Koza City attracts tourists as “military-base town”

Koza City attracts tourists as “military-base town”

Visiting students showcase their new skills at the Okinawa Ichibangai mall in February 2019. Eiko Gakuen has chosen Okinawa for its class trip destination ten years in a row. The class presentations are always a hit.

July 08, 2019 Ryukyu Shimpo

Koza City, known as “the military-base town”, is a microcosm of Okinawa. Okinawa City Tourism and Promotion Association has worked to allure visitors locally and from afar, under its president, Takashi Shimabukuro.

The association began receiving class trips and group tours exactly a decade ago, and looked back on its track record at this 10-year milestone.

The number of group tours they receive grew over the years, surpassing 100 groups in the fiscal year 2018. A popular magazine, published every ten days, featured Koza in a 30-page special in one of their May issues, titled: “Koza on fire–a hotspot among locals in the know.”

Thanks to the spread, Koza has gained national attention as a novel town in which visitors can pay in U.S. dollars.

Okinawa City has an exotic atmosphere, with its own unique champuru (melting pot) culture. Yet still, the area used to be ignored by tourist busses headed to the northern parts of the island.

The tourism association focused on the presence of Kadena Air Base, and Koza’s condensed post-war history.

It adopted the theme, “Post-war era here and now” for the town. The town’s role as a host to military bases provides a unique and authentic pacifist education opportunity for tourists.

In addition, the association looked further for material to entice visitors, and put together a wide-ranging list of tourist attractions, including cultural activities such as eisa dance, sanshin guitar, karate, cane sugar making, historic tours, Gate 2 street tours, shopping around the Goya intersection, TV and film location tours, and night-time tours of live performance venues featuring rock-n-roll and traditional music.

Koza is also gaining traction thanks to the Naoki-prize winning novel, “Takarashima”, which centers around the Koza Riots, and the hit movie, “Chiisana Koi no Uta.”

The association’s tireless promotional efforts have paid off. The organization started receiving group tours with just one group comprising 120 visitors.

The number grew over the years, and in fiscal year 2018, they welcomed 107 groups, representing 9000 visitors.

Middle school and high school class trips from the main islands are specific areas of growth. Kanagawa prefecture’s Eiko Gakuen has brought its students to Okinawa 10 years in a row.

Since 2013, the Okinawa City Tourism and Promotion Association has been giving annual seminars to train licenced volunteer tour guides, and currently boasts a roster of around 60 guides.

Yoko Irei, a tour guide who was trained in the very second seminar, said that visiting students often arrive “scared by the idea of a military-base town, but through our guided tours, they realize it’s a city where different cultures coexist.

They leave with the realization that it’s a friendly town.”

Kazusei Yamada, the association’s executive officer, addressed future challenges in earnest: “We’d like to enrich the current program; set our sights on inbound tourism and offer walking tours and cultural activities to our foreign visitors as well.”

(English translation by T&CT and Monica Shingaki)

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