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Friday, March 01, 2013

Washita - celebrating 20 years of Okinawa goods

 わした 沖縄

Washita, Okinawa store in Ueno, Tokyo.

The prefecture of Okinawa is a somewhat uneasy presence in Japan. The southernmost of Japan's prefectures, Okinawa was one the Kingdom of Ryukyu awkwardly but independently located between China, which it was a tributary of, and Japan, one of whose daimyos made it a tributary of his at the beginning of the 17th century. The Ryukyu kingdom maintained this precarious independence until 1872 when Japan formally annexed it. It wasn't until 1912 that what was now called Okinawa got representation in the national Diet.

After World War 2, the USA took over Okinawa, and returned it to the Japanese government only in 1972. A huge US military presence remains on Okinawa, much to the chagrin of the majority of the population, not least because of numerous incidents involving male military personnel of sexual assault against females in the prefecture.

Although I have lived in Japan for over two decades, I have encountered comparatively few Okinawans in Japan. The one I had the most to do with was a student at a college I used to teach at in Osaka. Of all the students, I recall him as constantly having made a big deal about things Japanese and being Japanese, which felt very much like overcompensation for coming from the periphery.

Okinawa plays on its exoticism in promoting domestic tourism, and there is enough about Okinawan culinary culture in particular that is different from mainland Japanese cuisine to make it a selling point.

One company at the fore of the Okinawa trade in Japan is Washita, a chain of stores throughout Japan, seven of which are directly operated, seven indirectly, plus an online store. Washita celebrates its twentieth anniversary this year.

The branch of Washita pictured here is in Ueno, Tokyo, not far from Ueno Park.
The Washita website is all in Japanese, but gives you an idea of what they sell and where they are.

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