The Restoration of Okinawa, Revival of Koza, and the Light of Hope
post : 2020.01.13 04:00
With a series of natural disasters, unprecedented levels of tension in politics between Japan and Korea, and the destruction of Shurijo Castle from the horrendous fire. The year 2019 seemed to be filled with sad news, but how was the last year for you readers?
For me, personally, it was a roller coaster ride of a year, starting with the birth of my first child. Although my heart ached with the sad news, I experienced the wonders of life as I watched my newborn sleep, cry, and grow.
Looking back at the year in Okinawa, what I recall the most is the “revival” movement that continued in the city of Koza (Okinawa City) located in the central region of Okinawa Island, and known for its large US military base. Historically, Koza saw the greatest growth in Okinawa due to the presence of the base, but this growth peaked during the Vietnam War and began its path of decline afterwards. The number of tourists and locals visiting Koza dwindled, and areas like Gate Street and Park Avenue had the air of “a forgotten city” as you walked along the streets.
It was two to three years ago, when I began to feel that Koza was once again “beginning to shine brilliantly!” Actually, it was a few years even before then that people began to sow the seeds of revival here and there. Shinichi Miyajima of Theater Donuts who I introduced in an article I wrote before (http://okinawaclip.com/en/detail/1277), is one of those people. Theater Donuts offers a space that’s unlike any other movie theater, where people can enjoy a film with a cup of coffee, like they’re appreciating photography. This tiny but great movie theater was introduced to the scene at Ichibangai arcade. On Park Avenue, young artists have opened up a gallery that’s rooted in the community like graffiti art (http://okinawaclip.com/en/detail/1283).
Another young business owner who runs a liquor shop adjacent to Ichibangai has also started brewing craft beer (http://okinawaclip.com/en/detail/1283). Then there’s the young owner who runs a shop that makes authentic hams and sausages (http://okinawaclip.com/en/detail/1276). On Palmira Street, which branches out from Ichibangai, a couple who moved to Okinawa from mainland Japan opened up a curry shop. In this way, people in pursuit of their own original subculture have gathered in Koza and are contributing to its revival in their respective fields, in their own methods. It’s a community where its people are taking root in the history and atmosphere of the area, without any pressure or persuasion that many people may feel in the big cities.
Among such new movements, we can’t forget about all the groundwork that the local Koza kids have been doing over the years, like Yasshi-san from café OCEAN and Shoko Yasumura from the bakery Zazou, that’s very popular for their pastries (http://okinawaclip.com/en/detail/1457).
We also need to remember the pioneers, the first generation of those who worked to develop this area in a time even before Okinawa’s “reversion” to Japan, offering goods and services to Americans, and running their businesses with pride and strength of spirit. A figure representing this generation is Yukio Taira, the former chairman of Plaza House, the very first shopping mall in Japan, still situated by the Rycom Intersection. After graduating from junior high school, Taira-san began working for US military customers in postwar Okinawa, an island still recovering from the damages of war. He was able to achieve his brightly shining goal, as he continued working hard as if climbing a steep, rocky hill.
A fresh new breeze is once again blowing through Plaza House, instigated by the second generation CEO, Yoshino Taira. Every year and every season, buyers from Plaza House travel overseas to deliver imported brands offered at Roger’s flagship store. Roger’s is even known among fashion lovers in mainland Japan as a great imported fashion store. Also, newly opened this past November is their original food market. In seeing the fine Okinawan merchandise alongside the variety of excellent items from mainland Japan and across the world, I couldn’t help but think, “Okinawan people are truly amazing.”
I’ve managed to ramble about numerous things, but what I wanted to say in this article to welcome the New Year was about the strength of people, and the power to restore, recover and reconstruct, and how these strengths make the world a better place. When the Shurijo Castle was lost in the flames, many Uchinanchu (Okinawans) shed tears of heartbreak. Many today are still living with the devastating loss and emotions beyond sadness.
On the other hand, there seems to be something very powerful twinkling in the spirit of these same people. The spirit of never giving up, and never losing hope. This is the true treasure of Okinawa, the bright, shining light that has continued to shine in the hearts of the Okinawan people since over 70 years, no, 400 years ago. Many things are happening in Japan, Asia, and the rest of the world now. As long as people have hope, the world will continue to exist. Even if it’s incomplete now, and even when inequality still isn’t wiped out, little by little, the world is changing for everyone and anyone to lead happy and fulfilling lives. These are the feelings I feel on a daily basis as I live in Okinawa.
I hope that many people will continue to visit Okinawa from across the globe in the New Year. And I hope that the islands of Okinawa remind these visitors some things they may have forgotten or have become buried in their busy, daily lives.
Okinawa CLIP photo writer, Nobuya Fukuda