Koji Yama’s story is one that reads like a living history lesson.
The 51-year old, who left his home and parents in Tokyo to move closer to America in 1979, now owns and operates a vintage shop in Los Angeles where he sells all sorts of classic items that he obtained from various army surplus stores in Okinawa, where he moved to after leaving Tokyo.
War or its legacy is how thousands of Japanese youngsters, including Yama, got their first taste of American culture. They bartered and negotiated with GIs, trading tea sets, flags and cash for the chance to slip into blue jeans and wingtip shoes for the first time.
Since Okinawa was a military station for American troops, Yama and other young Japanese people moved there to immerse themselves in American culture.
On his and other Japanese citizens’ immersion into American culture, Yama states that “It was like heaven,” Yama recalls. He stands behind his shop counter stuffed with Elvis jewelry, twisting and thrusting his hips to the beat of some imaginary rock tune inside his head. “The military people would issue Japanese buyers day passes to come onto the base to buy surplus supplies. Combat boots, even old Army cars.”
Yama turned his love for American culture into a career plan, opening his store, The Elvis 1950s Corporation USA, located in Gardena, California. He worked as a chef for years after migrating to the US in 2002 until he had the ability to open his shop.
Customers at his shop buy things such as Elvis babushka dolls stacked on a shelf ($48), the porcelain poodle wall decor ($32), vinyl records of “Jailhouse Rock” and “Heartbreak Hotel” ($22) and a Pepsi vending machine that only takes nickels ($680).
Read the rest of the article for more insight into Yama and his experience.
It’s rather interesting to me to read about a Japanese man who sought a more American lifestyle enough to move to a US military base and eventually move all the way to the United States. His love for all things “American”, such as Elvis Presley, Levi jeans, and Pepsi, are more than evident when reading this article, and if you’re ever in Gardena, California, you probably should check out his shop if any of this is remotely your kind of thing.