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Santa Claus is Already Stationed at the Plaza House

By: Jena Maddalino

Date Posted: 1999-12-17

Santa Claus, holiday lights, holiday music and decorated trees are no longer unique to the western world. Although Christmas is celebrated for different reasons here in Japan, these secular symbols can be seen throughout. For those who spend little time off the American military bases, it may come as a surprise to know that you don't have to stay on base to experience the holiday spirit or to find a gift. One place in particular, the Plaza House, offers sights and sounds similar to shopping malls in the US, yet most of its shoppers tend to be Okinawan and mainland Japanese tourists.

The Plaza House was first opened 45 years ago and has enjoyed a loyal following of customers since. The most recent addition to the complex is a multilevel shopping center that caters for the local population. The center hosts a variety of shops and restaurants - Rogers, Acute (an import store), HotPot, and Sam Goody - and it also offers an atmosphere unlike the standard Japanese shopping center.

The Plaza House shopping center has more of a west-coast mall feeling than that of a Japanese department store. With its open and airy atmosphere, a shopper can easily forget that he or she is indeed in Okinawa. Of course, this is exactly how the center was planned. Jun Pangilinan, the Manager of the Planning Department, says that the western design was an intentional component of the new building that opened in April of 1997. "We wanted to give the shopper more room - most Japanese stores are so crowded with narrow aisles. We have some customers that visit every day just for the atmosphere."

And the atmosphere is truly unique. With its high ceiling, that has a retractable roof, and its center café -like seating, shoppers can relax without feeling the normal stress associated with shopping.

But why would foreigners, particularly Americans, shop here? According to Pangilinan, less than 10% of sales are generated by the American shoppers. American military shoppers do not have a large economic impact on the Plaza House sales, mainly because Americans are able to purchase many goods on base in the BX or PX. "We can't compete with the exchange system. If I were a military member or dependent, I would purchase most things on base also." Panglinan says. "Our way of competing is to offer items that aren't easily obtained on or even off base."

The Plaza House has carved out its own niche by offering high quality items. Foreign goods, such as fashions, shoes and perfume are among the top-sellers. The majority of sales are from local Okinawans and mainland Japanese tourists. Approximately 450,000 tourists visit the Plaza house every year, spending most of their money in the older part of the complex. It is not unusual to see a tour bus unloading tourists in the parking lot. Plaza House may be to Okinawa what the Ala Moana shopping center is to Waikiki in Hawaii.

Of course, along with the some of the high-end products come some more highly priced items that cannot be afforded by all shoppers. However, what shoppers will find are imported American and European items that are hard to find anywhere else on the island. Larger clothe and shoe sizes are available as well as affordable Indonesian furniture and goods. And window-shopping is always welcomed.

This month, the Plaza House celebrates the holiday season with several attractions. The theme this year is Christmas Paradise with a French motif (customers can find French products such as perfume and bags). The main attraction is the chance to win a trip to Paris, France. For every purchase worth ¥1000 , a stamp is placed in the shopper's stamp-card. 20 stamps makes the cardholder eligible for the draw. A unique chance to win a trip to Paris.

On the second floor, an outdoor café is featured, selling quiche, cakes and coffee. In addition to the outdoor café, on the weekend customers can listen to the relaxing sound of a pianists playing holiday music. On the first floor, Santa Claus can be seen every Saturday and Sunday until Christmas from 1:00-5:00 PM, as well as a giant Christmas tree decorated with bulbs and bows.

According to Pangilinan, the Plaza House is a recommended spot for anyone who wants to get off base and still experience a more western-style shopping center. It is also the kind of place where one may just want to read a book while sipping a cappuccino.

The next draw for the trip to Paris will be held on December 26th. Participants must be present to win.

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