The Student News Site of Mercer Island High School

The MIHS Islander

The Student News Site of Mercer Island High School

The MIHS Islander

The Student News Site of Mercer Island High School

The MIHS Islander

Shiga’s Import Shop: The University District’s Specialty Gem

Shiga’s Import Shop: The University District’s Specialty Gem
U District Seattle

Seattle’s University District is home to several specialty shops, but the one most appreciated by Sanrio lovers is Shiga’s Import Shop. This gift shop is filled with stuffed animals, custom tea blends, pastel-colored stationery, incense, candles and more. Showing up empty-handed to a birthday party is impossible once you visit Shiga’s.

Shiga’s Imports has an alluring exterior decorated with lanterns and posters of notable Sanrio characters like Badtz-Maru. On display throughout its windows are Hello Kitty plushies ranging from the size of a hand to the size of a pillow.

Raechel Kundert, Assistant Manager of Shiga’s Imports, values Shiga’s balance between traditional and contemporary pop culture items.

“I think it’s important to preserve tradition while making space for new things, and I think we do a great job of that. For example, we have Sanrio plushies and taiyaki makers, anime stickers and matcha sets, and Studio Ghibli pins and yukata,” Kundert said.

The balance of old and modern is part of what makes Shiga’s appealing to a wide range of people.

“This way, we have something for everyone, and we can share a more holistic version of Japanese culture that encompasses both old and new,” Kundert said. Founded after World War II by peace activist Andy Shiga in 1956, the gift shop grew in popularity during the Seattle World’s Fair. All these years later, you can find it on University Way Northeast, a major street and commercial district colloquially known as The Ave.

“The Ave has seen a lot of change over the years, but we’re very grateful to still be open 68 years later thanks to the community support we’ve received since we opened,” Kundert said.

Shiga’s Imports holds value in the University District beyond its merchandise.

“To me, Shiga’s Imports demonstrates the importance of supporting local small businesses and building community. We’re blessed to be the oldest operating small business on University Way,” Kundert said. “I knew the Shiga family name through walking past Shiga’s Garden.”

Shiga’s Garden was an empty lot that neighborhood volunteers transformed into a P-Patch for Seattle’s University District.

“The Shiga family has done so much for the local community—from founding the University District Street Fair (the longest-running street fair in the U.S.), to volunteering at Kawabe House in the International District, and supporting their neighbors on The Ave,” Kundert said.

The philanthropy of the Shiga family has given Shiga’s Imports a special place in the hearts of many U-District families.

“We have so many customers that tell us how they’ve been coming to our store since before I was born, and many people who come in just to visit our owner, Toshimo Shiga,” Kundert said.

My favorite part of Shiga’s Imports is the tea collection. Some blends are designed with a specific purpose. “Purple Tulsi” is said to reduce stress and increase energy, which I find perfect for getting through a midday slump. “Immunitea” is composed primarily of cinnamon, cardamom and ginger, and is advertised as boosting your immune system.

The best incense I have bought is from Shiga’s Imports. The brand Flute has masala incense, which has a bamboo stick through the center. This makes it burn longer than incense without bamboo, like cone incense. The incense is categorized by intention, like peace or meditation. In a well-ventilated room, the scent provides a calming atmosphere.

Not only does Shiga’s Imports have great incense, it also has well-designed incense holders. Some are wooden, displaying the peace symbol, whereas others display the yin-yang. This type captures all of the ashes, and mine has survived getting knocked off a countertop. There is also a glass incense holder in the shape of a frog, which is both practical to use and a nice decoration.

Shopping at Shiga’s Imports is a memorable experience–from the moment you walk in, you feel the serenity of the shop’s atmosphere. There is natural lighting towards the entrance from the windows, and the interior is lit with warm tones that are easy on the eyes. As you walk towards the back, you may hear another shopper playing a singing bowl, or testing a pen. You can even use a Japanese calligraphy brush on the provided sheets of paper. The effort put into running Shiga’s Imports is clear, with products staying stocked over time and the decorations changing throughout each year. Overall, the environment is welcoming, with friendly staff and relaxing music.

“I feel so lucky to be a part of this history and community now, and I’m very excited to see what the future has in store for Shiga’s Imports,” Kundert said.

If you are ever in the University District, make sure to visit Shiga’s Import Shop. With a variety of options for unique gifts, you might just find the perfect one for you.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The MIHS Islander Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *