Minatogawa StateSide Town – Urasoe, Okinawa, Japan

From a distance, the area now known as Minatogawa StateSide Town is pretty unremarkable.  It would be easy to overlook the 70 or so nondescript houses, constructed of concrete and standing a single story each, and assume that their occupants abandoned the place.

Yes and no.  The buildings used to house members of the American military, who left the area after control of Okinawa Island shifted from the U.S. to Japan.  Eventually new tenants moved into the small homes, this time in the form of business owners who revitalized the area while preserving the structures as is.  The result?  The past co-exists with the present, with rusty U.S. Mail boxes teetering beside cool boutiques, American vintage goods spilling off the shelves next door to uniquely Okinawan culinary creations, and pre-existing house numbers surrounded by pastel bursts of paint.

Ten states represent the sections that comprise Minatogawa StateSide Town: Oregon, Arizona, Michigan, Kansas, Virginia, Nevada, Florida, Indiana, Texas and Georgia.  The unoccupied buildings await new occupants as they slowly decay, whereas others have been reborn as independent businesses.

One such example is ippe coppe, a bakery that sells a limited number of organic goods each day using natural yeast.  Visitors must leave their shoes at the door to enter the tiny takeway-only store, but this somehow adds to the charm.

ippe coppe is open from 12:30-6:30 p.m. (or until goods are sold out) on an irregular schedule.  They are off on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and every third Monday.  Tel: 098-877-6189.  https://www.ippe-coppe.com/

In addition to the town’s cafes and bakeries, heartier sustenance can be found at sitdown restaurants such as Wa Cafe Nodoka.  Walk past the pastries in the front section and be treated to an extensive menu featuring local ingredients and Japanese dishes with a Ryukyu twist.  The amazing 1200 JPY Premium Ryukyu Teriyaki set includes broiled chicken with homemade Ryukyu teriyaki sauce; homemade tofu sauce salad; beni-imo potato salad (this type of potato is purple and can be found in many Okinawan desserts); a fried egg, soup and pickles; and a glass of Skewasha Hisbiscus juice.  Other items on the menu include Hamburg steak and egg on rice (880 JPY, with drink 1080 JPY),  a variety of cream cheese dorayaki (430 to 480  JPY each), shaved ice (780 JPY) and matcha (starting at 400 JPY).

Wa Cafe Nodoka is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day except Sunday, when it closes earlier at 6 p.m.  https://nodokaokinawa.ti-da.net/  (Ed. note: Wa Cafe Nodoka appears to have permanently closed.)

The U.S. military presence in Okinawa means that there are a lot of American vintage goods to be found across the island.  One of those shops, American Wave, carries everything from Elvis Presley records to retro clothing and shoes to sewing patterns.  If you see an unusual number of badges and pins from the Midwest and Southern states, it’s because the owner – according to a couple of staff members – is originally from Kentucky.  That merchandise includes Rotary Club pins, memorabilia from the Truman vs. Dewey 1948 presidential election, and many other items.

American Wave is open every day – including holidays – from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. A limited number of goods are available for sale online at http://americanwave.jp/.

Opening times for businesses at the Minatogawa StateSide Town (港川外人住宅), located at 2-chōme-18-3 Minatogawa, Urasoe-shi, Okinawa-ken 901-2134, Japan (〒901-2134 沖縄県浦添市港川2丁目18−3), vary.  For more information, go to the official website at http://okisho.com/foreigner-house/.

Photos: Minatogawa StateSide Town, Okinawa, Japan
all photos by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine