Halloween on Peace Street

Koki and I checked out of our hotel rooms (but left our baggage with the front desk) and set off on the municipal railway to downtown Naha City and the immense, old, indoor southeast Asian style marketplace where we could visit Yoko Nema’s shop, Tata Bazaar. Over one of the market’s many entrances, a sign bearing the market’s name, Hewa Dori, which translates to “Peace Street.”

Illuminated by skylights, a labyrinth of hallways lined with shops goes on for several city blocks.

It’s Halloween, and wee Okinawan goblins campaign for candy from the shopkeepers and line up for group pictures in the hallways of the marketplace.

The meat market has a huge mask hanging even when it’s not Halloween. Up the escalator is a food court offering many Okinawan and Japanese dishes. It was there I first ate ika sumi soup (squid ink soup) and a rich tofu made from peanut milk.

Rainbow-colored parrotfish abound on Okinawa, a coral island. The parrotfish has a powerful jaw made for scraping algae and other small creatures off of coral, and possesses the ability to change gender. When the alpha male fish of a harem dies, the alpha female fish will become male and lead the school.

One of the pickle merchants kept plying us with samples, not only until we bought from her, but afterward as well. I tasted one I really liked and bought a small container of it. Later on, Koki asked me if I knew what it was made from. I did not. Koki told me it was made from jellyfish and pig’s ear. Okinawans particularly enjoy pig’s face, and many were displayed for sale in the meat market.

Next we stopped by a shop selling medicinal supplies. Black coils of dried sea snake, reputed to be excellent for healing problems with the eyes, hang above the packaged goods on the right.

A row of sanshin, the three-stringed Okinawan banjo, a descendant of the Chinese three-stringed lute, the sanxian. Like the sanxian, the sanchin has a snake skin covered resonator, in contrast with their larger Japanese descendant, the shamisen, which is traditionally covered with the skin of a cat or dog. All three instruments have three strings – and the names of all three instruments mean “three strings.”

Tata Bazaar’s colorful sign and merchandise welcome the passer-by. Yoko buys all of the merchandise herself, frequently traveling all over Southeast Asia and India. Some of it she designs and has manufactured by artisans in the countries she visits. This is definitely my kind of candy store!

Yoko and Tatsuya Nema welcome me and Koki Aso to their store. I had just gotten paid the night before for my festival gigs, and could hardly wait to spend some of my yen in their store, but that didn’t stop them from showering me with gifts!

Yoko drew a whole line of postcards featuring goya (bitter melons), the favorite vegetable of Okinawa. In this drawing, a trio of goya plays traditional Okinawan instruments (including a shansin), and a troupe of goya perform an Okinawan folk dance.

I am honored to report that at Tata Bazaar in Naha City, Okinawa, you can buy the Japanese edition of Living on the Earth, the Japanese releases of Music from Living on the Earth and Living in Hawaii Style, and my own release of What Living’s All About. And, as soon as Yoko can get the size XL organic cotton Living on the Earth t-shirts resized to more popular Asian sizes (like S, M and L), she’ll have some of them on the shelf, too. Now Hawaii, there’s a place you can sell t-shirts in size XXXL, but probably not with a naked lady on them.

(Three weeks later) Wow, Yoko just emailed me this photo. She made a scaled down t-shirt! And she models it gorgeously.