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Photo: KANO Tatsuhiko

Naha natives dearly love their city and are proud of their identity. They used the term Nahaibai to describe the spirit of the city. It literally means that each Naha native runs off in his or her own direction—they’re scattered like the city itself. Maybe a better way of phrasing it would be to say that they are brimming with independence.

The people of Naha are proud people. After Okinawa was incorporated into Japan, the aristocracy lost their titles and many turned to the merchant business, but they went about their business with the same haughtiness, never deferring to their customers. One example is that of a garment district merchant before the war. A customer from the countryside entered and began touching the fabrics, but instead of saying something like “Here, touch this silk, feel the quality,” the merchant yelled “If you ain’t buyin’, you ain’t touchin’.’” 

Pre-war photos of Naha demonstrate how prosperous the market was. Quite a few show the garment district. It makes perfect sense that vendors are better dressed than their customers—well-dressed daughters of the former aristocracy hawking fabric. I’ve heard that the merchandise wasn’t new, but rather fabric recycled from the clothes of the ruined aristocrats. It does have an air of the flea market about it, just as it still does today, with fashionable clerks in expensive-looking outfits waiting on more shabby-looking customers. 

Naha is still a thriving commercial city. When you walk around the Public Market in Makishi, you see a lot of women. Because lots of men died in the Battle of Okinawa, many women had to support their families all alone, and you can still sense that hardiness in them today. Of course, even before the war, the women of Naha used to think to themselves “I can make enough, even if my man idles away.” That attitude seems alive and well today, even though there are fewer born-and-raised Naha natives in the wake of the war. Now many of the businesses are run by people who moved to Naha from other parts of Okinawa after the war.

Naha was originally a flourishing port city, the seat of the old Shuri government. It was an international harbor open to China, Southeast Asia, and Japan. You could perhaps imagine it as modern-day Singapore or Taiwan. 

Here is a Naha woman in her thirties talking about the city: 

“Oh, can you even imagine Naha as an international city? I can’t even believe it. It’s not now. It’s full of outsiders. Naha was originally created by combining Shuri, Oroku, and Mawashi. It made junior high fun though. There were students from all over Okinawa. There were my friends Sunagawa from Miyako, Nishikajiku from Yaeyama, and Inori from Amami—all sorts of places. The good thing about Naha is that it has a lot of Locals Associations for people who came from outside the city, so you start to see how Naha is this big collection. It makes for interesting competition during elections, with all the representatives from these little towns and villages going at it. To tell you the truth, Naha is more of a chanpurū1 than Koza—all jumbled up. In the big annual Tug-of-War Competition on October 10th, Naha divides up into East and West teams, but nowadays you can join whichever team you want. But that’s the best thing about Naha. It’s a manchā hinchā, a big hodge-podge.”

Editor’s Note:

  1. Originally an Okinawan term that meant “jumbled up.” Stir-fry is called chanpurū because it jumbles up and stir fry various ingredients.