A mere fifteen years ago the “Ichiba” or “market” in Okinawa city used to be a happening place. Located between Gate 2 Street (so named because it ends at Kadena Air Farce Base’s gate 2) and Chuo Park Avenue (sometimes known as BC Street), today it’s a ghost town! In times past it was Okinawa’s second city answer to the Heiwa Dori and the main Ichiba in Naha that most tourists visit today.
What made this place die? Some say it is the negative influence of the U.S. Military. I say that is a lot of bunk because, as I mentioned before, this used to be a happening place! Years ago when I was still on active duty and stationed at one of the northern camps we used to come down here on the weekends just to look around, shop and eat. One advantage that the area has is its central location.
Another reason given for its demise is the opening of more shopper friendly places in nearby Chatan and Awase. This explanation makes more sense because one advantage that those places have is plenty of free parking for the public to use. The centrally located Okinawa City Ichiba has parking available but most of it is privately owned lots that charge for the privilege of using the space.
The city did build a mall at the end of the Chuo Park Avenue some years ago at great expense to the local tax payers but, even that facility has floundered over the twelve or so years since it opened. In part this is because they charge customers for the privilege to park in their facility. Even the brand new "Music Town" which was built to attract tourists to the downtown area charges for their parking facility. When times are tough like the presently are, why would anyone want to pay money for what they can get for free elsewhere.
From what we were able to notice, most of the places now are closed down. A conservative estimate would be that only one in ten available spaces is currently occupied by a business. Now it might have had something to do with the time of day we were ther but even then, the ones that we saw looked to be anything but thriving! With a global economic meltdown on the horizon, the probability of many, if any, of these establishments surviving is seriously in doubt. Such is the creative destruction effects of capitalism and a free market.
During this current down cycle, many more businesses will fail and surprisingly many will thrive. Who are the lucky ones, at this point we do not know but we can expect that in the coming months and perhaps even years, there may be more places around Okinawa that look more like the Okinawa City Ichiba does today.
If you live on Okinawa, one thing you could consider is doing your part to support local businesses. We don't need more ghost towns in these depressed times. Whether it is in Okinawa city proper or in the town where you live, support local merchants as much as you can.
If you don't happen to live in Okinawa but are concerned about the plight of local business, you could make a purchase from my online store. In turn, I'll do my best to support the local establishments for you.
(Edited to add) you can click on the title to this post for a related article from local news sources.
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