Exploring Japan: Okinawa Korea Mart riding the K Wave

Photos by Shoji Kudaka
Photos by Shoji Kudaka

Exploring Japan: Okinawa Korea Mart riding the K Wave

by Shoji Kudaka
Stripes Okinawa

On the second floor of Aeon Haebaru Shopping Center, there is an eye-catching section with bright pink walls, vibrantly colored packages and intriguing signs. This colorful place is called Korea Mart Aeon Haebaru, a chain store specializing in Korean goods and foods.

For those who live or work on MCAS Futenma, the name “Korea Mart” might sound familiar, because the store belongs to “Okinawa Korea Mart,” the same chain as the popular Korean shop on Route 58. Though the shop in Ginowan is closer to base, the Haebaru branch’s décor and entertaining presentation of products definitely makes it worth a visit.

By design, the store, which opened earlier this year, will make customers feel like they’ve been transported to the ROK. Naomasa Ikehara, an executive managing director of the company that runs Korea Mart Aeon Haebaru, explained during a recent visit, the concept is to have the feel of shopping inside a convenience store in South Korea.

To call Korea Mart Aeon Haebaru a convenience store seems a bit of a modest way to describe this unique shop, considering just how many different types of items customers can get here. Products for sale range from cosmetics and skincare products to snacks, noodles, beverages, and kimchi. One corner is even dedicated to fashionable clothes and accessories while others offer everyday commodities such as Gochujang (red chili paste) or pots for Bibimbap (Korean rice dish). It really is a one-stop-shop for all things Korean!

It, of course, would not be a complete South Korea shopping experience without K-Pop. At Korea Mart Aeon Haebaru, customers will find many K-Pop goods and displays. BTS, TWICE and other groups’ photos lead customers to merchandise. Customers may find photos of stylish Korean idols alongside dried lave seaweed or tteokbokki rice cakes surprising, but once you dive into the shop’s pop and fun-packed mood, you will embrace it.

The idol photos and bright displays add to the fun atmosphere.

“You can take photos with BTS displays in our shops,” area manager Natsuki Takamine said. “Some customers give screams and kids would start dancing once they see K-pop idols' faces or even hug the displays. We have no problem with that.”

And, if you’re a BTS Army member or a fan of other K-Pop idols, you won’t want to miss the exclusive giveaways the store offers for items not available for purchase. Their giveaways include BTS photos, K-Pop idol cosmetic collaboration samples and more. Korea Mart Aeon Haebaru changes their displays several times a month so fans can come back for more pics and merchandise.

Not a fan of K-Pop? Soon, the store will also be stocking merchandise from “Squid Game,” the hit Netflix show from Korea, Takamine said.

Korean culture is popular in Okinawa, so the store also opened its fourth branch in Nago City this fall. Takamine said each store stocks different items, so check them all out for your favorite K-beauty products like Vita Spa shower filters and more.

A visit to Korea Mart Aeon Haebaru is a great opportunity to try some Korean products and practice some Korean phrases you may have learned from Stars and Stripes Korea writer ChiHon Kim, which he shares in his “Speakin’ Korean” videos.

The store staff even uses basic Korean phrases to greet customers. Don’t be surprised if you hear staff say “Oso Oseo (Welcome to our shop)”, “Gamsa-hamnida (Thank you)”, and “Gidarisyo (Please wait).”

Even if you are not a K-Pop fan or have a need for cosmetics, you can still have fun at this place. It will make you feel, as though you’ve taken a shopping trip to Seoul, even if just temporarily.

 

Korea Mart Aeon Haebaru
GPS Coordinates: N 26.20096, E 127.7378 (2nd floor of Aeon Haebaru Shopping Center)
Hours: 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Korea Mart Aeon Nago
GPS Coordinates: N 26.60997, E 127.9849 (1st floor of Aeon Nago Shopping Center)
Hours: 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Korea Mart Kumoji
GPS Coordinates: N 26.214894, E 127.6808335
Hours: 3 – 9 p.m.

Korea Mart Ginoawan
GPS Coordinates: N 26.2810050, E 127.7498633
Hours 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.

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