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Kokusai Street Contemplated for Pedestrian Use

Date Posted: 2000-03-17

The Naha Kokusai Street Merchants’ Associations’ Union is contemplating a request to block all car traffic from the street and turning it into a “Pedestrian Paradise” as a part of its efforts to revitalize the busiest shopping area in the prefecture.

Masakatsu Urasaki, the chairman of the union is optimistic. “We have got a positive response from 105 local area merchants’ associations and are still waiting for replies from the remaining 32 associations,” Urasaki said. The union is also trying to get the support of Okinawa Prefecture Police and Naha City Police. It also organized a forum called “How to revitalize urban life in the 21st century.” The forum was held at Seibu Orion Hotel, Tuesday.

The union’s worries seem well founded. The number of shoppers at the Kokusai Street has been on the decline for some time as local customers prefer new shopping malls outside the town offering free parking space and less congested access. To drive the point home, the closure of Yamagataya Department Store on Kokusai Street last August after more than 70 years in business was a wake-up call for many.

The local area associations have conducted surveys among their customers and claim that 80 percent of shoppers in the area think that transforming the street into a pedestrians only venue would be a good thing.

However, the Prefectural Police has misgivings about the idea. They worry that closing the street from car traffic would cause massive traffic jams elsewhere. “Kokusai Street is a major route for traffic and many bus lines go through it. Closing it would have an untold impact on people elsewhere,” a spokesman for the Prefectural Police said.

The merchants have vowed to press on. “If most of the people are for the plan and demand it, the police has to go along. They are after all servants of the citizens,” Urasaki said.

The Kokusai Street is lined with more than 600 shops, boutiques, restaurants and discos selling everything under the sun. It is also a major attraction for tourists, and hardly any visitor to Okinawa would forego a visit to Kokusai Street.

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