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Okinawa’s Famous Landmark, Rycom Anthropology (Okinawa City): Introducing Remnants of Mid-Century Modern to Our Present
post : 2021.03.06 07:00
Do you know where Japan’s very first shopping center is? It’s located in Okinawa City and is called Plaza House Shopping Center. It was founded in 1954 and after 62 years (when this article was originally posted in 2016, today, in 2021, is after 67 years) it has still kept some of its original layouts and continues to convey from Okinawa, various cultures from around the world through fashion, art, and food.
In this article, I’d like to introduce Rycom Anthropology, which opened in 2014 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the opening of Plaza House. The name Rycom or RyCom derives from Ryukyu Command Headquarters that was established nearby by the US Forces in 1948. With its proximity to the command headquarters, Plaza House began its business catering to the US Forces officers and their families, and so, their name alone is historical.
This unique space, where a gallery and a shop are combined, features photographs of Okinawa from the 1950s. Many of the photos show the ambiance of the times and were taken by Jitsuo Tsuha, the owner of Okinawa’s longstanding photo studio, Keystone. The 1950s in Okinawa was a time of strong American influences in the local culture and is referred to as Ryu-Bei Bunka, meaning Ryukyu-US culture. Even after over 60 years, we can still feel the vestiges of those days in various parts of central Okinawa, and is the foundation of the exotic culture that is unique to Okinawa which can be seen and felt around Koza, known as a “base town.” Rycom Anthropology delivers the remnants of those bygone days from five angles.
Image courtesy of Rycom Anthropology
The first angle, “PEOPLE,” shows a time not long after the end of the Battle of Okinawa where the people of the islands living strongly. New and fresh designs introduced from across the Pacific seen in American industrial products are introduced from the angle of “DESIGN.” The “AMERICAN BRAND IN OKINAWA” portrays the introduction of A&W, the iconic American-born, Okinawan-raised Foremost Blue Seal Ice Cream, and others other businesses where operations were later passed on to private citizens of Okinawa. “CULTURE” shows the way of life and traditional cultures of Okinawa that delighted and intrigued the Americans. And finally, through the concept of “ARCHITECT,” distinctive geometric designs of straight lines and curves introduce a side of Okinawa that was known as a treasure trove of mid-century modern.
All of the photos are precious and rare, showing us in the present day, the people, towns, and lifestyles that existed here in the 1950s. Browsing through the monochrome photos of Okinawa in the past will make you feel like you’ve traveled back in time.
Along with photos exhibiting the Ryukyu-US culture, Rycom Anthropology also exhibits and sells books by Assouline, a world-renown publisher of fashion, design, travel, and lifestyle, with their uniquely elegant layout like that of luxurious prêt-à-porter. You’ll be enchanted by the styles of mid-century modern through the sofas, lights, and other furnishings and accessories that are arranged tastefully throughout the gallery.
You’ll also find other attractive displays like a typewriter that was used in the past at the Plaza House Office to correspond with overseas apparel brands, a clock with retro-futuristic designs, a motorcycle, photos from private collections, and others that convey warmth and sentiments of various people.
A wide array of exhibitions and events are also held at Rycom Anthropology to introduce culture from not just Okinawa but from around the world. For example, from July 23 (Sat) to August 31 (Wed), 2016, the gallery held a photo exhibit, showing the works of Kunio Chano, a.k.a. SAP CHANO. The exhibition featured “The Sapeur: the world’s most stylish & peaceful gentlemen ~ messages from the passionate nation of Congo to an island of southern paradise.”
The Sapeurs are the “dandies” or fashionistas of Congo, who enjoy a unique, sharp, and stylish way of dressing. These dapper dressers are influencers who are not just into fashion to show off and are not from the privileged class, but they are social entertainers who like to dress in clothing that may cost five times more than what they might earn in a month simply to bring joy and positive energy to those around them. Why? The reason for their unique fashion statements stems from their strong yearning for peace. “Let’s throw away our weapons and instead, let’s enjoy elegance and fashion!” Their unique and energetic styles have captured the attention of the world, and it’s also well-known that Paul Smith was inspired by the Sapeurs for his collection.
In the photo exhibition held in 2016, a gentleman from Congo visited Okinawa for the first two days. On the first night, “The Sapeur Welcome Party” was held through concerted efforts of Joia De Lequio, Okinawa’s own hot spot where fashion leaders come together, and Chatan Harbor Brewery, a stylish establishment that offers sophisticated craft beers at a fantastic location. As a special guest for the day, the famous fashion designer, Kansai Yamamoto also made an appearance. A special event was held the next day, welcoming the Sapeur gentleman at Rycom Anthropology.
Enjoying fashion and being elegant is one way of being peaceful. Plaza House, the first shopping center in Japan has walked alongside the changing times in Okinawa. Albeit in just a few words, the message delivered by Rycom Anthropology, the symbolic gallery of Plaza House, expresses the joys of peace.
(Mino Matsuda & Yuta Namihira, staff at Rycom Anthropology)
When traveling to Okinawa, be sure to visit the unique town of Koza. And of course, to the Plaza House Shopping center. You’ll encounter sights and feelings that you won’t find introduced in travel guides, like the true colors of Okinawa and a town that developed alongside the history of the island.
*The original Japanese article was posted in July 2016. The details/people in this translated version may not be current.
Address: 3F Plaza House Shopping Center, 3-1-12 Kubota, Okinawa City, Okinawa
Hours: 11:00 to 19:00
Okinawa CLIP photo writer, Nobuya Fukuda