Walking from downtown or Belltown to the International District is both great exercise, and a treasure hunt. Our destination is the famous Asian supermarket, Uwajimaya. It is probably my favorite place to visit in Seattle, more so than EMP (now called MoPop), Pike Market, the flagship Nordstrom store, or our friends’ Michael and Tanya’s boutique.
Written some time in the past:
Before you turn away in disgust at the title of my email, please keep reading a little more. After all, wedgie could be a wedge of lettuce, or a great piece of pie. And “waji” is the cute nickname for the most famous Pacific northwest area super duper market, called Uwajimaya. Easy for you to say?
The famous Uwajimaya is a high quality Asian supermarket with gift shop, and Japanese bookstore, all under one roof. They have been in business since 1928! And we visit EVERY time we are in Seattle, since it is so much fun. Note: there is a Waji take out stand in the Alaska Airlines terminal at Sea-Tac Airport.
From their company website: With over 400 employees, Uwajimaya is one of the largest Asian grocery retailers in the Pacific Northwest. Since 1928, Uwajimaya has evolved beyond providing basic grocery staples and become known as a tourist and destination store. Our reputation is built on being known as the information specialist on all things Asian and part of our mission is to educate the customer on all aspects of Asian culture. Uwajimaya’s pre-eminence among Asian stores comes from its use of modern technology, its emphasis on cleanliness and its adherence to its business philosophy.
Our mission is to be the premier destination to experience the richness of Asian culture and food. We strive to offer world-class quality and the widest variety of Asian foods. As an iconic, family owned business with deep roots in the Northwest’s Asian American community, we have a strong commitment to cultural sustainability and cross-cultural understanding across the Asian community and the community at large.
And their history is remarkable:
In 1928, Fujimatsu Moriguchi, a native of Yawatahama, Japan began business in Tacoma, Washington. Moriguchi sold homemade fishcakes and other Japanese staples like soy sauce and rice from the back of his truck to Japanese laborers working in logging and fishing camps in the Puget Sound area. Moriguchi named his business Uwajima-ya, after the town of Uwajima where he learned his trade (”ya” means “store” in Japanese). His wife, Sadako, operated the small Uwajimaya store near downtown Tacoma.
Moriguchi continued to operate in Tacoma until the outbreak of World War II. Shortly after the signing of Executive Order 9066 in 1942, Moriguchi, his wife Sadako and their children were sent to the Tule Lake Internment Camp in California. After the war, the Moriguchi family relocated to Seattle and re-opened Uwajimaya as a retail store and fish cake manufacturing company on South Main Street at the south end of what was once Seattle’s pre-war Nihon-machi, or Japantown — just blocks away from the current International District store location. Uwajimaya thus resumed its business in the Nikkei (Japanese American) community by providing Japanese food items while starting the import of food and gift items from Japan.
In 1962, Seattle hosted the World’s Fair and it was during this time that Uwajimaya blossomed. Uwajimaya began its outreach to non-Japanese clientele offering fine gift products, kitchenware, and delicacies from Japan for all. Although the World’s Fair venture was a great success, sadly Mr. Moriguchi passed away during that summer. Now under the management of Fujimatsu’s four sons, Uwajimaya continued to develop and expand its customer base by catering to the needs of the shopper, which now included second and third generation Asian Americans as well as non-Asians. This outreach included offering Asian cooking classes and expanding the product mix to include items from other Asian countries such as China, Korea, and the Philippines.
In 1970, Uwajimaya moved two blocks south to a new 20,000 square foot store at 6th Avenue South and South King Street, becoming the largest Japanese supermarket in the Pacific Northwest. Eight years later another 16,000 square feet was added, accommodating new meat and produce sections, a deli counter serving hot meals and take outs, an extensive fresh seafood market with live fish tanks, and a gift department featuring fine artwork, books, records, clothing, kitchenware, cosmetics, kimonos, and fabrics. The remodeled store also included a place for the already popular Uwajimaya Cooking School.
Uwajimaya opened its former Uwajimaya Bellevue location in 1978 to cater to the Seattle Eastside’s rapidly growing population. Twenty years later Uwajimaya opened its third location in the Portland, Oregon suburb of Beaverton.
In November 2000, the Seattle Uwajimaya store moved one block south to anchor the ambitious new Uwajimaya Village in the heart of Seattle’s Chinatown/International District where it remains today. The 66,000 square foot retail space includes Seattle Uwajimaya Asian Food and Gift Market, Kinokuniya Bookstore, Chase Bank, Salon Juno, Paris Miki Optical, Savvy Asian Cosmetics and a large Asian food court. Uwajimaya Village is also home to the Uwajimaya Village Apartments, a 176-unit apartment complex above the store.
Sadly, Sadako Moriguchi, pillar of Uwajimaya and the Moriguchi family passed in the summer of 2002, a few years after Uwajimaya Village was completed. Sadako’s passing was greatly mourned by the many customers and employees who had known the matriarch from her many hard working years.
In the summer of 2009, Uwajimaya opened its fourth location in Renton, Washington. And two years later, the Bellevue location relocated from NE 24th St. & Bel-Red Road to its current location at 120th Ave NE and NE 6th St.
Today Uwajimaya’s CEO is Tomoko Moriguchi-Matsuno. The company board of directors is led by Chairman, Tomio Moriguchi. Fifteen family members are active in day-to-day business and management of Uwajimaya. Besides its original retail business, Uwajimaya, Inc. has grown to include a food service and real estate development division. As the Moriguchi family celebrates Uwajimaya’s 86th Anniversary this year, they are thankful to all the customers, employees and vendors who have helped to support and grow the business over the years. Thank you!
Today, as we do on each of our visits, we walk from our downtown Seattle hotel to Uwajimaya, about 2.3 miles each way. We shop, trying to find items (other than fresh food) that we cannot find elsewhere. We usually buy some lunch from either the food court or the huge take out deli. And we manage to find some gift or novelty items to take home.
Uwaj is always a highlight of our trip. In fact, Uwaj might be my favorite place to shop! If you get up this way, I strongly suggest you visit, you will not regret it! It makes Aldi, TJ, or Costco look like kid’s play. The items are both unique and interesting.
The only area that does not measure up to typical Japanese standards would be the pastry and dessert items. But both hot and cold food of every size, shape and price are available from about 10am. The fresh seafood is always interesting, and I love the produce department. They even carry durian!! I have also found farm raised abalone, ultra high end Japanese whiskey, and gift items usually found only in Japan.
But we never leave without buying something, actually, many things. If you do not feel like walking, the Light Rail goes from downtown to a stop (International District) just a block away from the store! But the walk is mostly downhill, so go for it!
Uwajimaya, easy for me to say!!!