By Shaodan Chen
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Masako “Masa” Murakami, the last of four children in the well-known Murakami family, recently passed away on Jan. 29 at the age of 90.
Masa contributed to her family’s store, the Higo 10 Cent Store (later the Higo Variety Store), throughout her life with her enthusiasm for the imported household goods and business.
“She had a wonderful outgoing personality that was engaging, and she enjoyed meeting and conversing with customers and friends who visited the Higo store each day,” said Craig Murakami, Masa’s nephew. “For over 10 years, the Murakami family had many devoted customers and some came from far parts of the world, visiting the store each time they returned to Seattle.”
The family had a 75-year history with its store, which was started by Masa’s parents, Sanzo and Matsuyo Murakami, in 1909. The store provided a sense of home for the residents of Japantown. The family lived at the back of the store in an apartment upstairs.
Masa was involved with the family’s store throughout her life, except for a brief period during World War II when the family was forced to board up their business and report to an internment camp at Minidoka in Idaho. There, Masa acted as a schoolteacher.
Released in 1945, the Murakami family restarted its business. The store was remodeled in 1957 and was renamed the Higo Variety Store.
Masa ran Higo with her friend, Esther Matsuda, until 2002, when Masa was in her 80s. The Murakami family closed Higo in June 2003.
But the legacy of Higo continues on. In 2004, John Bisbee and Binko Chiong-Bisbee opened a second location for their art gallery and called it Kobo at Higo, a tribute to the family’s store. They restored the cabinets and display spaces of the Higo Variety Store.
“Masa and the family were conservative, kind, and humble business people who chose to keep the store’s unique historical and ethnic ambiance intact to preserve the original intentions of her father,” said Craig.
“She was hard working and only took two weeks off a year to do the thing she enjoyed the most, which was traveling to foreign countries, meeting new people, and trying new foods. For Masa, the more exotic the location, the more she enjoyed the trip. Outside of the store, she was quite generous to the community, family, and friends, and she supported many charitable organizations.”
Masa is survived by many friends and relatives, including the. (end)
Masa Murakami’s funeral will be held on Saturday, Feb. 20 at 1 p.m. at the Nisei Veterans Memorial Hall. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Nikkei Concerns, the Murakami Head and Neck Cancer Fund at the Virgina Mason Foundation, or the Speech and Hearing Fund at the Seattle Children’s Hospital Foundation.
Shaodan Chen can be reached at email@example.com.