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Heiwa Dori arcade offers unique experience

By: By Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2012-01-05

Heiwa Dori is a covered shopping district accessed from Kokusai, Okinawa’s international street, and can best be described as a shopper’s paradise.

If Kokusai is viewed as the Naha “main street”, then Heiwa Dori must be considered the “back street”. It’s a very laidback atmosphere, in contrast to the upscale presentations by department stores and shop vendors on the big street. It’s unconventional, featuring everything from souvenir Shisa figurines to even dried sea snakes, Okinawan herbal tea, okeiko gi, an Okinawa dance practice kimono, music CDs, mushrooms and even seaweed. That smoked or dried Irabu Sea Snake, by the way, is said to have great medicinal effects.

Heiwa Dori is a people’s marketplace, Machigwa, and nothing compares to it on Okinawa. It is run not by kids, but kids’ grandparents. Shopkeepers are typically middle-aged, and know their trade well. They know most of their regular customers too.

As you enter through the archway across from Mitsukoshi Department store, you’ll feel a sense of walking into a life-size maze. Hundreds of shops run into each other, and often spill over, a trait indicative of markets you’d find in southeast Asia.
The shopkeepers, typically ladies, are bubbly and friendly, although they probably won’t speak English with you. You’ll feel at home as you browse through the merchandise, where the prices are pretty good to start with, but with your negotiating skills pressed into service, can set you up to bid for an even better bartered price. Haggling is okay; in fact, the “anmaa” [older women] delight in it.

A Market to Behold
As you venture into the Makishi Public Market inside Heiwa Dori, you’ll be puzzled, then wonder whether to first do your shopping or to take pictures. It is a colorful sight, with dozens of colorful fish from across the Pacific packed in ice, all staring back at you. There’s Fugu, the highly poisonous blow fish that’s a delicacy in Japan but deadly if not prepared properly. There are also snakes, and lobsters, and shrimp and prawns of all sizes. Many are alive and crawling as you check them out.

Okinawa is known for its pork, and you’ll find an entire section of the market catering to pork products. Lots of them. There’s the head, and the ears, considered delicacies. In fact, just about every part of the pig, including innards, finds its way into the kitchen. At a minimum, give the Tebichi, the pig’s feet soup, a sampling.

A unique feature of the market is that you can buy fresh fish, and have it cooked right on the spot. The second floor has restaurants catering to your varied and diverse tastes, which include those items handpicked downstairs. They charge a nominal fee for cooking your selections.

Back to shopping the market, there’s a huge produce section. Makes the commissary look like a 7-11 in comparison. Dozens of fruits and even more vegetables are available for sale. So are kimchi and other salads, ready-made.

The market is often called the shoppers kitchen, and is very popular. Vendors are typically mom-and-pop operations, but do not mistake the quality of merchandise with the size of the shop. As with all shopping, let the buyer beware. Don’t expect to get something for nothing, but do expect good deals. Check seams on clothes, handbags, etc. Compare fabrics. When buying jewelry, look closely at the pearls, or gold, or silver. Good jewelry is available at Heiwa Dori. So are some reasonably good knockoffs.

And yes, beware of the out-and-out fakes. You’re not going to get a genuine Rolex watch for $50. Just won’t happen. You could, though, get a pretty good watch that will run well for quite a while. And you’ll feel elated by the name brand band on your wrist.

A very very important note. Toilets are in very short supply in the Heiwa Dori and Kokusai Dori areas. Look to one of the department stores when seeking relief. The shopkeepers share toilets in the back corridors of the meandering corridors, and do not often let shoppers back there.

The Costs
Heiwa Dori is a public thoroughfare. There are no costs to wander the street. Shopping and dining are whatever costs you elect to incur.
Getting There
By taxi or car, drive south on Highway 58 from the military bases. As you enter downtown Naha, you have several options. Your first option is to turn left at Maejima, just south of Tomarin Hotel on your right, at the intersection of the Raymond Hotel. This brings you to the north end of Kokusai street.

The second choice is to go to Kumoji intersection, about one-half kilometer further into Naha. Turn left and travel two blocks, under the monorail line. Ryubo Department Store is on your right. Again turn left and you are on Kokusaidori.

Heiwa Dori has several entrances, but the main access is through the gentle sloping ramp directly across from Mitsukoshi Department Store, halfway up Kokusai Dori.

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