Go, Momoe, Sui and Sasa Maejima

Go, who comes from Tokyo, first rented his three-bedroom house with two friends back in 1997, when he was a student at the University of the Ryukyus. “We were just looking for a big space,” he says. “We wanted somewhere we could play musical instruments.” Now he’s married to Momoe, from Gunma, and together they run a home-goods store. They’ve done little work on their home apart from putting a wooden floor in the sitting room. “Ten years ago these houses weren’t so popular,” he says. “Now people can see their potential.”

Residents: Hayato, Shiho and Hinata Asano

Hayato, who comes from Miyagi in northern Japan, moved to Okinawa 12 years ago. “It was my dream to live here,” he says. Hayato and his wife Shiho, a piano teacher from Okinawa, run a restaurant and rice business called Komeya Matsukura from a spacious 50-year-old former military residence in Oyama in Ginowan. They gutted the interior and covered the walls in shikui plaster, a traditional solution for humidity. “It’s give and take with these houses,” laughs Hayato. “You have to put up with the heat, cold and humidity to get big, well-designed spaces.”

Residents: Yusuke and Fumiko Hashizume

Yusuke and his wife Fumiko are both doctors. Yusuke works in a hospital in Naha, while his wife works on the more remote island of Kohamajima. “We were living in an apartment in Naha but we thought, ‘While we’re in Okinawa, why not live in one of the old military houses?’” They found their house in Kakazu on a weekend drive. It has four bedrooms and two bathrooms; plenty of room for Yusuke’s musical instruments and visiting friends. They’re next door to Futenma, the controversial US air base. “The planes fly so close, I can read the numbers underneath.”

Residents: Toshikatsu and Azusa Saji

Originally from Kyoto, graphic designer Toshikatsu and his wife Azusa moved from Tokyo to live in the former military community of Minatogawa in Urasoe. They moved into their two-bedroom house six years ago and have done few renovations. “I didn’t want to fix it,” says Toshikatsu. The period details – such as the green wooden kitchen, the tiled bathroom and the built-in wooden cupboards – remain intact. The couple has filled the house with a mix of new and vintage furniture, some of which came from a US base. “Regular Japanese furniture can look small in these houses,” he says.

Residents: Isao and Sayuri Oshiro

Isao, a photographer, and Sayuri, both from Okinawa, have divided their house into a home and a craft shop called Ten, selling handmade ceramics and textiles from Okinawa and Southeast Asia. This is their second gaijin juutaku. “They are very simply designed,” says Isao. “It’s like a blank canvas. You can paint them and renovate them and because they’re old you don’t think twice about making changes.” They have a garden, a sea view and 100 tsubo (330 sq m) of space, far more than the average Japanese house. As the demand for vintage military homes has increased in recent years, so too has their cost. “Given the age of these houses, they’re relatively expensive,” admits Isao.

Resident: Ryoma Yabu

Ryoma moved to Okinawa 12 years ago. He was all set to study architecture in Europe but came to see his parents (his father comes from Okinawa) and never left. He set up the Ploughman’s Lunch Bakery, a popular café with a view in Adaniya. His house is 46 years old. “I was looking for something unique, a warehouse or an old factory, when I came across this place,” he says. “I liked the approach and the view.” Over the past few years, perceptions of military houses have changed: “People know they can sell or rent these places for a decent price,” says Yabu. He is also involved in renovation projects. “Some people like the American scale,” he says. “The windows are bigger and the ceilings are higher. Most people want to use them as working and living spaces.”

Resident: Narihisa Sueyoshi

Sueyoshi started his coffee-roasting business, Cerrado Coffee, 26 years ago. A self-taught roaster, he sells 15 kinds of beans from eight countries and is working hard to challenge the domination of the big companies. Thirteen years ago he moved into a former military house in Minatogawa; visitors are greeted by a giant roasting machine and a powerful aroma. “Our customers are mostly Okinawans,” says son Narihito. “US military personnel don’t get much chance to see the local culture before they’re transferred.” Although the business is largely wholesale, coffee-lovers drop by to pick up domestic quantities and, on Friday and Saturday, take the opportunity to try a cup in the shop.

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