Kokusai Dōri in Naha is a street with a unique clash of scents from Southeast Asia and the United States. I still clearly remember feeling bewildered for a moment as I first walked down the Kokusai Dōri in 1965. I was just twenty years old when I got a passport for the first time and went to Naha from Kagoshima by ship. I strolled the exotic street with members of my country band, feeling like a tourist. At that time, Okinawa was occupied by the U.S.; we used dollars and cents to pay, and I bought some Levi’s jeans and Parker fountain pens, which were still rare, as souvenirs. There were a few places on the street with live jazz and country music, and I had a taste of the so-called “steak” for the first time.
Because I was in the sales department of a children’s book publisher, I visited Naha numerous times. Children’s books sold well at any bookstore I went to. I drank awamori on Kokusai Dōri at night and passed out. To my drunken eyes, it looked like the best neighborhood for criminals or fugitives to hide. On summer nights, the street was bustling until late.
I heard that Kokusai Dōri was once a lonesome place, a great marsh with fields and graves, and I am again, impressed by the vitality of the Okinawan people. I’m interested in how this street with a perfect blend of traditional and foreign cultures will develop in the future. Personally, I want it to become a neighborhood just like that of Southeast Asian towns, looking like a toy box turned upside down.