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Saturday, July 27, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Sadako Moriguchi, 1907 - 2002: The guiding force at Uwajimaya, a landmark store

Seattle Times staff reporter

Sadako Tsutakawa Moriguchi was the matriarch of a multimillion-dollar family business that began in 1932 with a panel truck selling tofu and soy sauce to Japanese laborers in timber and fishing camps.

She raised seven children, three of them born in the Tule Lake internment camp for Japanese Americans in Northern California. After the war, with Seattle's Japanese community fragmented across the West, she and her husband returned to the city to start a small grocery called Uwajimaya.

Today, her legacy is evident: Uwajimaya posted sales of around $88 million last year and the Moriguchi family is one of the most prominent in Seattle.

Mrs. Moriguchi died July 25 from complications of Alzheimer's disease. She was 94.

"Her passage is the tail end of a hardy generation," said Ron Chew, executive director of the Wing Luke Asian Museum.

Mrs. Moriguchi was born in Seattle on Oct. 16, 1907. Her father owned a local import/export business at the turn of the century, said her son, Tomio Moriguchi, chairman of Uwajimaya.

Memorial service


A memorial service will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Seattle Buddhist Church, 1427 S. Main St., Seattle.

Remembrances may be made to Seattle Keiro Nursing Home, 1601 E. Yesler Way, Seattle, WA 98122.

She returned to Japan when she was about 5 years old to receive a traditional education. She came back to the Northwest when she was in her early 20s.

In family lore, her father arranged a marriage with a business associate, Fujimatsu Moriguchi. At the time, Mr. Moriguchi owned a truck to deliver food to homesick Japanese workers and families.

Mrs. Moriguchi didn't talk much about the internment, which came soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor, but the experience left a mark, said her daughter Tomoko Matsuno. For example, Mrs. Moriguchi was known to keep every gift or trinket given to her, a habit she developed of never throwing anything away.

Starting a business seemed almost impossible after the war. Distrust of Japanese Americans was still widespread, and the city braced itself for unemployment and depression.

Nonetheless, Mr. Moriguchi was able to scrape some money together to open Uwajimaya on South Main Street. Dire economic times hurt the real-estate market and made the purchase possible.

"Sometimes," said Tomio Moriguchi, "you have to be lucky in life."

All the children worked in the store, said Matsuno. Mrs. Moriguchi, known to some in her family as "the sushi queen," made rice balls and fed the staff lunch, a tradition for restaurant owners in Japan.

Breaking with Japanese tradition, Mr. Moriguchi left the business to his four sons instead of to his eldest son, Kenzo.

When Fujimatsu died, Tomio left Boeing to work in the family business. Although Mrs. Moriguchi never held an official position in the company, Tomio said she was the guide behind its growth.

"We credit her for keeping the family together in her own quiet way," he said.

In her later years, Mrs. Moriguchi became a Seattle Symphony season-ticket holder and world traveler, often taking her grandchildren to Boston and Washington, D.C.

But she remained passionate about Uwajimaya and her longtime customers. She worked in the store until she was 85.

One night, remembered Matsuno, she disappeared from her home around 2 a.m., but her family knew where she was going.

They found her on her way to Uwajimaya.

Mrs. Moriguchi is survived by her sisters Sumiko Oki and Kazuko Yamashita of Japan, her children Kenzo Moriguchi, Suwako Maeda, Tomio Moriguchi, Akira Moriguchi, Hisako Nakaya, Toshi Moriguchi and Tomoko Matsuno, 19 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren.

Alex Fryer can be reached at 206-464-8124 or afryer@seattletimes.com.

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