“Who can we tell about our troubles?” Souvenir stores cry for help on a deserted Kokusai-dori

“Who can we tell about our troubles?” Souvenir stores cry for help on a deserted Kokusai-dori

Temporarily closed stores stick out on the sparsely populated Kokusai-dori – May 23, around 5:30 p.m.

May 24, 2021 Ryukyu Shimpo


On May 23, the day Okinawa began a state of emergency that asked people stay home and businesses to close, the streets were much emptier than on a normal Sunday. Even there were some people out and about who grown weary of self-imposed isolation, business owners have seen customer foot traffic decline, and signs of exasperation over the strict business climate could also be seen. With places serving alcohol also closed, downtown nightlife is all but devoid of people.

In the afternoon of May 23, the souvenir stores that line Naha’s main street “Kokusai-dori,” people were sparse. Storefronts with their shutters closed stick out.

A sixty-year-old man facing his souvenir store, looked out at the sparsely populated street, lamenting “The street I see is a tough deal.” The storefront’s rent is around two million yen per month, but the days’ sales only reached around seventy-thousand. That is only about one-tenth of what they would see in pre-pandemic times. “Half of sales go to replenishing stock. Definitely not something can go on for very long. I wonder how long it will last? It is a problem of time,” he said with some resignation.

Financial aid has been made available for restaurants and major retailers, but there has been almost no assistance for souvenir stores. “It makes no difference if we close so we stay open, but no customers are coming. We are also in debt, so we can’t just get up and leave. I am envious of the restaurants have received aid. Who can we tell about the troubles of souvenir stores?”

A woman, 65, who works at another souvenir store said, “Today we had five, six customers. One of them encouraged us saying ‘We are coming back in August, so please don’t give up,’ which made me happy.” However, looking out over the empty store floor, her voice dropped, saying, “It must be tough for the owner.”

A woman who works at a produce store on Shijo Hon-dori said, “Since the state of emergency was announced, customers have fallen off sharply. Since fruit doesn’t keep very long, we keep having to lower the prices, but since no one is coming we can’t even sell it at a discount. Mangoes, pineapples, we end up having to just discard them. I wish that the politicians would come just once to see the state of affairs here. I expect they would feel something.” The tone was subdued, but there was a hint of anger as well.

Just after 8:30 p.m., even the restaurants in Naha that had not been adhering to the request to reduce business hours were closed. As the closing stores turn out their lights one after another, Kokusai-dori goes dark.

(English Translation by T&CT and Sam Grieb)

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