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Uwajimaya Bellevue

Larger, brighter and tastier

At the recent opening of the beautiful new Uwajimaya store close to downtown Bellevue, a sense of celebration was decidedly in the air. The former Overlake location had closed only nine days earlier, but Uwajimaya fulfills such a unique need in the Eastside community that they were really missed.

The new Bellevue store

"Because of the growth on the Eastside and in our customers, we've wanted to enlarge and update our Uwajimaya Bellevue store for several years," stated Uwajimaya CEO and founder's daughter, Tomoko Moriguchi Matsuno.


699 120th Avenue NE
Bellevue, WA 98005
Phone: 425-747-9012

600 5th Ave S
Seattle, WA 98104

501 S Grady Wy
Renton, WA 98057

10500 SW Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy
Beaverton, OR 97005

At precisely 11:00 a.m. on March 25th, Tomoko Matsuno and store manager Hiroshi Hibi stood waiting to greet their customers. After a quick roll call of departments as to their readiness, the doors quietly opened to the applause and cheers of those gathered outside.

The new store at 35,000 square feet is 50% larger than the old one, with wider aisles, more check-out stands and bigger displays. Each department offers extensive selections of food products not only from Japan but from Asian neighbors as well.

This upscale relocation happens just 83 years after Fujimatsu Moriguchi began a small business in Tacoma selling fishcakes from his truck to Japanese laborers in logging and fishing camps around Puget Sound. He called his fledgling company Uwajima-ya, named for the town where he learned his trade and followed by the word "ya" which means "store" in his native tongue. At the same time, his wife Sadako opened the first small Uwajimaya store in Tacoma.

From these very humble beginnings grew a highly successful mini-chain of Japanese specialty supermarkets and food processing divisions which today still remain family owned and operated. Uwajimaya, Inc. currently employs 400 people in Washington and Oregon.

The design of the new Bellevue store is  a collaboration between Tomoko Matsuno and Tom Phillips of Phillips Enterprises. It is brightly lit, spacious in design and physically much easier to shop in than the old location.

"The challenge was to make the store shopper-friendly and completely exciting throughout. I believe we have accomplished this. Uwajimaya is very strong in fish and deli, though not to dismiss their strength in meat and produce. With this expertise, we decided to place the two strongest departments in the front (deli) and back (seafood), filling in with the perimeter departments. Asian gifts are an automatic draw for their stores and can be placed pretty much anywhere," said Tom Phillips,

The problem, if it can really be called a problem, lies in the fact that there is so much to choose from. Each department is brimming with product and choices. For seasoned cooks familiar with the various Asian cuisines and ingredients, a trip to Uwajimaya is fascinating and rewarding, but for a beginner it is positively overwhelming. Spend an hour or so just wandering the aisles, reading labels, asking questions and just plain imagining what your next meal could be.

The first stop on a leisurely tour of this colorful store is the produce department. In addition to popular veggies and fruits, you will also find, among many others, sinqua, oppo and moqua (Chinese okra, bottle gourd and fuzzy melon, respectively), and, of course, dragonfruits.

Next comes the delicious aromas from Deli-cious, the place to purchase ready-to-eat Asian food in many guises from small bites to a feast. At Chef's Corner, prices range from $1.99 for skewered spicy chicken to $28.99 for black cod kasuzuki. Under the BBQ sign hang pork loins, spare ribs, roasted pork bellies and ducks. Fresh Choices brings a wide variety of prepared Asian foods from steam tables, all made with zero trans-fat oils.

Sadako's Café is an oasis in the bustling Deli-cious section of the store where you can take your purchases, sit down, eat and enjoy. This café is named for founder Sadako Moriguchi. After Fujimatsu's death in 1962, she continued to attend to and communicate with customers at the Seattle store for the next 40 years.

Tomoko Matsuno just beams when you mention seafood to her. She is so proud of the new seafood department with live lobster tanks, Dungeness crab and tilapia; shellfish tanks of manila clams, geoducks and nine different kinds of oysters from Kushi to Kumamoto. On the trio of icy slabs is a dramatic display of well-labeled whole fish, and in the refrigerated showcases are styles and cuts of a wide variety of fish. The Sashimi Island is self-explanatory, being a large view prep area surrounded by refrigerated cases filled with assorted cuts and varieties of sushi grade raw fish.

Uwajimaya offers many delicious and tempting choices for the home cook to prepare quick meals without a lot of fuss and time-consuming preparation. Freezers and refrigerated cases in most departments are filled with snacks both sweet and savory, entrees and desserts. The meat counter offers marinated ready-to-cook meats while surrounding showcases feature meats sliced and cubed for specific recipes: bulgogi, sukiyaki, shabu shabu and hot pot. When rounding out a "homemade meal," don't forget to visit the beer and wine department with the wow selection of sake.

In an historical side note, the 1962 World's Fair in Seattle marked the beginning of the popular Uwajimaya gift and kitchen departments when, in order to capture attention, Moriguchi added non-food items to his inventory. Today Uwajimaya stocks a wide selection of tableware, cookbooks, cards, cosmetics, toys, origami and an extensive selection of rice cookers.

Visit Uwajimaya's website for ongoing news from all stores, directions, recipes, a glossary of ingredients and details of Senior Tuesdays 8 a.m. – 11 a.m., and College Night Fridays 6 p.m. – 10 p.m.

Penny Rawson/May 2011

Penny Rawson is a long-time Northwest food writer and owner of Penny Rawson Public & Media Relations.

All photos courtesy of Uwajimaya.

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