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Creative Talks

Creative Talks



Tone and Manner; Three of a kind

We got a peek into a meeting of the “D&DEPARTMENT OKINAWA by PLAZA 3″. They discuss the future of brick-and-mortar shops, Plaza House and their place in Okinawa.

Yasushi Higa (MIX)
Yoshino Taira(Plaza House)

Okinawa from beyond the horizon

Yoshino Taira (hereafter Taira): Higa-san, who founded MIX life-style (hereafter Mix), launched the D&DEPARTMENT PROJECT Okinawa shop (hereafter d) with Nagaoka Kenmei. It’s been three years since you moved to Plaza House, and last year was the 10th anniversary of the Okinawa branch.
I’m always amazed at your editorial ability, Higa-san, in placing different people and ideas together to create something completely new.

Yasushi Higa (hereafter Higa): When we launched MIX, our goal was to bring things to Okinawa that were previously only found in magazines. Back when I worked in architecture, I struggled to find decent interior design options for the houses I built in Okinawa. After meeting Nagaoka, I felt as though I rediscovered all that made Okinawa great and started looking for them. That’s how the dOkinawa shop (inside Mix) got started.

Nagaoka Kenmei (hereafter Nagaoka): It has been about ten years since I started the Okinawa branch and began renting a flat here. Previously, I had written the Okinawa edition of “d design travel”*1. This is a bit of a tangent but there is a saying that “It is easy to build a gallery, but very hard to build amuseum”. The reason is that when it comes to representing history, there are so many different opinions about what to include and what not to. Putting together a travel magazine is a lot like that. For example, I struggled with how to approach the Battle of Okinawa and if and how to represent the Himeyuri Memorial Tower. I wanted to write it in a way that gave hope to young readers, but finding the right balance certainly was a challenge.
Likewise, the cover was a big conundrum. It wasn’t about whether the travel magazine would sell or not, but about the sort of impression I wanted readers to have of Okinawa. As a long-time outsider to Okinawa, I often think about what my responsibility is to this place and how it is perceived by new arrivals.
The more I learn about Okinawa, the more I think it is amazing. It is one of Japan’s leading tourist destinations, but it is also a place where traditions and culture are well preserved. To a certain extent, Okinawans should be comfortable in turning the occasional cold shoulder to tourists, so that they can keep a place in their hearts and minds just for themselves.

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Read the current, ride the wave

Higa: I think times have really changed in the last 20 years. Firstly, people are much more willing to build a house rather than rent or purchase. Even if they have to spend a little more, or take longer to get everything together, they are choosing the finest materials and products. I think there is a link between the way people consume and seminal moments in history. For example, after the 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake, people’s tastes changed drastically. From designer Italian modern to a more natural style, utilizing exposed wood and such. The enormous speed at which information spreads may be largely due to the power of social media and the internet. Until recently, Okinawa was said to be 3-5 years behind Tokyo in terms of trends, but nowadays there is no time lag.
Taira: As a company, Plaza House went through big changes over the decades. We were a foreign-owned and foreign-run business at first. Our customers were all foreigners as well. We sold typewriters, cigarettes and Asian folk crafts and so on. The sorts of products American military officers were interested in. Then, almost suddenly, it was all about tourists from the mainland. We became a duty-free shop, with name-brand handbags, perfumes and cosmetics on display. A slice of the world for the domestic tourist. Nowadays, we get plenty of local folk shopping here, so we’re finding a new niche. Our brand, Roger’s, was originally owned by an American businessman, and catered to the needs and interest of the military officers and their families stationed in Okinawa. So, it has its base as an importer of European fashion, gradually adding casual American wear like t-shirts and tracksuits. Apparently, Roger’s was the first place in Japan to sell Levi’s jeans. Around the time Hong Kong was handed over to China, my father, Yukio Taira, took over the business as the first Okinawan president of Plaza House. This was at the peak of Japan’s economic miracle. I was working in Tokyo when my father asked me to come work at Roger’s, which to me was always a place of wonder and glamor. Funnily enough, back then, our main customers were upper-class Okinawan madams so actually I couldn’t really find any clothes that suited me!

Yasushi Higa

Yasushi Higa

Koza-born architect and owner of MIX life-style, a furniture and interior store at Plaza House. Opened the D&DEPARTMENT Okinawa branch with Kenmei Nagaoka in 2012. https://www.instagram.com/mix_residence/

Kenmei Nagaoka

Kenmei Nagaoka

Founder of D&DEPARTMENT PROJECT, a design firm with “long life design” as its core concept. Branching out to retail, food, publishing and tourism, “d” aims to build one branch in every prefecture in Japan. https://www.d-department.com/

Yoshino Taira

Yoshino Taira

Born in Koza. Began her career in the fashion industry in Tokyo before transferring to Plaza House to work on product development, PR, event and campaign planning and more. Appointed director of the 2007-2008 Okinawa Design Strategy-Building Project. Became the president of Plaza House in 2009, on the company’s 55th anniversary.

Only in stone:
What brick-and-mortar shops offer

Taira: At times I had serious concerns about our place in the world, as brick-and-mortar shops in the age of the internet. With our large parking lot and wide entrances, we became the sort of place people would come daily without buying anything. Customers would greet shopkeepers by name and vice versa. I realized that we’re not just a mall, we’re the town square, the park and the neighborhood hangout. We are the place folks choose to spend their free time.
We’re not in the business of selling popular products, the sort of things that are dime a dozen and can be found in any shop anywhere. We want to provide the sort of item that, when you hold it in your hand, you can feel the passion and love that the craftsperson put into making it. We want to work with companies and brands that have a story, a history and pride in their work. I want us to be the sort of shop where as soon as you see an item, you can picture the smile of someone you love, someone to whom you want to give that item as a gift. 
I think we can build Plaza House up to be the kind of place where customers are happy to see their favorite shopkeepers, and we all know each other by name. This means building a community of friends and tenants that share our vision, and in that sense, I am blessed to be in such good company.

Nagaoka: Quite a few people around me are moving their businesses to the virtual world. I think that in the next 20 to 30 years, the economy will shift more towards the virtual world, with brick-and-mortar shops coexisting with online stores, at least for a while. But the thing is, there are many things that only brick-and-mortar shops can do and so I don’t feel threatened or worried about the ubiquity of online stores at all. In fact, I’m rather excited thinking about all the prospects and possibilities that running a physical shop has to offer. For example, many people buy their books online but there’s something about walking into a bookstore and picking up a book that’s irreplaceable. It’s precisely that unshakable feeling combined with a creative spirit that I think will keep brick-and-mortar shops open.
I think that at the end of the day, Plaza House is a place where people can just be people. As a tenant, I’ve never felt so welcome, so free to explore new ideas and try something completely different from the ordinary. I remember, Taira-san, you said “My shops close at seven, after that, do whatever you like!” Honestly, I was amazed at the freedom you gave me and the other tenants to experiment and collaborate. It really is because you are so forward-looking and positive, you bring out the best in people which is why we can build such a loving and trusting community around Plaza House. You described this place as a park. I say, when Plaza House is doing well, then the whole town of Koza is doing well! That’s because Plaza House is where people can hang out and, as Okinawans love to say, yuntaku (chat around). It’s precisely in that space, where people are free to be themselves while among one another, that something new and exciting is born.

Higa: On the topic of brick-and-mortar shops, I like to dig into what we experience in our daily lives that cannot be replaced by something online. For example, taking a hot shower on a cold day, the moment the hot water hits your skin. Wrapping yourself in that one blanket that feels just right for you. That magical feeling when your head hits the pillow, and you want for nothing else in the world. Approaching interior design with these sensations in mind, giving it the human element, there’s so much potential for brick-and mortar shops. Creating a bedroom designed for the ultimate sleep experience, pairing the space with music and scent for example. I could get lost in my thoughts just by imagining the possibilities.

Nagaoka: Having the ability to recognize quality when you see it is very important. Someone once said “It costs money to feel moved”, as in, you need to pay good money to buy something that is deeply and truly moving. That may be so, but first you need the ability, the emotional capacity, to feel moved. You need to nourish your heart so that you don’t become the sort of person who sees other people shed tears and think “What’s there to cry about?”

Taira: We don’t live in an era where, for example, you can build something based solely on specs, or you can go big just because you have the money for it. We use the word well-being now, but Nagaoka has been doing it for a long time. So much happens in life; there are earthquakes, people you rely on leaving you, something suddenly snaps and you are cut off. But it’s during times like these that something completely new and special is born. The roof of that toilet – what, are you going to tear it down? I feel like that kind of inspiration is born from chatting with people about how to expand on that opportunity. 

Perhaps that’s what Plaza House is advocating when we say “Every day is a journey”. What should I wear in the morning, how should I do my hair, what should I eat? The feeling of cherishing each moment and each season. I hope that Plaza House will become a place where people can feel and share something. There are many different approaches to happiness, not just the economic. I want to be an adult who can say to young people that life is fun, so put on some lipstick and get dressed. We’re going out!

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All in a day’s work:
Plaza 3 and the future

Nagaoka: I once heard this theory by Tsuneichi Miyamoto, an anthropologist, that in the past, if a village had a problem, they would get together and discuss it. But the oldest and long-lasting villages actually don’t try to find a solution in these talks. It is important to reach a consensus, not to give an answer. Majority rule is a method used to force a solution, but it’s a form a violence if you think about it. It is not good to pretend that everyone is in it together but then force people to decide, even though some people don’t like it. I think Plaza 3 is sort of like the old village. We don’t hold meetings in a bid to start a new project or anything. But we do get together regularly, talk and reach a consensus. We share the same goal of wanting to improve this area, but we don’t give concrete answers. I think that is very important. At some point, we’re going to bring our strengths together and something just so happens to get started.
Taira: That’s such a beautiful idea! It means that information is shared, but not everyone has to be the same, and each person’s strengths and characteristics should be utilized. Recently, I was at a conference on Okinawa’s economy and I was taken aback by people trying to talk about Okinawa, which receives 10 million tourists a year, in terms of averages. They talk about wanting to consider Okinawa’s advantages from different angles and then try to come up with a one-size-fits-all answer! There are so many ways to look at the island, with all its contradictory charms and beauties. We should be thinking about creating a place where each person can shine, and everyone can share their own Okinawa-ness. That’s just my two cents at least. I know the three of us could keep talking forever!

※1 Travel guide series of Japan’s 47 prefectures published by “d”. Celebrated for its focus on the unique and long-lasting features of each prefecture.

※2 Film producer born and raised in Nara prefecture. Famous for her unique style, described as “fiction with a documentarian’s gaze.” Appointed producer and senior advisor for the 2025 Osaka Kansai Expo.

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