News and Culture in Seattle's Chinatown and International District

Uwajimaya provides groceries with culture

In 1928, Fujimatsu Moriguchi began selling fishcakes out of the back of his truck in Tacoma, Washington. Seeing that the area was lacking when it came to Japanese food, Moriguchi’s truck eventually evolved into a village: Uwajimaya.

Beginning as a “mom and pop” store, Uwajimaya rose in popularity following its participation in the 1962 World’s Fair. Today, Uwajimaya is a Seattle staple when it comes to international cuisine.

For more about the history of Uwajimaya, click here.

Paper lanterns hang above the cash registers and dragons swing overhead. The sound of Japanese pop music rings almost as loudly as the shouts of customers and workers with squealing grocery carts. Even the food on display creates a mosaic more colorful than that of any Quality Food CenterFC. Locally owned and family-oriented, it is clear that Uwajimaya prides itself on being a different kind of supermarket.

“You’re not going to get the same atmosphere and environment in Safeway that you get here,” a store director said.

The Washington chain finds its niche in appealing to demographics that are frequently overlooked in the American grocery world. To do this, Uwajimaya focusing on providing Asian products that are otherwise absent from the typical supermarket. Shedding a little light on the vast array of products offered at the food hub, there is an entire noodle aisle, both a halal and a kosher section and a food court with everything from sushi to burgers.

The food court at Uwajimaya

The International District branch, located on 5th Avenue and Dearborn Street, is more than just a food haven. It also houses residents in close to 200 apartments above the store, giving this particular location the name Uwajimaya Village. In addition to the living spaces, the village is also comprised of several retail units currently occupied by businesses including Kinokuniya Bookstore and Chase Bank. The village takes up an entire International District block.

About 25 percent of the market’s customers are Japanese. The rest of the store’s visitors are dominantly Asian and Asian American, but Uwajimaya sees non-Asian frequenters as well. During the summer, the market is a hotspot for tourists from every continent and of every language.

To cater to the diverse cultures passing through its doors, the store hosts various cultural weeks, in which they highlight the food and customs of a specific country, as a means of promoting the store. This August, Uwajimaya will host a two-day summer festival filled with tofu eating contests and various street vendors.

Although Uwajimaya has proven itself to be a valuable resource for the larger Seattle community, being such a specific grocery store is not without its difficulties. According to a store director, the store sometimes experiences difficulties when it comes to stocking foreign products. Although globalization has made countries closer than ever concerning communication and trade, quality is still a concern. The USDA closely inspects every food product shipped into the country and, as a result, many desired products never make it onto the shelves.

To watch a brief promotional video about Uwajimaya and its relationship with Bank of America, click here.


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This entry was posted on May 22, 2012 by and tagged , , , , , .


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