Reliance Hospital (Seattle)

  • By Brendan Jonathan Harrison
  • Posted 9/10/2009
  • Essay 9078
The Reliance Hospital was the first and only hospital in Seattle built primarily to serve a Japanese immigrant clientele. It opened in 1913 at 416 1/2 12th Avenue S and continued in operation until 1925.The medical staff was composed mainly of Japanese, but also included Caucasian nurses and physicians. Ethnic hospitals were not uncommon in the Pacific Northwest in the first half of the twentieth century. Other Japanese hospitals in the region at the time were the Japanese General Hospital in Pocatello, Idaho; the Japanese Hospital in Kalispell, Montana; and the Nippon Hospital in Vancouver, B.C.

Preparations and Planning for a Japanese Hospital

Many hospitals in America at the turn of the century were planned, built, and operated by religious organizations. In Seattle, a prime example was Providence Hospital, built in 1911 by the Sisters of Providence at 17th Avenue and Jefferson Street. Although economic realities forced most such charitable hospitals to rely on “private pay” patients to some degree, religious groups were still motivated to play a strong role in building hospitals and providing medical care.

The Reliance Hospital in Seattle was also founded by a religious group, the congregants of the Seattle Buddhist Church, under the leadership of Reverend Hoshin Fujii. According to the Great Northern Daily News, Reverend Fujii felt a definite need for a Japanese hospital in Seattle. He essentially started the movement to build one, and stepped forward to become its leader. He was joined by members of the church and other interested parties in forming a stock corporation called the Reliance Hospital Association, originally capitalized with $6,000.

Reverend Fujii is said to have been motivated in part by a desire to provide care for Japanese who were unable to pay for medical treatment from their own resources. We might presume that many of those who purchased stock in the Association agreed with him and did so out of a spirit of public service, since there was probably little prospect for the hospital to return more than a modest profit, if any, on the investment.

The Great Northern Daily News related several other reasons why the hospital was  founded. In the early 1900s, there were many single men in the Japanese community, most of whom did not have adequate financial resources. If a man were to become sick there was generally no one to care for him, and even if he were able to enter a white hospital, he would not feel comfortable because of his unfamiliarity with Western customs. In addition, he would have problems understanding English and would find Western-style food not to his liking. It goes without saying that there would also be a problem paying the bill. Consequently, the need for a Japanese hospital was keenly felt.

Finding the Funds and Choosing a Site

Planning and fundraising efforts for the hospital probably started around 1909, with Reverend Fujii taking the lead. By 1912 enough money had apparently been raised, and the hospital committee began making final arrangements for the building and equipment. This was quite a financial accomplishment considering the scope of several other fundraising projects that took place in the Japanese community between 1905 and 1912. The Buddhist Mission itself had completed a long-running fund drive several years earlier for the construction of a new church building at 1020 Main Street, completed in 1908. In addition, major fund raising had long been underway for the new Japanese Language School building, which would open in 1912 at 1414 Weller Street.

Preparations for the hospital progressed, and a suitable three-story brick building was located at 416 ½ 12th Avenue S at the corner of King Street in what could be called the eastern edge of the old Japantown. The building permit for this structure, originally listed as a “3 story frame store and apartment building,” was issued on June 3, 1910. It shows that a Mrs. M. Fitzpatrick commissioned the building and that Charles Haynes was the architect. On November 12, 1910, a permit was issued for modifications to the building and the John Davis Company had taken over as owner of the project.

Open for Business

By mid-1912, arrangements were made to move into the building and begin equipping the hospital. In late October. a small display advertisements for the Reliance Hospital, complete with address and telephone number, appeared frequently in the Great Northern Daily News. Articles of incorporation for the Reliance Hospital Association were drawn up on December 28, 1912 and filed for record with the Secretary of State on January 6, 1913. The first trustees of the association were Hoshin Fujii, Benjamin S. Ohnick, and Selma Anderson. Benjamin Ohnick was a businessman and attorney in Seattle. Selma Anderson was a former Christian missionary who converted to the Buddhist faith and was an early member of the Buddhist Mission in Seattle.

This Reliance Hospital opened for business in January 1913. The event was recorded in the following announcement that appeared in the “Medical Notes” column of the January 1913 issue of Northwest Medicine, the principal journal for medical professionals in the Pacific Northwest:

"A Japanese Hospital. The Reliance Hospital, of Seattle, is a strictly Japanese institution of about twenty beds. The attending physicians, the nurses and the patients are all subjects of the Mikado" (Northwest Medicine).

The Reliance Hospital was first listed in the 1916 edition of the authoritative American Medical Directory as having been established in 1913 with 31 beds. The hospital was planned to be a full-service institution run according to established practices and standards. The articles of incorporation clearly stated the purposes of the Reliance Hospital Association:

"To own and operate as a Commercial enterprise a general hospital for the care of the sick and, for furnishing medical and surgical attention to those requiring or desiring such aid; also to operate and conduct a nurses home and training school where persons may become practical in the art of intelligently caring for and nursing the sick and injured, and may furnish such services when requested; to receive and care for sick and injured patients, and to furnish them with medical and surgical aid and the attention of competent nurses; and as incident to said hospital to own and manage a dispensary for the maintenance and supply of proper drugs, medicines and lotions for the patients and inmates of the hospital; to erect a building, to purchase, acquire, sell, ease, own and maintain real estate and personal property necessary as convenient for the operation of the hospital; to issue its notes or obligations, and to borrow money thereon for the purposes of the hospital either secured or unsecured upon the credit of the property, real or personal, of the corporation; to purchase, acquire and hold stock or interests in other corporations or companies; and to do all other things necessary and requisite for the purpose of conducting such hospital" (Articles of Incorporation).

The Hospital Grows and Develops

By November 1913, a little less than a year after the hospital opened, the Japanese population of Seattle consisted of 513 households with 3,246 men and 1,111 women, for a total of 4,357. There were ten licensed Japanese doctors and ten licensed Japanese midwives practicing in Seattle.

The first manager of the Reliance Hospital was  a Mr. Masajiro Mori (sometimes spelled as Masaziro Mori). Mori was born in 1871 in Okayama Prefecture and was a teacher in Japan before leaving for America. Once in Seattle, he assisted Reverend Gendo Nakai, a pioneer Buddhist missionary, in the work of the Bukkyo Seinenkai (Young Men’s Buddhist Association). He also played a major role in the early development of the Seattle Buddhist Church. Mori returned to Japan in late 1907 or early 1908 to assist Ayawo Hattori, former manager of the M. Furuya Company, in his successful run for political office. With Mori’s help, Hattori was elected to the House of Representatives from Okayama Prefecture in May 1908.

Data from the Seattle Passenger and Crew Lists database indicates that Mori returned to Seattle on the Shinano Maru on November 12, 1908. Through his personal connection with Hattori he obtained a job in the M. Furuya Company as an account clerk upon his return to Seattle.

While he was in Japan Mori married Kikuno Inouye (b. ca. 1885), and she arrived in Seattle on April 29, 1909. The United States Census for 1910 shows that the couple was living in the home of Dr. Jiro Sato where they were employed as “house servants.” The couple’s first child, a daughter named, Iku, was born on April 10, 1910. In 1911, Kikuno was working as a clerk at the M. Furuya Company. A second daughter, Aya , was born on March 15, 1913, and a son, Shigeru, was born September 1, 1915.

When the Reliance Hospital opened in 1913, Mori was appointed manager and the family took up residence in the hospital building at 416 ½ 12th Avenue S. A translation of the text of a display advertisement appearing in the 1914 edition of the Hokubei nenkan (The North American Times Year Book) provides insight on the organization of the hospital and how it was presented to the community:

Reliance Hospital
Telephone: Beacon 2882    12th and King St. Seattle

                         A Newly Established Japanese Hospital

The facilities:

This Hospital is recognized and licensed by the City of Seattle.

This Hospital was newly established with the support of the Japanese Medical Society of Washington State. Patients under the primary care of member physicians as well as Caucasian doctors may be admitted.

 This Hospital has the same equipment and facilities as Caucasian hospitals and can provide for all manner of surgical procedures.

Special Features:

This Hospital offers both Japanese and Western food in accordance with the patient’s desire.

This Hospital has Caucasian nurses as well as Japanese nurses to care for patients who prefer to communicate in Japanese.

This Hospital charges on a weekly basis as follows: $9.00 for a double room; $14.00 for a private room; and $17.00 for an isolation room (for infectious disease cases).

By way of comparison, weekly rates at Providence Hospital in 1912 ranged from $8.50 to $40, with the most common charges being $12, $18, and $40. The variation may have been due to room size or rate adjustments based on the patient’s ability to pay. In 1910 the Pulmonary Hospital of the City of Seattle, located in Riverton, was charging $20-$40 per week.

Japanese Physicians in Washington

The Japanese Medical Society of Washington State, known in Japanese as Washinton-shu Nihonjin Ikai, appears to have been a somewhat informal professional organization of Japanese doctors primarily located in Seattle and Tacoma. Members of the Society at the time the Reliance Hospital opened are listed below along with their year of licensure in Washington state.

  • Dr. Uyemon Kakiki, licensed 1910
  • Dr. Kumataro Koitabashi, licensed 1908
  • Dr. Kiyohide Nakaki, licensed 1905
  • Dr. Jiro Sato, licensed 1907
  • Dr. Yutaka Shirokane, licensed 1901
  • Dr. Tsutajiro Tsubakida, licensed 1910
  • Dr. Tatsumaro Uyematsu, licensed 1904
  • Dr. Junsai Watanabe, licensed 1902
  • Dr. Hachiji Yamamoto, licensed 1908
  • Dr. SeikanYoshimura, licensed 1910

Growing Pains

According to newspaper advertisements and listings in Japanese directories, there were also a number of practioners of traditional Asian medical and therapeutic arts. These included Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture, moxabustion, massage therapy, abdominal massage, and bone-setting. It seems likely that the traditional practitioners were the primary providers of health care services for many individuals who were unable or unwilling to utilize Japanese or Caucasian medical doctors.

Susan L. Smith relates that a well-known Seattle midwife, Toku Shimomura, visited the Reliance Hospital shortly after it opened:

"Toku described going to the hospital in 1913. Apparently, one of her clients, Mrs. Ogishima, had surgery. Toku mentioned disapprovingly that she found the hospital to be very unsanitary and disorganized. Conditions likely improved over time and in 1914 wrote in her diary that she was going to start working there the following month, although she eventually decided not to leave her midwifery business to work at the hospital" (Smith).

The unsanitary conditions noted by Toku Shimomura may have been due in part to the hospital being under the direction of Masajiro Mori, a man with no apparent experience in health care or managing a business. Many hospitals in Seattle at this time -- certainly those comparable in size and scope to the Reliance Hospital -- were run by experienced, licensed nurses, almost all of whom were women. No doubt the Japanese nurses and doctors affiliated with the hospital helped Mori to improve the situation.

Change and Growth

In July 1917, the hospital was reorganized under a new corporate identity and the name was changed to Nippon Hospital. The total capital of the corporation was reported at $25,000, and trustees were listed as:

  • Tatsujiro Akiyoshi
  • Chojiro Fujii
  • Masajiro Mori
  • Shoichi Okamura
  • Kojiro Takeuchi

Tatsujiro Akiyoshi ran an interpreting and investment business called Nihon Kyoshinsha (Japanese-American Mutual Confidence Company) and was also a leader of the Christian social-service group, Dendo Kyokai (Japanese Humane Society). Chojiro Fujii was a businessman (Fujii Hotel) and member of the Seattle Buddhist Church. Shoichi Okamura operated the Grand Union Laundry, and Kojiro Takeuchi was editor and publisher of the Japanese daily newspaper Great Northern Daily News.

In September 1918 the capital stock in the Nippon Hospital Association was increased from $25,000 to $63,500. Trustees at this time were:

  • Tatsujiro Akiyoshi
  • Chojiro Fujii
  • H. Albert George
  • W. A. Keene
  • Mildred Y. Keene.

Walter A. Keene was a prominent lawyer who served many clients in the Japanese community, Mildred Y. Keene was his wife, and H. Albert George was a lawyer in his firm. The increase in capital would seem to indicate that the hospital was in good financial condition and enjoying strong support from investors and the community.

Some seven months later, Masajiro Mori became seriously ill, and he died on April 10, 1919. His wife, Kikuno, subsequently took over as manager of the hospital.

Efforts to improve the hospital continued and the April 12, 1919, issue of the Great Northern Daily News carried the following advertisement for a stock sale to support an expansion program, which included construction of a new building for the Nippon Hospital:

Advertisement on the Nippon Hospital

We hereby announce our intention to purchase land to build a new and better equipped hospital. To do this we are offering 2,150 shares of stock at $10.00 each and hope that you will support our efforts in this project

The Nippon Hospital Expansion Promoters

            Tatsujiro Akiyoshi      

            Masajiro Mori             

            Kojiro Takeuchi         

            Masajiro Furuya         

            Chojiro Fujii               

            Shoichi Okamura         

The 1919 edition of the Hokubei nenkan (The North American Times Year Book) lists the Reliance Hospital as having seven employees and capital assets of $3,500. The 1920 census shows the following people living in the hospital building at 416 ½ 12th  Avenue S:

  • Kikuno Mori (mis-transcribed as Kakuma)
  • Iku Mori
  • Aya Mori
  • Shigeru Mori 
  • A. Sugiyama -- nurse
  • Emma Kataoka -- nurse
  • K. Kogami -- janitor
  • Kiko Sakamoto -- cook
  • Chizu Waki -- porter

Sometime in 1921 or early 1922 Kikuno Mori and her children appear to have left Seattle, most likely to return to Japan. At this time, a Mr. Kamenosuke Takei took over as manager of the hospital. According to census records he would have been about 35 years old at the time and was married to a woman named Chu. He was previously a clerk at the M. Furuya Company.

The Hospital Closes

By 1924, the hospital was in financial trouble. It has been said that uncompensated care combined with rising costs hurt the hospital’s bottom line. The situation may also have been affected by a greater willingness on the part of some of the larger hospitals in Seattle, most notably Seattle General Hospital and Columbus Hospital, to accept Japanese patients. Noted businessman and community activist Henry Heiji Okuda was president of the Nippon Hospital Association at the time. He was joined by treasurer Chojiro Fujii, and secretary Shoichi Okamura. Kamenosuke Takei continued on as manager. In spite of their best efforts, it became clear that the association could not sustain continued operation of the hospital.

The August 20, 1924 issue of the Great Northern Daily News reported on the closure of the Nippon Hospital. Below is an abridged translation of that article:

Board of Directors Decides to Close Well-known Nippon Hospital

It was announced at a board meeting held at 8:00 PM on August 18, that the Nippon Hospital, located on 12th Avenue South, which ranks along with the Nippon Kan Hall and the Seattle Japanese Language School as major institutions built and operated by the local community, will be closed after many years of service. This is due in part to difficulties maintaining a balance between income and expenses and the fact that times have changed and there is no longer a particular need for the Nippon Hospital. The board was also persuaded that prompt closure of the hospital would prevent the share holders from incurring heavy losses.

The hospital was widely regarded as a necessary institution to the community. Mr. Mori worked very hard managing the hospital for many years until he became ill and passed away. Mr. Kamenosuke Takei succeeded him as manager and has continued in that position to the present day.

There are currently 366 share holders with a total stock value of $15,000. The hospital’s assets consist of the building and land, the latter being worth $3,000.

As of August 18, 1924, there are nine patients in the hospital; one American [i.e. Caucasian], one Chinese, and the rest Japanese. The staff consists of six nurses, two student nurses, one pharmacist, a porter, a cook, and a manager for a total of twelve people.

On February 15, 1925 the Decree of Disincorporation was filed by attorney W. Mervyn Williams with the Secretary of State and the Nippon Hospital ceased to exist.

After the hospital closed, a Japanese day nursery called the Miya Shonien (Miya Day Nursery) moved into the space occupied by the old Nippon Hospital. By 1926 the second and third floors had become the Moose Hotel, run by a series of Japanese managers.

By 1938 the Calvary Pentecostal Mission moved into the building and used it as a church and housing facility until about 1963. Sometime in 1964 the building returned to Japanese management when the Tokyo Hotel was established. The old Reliance Hospital building was eventually demolished and replaced by the How How Shopping Center in 1992.

Sources: Taihoku nippo (Great Northern Daily News), August 20, 1924, p. 5; Permit number 91144, issued June 3, 1910 by the City of Seattle, Department of Buildings, Department of Planning and Development Microfilm Library; Permit number 97283, issued November 12, 1910 by the City of Seattle, Department of Buildings, Department of Planning and Development Microfilm Library; “Articles of Incorporation of the Reliance Hospital Association,” document no. 33315 (Signed December 25, 1912), Washington State Archives; “Medical Notes” in Northwest Medicine, Vol. 5, No. l (January, 1913), p. 23; Susan L. Smith, Japanese American Midwives, (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2005), 90; Zaibei jinbutsu soran (Compendium of Personages in America) ed. by Kageo Katayama and Aisuke Ajisaka (Seattle: Nichibei Hyoronsha, 1916), 51; "Seattle Passenger and Crew Lists, 1882-1957," digital images, Ancestry, Library edition website accessed March 16, 2009 (; Polk’s Seattle City Directory, 1911 and 1913; Hokubei nenkan (North American Times Year Book), 1914 (Seattle: Hokubei Jijisha, 1914), p. 86; Rate information for Providence Hospital courtesy of Emily Hughes Dominick, Associate Archivist, Sisters of Providence, Providence Health & Services (Seattle); “Articles of Incorporation of the Nippon Hospital,” document no. 160835 (signed July 11, 1917), Washington State Archives; “Nippon Byoin kokoku ” [Announcement on the Nippon Hospital], Taihoku nippo (Great Northern Daily News), April 12, 1919, p. 8; Polk’s Seattle City Directory, 1924; “Decree of Disincorporation,” (February 18, 1925) document no. 179095, Washington State Archives; Taihoku nippo (Great Northern Daily News) January 5, 1925, p. 5.

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