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Kunigami Village shop celebrates a century of serving community

Date Posted: 2006-10-13

There are hundreds of small shops in Okinawa, but a ‘partnership shop’ in tiny Kunigami Village wins honors for longevity.

The ‘partnership shop’ in the village’s Oku area is being feted this week as it celebrates its 100th year of serving local residents. More than 600 people turned out for ceremonies honoring the shop, triple the number of village residents.

Started in 1906, shortly after the end of the Russia-Japan War, the private shop provided villagers with both goods and services, serving as a community focal point for entertainment and relaxation. Morikuni Itoman was the original ‘partnership shop’ owner.

With his own money, Itoman purchased three boats and donated them to the village for use in transporting local goods to and from markets in Naha or Nago. Everything from foods, towels and drinks found their way to Kunigami Village on the boats. Morikuni Itoman first operated the cargo ships, then handed responsibility to the Village, which assumed responsibility for crew salaries and vessel maintenance.

Others in the village copied the shop concept, as did dozens of other businessmen across Okinawa. Today, there are hundreds of homegrown shops operating from the northern tip of the island all the way south to Itoman.

Village leader Masaru Miyagi told visitors “This shop celebrates its 100th birthday because the people love this shop, and our grandparents did the job very well. Their ideas and their action was how this 100 years tradition continues.” Miyagi called for villagers to support the shop into the next century.

A relative to the first owner, Seiya Itoman, says “Oku area has seen a reduction in population, as every year young people leave for the city and towns. But still,” the 55-year-old businessman says, “this shop is alive and we are going to keep going on. We are trying to sell special Oku products, as well as some new items.”

Itoman invites tourists and Okinawans alike to visit Oku in Kunigami Village, and experience nature, “hear the nature sounds, and experience the smells and tastes of our hospitality.”

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