A Piece of the Rich History Behind the Shiga Name

Shiga’s Imports specializes in providing Seattle and the University District community with many unique items. We strive to carry imports from many countries, focusing on Asian imports and goods. We sell a variety of merchandise, including teas, kimonos, Japanese dishware, Chinese figurines, Indian bed spreads, games, statues, Japanese and American futons and much, much more. As we continue to improve and expand our inventory of unique gift ideas, we would like to look back and remember how it all started. Shiga’s One World Shop was originally founded by Andy Shiga, a few years before the celebration of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. 

Pictured: Andy and Toshimo Shiga picking watercress in 1974.

The Shiga family has a long history in Seattle, as Andy’s father founded the Taiheiyo Sweater Company on Jackson Street in Seattle’s International District (then known as Japantown and Chinatown) in the late 1920s. It operated for many years before it was forced to close after the signing of Executive Order 9066 in February of 1942. Executive Order 9066, instituted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, ordered the internment and/or relocation of all peoples of Japanese descent living in the western United States. The Shiga family was forced to move from Seattle and the sweater inventory and equipment was moved to the Ichiban Café in the Panama Hotel, where many other Japanese Americans stored their belongings for the duration of the interment. 

Pictured: Andy Shiga and co-workers pose in front of delivery trucks for the Evergreen Co-Op in the 1950s. Shiga helped break the Teamsters’ Union ban against minority delivery drivers.

After World War II, Andy used this surplus inventory to open up his first store in Seattle’s University District, a few years before 1962 (the store was located about a block away from its present day location). Riding on the explosion of tourism and economy generated from Seattle World’s Fair, Shiga’s One World Shop was born in its current location, taking over the residence of a former men’s garment store. In 1968 Andy’s wife, Toshimo Shiga, who is now Shiga’s Imports current president, began working at the store to help her husband expand the business. Under her management, the store’s inventory expanded to sell bamboo and wicker furniture, kimonos, bedspreads, baskets, clothing, and many of the other items that we still sell today. 

Pictured: The Shiga family in front of their Seattle home in the 1930s.

Andy also needed his wife’s help as he was distracted from business matters with another idea. He hoped to help heal a growing rift between local youth and Ave merchants due to the anti-war/anti-establishment sentiments that gripped the nation during the Vietnam War. Andy, with the help of local business leaders and activists, began working on the idea of a University District Street Fair.

Pictured: Toshimo and Andy Shiga at the first University District Street Fair, 1970.

Andy, as a peace activist, sought to unify and celebrate peace through an arts and music festival. He hoped to help create an event that would showcase community and which also would help local businesses. Andy’s efforts and ideas became a reality in 1969 with the debut of the first University District Street Fair. 

The University District Street Fair is now a long time Seattle tradition and is one of the largest arts fairs in the state of Washington. The University District Street Fair (now run by the University District Chamber of Commerce) is currently the longest running street festival in the nation, attracts more than 50,000 people annually and each year features over 300 craft and food booths. The University District Street Fair is held annually during the third weekend of May. 

Andy Shiga passed away in 1993, leaving behind his wife and three sons. Many mourned his passing as Andy was known by many as a good friend, peace activist, and lover of life. Since his death, Andy’s wife Toshimo has continued to guide Shiga’s Imports with her boundless energy and business expertise.

Today, Shiga’s Imports One World Shop is still a familiar presence on the Ave, catering not only to its past customers, but welcoming all the new people who have yet to explore our rich history and unique merchandise.

Toshimo Shiga and her oldest son, Alfred, stand in front of Shiga’s Imports. The store has been operating since 1956 and has been run by Toshimo since the early 1960s. (Photo by Blake Peterson)

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