NW Asian Weekly would like to extend Uwajimaya a big – huge – heartfelt “happy birthday”!
Though Tomio Moriguchi was modest in his interview, we believe that 80 years is no small feat. We’re glad they’re celebrating big because the 80 years not only serves as a milestone for Uwajimaya, but also for Washington state. We don’t have many businesses – especially family-owned ones – that have sustained themselves for 80 years. Additionally, perhaps most important of all, Uwajimaya’s 80 years serves as a benchmark for how far our evolving International District has come.
Stepping into the pristine store, aisles and aisles full of Asian food products line 50,000 square feet. Nowadays, the sheer variety is dizzying. This was not always the case, however.
Food is very important to the Asian culture. For the first generation, many of whom are displaced immigrants, it serves as a comforting reminder of home. For the second and third generations, our food acts as an anchor, tying us down to our identity, linking us to our parents’ cultural background.
Before Asian groceries like Uwajimaya, homesick immigrants had to request food from relatives back home who sent them through the postal service, or they had to adapt their old recipes to Western ingredients – which never ended up tasting quite right. Nowadays, we don’t have to. We can actually walk down the blocks of our neighborhood to buy the ingredients that we want.
Additionally, food is a great bridge for peace between different cultures because it is so universal. Everyone loves to eat, and everyone loves good food. Uwajimaya has done very well in engaging non-Asians and making Asian food accessible to the American palate. Because of this, there exists a greater understanding of Asian culture by the greater American people. Uwajimaya brings non-Asians into the ID. This is a notable accomplishment, especially in light of Chinatown’s turbulent past – anti-miscegenation laws, the Japanese internment, racial discrimination – with white Americans.
Uwajimaya also supports many community projects financially as well as serving as board members, community projects such as the Wing Luke Museum, Inter*Im, Keiro Nursing Home and Kin On Nursing Home.
Their spirit of competition is noteworthy because it inspires other local Asian groceries to rise to the high standards that Uwajimaya has set. At the same time, they also foster a sense of cooperation through their wholesale company, Seasia, because many other Asian groceries stock Seasia items on their shelves.
Uwajimaya has opened doors for Asians, proving that the glass ceiling is not an immovable obstacle. We can all be inspired by their success and say to ourselves that we, too, can be as successful, not just in the grocery business, but in other niches as well. They are an example of how Asian sensibilities and culture can coalesce with a Western business model – which goes to show how far open-mindedness can carry people. ♦