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Celebrating AAPI Heritage: The first Japanese restaurant in downtown Boise, Shige Japanese Cuisine

KTVB's Shirah Matsuzawa shares part of her parents' story and what it was like to open the first Japanese restaurant in downtown Boise in 1992.

BOISE, Idaho — May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Throughout the month, KTVB has been shining a spotlight on some of the members in our community who are of Asian or Pacific Islander descent and the impact they're having in our community. 

What some folks might not know is KTVB’s Shirah Matsuzawa is half Japanese and half Samoan, and her parents opened the first Japanese restaurant in downtown Boise 31 years ago, Shige Japanese Cuisine.

“In 1992, we opened downtown,” Shige Matsuzawa said. “I like to show Japanese culture and the food.”

“I believed in him, he's the best chef and that's why I married him because he can cook,” Debbie Matsuzawa said. “We took that risk in 1992 because when we moved to Boise, there was hardly any Japanese, so it was his way of sharing his love for his Japanese food and share that with the community.” 

Housed in the-then Capitol Terrace Building off 8th and Main, at that time, it was a risk because not too many Idahoans ate Japanese food. In fact, some people even told the Matsuzawa’s they would never make it because no one ate sushi in Boise.

“When we opened, there were people who wanted to eat sushi, but they don't like raw fish,” Shige Mastuzawa said. “They don't like seaweed, so we put on the menu soy paper, and lots of cooked stuff.”

As sushi became more popular, Shige’s began expanding. Over the years, they opened a floating sushi bar in Boise and Meridian, as well as a Japanese Steakhouse and saketini bar. 

They even built quite the reputation for their parties, like a luau celebrating the restaurant's 20th anniversary. The luaus were a chance for Debbie Matsuzawa to share her Polynesian culture with the Treasure Valley. 

“The Polynesian culture is all about sense of family love and respect,” Debbie Matsuzawa said. “I went to high school at Bishop Kelly and when I said I'm Samoan, people didn't know where Samoa is.” 

That's changed over the years. 

“Compared to 31 years ago, there was hardly any Japanese over here, let alone Japanese restaurants,” Debbie Matsuzawa said. “We were the first downtown and now [Japanese restaurants] are everywhere, and as a Polynesian, this is a change – TV people celebrating the Polynesian Asian culture – this is a big change because this never happened like 30 years ago, let alone 20 years ago, here in Boise so, this is great.”

Shige Japanese Cuisine was downtown for 26 years, before Shirah's parents flipped the 'closed' sign for good.

Today though, you can still find them in Meridian at Shige Sushi Express, rolling sushi side by side.

“A lot of customers coming to Meridian, and it’s generations. Parents come, and children come, and grandchildren come,” Shige Matsuzawa said. “I'm so happy to see people.”

“They were kids downtown, and they show up over here their parents, you know, they're bringing their kids here and it's amazing, like they have 4-year-old’s already eating sushi,” Debbie Matsuzawa said. “This is something that 30 years ago I didn't see a 4-year-old eating sushi.”

What hasn’t changed over the three decades, the way Shige greets every person who walks through the door 'Irasshaimase,' which means 'welcome' in Japanese.

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