It’s been two years since last we sauntered along Naha’s main drag, Kokusai Dori, and I guess we should’ve expected change. Not that the changes to the street are apparent to the casual tourist. There is no shortage of Okinawan kitch, souvenirs and omiyage for those friends and family left at home. There remains the ubiquitous sound of the Okinawan sanshin wafting from every restaurant and “live house” featuring live Okinawan music nightly. The tourists are still there, although maybe not as abundant as before, and the lines students on long field trips still wind down the street like snakes in uniform.
So what’s missing? For the Naha Chamber of Commerce not much, I suppose. It looks to be more or less business as usual on the street. But for us two landmarks have gone missing. First is the sanshin shop in Takara Records. Make no mistake, Takara Records is alive and well, but, as we rushed down Kokusai Dori, our heads buried in cheap umbrellas and kicking the rain back up from the continuous puddle that was a sidewalk on drier days, we turned to enter the beloved shop to be greeted only by stacks of amps, and racks upon racks of guitars.
Mind you, it hadn’t been the greatest sanshin shop we’d ever seen, but it was unique. They had guitar/sanshin straps with the traditional Okinawan tapestry design known as Minsa. They had Sanshin Umas (bridges) that had pickups buried in them for use with an amp. they even had a six string sanshin. Now, as the rain poured down, we looked through the windows, crestfallen. We caught the next monorail back to the hotel.
Well, there was another sanshin store that was dear to our hearts. Just off Kokusai Dori you’ll find the arcade street known as Heiwa Dori, and just inside the arcade, no more than twenty yards from Kokusai Dori, there was a set of stairs on the left side that led to another Sanshin shop. It was called Arakaki Sanshin Shop, and despite its touristy location, it seemed to cater to a more serious sanshin player. As we retraced the steps last made two years prior we searched for the stairs and the set of second floor windows adorned with beautiful sanshins. But there was no such staircase, no such upstairs windows. Only a tough little yan-kee girl sitting in front of a similar set of stairs adorned with costume jewelry.
“Was this a sanshin store before?” Hitomi asked.
The girl looked up long enough to identify the speaker, than dropped her eyes back down to the cell phone in her hand. “Yes, but it’s gone.”
“But this was the place where it used to be?” Hitomi pressed the bored yan-kee.
“Yeah, but it’s gone.” The girl stuck to her story. We were all satisfied–Hitomi and I had our answers and the girl had finally gotten rid of us. She went back to her cell phone, and we walked the twenty yards back up to Kokusai Dor–hobbling a little, as if we’d lost some of the strength required to carry on. We would just have to get used to this new Kokusai Dori.