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The Story of Products Can be Souvenir. A Knickknack Store “Proots” in Minatogawa Stateside Town Tells Okinawan Culture through Mainland Japanese Points of View
post : 2018.02.22 18:00
“Minatogawa Stateside Town” in Minatogawa, Urasoe City used to be a residential area for foreign residents. White concrete buildings look good with the blue sky, and this area features exoticism. Bakery, café, knickknack store, and more stores are sited in this area. Visitors might feel like being in foreign countries just by walking around here. Doors and window frames on each store look colorful with blue, yellow, green, pink, and more. Among those stores, a store with red-colored exterior caught my attention, so I stopped by at “Proots.”
The atmosphere of store features the mix of warmth of wood and retrospect American style, and many kinds of products are lined up including pottery, Ryukyu glass, wooden dish, washcloth, candle, accessory, jam, and snack. Many of them are available at the store, and you can take a moment to look at each of them. That is how these were decorated.
“All of our products are made in Okinawa.” Yu Hagiwara, the owner of the store, told me with Kansai regional accent. He is originally from Hyogo Prefecture, and he got transferred to Okinawa about 3 years ago when he worked as a businessman. He lives here since then. He inherently likes making something, and after visiting studios of traditional crafts, he got attracted to it.
“I got a culture shock because studios are sited in very close areas, and craftsmen work there. It can’t be seen in Mainland Japan, so it was very fresh to me. I like Okinawa from when I was in college and visited Okinawa many times. And then I realized another interesting part of Okinawa after I moved here, and I thought it would be interesting if I could suggest it to tourists from Mainland Japanese’ point of view. At the same time, it could be new to Okinawan residents. That was why I opened this store.”
The interesting part of Okinawa that Hagiwara found out. For example, the roots of Ryukyu glass. During the time of shortage of supply after the war, craftsmen melted bottles of Coke that were discarded on the U.S. military bases and reproduced glass products.
“Ryukyu glass was made based on the history, and it couldn’t be made anywhere but here. The way they live with wisdom and talent really touched me.”
Hagiwara decided to resign his job and open a store, and he started to look for a good property for his future store during work. Then he happened to find this building on the internet.
“I didn’t know this area is that popular. I liked the way building was, so I decided to buy it right away. Maybe it was good that I started the store without knowing anything. Otherwise, I couldn’t do anything lol The building looks cool and has its own history. It has own story itself, so I needed this building to tell stories about Okinawa.”
The store has opened on January 2015. The name “Proots” was derived from Hagiwara’s passion to tell many things about Okinawan culture and its roots. It is also a mixture of “roots” and “champuru (‘mix’ in Okinawan language),” and he made up the word. He had neither wisdom nor connection at the time of its opening, so when he found interesting craftsmen on magazines, he went to see them directly and asked them to sell some of their products at his store. After keep doing it, some people started introducing another people to him, and he was able to earn his connection more and more.
“These plates over here were made by an artist in Okinawa, but don't they look like the plates from Northern Europe? It doesn’t look like the one from Okinawa in a good way, so that was why I got really hooked.” Then he showed me the works by Michiko Yogi in Nanjo City. “Her works feature the mellow atmosphere and Ms. Yogi herself is a laid-back person, so it looks more attractive when I think that her personality reflects on her works.”
Aroma wax bars (wax with aroma) from a multi-brand store “indigo” on Miyako Island are made with dried Okinawan chili pepper, goya, and peanut, and soaked into wax. These are rare items and cannot be seen on Mainland Okinawa much.
“I really like ‘the way these materials are.’ For example, earthy or glassy…products of Okuhara Glass are made from melted window glass, and I like the thickness and dullness of glass.”
The owner of “indigo” designed this package of “Kokutou (brown sugar)” and its beautiful emerald color reminds of the Ocean of Miyako Island. The color promotes the brightness of the island, and rich sweetness of brown sugar that was produced on the island with rich nature is impressive.
2 books look-a-like packages next to Kokutou are “Okinawa Showa Sugar” and “Aguni Island Salt.” Those packages look very cute.
“I get really excited just by putting them on the shelf like that lol The interesting part of it is that the artist who created this loves music and literature, so the artist’s thought and sensibility reflect to it. Books are also included inside the packages, so eating is not the end of everything, but also you can see the different perspectives from many angles of the artist. It is perfect for the souvenir as well.”
Hagiwara taught me about each product politely and happily. It was because he has a passion to “tell stories.”
“Not only the products, but I also want to think of people and event through products as priority because each of them has stories. I want to tell the story to those customers who picked each product, so I tend to talk to them as much as I can. Not just taking products home, but also I want customers to know the stories behind them and how those artists made the products.”
Good coffee and ice cream from EM Tamaki Farm in Nanjo City are served at a space for café in a back room, and the coffee beans were purchased at a neighbor café “Okinawa Cerrado Coffee.” Currently, a potter Nana Akimoto’s exhibition is taking place at the space since December 2017.
Each of her artwork looks bright with blue color, and they might take your breath away. It is because they are in motif of bluish ocean, star, and moon. After being surrounded with heartwarming artworks, you might get fascinated.
“When Nana told me that she doesn’t have her own studio or gallery, I offered a space at my café. She used the space as a gallery officially then. She comes here every Sunday, so customers can talk to her about her works directly.”
Exhibitions also take place here irregularly. The beginning of it is an exhibition titled “Cat and I.” Hagiwara himself loves cat, so he planned this exhibition and 16 artists agreed to join the exhibition.
A designer Toshikatsu Saji was one of them, and some of the products from his brand “nonepro” are available at the store as well. This brand has launched to rescue stray cats in Minatogawa area, and part of the profits from sales will be used for the project. If you were lucky, you can meet the mascot cat named “Chloe” at the store.
When I visited the store for this interview, an exhibition of aprons was held here. Original aprons made by 7 artists in Okinawa were displayed throughout the gallery, and I was able to see unique aprons.
“I want this store to be in a fluid situation all the time because I want to treasure the movement. Exhibitions have been taking place here lately, but I want to offer this space for those people who want to send out interesting things in Okinawa. It doesn’t have to be the Okinawa ones, and I am more interested in working with people. But in that case, the word “Okinawa” always comes with it. A craftsman told me ‘the tradition is the cutting edge of past,’ but the thing that I want to start might have a possibility to be the traditional craft in the future. So, I want to be passionate on it.”
“Proots is the store which features everything that I couldn’t recognize when I visited here for vacation, and something I wanted to get," Hagiwara explained about his store. This store must be the treasure box of him which contains his favorite things. By learning the story of products, you can discover the new things about Okinawa.
Address: 2-16-7 Minatogawa, Urasoe City
Business Hours: 10:00-18:30
Closed: Wed & Jan 1st – 3rd
Okinawa CLIP photo writer Norie Okabe