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Henoko Restaurant Offers Friendship and Memories

By: Kimberly S. Dowell

Date Posted: 2001-03-23

Tucked away on the narrow streets of Henoko, Oceans has been part of Okinawa deployment-memories for U.S. Marines since 1975.

The memories have literally become part of the restaurant’s interior.

Owner, Sam Y. Shiroma, said more than 90 percent of his business is Marines from Camp Schwab.

“They walk down in the evening when they get off work,” Shiroma said. “During the Marines’ working hours there are no customers. It has been that way for years.”

The restaurant opens at 6 pm seven nights a week. Monday Shiroma closes at 8pm. Tuesday through Sunday he remains open until 11pm.

Seeing just who makes up Shiroma’s clientele is easy. The proof is on the wall and in the crowd gathered at the restaurant on a recent Saturday night.

Marines, identifiable by their hair cuts and tucked in shirt tails, point and laugh at the faces of Devil Dogs that came before. One long wall of Shiroma’s restaurant serves as a memory board. The wallpaper nearly from floor to ceiling is created by Polaroids of Marines. Marines sitting at the long, wooden sushi bar, watching Sam deftly slice tuna and snapper for a generous serving of sashimi. Marines, USMC tattooed on biceps and embroidered on shirt fronts, offer up cheers and finish off enormous plates of yakisoba.

“The picture wall started about 4 or five years ago,” Shiroma said smiling at a photo in which two young Marines stand with their arms around Shiroma and smile into the camera. “Some of these pictures have been here for that whole 5 years. Sometimes the Marines take the picture down when they leave, as a memory from their deployment to the island. Sometimes they leave the pictures, to see when they come to Okinawa again.”

For some Marines, the pictures are a brief timeline of their visits to the island.

Shiroma said the Marines are good to him and he takes the opportunity to teach them a little about Okinawan culture and language.

“Sometimes the Marines come here and they don’t speak any Japanese or know anything about Okinawa,” Shiroma said. “I like to help them learn so they are not so reluctant to leave base.”

When Shiroma opened in 1975, Marines were discouraged, in some cases, to not venture into local eating establishments. Shiroma, however, has been on the Corps A-list since the very beginning.

“The Marines never had to be afraid of eating here,” Shiroma said. Just over his shoulder is an aging sign that reads, “Approved for all U.S. Forces.” The sign still hangs in many restaurants and bars throughout Okinawa, a statement to guests that the establishment long ago passed inspection by U.S. standards.

The menu offers yakisoba in shrimp, seafood, pork, chicken, beef or combination as well as sushi and sashimi. Many other Okinawan favorites and “Oki-American” dishes dot the menu.

The portions are generous and Shiroma prides himself on the “made-to-order” nature of the kitchen he runs with his family. The yakisoba is the most economical dish on the menu, starting at ¥400. The sushi dishes fill out the higher end of the menu, starting at ¥1000.

Shiroma accepts both yen and dollars.

Finding the humble business can be a challenge in itself if hungry Marines do not have the guidance of an Okinawan-deployment veteran. Henoko, a small fishing village about one kilometer south of Camp Schwab on highway 58, has more stray cats and dogs than either street signs or street lights. The best directions lead visitors right past the Quik Stop down to the police box, hang a left and look for a blue sign on the left hand side of the street.

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