Sadako Tsutakawa was born in Seattle on October 16, 1907. At the age of 5 she was sent to Japan to receive a traditional education. She returned to Seattle in her early 20s. According to family lore, her father, who was an import/export merchant in Seattle, arranged her marriage with his business associate, Fujimatsu Moriguchi. Moriguchi started the business in Tacoma, in 1928, when he began delivering tofu and soy sauce to Japanese laborers in logging and fishing camps. He called his business Uwajima-ya, after his birthplace in Japan. Ya means store in Japanese.
The Moriguchis were forced into an internment camp along with other Japanese Americans at the beginning of World War II. They spent the war in the Tule Lake Internment Camp in northern California, and Sadako Moriguchi had three of her seven children there.
They returned to Seattle after the war. The Japanese community had been shattered and there remained widespread racism against persons of Japanese descent. In these difficult times, the couple managed to buy a small building on south Main Street in Seattle's International District. This was the beginning of Uwajimaya. The store expanded and opened a gift shop at the Seattle's World's Fair in 1962. The shop thrived.
That summer though, Fujimatsu Moriguchi passed away. He had left the store to his four sons (breaking with the Japanese tradition of leaving the business to the eldest son). The sons subsequently divided ownership with their three sisters and their mother, Sadako.
A Quiet Force in a Thriving Store
Sadako Moriguchi worked in the store until she was 85. She made rice balls and sushi, and served the staff lunch every day, as is traditional for restaurant owners in Japan. All of the children worked in the store.
Though she never had an official position in the company, her son, Tomio Moriguchi, said that the family credited her with keeping the family together in her own quiet way. On July 25, 2002, Sadako died from complications of Alzheimer's.