Even overseas, the flag means the world

Even overseas, the flag means the world

by Deborah Morel
Stripes Okinawa

I recently arrived to Okinawa, and came across a fascinating store, in American Village, Chatan, named American Depot. This store’s presentation peaked my interest with all the colorful and interesting displays at the door front. When I walked in, I was taken aback to very fond, nostalgic times, and felt I was as if I was standing in a store in the U.S.

I found myself smiling as I ambled through the two-story store stocked full of the “All American” authentic products, such as the Slinky, posters of Elvis Presley, metal lunch boxes, and Disney coloring books I once owned myself, and decades ago. Further, were rows and rows of American made clothing for men, women, and children, including classic Levy Jeans, and U.S. sports jerseys and jackets in all sizes and colors. Alongside, could be found were U.S. military wear and military surplus products. This was to only name a few pieces of merchandise amid hundreds. The store had a vibrant energy, well organized, and with friendly staff. I began to make out my Christmas gift shopping list. “What unique and memorable gifts,” I thought.

Then, I came across a window display. In the display was a large U.S. American flag draped and dragging on the floor, being used to cover 3 crates as part of merchandise displays. My heart sunk as I looked at the American flag draped over crates, touching the floor, crumpled. When I looked a bit further for any American flags, I discovered others being used for merchandising props as well.

I went inside the store and asked to, please, speak to a manager, if possible. I would be introduced to Mr. Shin Okuhara. I expressed my concern around how an American flag was used for such a display. I wondered if I would be heard. Then, I continued to do my best to explain the sacred meaning and proper handling of the American flag. For my family, 4 generations having or currently serving in the U.S. military, this conversation was more personal, an emotional topic. I metered my emotions carefully. Shin seemed to notice this in me.

Shin listened with genuine respect and concern, as one person to another, with empathy and extended a genuine apology. This young man was nothing short of brilliant. I was heard; I had ever confidence of this. From there, Shin began to collaborate with me to find solutions. I was so grateful that this young man was wise beyond his years, showing respect, and seeking timely solutions.

As it turned out, the American Depot was a family owned business, established by Mr. Okihara--Shin’s father. Further, there are 3 stores in Chatan, American Village, owned by this family, including American Depot and Soho Shop, and which carry similar nostalgic American products, military wear, and imported American wear.

Shin and I went, from store to store, to speak to the family members managing each store. Then, we did a walkthrough of the store, locating any American flags being displayed for merchandise enhancement. Finally, Shin spoke to and gave directions to his employees, to removing any American flags used as merchandising props and further, how the American flag should be handled.

When I left the store, Shin made a promise to me that he’d have all the American flags, that were being used as merchandising props, removed, folded properly and kept off the floors and in raised boxes. And, that he would send me photos of the changes.

Just days later, I would receive this message, with photos, from Shin Okihara:

Hello Deborah.

After that day, we removed all authentic American flags used as decoration in our stores and shared the information about American flag code and among our employees.

I apologize for our ignorance, and really appreciate for letting us know about what American flag represents.


Shin Okuhara

Here’s my heartfelt response to Shin:

Dear Shin,

Thank you so much for all you’ve done. Thank you for giving sincere thought to my appeals. I can’t express what this means to me, and I feel certain, many of our servicemembers and their family, and all Americans.

Too, thank you for putting the effort and time into reading my emails and viewing the videos to understand what the American flag means to so many Americans, and our military members and their families. Finally, thank you for taking time to help your staff better understand what the US American flag means to so many of us who are US Americans in Okinawa.

You’ve been fantastic from the start of my contact with you, about my concern, to the end. You can be proud of the way you’ve handled this delicate situation with so much respect and regard. Your parents must be very proud of you, I feel certain. They’ve every reason to feel proud of you.

With heartfelt gratitude,

Deborah Morel

Young Mr. Shin Okuhara’s, and the Okuhara family’s attitude and actions speak volumes. I am forever indebted for such a happy ending to this story. I credit Mr. Shin Okuhara for this. I hope all community members, and Americans calling Okinawa their home for a time, will share this holiday story, and support the Okuhara’s shops--even in the smallest way. Happy Holidays to all of you, and God Bless America and our men and women in uniform.

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