Uwajimaya is a Seattle landmark. When we have out of town visitors, we typically tailor the list of places we take them based on our audience but Uwajimaya always makes the cut. (One time I took a pair of visiting teenaged boys on a tour of mansions and dead people, including a drive along Lake Washington, stopping by Bruce Lee’s grave, and peeking at the house where Kurt Cobain committed suicide. To top off that visit, we swung by Dick’s on Broadway for burgers and then wound up the day at…Uwajimaya.)

Uwajimaya is a grocery store that specializes in Asian foods but they also sell housewares, toys, makeup, and eyeglasses. At the back of the store, fish swim in large tanks, fishmongers wrap your orders, and real butchers trim meat. (If you want a flank steak that’s been trimmed of all the excess fat and silver skin so that you can throw it directly from the package into a marinade, you know where to go.)

Uwajimaya is a great source for fun gifts, for example, expensive little boxes that hold secret prizes such as highly detailed figures of break dancers or kung fu fighters. If you need teeny tiny food made of plastic, this store is for you. Or if you’re heading back east at Christmas time and need a few extra stocking stuffers. Or interesting candy. Or a variety of caffeine and nicotine–laced energy drinks with fantastic names like Sweat or White Shark.

In the spring, in the weeks leading up to Children’s Day, a display of brightly colored fish flags called koinobori might catch your eye, as they did mine. Several years ago, I bought two: one blue and one red. I hung them in the dining room and soon stopped seeing them, as often happens in a home filled with things.

Fish flags are fairly prevalent in Seattle and have a place in our civic history. In the 1970s, local legend Ivar Haglund bought the Smith Tower, another Seattle icon. As a publicity stunt, Ivar replaced the American flag that flew atop the tower with a salmon-shaped wind sock just like these, only bigger.


Offering: two koinobori, one blue and one red


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