The ukulele in Japan

The ukulele in Japan - upaupatahiti

The ukulele has found an important place in Japan. The proof, this small instrument is present almost everywhere in this Asian country and even gets the slogan “I am huge in Japan” on all the surfaces presenting its photo. The ukulele, which is an instrument considered unique to Hawaii, has earned a special place in the hearts of Japanese men and women. Overview of the history of the ukulele in Japan.

The ukulele: a very significant instrument in Japan

Simply put, the ukulele is recognized as the representative of goodwill between America and Japan. Over the generations that have passed, this instrument has indeed brought together the best of American, Hawaiian and Japanese traditions. It was more particularly around 1885 that the Japanese entered Hawaii, where approximately 200 Japanese took up residence on Hawaiian soil to work in the sugar cane fields.

And since in those days, it was complicated for Americans of Japanese origin to blend in completely with the masses and integrate into the local culture, several homes made the decision to send their children back to their country. of origin so that they can continue their studies freely. A situation that has led many children to bring with them a ukulele as a souvenir of Hawaii. It was in 1920-1930, when immigrant children reached the legal age that the popularity of the ukulele in Japan began. Among the most famous ambassadors of ukulele in Japan, we find Yukihiko Haida accompanied by his brother Katsuhiko. Son of Japanese parents living in Hawaii, the two nisei were forced to leave the country to return to Japan following the death of their father. Buckie Shirakata, also contributed very closely to the popularization of the small musical instrument that is the ukulele in Japan. Thanks to its collaboration with the Haida group, the Shirakata band is on the list of the first wave of performers of music from Hawaii to Japan.

The ukulele: instrument of redemption after the war

Following the Second World War that hit the world, Japan badly needed to reinvent itself. Life at that time was indeed hard with money becoming increasingly scarce and equipment difficult to find. This was not entirely true of Hawaiian culture at home, since after the war (around the 50s), more than 4 groups formed and began performing Hawaiian music in Japan. The demand for ukulele was so strong that Toshiba started designing its own collection. In 500, a good number of manufacturers focusing only on this small stringed musical instrument then made their way into the market, including an experienced and more respected ukulele manufacturer like Kiwaya at the top of the charts. 

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