Okinawan Consumers

     Everything about the department stores in Okinawa is generous, huge, with signs announcing bargains in bold Japanese letters in bright pastel colors.
     In the popular Chatan area along the East China Sea, a department store called Jusco includes a big bookstore. I count the magazines by multiplying the contents of bins and the number of rows, and come up with about 80 different sports magazines, displayed next to an equally large section of men’s fashion magazines, next to a third equally generous section of car magazines. Roughly 240 different titles for men’s magazines.
     As a publisher, I can’t imagine how a nation much smaller than the U.S. can support such a phantasmagoria of magazines.
     But there is so much more.
     Across from the wooden racks holding the men’s magazine are the women’s magazines. They take up the entire row of racks and wrap around into the next aisle, filling most of that second row. The women’s mags almost double the number of the men’s, totalling easily 400 magazines devoted to women.
     Suggesting the radical contrast within Japanese notions of beauty, the covers range from groups of naughty girls with bright lipstick, pouts and skimpy black clothes, accented by gold metal chains around waist or neck line, to big, glossy cover portraits of women in soft-colored clothes, with open smiles, images of health and wholesomeness, including a couple of covers that contain hints of the geisha in attire and posture, women projecting a quiet inner beauty, with jet-black hair piled up luxuriously.
     The department store, of which the bookstore is just a tiny part, is an extravaganza of food stalls, clothes shops, that includes an enormous section of flat TV screens, plus another big section for gambling machines.
     Unlike any U.S. department store, people are in fact gambling on the machines in the store. An old Japanese woman on one and an old Japanese couple on another that resembles a slot machine. Bright coins spill into piles like heaps of pirate gold. Both the lady and the couple are scooping their winnings out of the jackpot tray as I walk past.
     The food section of the department store is enormous with a good 20 check-out stations, all operating. There is case upon case of sliced fish, the dark pink of absolute freshness, row upon row of cellophane wrapped packages, easily 40 packages of each type of sliced fish. They are next to whole fish, with the clean blue shine of fish just pulled from the ocean, with another case devoted to big, entire octopus tentacles.
     Nearby, a generous bakery shows ovens behind the wood bins full of French-style bread and pastry. Nearby a big vegetable section displays nothing but stiff, green supremely fresh vegetables, with individual items such as heads of broccoli individually wrapped.
     The rack of different types of Japanese beer is equally generous. But my favorite is a big wooden rack with row upon row of Spam, a remnant of the American occupation after World War II.
     Later on, we are in Omoro-Machi, a new development of hotels, restaurants and commercial offices built on an old American base turned over to the Japanese a few years ago. It’s ten at night and the drug store is busy.
     Entering, we were met with another riot of goods and colors — orange, aqua-blue, bright red — with sales advertised in yard-high letters. Makeup, cheap drugs, snacks, an entire wall for potato chips. Nearly ever label has figures, usually kids, like a frame in a comic book.
     Service is fast. As soon as a check-out line builds up, another register is opened up. A shopper needs advice, so a checker calls on the public address system, and a female pharmacist appears in the row where the shopper is waiting within two minutes, young and serious.
     When it comes time to leave, our checker is a rough looking character, with a missing front tooth, hair cut down around the sides of his head in a layered, shaggy pattern, dyed bright orange — not unlike the color of the signs in the store — with a face that, though young, has already been through the mill of time.
     Yet he is cheerful, helpful, efficient and moves the line quickly along. And that is typical of the Okinawawans.
     

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