take me back to
Kokusai Dori (Kokusai Street, also called "International Street") on the evening of October 6, 1998. This is the first picture I took in Okinawa. I got off the tour bus, took a moment recover from the humidity and de-fogged my camera lens, then snapped this picture outside the Nansei Kanko Hotel.
I have fond memories of walking endlessly up and down the mile-long strip called Kokusai Dori in Naha, seeing the brightly lighted billboards and the Orion beer lanterns strung from every lampost.
"Irasshaimase!" You wouldn't even need to set foot into a store to receive a big smile and a robust "Irasshaimase!" as you walked down the street. I found this to be a big practice of the merchants on Kokusai Dori. There would be young, vibrant faces posted in the entranceways of almost all of touristy stores to greet pedestrians, hoping to entice them to shop in their store. This was reminiscent of Waikiki's tourist strip, Kalakaua Avenue, where I'd get mistaken for a Japanese tourist all the time. There is something about this Uchinanchu face that looks somehow fresh off the boat, even in Okinawa. It is funny how often I would get confused looks when salespeople realized that I'm not a native and I don't speak Japanese.
But there is something special about the people in Okinawa. Their smiles are genuine and their helpful spirits overflow into their actions. Despite my limited Nihongo (Japanese language) skills, the merchants would not become frustrated at my lack of understanding, but instead would gesture more exuberantly and try to meet me halfway with some simple English phrases.
Every time I hear the word "Irasshaimase!" in Waikiki or when I dine at CoCo Ichibanya (Curry House), I will think of those friendly folks on Kokusai Dori.