museum commemorating pre and post-World War II Higo memorabilia.
A major remodel is slated for completion by Spring 2005. In the interim, KOBO will be open throughout the holidays, beginning November 19, and will highlight special events including live music every Saturday throughout December.
In celebration of the opening of the second KOBO in the International District, KOBO on Capitol Hill will be featuring a special store/gallery-wide sale from November 1 - 12. For the upcoming holidays, both locations will feature a large selection of gift giving ideas and an exhibition of new work by KOBO artists.