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Koza nights are quieter, shop owners confused, understanding, waiting

By: Takeshi Shimabukuro (KC)

Date Posted: 2001-11-02

After the tragic events of Sep 11, the town area called Koza next to Kadena Air Base has changed to a much quieter place, especially at night. Local business owners say that the reason is the curfew placed on Kadena Air Base airmen that orders them back on base by 10:00 p.m. On weekends, some Marines who do not have such a curfew can be seen wandering the streets at late hours, but their numbers are not enough to do justice to the reputation of the Gate 2 Street as the symbol of American military men and women having fun in Okinawa.

Many bar owners have shortened their business hours and say “Things are beyond our control.” Talking to managers and owners of bars, pubs, apparel shops, and other establishments in the area, all said that business has been terrible since the days of the terrorist attacks. They say it is at least as bad as when the relations between American Military and Okinawan communities fell into their worst. Some shop owners claim, “the shock of the attack on Sep 11, is fading out for now but, the bombing and the war in Afghanistan has ruined our business.“

But it is not only the military men and women who are missing. An apparel shop owner at Chuo Park Avenue said that tourists who made a large chunk of his total sales have disappeared also. “Now we target mainland retailers as our normal customers have disappeared. Before, many tourists came over to shop, but tourists groups are canceling trips to Okinawa in droves.” He said that the only solution for his company was to take the role of a whole seller in a hurry. “It is a much better business than targeting the locals here,” he explains.

Area’s live houses are also feeling the pinch. Al Evers, the owner of Al’s Place and Ryukyu Custom Cycles says that the business has decreased about one third. “Luckily I have many loyal customers, including American civilians and Okinawans,” who keep coming. The bigger problem has to do with the live bands, he says. “Many of the bands have players who are in the military, and many of them shipping out or working extra long hours, the bands are finding themselves without players.” Many band members say that musicians who play in the area live houses regularly help each other the best they can by substituting for players who are unable to play. “I feel that the live house tradition of Koza is at stake here,” one band member says.

Some try to be optimistic. The owner of Fiesta Cafe says, “I believe, by the end of the year, the business will be back to normal, and airmen will come back to the street. We are still trying to be calm.”

The owner of the First Chance bar, James Smith, said that he understands the military’s reaction. “We can understand the base curfew this time. It is necessary because of the terrorism situation. Although our business is depending on the base, we cannot blame the base. They are working hard.”

Smith explained that in the very beginning of this business cool-down, right after the New York building attacks, “we and all customers felt very depressed. I did not have any relatives or friends in the buildings, but we are all Americans. Fewer customers than before came for a drink, and those who came just sat there and drank silently.

“Here in Okinawa, every body is related to the bases somehow. Especially American people are bound to feel more sensitive and close connection to the current issues since we have the bases here that are for many the sole connection with USA and our national affairs.” Smith concluded.

No one knows how long the situation will continue. Seemingly, “how to take care of self for business” and “wait and see“ are the only key words everybody facing the problems are using.

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