Tomio Moriguchi

Tomio Moriguchi is a life-long resident of Seattle. He earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering from University of Washington in 1961 and joined the family business, Uwajimaya Inc., in 1962 with the passing of his father, Fujimatsu Moriguchi.  Tomio is currently its Chairman of the Board. Uwajimaya businesses include three retail Uwajimaya Asian Food & Gift Markets, Kustom Foods (manufacturer of Asian foods) and Food Service International (wholesaler to Asian restaurants).  Tomio led the successful real estate development of Fujisada Condominiums and the Uwajimaya Village complex in Seattle’s International District. Tomio has received numerous awards and recognitions of his business leadership and volunteer involvement in civic and charitable affairs.

In the mid 1960’s, the Seattle Model City program was formed and designated a large parcel of land, from about 2nd and Yesler Avenue all the way to what is now MLK Way, for massive urban renewal.

This program to provide better housing for the masses was far from perfect. Inequalities, discrimination and hardships are difficult issues to overcome. If you are a member of any majority community within a society, these facts may be more of an annoyance rather than of any interest or concern. We as people of color or non-main line heritage need to deal with these issues on a daily bases. The goals of the Model City program although best intended did not achieve its lofty goals.

Photo courtesy Tomio Moriguchi.

I went to see what this was all about since parts of the ID and our business (Uwajimaya) was included in their land swash. I was told to put together a group of interested people to join in the Model City program. We were sent a few dollars and a technical advisor.

A few of us met to form the International District Improvement Association, known to us as Interim. As chair of this new organization, we rented a store front and hired an executive director. The Model City program was successful for the ID as it provided the impetus and planted the seed of working with government to better provide, housing, and health and related social services.

For me and the people in the district, the fundamental desire was to have a safe desirable place we can be comfortable. Having worked at the family business since I was 10 years-old in the Seattle Chinatown International area, I felt that both the business and its location should be a comfortable place to visit. When the opportunity came to help the Model City program and enhance as well as preserve this district it was only natural to step-up to do a fair share of the lifting. We saw movements to preserve the Pike Place market area by people like Victor Steinberg and a valuable historical asset was preserved. If the Seattle Chinatown International District was allowed to succumb to the bulldozers, it would have taken more than all the Kings men to put it back together.

Coupled with what our father told us – that as we come into the world naked and leave naked – we knew that it was what we do while here that defines us.

With an Asian Confucius background, the desire to be harmonious is important, too. The challenge in both my business and non-profit work was, and is still today, to harmoniously accomplish goals while not being confrontational. This method has served me well in both business and my many non-profit works. I believe that by continuing to recruit fresh faces and working together, the ID continues to have a bright future.

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