Okinawa mall has the feel of home
When my family and I arrived to Okinawa for the first time, everything looked so different. Many things around the island seemed somewhat deteriorated like any island in the middle of the Pacific, yet sightseeing was out of this world. Some of the edifications around Okinawa, the largest of the Ryukyu Islands, showed the wear and tear of history over the years, where humidity and typhoons had effortlessly painted its corners and edges with a haze of dark moldy grey and chlorophyll green.
As the weeks passed after our arrival to the island, and with a little bit of going out here and there, we got to know some of its different aspects. Although it is Japan, you can see how many cultures have defined the Okinawan. One of the influential cultures you see in Okinawa is the American, as our troops have been on this island since the mid 1940s. But even so, I do tell you that having grown up in metropolitan New Jersey and being a resident of Florida, this island life is not easy. However, the Okinawan people make it easier with their top notch common courtesies and phenomenal manners.
One of the places that combines many of these aspects in the Okinawan, comes while driving north on road 330. Between Camp Foster and Kadena, you will find the Rycom Mall, the largest on the island. Its spotlights reflecting on the brick-color walls and neon lights glaring, can easily grab your attention from the road. As you drive into the main entrance you find tall palm trees gently dancing side to side to the rhythm of the Okinawan breeze, while providing shade to a small shopping area outside the mall.
My daughter, who is almost two, loves the mall. As soon as we enter the building, we come up to a large fish tank that surrounds the elevators in the first floor. This colossal water tank holds a variety of fish from the Ryukyu Islands. My daughter, although so little, excitedly runs to see the “fishies,” as she calls them. Her running turns to a stop in awe, as she admires the amazing creatures while generating a verbal “wow” with her delicate mouth. Every day this fish tank is surrounded by not only local kids, but many of the American military kids from around the island.
Meanwhile, as our kids become distracted by these magnificent creatures, we become sucked into the incredible structure behind us. Five levels of stores and eateries that can easily withdraw your attention to life. Here you’ll find many American stores ranging from GAP, American Eagle, Sports Authority and of course Toys R’ Us; fulfilling a little sense of home while living in a distant land.
Walking around this modern and splendid mall you come across one of the most fantastic food courts you can ever imagine. Spread out on three floors, you can find dining of many varieties. Beginning at the third floor, you can appreciate local Okinawan yakisoba, curry, deep-fried octopus doughnuts (a great snack), as well as Baskin Robbins and McDonald’s among others.
If you don’t feel like having something fast, then you might try the fourth floor. Here, the food court offers gourmet food such as a steakhouse, Italian food, gourmet pizza, Japanese tempura as well as some dine-in restaurants and cafés. A French baguette bakery and restaurant is also located in this floor.
For those special occasions, the fifth floor, which is semi-outdoors and includes a terrace overlooking the eastern Nakagusuku Bay, has the dine-in restaurants and buffets that will bring your taste buds to another level of joy. A yakiniku restaurant, or cook-it-yourself barbeque, is one of the main attractions you can encounter in this mall.
After having such delicacies, you can either shop or just relax. If you choose, there is a beautiful, clean cinema called Ryukyu Cinema. This theater shows the latest Hollywood movies. On the weekends, tickets are ¥17 per person and ¥14 during the week.
For the young crowd, there is an arcade where you can win prizes, as well as play slot machines. Unlike a casino in the U.S., these slots pay tokens which can be exchanged for different prizes or be played again in other machines.
Among all the stores that you can find is a department store called AEON, which is much like a Macy’s in the U.S. However, if you go down to the first floor, you can find a food market, which has a wide range of quality products. I did find excellent quality of vegetables, however, a bit on the high end for what we are used to. Remember that we live in an island and most products have to be imported. This market has a section that sells a vast selection of ready to eat foods, or what they call “bento box.” From fresh barbeque chicken legs and beans to fresh sushi and sashimi at a very fair price, it’s something you won’t find in most restaurants.
The accessibility of the mall near our temporary home, and the continuous merging of both of our cultures - Okinawan and American - found in it, has made our acclimation to the island easier. It merges the Okinawan cultures and traditions with ours, especially during the holidays. The music and ambience that surrounds the mall, as well as the stores, in particular the American ones, give us a chance to take our minds off of our every day struggles with work, language barriers and other cultural shocks.