Celebrate 90 years of business
Former Uwajimaya CEO TOMIO MORIGUCHI remembers the day his dad found a spot for the family grocery store in the 1940s. Fujimatsu was incarcerated at Tule Lake during World War II and he had to rebuild the Uwajimaya business from scratch. While walking up Main Street in the International District with 10-year-old Tomio, he came across a dilapidated store run by a Filipino.“Mydad asked in broken English if the store was for sale, and I remember the guy practically threw the keys at him and said,‘It’sall yours!’”
The Filipino proprietor was only too happy to sell the store to Fujimatsu because he was convinced that a postwar Depression was lurking. Fujimatsu used his wholesale contacts before the war to quickly re-establish Uwajimaya.
Fujimatsu felt that the 1962 World Fair would offer a chance to make an impression, but when he fell ill just before the fair, Tomio had to leave his job at Boeing to help out. When Fujimatsu passed away, Tomio, just 26 at the time, realized he was not going back to Boeing.
Business began to boom in the 60s.“Atthat time, the war brides came,” Tomio recalls.“Theybecame very good customers. Our business just kept growing!” Those war brides and their growing families have stayed with the company throughout the decades.“Eventoday, people will stop me in the store and say, Uwajimaya-san—they don’t know my real name is Moriguchi.”
At one point, Tomio’s sister suggested they start selling rice cookers.“Isaid, you’re crazy. Who the hell is going to buy a rice cooker?” Tomio said. They became so popular, the store had trouble keeping them in stock.
Throughout Uwajimaya’s 90 years, the Moriguchi family has kept its focus on high quality and a friendly atmosphere. Whether they were selling to loggers in the 1930s or IT engineers in the 2010s, the Moriguchi family has helped add a healthy dose of Japanese to Seattle’s diet.