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“To See the True Okinawa, Go to Koza” [Gate Street (Okinawa City)]
post : 2019.04.13 09:00
During the morning and evening rush hour in Okinawa, the roads are aligned with countless vehicles, and that bustling atmosphere fills the streets. Then, the number of cars decrease when the rush is gone from about 10:00 to 15:00 and only a few people can be seen walking on the sidewalks. The streets have that warm, relaxed atmosphere during this part of the day. There’s a street in Okinawa City officially named Prefectural Route 20 but referred to as Gate Street. It connects Kadena Air Base, the largest US Air Force Base in the Far East, to the Awase area of Okinawa City. In the past, Kadena Air Base was designated as an emergency landing area for the space shuttles, and it boasts an area of twice the size of Haneda Airport in Tokyo.
For the US military personnel and their families at Kadena Air Base, Gate Street and its vicinity is a great place to enjoy their evenings after their duties or on their days off. Especially on Friday and Saturday nights, the area has an international atmosphere and is like you’re in a different city in a different country. People say, “If you want to see the real Okinawa, go to Koza.” Koza, a name that Okinawa City is known as, and particularly Gate Street shows the history of how Okinawa recovered after the war and also the present situation of Okinawa. Just stop along the street and embrace what you see, hear, and feel, and you’ll sense the light and shadow of Okinawa. You’ll likely be more enchanted by Okinawa than ever before.
After the Battle of Okinawa, the area prospered more than any other area in Okinawa. In those days, shops offering various goods and food and beverage establishments targeting American military personnel lined the streets, as well as numerous pawn shops that sold accessories, clothing and other articles brought in by military personnel before they went off to war or went back home. The atmosphere has remained unchanged, and today, you can still see some pawn shops, Indian tailors, strip clubs and others.
Just like the other areas in Koza, Gate Street saw decline in vitality at one point, but nowadays a new breeze flows here, with the young generation of shop owners starting up bars, tattoo shops, clothing shops, handmade ham and sausage shop and many others. What makes Gate Street unique is the diversity of people that come here, and the wide range in age of the shop owners. It really makes up that Champuru (great mix) feel and gives the Street an atmosphere like no other place on Okinawa.
Take for example, the shop named OCEAN. It’s been open since 1967 and was once an “A” Sign bar. A-Signs were given to US Forces “Approved” eating and drinking establishments and adult entertainment shops. During the times when the owner’s parents ran the shop, he says the Street was bustling with American military personnel on their way to the Vietnam War.
The owner of OCEAN is Yasshi, a second generation owner who inherited the shop from his parents. He says 90% of his customers are local regulars, mostly Japanese. The customers love the tacos he makes, which is a recipe he inherited from his mother. When he feels like strumming a tune, he picks up his guitar and plays nostalgic folk rock which enhances that comfortable buzz you feel in Koza.
Next door is ZAZOU, a bakery known for their great pastries. The shop opened in 1989, with an exterior that’s stylish and a type of boulangerie you might expect to find in Paris. The shop adds a cheerful touch to the Street.
As you walk along Gate Street toward Route 330 where Koza Music Town is, you’ll see TESIO to your left, a shop that offers hams and sausages prepared with authentic German production methods. The shop is unique a mixture of great skill, playfulness, and love for the local area. They have ham and sausages made with Okinawan ingredients, so they make great souvenirs, too.
Cross the street and make a U-turn and back towards Kadena Air Base, you’ll see strip clubs and other establishments that have been in business for many, many years.
As you continue down the street, you’ll see Street Tailor, a shop that offers street-style apparel and goods, as well as specially selected music, like local artists. The colorful shirts are brought directly from the US, Mexico, Thailand and other places. They have various items that you’ll can’t find anywhere else on the island.
Cross the street again and go further in to find Koza Brewing, a local micro-brewery. They offer popular selections of original beer like Big Beach, Kuro Obi Stout, Sanshin Pale Ale, Ako Crow Yugata Ale, Shisa Brown Ale, Typhoon IPA, and others. All these have unique names that are associated with Okinawa. This is a great spot to quench your thirst after a nice walk on Gate Street, and their beer with an Okinawan taste is sure to hit the spot.
The Koza Information Center of the Okinawa City association for the promotion of tourism and specialty goods offers various walking tours. There’s a course that takes the group around some of the places that were featured in movies, and another, the Deep Town Koza Night tour takes the participants on a stroll around Koza in the nighttime. If you’re worried about hitting the streets of Koza alone or if you’re looking to see Koza from the perspective of the locals, these tours are great experiences.
Hours: Around noon to midnight
Open Daily (with some exceptions)
BOULANGERIE Zazou PATISSERIE
Address: 2-15-1 Chuo, Okinawa City, Okinawa
Hours: 10:00 to 19:00
Address: 1-10-3 Chuo, Okinawa City, Okinawa
Hours: 11:00 to 19:00
Address: 4-1-23 Uechi, Okinawa City, Okinawa
Hours: 11:00 to 21:00
Koza Brewing Okinawa
Address: 2F of Toyama Liquor Shop, 1-24-13 Chuo, Okinawa City, Okinawa
Hours: 17:00 to 24:00
Closed: Sundays & Mondays
Koza Information Center
Okinawa City Association for the Promotion of Tourism and Specialty Goods
Address: 1-1-1 Uechi, Okinawa City, Okinawa
Hours: 8:30 to 19:00 (Weekdays), 10:00 to 18:00 (Weekends & Holiday)
Okinawa CLIP photo writer, Nobuya Fukuda