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Tokuda Drugs (#16)

What do you need to have close by in a neighborhood to live there? A home you can afford. A grocery store to buy food. A school for your kids. How about a pharmacy to get the medicine you need? Tokuda Drugs provided just that for Japantown, nearby Yesler Terrace, and the Central District. The store – started in 1935 by George Tokuda and once under the name Johnson’s Drug Store – progressively moved throughout the area, first on 12th Avenue, then to 18th and Yesler, then to 14th and Yesler. The business was lost during World War II. After the War, still embroiled in anti-Asian racism, there was even a “No Japs Allowed” sign on the door. Through determination, the store was bought back, named Tokuda Drugs, and moved to 17th and Jackson and then finally to Main Street in a ground floor storefront of the Panama Hotel. Floyd Horiuchi took over the business in 1979. It closed in 2005.


Opening day for Johnson’s Drug Store on 12th Avenue, owned by George Tokuda. Fourth from left: George Tokuda (in dark suit). The men in white jackets are pharmacists. A long-time businessman in the Central District, George Tokuda would serve as one of the original nine co-founders of Liberty Bank, opened in May 1968 at 24th and Union in the Central District, as the first Black-owned bank west of the Mississippi.

Wing Luke Museum Collection.

Cold medicine from Tokuda Drugs when it was located at 1620 S. Jackson St.

Wing Luke Museum Collection.

An ardent community supporter, the Tokuda Drug basketball team played in Seattle’s Nisei Veterans Committee league. The four coaches flanked team members on both sides. Front row, left to right: Frank Nakagawa, Chuck Kinoshita, Sub Takeuchi, Iso Nishimura, Heat Heyamoto, Frank Fujii. Back row, left to right: Al Mar, Mote Yasuda, Yuk Takeuchi, Hod Otani, Manabu Fujino, Sei Adachi, Stan Karikomi, George Tokuda.

Wing Luke Museum Collection.


Tama Tokuda

“My mom was a devoted mother and wife who helped my dad … run Tokuda Drugs and raised five kids – one of them disabled…. What was wonderful was watching her blossom into her own person in her 60s after my father died and all us kids grew up. She was a gifted writer, and she began to write again. She became involved in the community, speaking out about the internment, becoming a docent at the Wing Luke and an usher at the Northwest Asian American Theatre.” – Wendy Tokuda, daughter, “Tama Tokuda passes away at 93,” Northwest Asian Weekly, September 12, 2013

“As youngster, I really got to know some of the older performers, and they were like rock stars. You know [former state legislator] Kip Tokuda? His mother was one of the players. She was so good…. She did something called a kyo-ningyo that’s about a doll. And she played the part so wonderfully. It’s about a doll that comes to life. And then she lives and loves and everything. Then she has to revert back to a doll. She played that so wonderfully that no one else could play it because in order to play a doll, you have to make your face like it’s not a person’s face…. She was so good at that, and so beautiful too. No one else has been able to repeat that.” – May Sasaki

Tama Tokuda’s mother took her to her first performance at the Nippon Kan in Seattle’s Japantown (waypoint #17) when she was five years old. Dance lessons came soon after. She studied off and on for 15 years. Tokuda recalls, “I remember asking my mother why she had sacrificed so much to give me the lessons, and she replied, ‘It was the light of my life.’ Then I realized how much she must have missed the culture she had left behind and what a gift she had bestowed upon me.”

Tokuda was a University of Washington student when she was forcibly removed from Seattle in 1942 and incarcerated at the Minidoka concentration camp. In her later years, she used the craft of storytelling and theater to share deeply and powerfully about her incarceration experience.

Tama Tokuda in front of the drugstore on Main Street. Tama met her future husband George in 1942 in the Minidoka concentration camp.