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Matchiguwa, Okinawa's ethnic shopping district

By: David Knickerbocker

Date Posted: 2003-05-17

Matchiguwa is by far one of Okinawa's most cultural shopping areas. If you in need of a shopping excursion down south but would rather avoid the more touristy shops that abound on Kokusai street and in the large department stores, Matchiguwa might be the place for you. In the Okinawan dialect, Matchi means city or town and Guwa means many. Matchiguwa is a gathering place where many people come together, but when Okinawans use the term Matchiguwa, they are referring to a market.

Matchiguwa is comprised of three main streets--heiwa-dori, ichiba-hon-dori, and ichiba-chuo-dori. Dori means road, heiwa means peace, and ichiba means market. Hondori means main street, and chuo-dori means middle street. Near the middle of Kokusai street in Naha City, across the street from Mitsukoshi is the entrance to Heiwa-dori, and the entrance to Ichiba-hon-dori is right next to the OPA shopping center.

Before World War II, Matchiguwa was just an unused meadow, but after the war, the U.S. military took control of Naha's urban district. Because of this, many people began using this area as a black-market. Nobody asked permission. They simply brought their goods and sold them here. Gradually, Matchiguwa became increasingly popular. Today, it is one of Okinawa's most popular ethnic shopping areas.

There is a fish market on Ichiba-hon-dori that is very popular and usually crowded. Here, you can buy any of a great variety of fresh fish, and you can even eat it right away on the second floor. There is a restaurant upstairs where you can eat the fish you purchase. The price is 500 per person to eat your fish at any of the upstairs restaurants. It's easy to tell which restaurants will and will not cook your fish for you. If the restaurant has an orange sign on display, they will cook your fish for you. The sign is written entirely in Japanese, but you will notice it having a price of 500 written on it. The 500 will cover up to three kinds of fish, but if you eat more than three you will have to pay a little extra.

The fish market is open from 9 a.m. to about 7 p.m. every day, but it is closed on the second, fourth, and fifth sunday of every month. There is also a meat market next to the fish market that sells a great amount of meat. In fact, some of the items for sale might be a little too "cultural" for picky eaters--notably pig-face.

Heiwa-dori has many Okinawan souvenir stores selling a variety of local arts and crafts. Here you can purchase shisa, Ryukyu glass, Tsuboya-yaki pottery, snacks, and much more. Sure, you may be able to find most of these same items on the more popular tourist shopping areas on and surrounding Kokusai street, but the prices in Matchiguwa are lower.

Matchiguwa is a place everybody on Okinawa should experience at least once. However, after you've visited, you'll surely return again and again. Be sure to drop by and experience one of Okinawa's most cultural shopping districts.

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