Founded in 1928 by Japan-born Fujimatsu Moriguchi, Beaverton's Asian super-supermarket Uwajimaya started humbly as a food cart in the Tacoma area, out of which Moriguchi sold fishcakes to Japanese loggers and fishermen. After the shameful articles of internment forced him and his family into the Tule Lake Internment Camp in California, Moriguchi relocated to Seattle and, with the help of the attention-drawing 1962 World's Fair, began the family's ascent to the impressive business model known as the modern Uwajimaya. Still a privately held family business, it is run today by Moriguchi's four sons.
The initial draw to Uwajimaya for most non-Asians and indeed for many younger Asian Americans is the sheer novelty of the place. "You won't believe the snack isle," a friend may tell you. "They've got the weirdest stuff! Squid chips, chocolaty mushroom cookies and five kinds of wasabi peas…," they'll utter, trailing off because it is truly difficult to put into words the staggering selection of snacks the store sells. The person may go on about the seafood, "it's like the freaking Oregon Aquarium, they have like nine tanks full of living seafood…" or the deli, "Veggie hum bao, man! Whole wheat veggie hum bao!" This will continue until you are both in the car, on your way to Beaverton, mouths watering in anticipation. But in your hurried state don't forget your wallet--because while some complain that you pay for the convenience of such a wondrous place, it's really just the copious amount of shit you'll cram into your cart that elevates the grocery bill; there's just so much to want.
Along with the alluring novelty factor, Uwajimaya has really evolved to reflect America's current Pan Asian community. To this end, the store offers hard-to-find ingredients and spices for pretty much all of Asia and even India. And if your heightened sense of cultural awareness starts to wear you out, you can get American stuff here too, like potato chips, milk, buttermilk, and cheese. The swift business keeps their products fresh enough that, depending on your dedication, you may actually develop a preference for a certain type of lychee fruit or get keen to the odious gas-station scent of durian. Additionally, they have an incredible gift/houseware section that sports all manner of cute little tea sets, sushi knives, paper lanterns and more Japanese accoutrements than you've seen in one place since you rented Lost in Translation.
Like it or not, while shopping at Uwajimaya, you'll actually find yourself learning. A true promoter of culture and community, they host monthly events and annual festivals highlighting Asia and the Pacific Islands. This, along with a variety of cooking classes, a sizable multi-lingual bookstore, and an exceedingly helpful and knowledgeable staff, will no doubt help you achieve your dream of being a qualifying contestant on The Iron Chef.
Like all things ubiquitous, Uwajimaya certainly has its detractors. These people, the type that would shout down Michael Jordan or the White Stripes, are mostly owners of smaller Asian markets who complain that they can't compete with Uwajimaya's enormitude. Others simply whine, "… but it's in Beaverton." Vast and remote though it is, Uwajimaya is certainly far from being the Asian version of a Wal-Mart. Indeed, it's difficult to side with the naysayers of a family-run business whose three bustling locations (Beaverton, Seattle, Bellevue) foster community and cultural awareness. Really, that's the kind of success you just can't mess with.