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A Champuru Experience at Okinawa’s First Shopping Arcade, Ichibangai and Sun City Shotengai (Okinawa City)
post : 2019.09.27 08:00
Champuru is a local word meaning “to mix, stir-fry, or great mix”, and is often used to describe Okinawa. The Shotengai or shopping arcades found in Okinawa is also another example of Okinawa’s Champuru culture. The streets of Shuri have the distinctive feel and look of the bygone Ryukyuan Dynasty period, and Naha’s streets have that toughness and perseverance from overcoming the Showa period in post-war Japan. Then there’s Koza, where its communities embraced American, Philippino, East Indian, and other cultures since Okinawa was under the US administration after the war. Koza swiftly moved in the flow of time, a period of light and darkness, where it tamed and humored the changes that this period in time delivered. Okinawa City was officially known as Koza in the past, and it was the only city in Japan where its characters were written in Katakana. The name Koza is still used mainly among the locals and people of the region.
Located at the heart of Koza is the large arcades of Ichibangai and Sun City Shotengai, sandwiched between Gate 2 Street and Park Avenue. Ichibangai is the largest shotengai in Okinawa at 500 meters in total length, and opened in 1974, two years after Okinawa saw its reversion to Japan after being under the US administration.
Of course, its scale isn’t the only thing that makes this place unique, but rather, it’s the shops and the people there that are doing their best in the Shotengai and their unique style that makes this arcade popular. Take Theater Donut, for example. It’s one of the smallest theaters in Japan, and the seats are arranged in a space that looks and feels like a comfortable living room or a café. The movies they show are works that make you want to slow down a bit and think a little more about life. Unless he has other appointments, the owner Shinichi Miyajima greets the audience. His partner makes the homemade donuts and coffee that they offer for you to enjoy while watching the movie or to take home with you.
The shotengai has a great mix of shops, like this tattoo parlor catering to the US military community, and across the street, the Dance Studio GALAXY. There are a number of dance schools in the area, and during the after school hours, children from elementary school to high school age flock to brush their skills while having lots of fun.
As you stroll through the arcade, you’ll find nostalgic-looking shops selling ladies’ clothes, a local bakery, barber shop, technical school, guesthouse, community workshops and more. Ichibangai is packed with necessities of life and that’s also why it’s unique.
Shown above is Arcade Resort Okinawa HOTEL & CAFÉ, which opened in 2017 after renovating vacant stores. The first floor is a café where they offer coffee, alcohol and meals, and the second and third floors are guestrooms. They have various types of guestrooms to meet the needs of their guests, from single rooms to a room that can accommodate up to seven people. The rooftop is open to the guests and on sunny days, it’s a great place to relax while viewing the beautiful sunset.
VINCENT’S BIKE SHOP shown above opened more recently and is owned by Vincent, a former US Marine and Kohei, an experienced traveler who has many experiences from living abroad. Vincent was shocked to see very little bicycles in Okinawa, paling in comparison to the great many number of cars. He believed, or hoped that Okinawa will soon see more bicycles and decided to open a bicycle shop. They offer brands of bikes that aren’t just newly introduced in Okinawa but in the rest of Japan, too, like the American brand, Unknown Bikes, and the BAMBOO BICYCLE, a very unique brand of bikes with bamboo frames.
Deeper inside Ichibangai, where the narrow streets were always packed with people in the past, is Goya Ichiba (market) which is like a mini shotengai inside a shotengai. There are still shops there that have been around for many years, like the butcher, vegetable shop, and other shops offering various daily goods. They have that comfortably nostalgic look and feeling from a past era. Inside Goya Ichiba is Uehara Shoten, a shop that sells daily goods and also is a diner. It’s an interesting layout that’ll make you want to come back to.
As you continue your walk, and when you think you’re nearing the end of the shotengai, you’ll find yourself on the connecting Palmyra Street and Aozora Street. The mural you’ll see there is done by a local artist and is a popular photo spot. In November 2018, Spice Curry Palmyra opened its doors, offering authentic curries.
For a while, Ichibangai was becoming a “shutter shotengai” like the many shotengai around the country, dwindling in the changing times. Recently, though, Ichibangai is getting its liveliness back slowly because of the younger generations opening up their new and interesting businesses here. “Places in Okinawa introduced in guide books and travel sites are of course fun and interesting too, but I want to see a side of Okinawa that’s a little different than that.” If that’s what you’re thinking, do visit this area. The Ichibangai area is recommended for returning visitors to Okinawa!
THEATER DONUT Okinawa
Address: 1-3-17-2F Chuo, Okinawa City, Okinawa (Front of Goya Bus Stop)
Hours: 10:30 to around 19:00 (depending on the last show time)
Open Year Round
Arcade Resort Okinawa HOTEL & CAFÉ
Address: 1-8-5 Chuo, Okinawa City, Okinawa
Open Year Round
Vincent Bike Shop
Address: 1-16-14 Chuo, Okinawa City, Okinawa
Telephone: 080-3903-1322 (KOHEI)
*Please make your inquiries via the email address below in Japanese, English, or Spanish.
Hours: 12:00 to 20:00 (Only Open on Fridays)
Closed: Sunday to Friday
Address: 1-12-12 Chuo, Okinawa City, Okinawa
Hours: 7:00 to 20:30
Closed: On the second & fourth Sundays
Okinawa CLIP photo writer, Nobuya Fukuda