During the winter of 1967, construction began on Southcenter Mall which is now known as Westfield. That summer I took some classes at Franklin High every morning and then worked a fifty hour work week at the old Uwajimaya store which was located on 5th and Main Street in the International District. Each night we also stocked the Southcenter store with foods and gift items. At that time, there were only three stock boys, Tommie Oiye, Randy Furuta, and myself. Besides pricing and stocking a variety of consumables, we did food packing, filled delivery orders, and warehouse work to boot. Through the years, the owners of Uwajimaya always sought out and imported employees who were experts on Japanese groceries, seafood, and over all food production. One of the men that came to work at the great NW iconic store was named Yukia Ninomiya.
Yukia was an extremely strong and intelligent young man and was immediately promoted to a managerial position. He was the boss for Tommie, Randy, and I and he did not tolerate any nonsense. Whenever a food-filled truck parked at the loading dock, our boss would repeatedly tell us to ‘move it’, hurry up and get those one hundred pound bags of rice in the warehouse as fast as we could. Yukia could carry two hundred pounds at a time and that made us feel slow. You didn’t want him mad either. We always viewed him as a Japanese Muhammed Ali type of person.
One year at a national judo tournament in Seattle, Mr Ninomiya was one of three winners. He was a middle-weight and beat the light-weight champ in a semifinal exhibition. For the final match he went up against a huge Hakujin guy that had won the heavy weight division. The referee yelled ‘hajime’ which means begin and Yukia just stood there smiling. The heavy weight champ was confused and waited for a tussle to begin. This went on for what seemed like minutes when all of a sudden, Yukia quickly reached down, grabbed the ankles of his opponent, and pulled hard. In less than one second, the big guy was flat on his back-match over. It was an amazing victory and a stunned crowd went crazy. Brains and strategy had won out over sheer size.
Deems Tsutakawa is a local Sansei musician. He can be reached at email@example.com.