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Photo: TARUMI Kengo

Perhaps 筋小—​​small lines— in kanji, sūjigwā means narrow streets or alleys (rather close to back alleys.) Life, and memories in Naha cannot be separated from these.
 After spending Naha’s broiling hot day of summer in the office, I finished my work and stepped outside. Blown by a fresh night breeze, I strolled amidst the sūjigwā led by the city lights, and naturally, I came to the busiest downtown of Naha, Kokusai Dōri. The urban district is a collective structure of numerous communities, wherein each of its communities is a set of daily necessity shops including machiyagwā (small shops) to restaurants. Surrounded by garden plants and roadside trees, the area has an atmosphere the like of a park. Here, we can feel the scent of shell ginger, or the melody of a sanshin—an encounter with the breath of life. The city seems uncontrolled at first sight, and that is why the unique cityscape of Makishi market exists; the narrow winding sūjigwā fortuitously guides us into a part of town resembling an old community that had remained just as it was. 

As we observe Naha’s streets and sūjigwā patterns on an enlarged Google Map, we can see that they vary in size and are partly independent. As a result, the system of the city as a whole is incomprehensible, and its shape lacks centrality. However, the structure is multicentric and it has a sense of inseparableness of the body and the mind that respects the parts and the locality than the overall discipline. This living space somewhat resembles the atmosphere of the back alleys of a shitamachi1 in the metropolis of mainland Japan. 

The urban development after the War cannot be discussed without these sūjigwā. Naha, where everything was burned out during the battle, grew spontaneously through the spread and joint of prewar rural settlements, as if to restore them, or its memories. Symbolized by its black markets, Naha’s most prioritized task was to reconstruct life; in a sense, it stood in chaos, nonetheless, the city was disciplined under the one and only principle of living. And because it was developed so, this cityscape was formed where people’s lives are visible just by passing through a single sūjigwā.

Editor’s Note:

  1. Shitamachi is an old commercial district in large Japanese cities, often with a cordial atmosphere.