Step back in time in Okinawa's Minatogawa Stateside Town

Photos by Shoji Kudaka
Photos by Shoji Kudaka

Step back in time in Okinawa's Minatogawa Stateside Town

by Shoji Kudaka
Stripes Okinawa

Take a trip back to the 1960s at Minatogawa Stateside Town for some shopping, antiquing and café dining inside some peculiar buildings.

The town is just five minutes away from Camp Kinser and is made up of a cluster of 60 buildings which once were rented by servicemembers and their families. The homes in the area have now been converted into over 30 cafes, apparel stores, and antique shops retaining the vibes of the old days.

 

Historical housing

Back in 1972 when Okinawa was reverted to Japan and off-base housing demand had decreased, locals began to rent or own these buildings.

It was until recently, in the 2000s, that the former off-base housing buildings in Minatogawa began to undergo a renovation to become the Minatogawa Stateside Town. Some of the changes included renaming the streets of the area after states in the U.S. like Texas, Florida and Michigan. Among the 60 houses remaining in this area, over 30 are now used by the shops.

 

Stateside stroll

I’d been meaning to visit this area for a long time. But since I was under the impression that it is a place for girls and ladies shopping for fancy accessories and sweets or tourists wanting a taste of Okinawan Americana, I definitely put it off. I thought a middle-aged male local like me would feel like fish out of water.

Once I started strolling down Georgia Street, the southernmost street of this district, I was struck by the unexpectedly quiet mood. It was obvious that the pandemic has had an impact on business.

Though old American-style housing is not rare to see in Okinawa, the flat houses lined up here were intriguing. I felt like I was walking along an average American neighborhood. Many of the houses had their original structure and standard paint jobs, there were others with bright colors, a sign of their new life.

 

Shopping and more

The exterior of the homes at Minatogawa Stateside Town were definitely interesting got look at. But just as interesting was the temptation to see what was inside. I was hesitant and short on time, so I started opening doors without thinking too much.

The first shop I visited was Proots, a crafts shop that deals in local Okinawan items. Proots sells conventional crafts like Yachimun pottery and Ryukyu glassware to some rare finds like BLUE SEAL Ice Cream stationery and Bingata dyed totebags.

Yu Hagiwara, the shop owner, who is originally from mainland Japan, said he opened this shop to present the works of craftsmen in Okinawa he came to like as an immigrant.

 

American Wave

My next stop was at AMERICAN WAVE, a shop dedicated to antiques. Much different from the casual mood of Proots, this place had a chic atmosphere. Various accessories, postcards, rings, caught my attention right away. As I was overwhelmed by the wide collection, shop owner David Christopher Towe, a dapper gentleman with a relaxed mood, gave me an overview of the items he sells.

Towe said he handpicks every single item in his store and the antiques range from 100 years old to as late as the 1980s. The shop carries Tiffany which Towe imports from New York City as well as vintage clothes. There are three rooms stocked full of items and set up so you feel like you’re shopping inside someone’s home rather than a store.

Towe, who is originally from Kentucky, moved to Okinawa in 1999 after falling in love with the island’s laid-back, unpretentious nature.

After learning the Japanese language for a year at Okinawa International University, Towe opened antique shops in Okinawa, which were doing very well, until the pandemic posed a challenge.

“Before COVID, this place, very very busy, this whole neighborhood. We’ve seen a slump because we don’t have any foreigners. We had a lot of Taiwan-jin (Taiwanees), Chugoku-jin (Chinese), Kankoku-jin (Koreans), you name it. That was a good part of our business here.”

Although it’s been a tough time, Towe said he’s hoping to see more customers come back as the pandemic starts to ease up.

 

Sweet ending

The last shop I visited was oHacorté, a sweetshop dedicated to fruit tartes. This is a shop I heard a lot about even before I paid a visit to the Minatogawa Stateside Town. Their tarte, which is seven centimeters in diameter, looked a little small. However, the colorful fruits neatly arranged on top looked very beautiful, so I gave it a go.

Since this was my first time there, I tried Baked Cheese Tarte (313 yen approx. $2.73 with tax included), which looked the simplest. Despite its basic appearance, this tarte had a rich taste of cheese and a nice touch of sour cream. The delicious flavor of this tarte was a great way to end the day and only increased my expectations for other tartes when I return to Minatogawa again.

Though my taste of the past was a little over an hour, it was enough to make me realize that this is a great place not just for ladies to visit but it has much to offer all visitors. Plan a visit with more time for lunch at any of the area's delicious eateries or cafes and for some shopping at this Instagram-worthy neighborhood. Whether you like to shop, eat, stroll, or all three, Minatogawa Stateside Town is a great place to spend an afternoon exploring.

 

Proots

GPS coordinates: N 26.262747072853752, E 127.71539962622535

Hours: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Closed Wed., 1st Sat. and 3rd Sat. of a month)

Website

AMERICAN WAVE

GPS Coordinate: N 26.26250122213776, E 127.7155738147522

Hours: 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Website

oHacorté

GPS Coordinates: N 26.262516856854603, E 127.71538606013749

Hours: 11:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. (closed on Tue.)

Website

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