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Entertainment :: Music :: Ke Mele Hawai`i :: Hula Numbers in Japan Are Staggering:

Hula Numbers in Japan Are Staggering:

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Someday, Japanese halau hula will compete in large numbers like this local halau under Kumu Hula Mapuana deSilva

Hula numbers in Japan are staggering: 250,000 students; 220 halau hula.

We’ve talked about and written about the popularity of Hawaiian music and hula in Japan, but we had no idea that it has grown so big.

Research data from 2004 (Ikaros Publications) published in Satekina Hula Style Magazine and reprinted in Pacific Business News (November 2, 2007) states that there are an estimated 250,000 hula students learning the dances of Hawai`i in 220 halau hula (dance schools) 230 cultural schools, 1,230 community centers, and 2,164 gymnasiums in Japan. 

Those numbers are three years old.

And we thought it impressive that there were 500 Hawaiian music combos performing in Tokyo, when we lived and performed there in the late1950s and early 60s. Almost every group had a dancer.

According to the Ikaros research, the quarter of a million dance students in Japan spend more than $190 million a year to learn the hula.

It boggles the mind, even of those of us with numerous contacts in Japan – friends who are “kumu hula” (or teachers of the traditional Hawaiian dance), dancers, musicians, composers, recording artists and producers who specialize in Hawaiian music, and others.

And it is no wonder that Hawai`i’s kumu hula are so interested in establishing connections with the Japanese hula schools and teachers.  Many local halau hula have long-standing affiliations with schools in Japan.  Many local kumu hula travel to Japan on a regular basis to teach, perform, and to earn big bucks.  After all, $80.6 million of the money spent on hula in Japan each year goes to the 220 halau hula in that country.  That means it goes to the Japanese teachers of hula, and much of that is probably passed on to visiting kumu hula from Hawai`i.

And remember, those were 2004 figures. 

We were in Japan recently (September-October) to perform in a Hawaiian music concert in Chiba-ken and we made contact with many of our friends in the music and dance business, including teachers and dancers.

Some of the comments from those in the industry are most interesting, however, and point up some concern about the traditions, customs, and how training and rewards in the hula schools of Japan differ from those in Hawai`i nei.

“Many of the (Japanese) hula teachers really are not very good,” said one Japanese musician. “Some only know how to dance three songs.  Anyone who can dance three songs can teach hula.”

A former dancer told of Japanese women paying thousands of dollars to visiting Hawaiian kumu hula for a Hawaiian name.  “It is very special for a student dancer to have a Hawaiian name and it means more if it is given by a kumu hula from Hawai`i,” she said. “They don’t mind if the kumu hula may not speak Hawaiian. They don’t know.” 

Another musician said that one Hawaiian kumu hula comes to Japan, passes out what amounts to “study guides” about hula, then tests them and presents them with certificates making them “official” hula dancers – whatever that is – for a huge fee, of course.

One of the musicians said he thought the certificate had no meaning.  But to the dancer, many of whom are women in the forties and fifties, it is the equivalent of having completed many years of training and going through an `uniki (graduation) to become an `olapa in Hawai`i. 

“They’re so happy to be ‘real’ dancers,” he said.

Over the years, we’ve worked with several kumu hula from Japan, helping their dancers with songs, translations, even providing a place to practice in preparation for local hula competitions, and photographing them during their performances.  We’ve taught Hawaiian language to some, and helped some halau and kumu hula with translations, and with choreography as well.  And some of them have come to our aid when we were performing in Japan, even loaning our dancers costumes for television appearances.

And they all seem very thrilled with what they are receiving.  It matters little to them if the kumu from Hawai`i ever went through the rigid training and was graduated from a halau, dancers say.  It is usually sufficient that they are from Hawai`i, that they are Hawaiian, and that they call themselves kumu hula.  While kumu hula in our community might question the hula genealogy of a teacher, and whether or not the teacher went through the rigid Hawaiian process, including an `uniki, the Japanese are unaware or at least seemingly not that interested it that detail.

Several local kumu hula have moved to Japan, to live and teach there, rather than commute.  Others go to Japan on a regular basis, to teach and perform.  And some obviously go to test and honor those who passed the test, or to give Hawaiian names.

Chad Blair, who writes for PBN, tells of Nalani Keale, who has taken out dual citizenship (U.S. and Japan) and who is even “paying taxes.”

To give you an idea of how our kumu hula are highly regarded in Japan, Blair quotes Kumu Hula Frank Kawaikapuokalani Hewett, whose ties to Japan go back 20 years.  Hewett now spends 70 percent of his time in Japan, Blair wrote.

Hewett is quoted as saying that thousands of Japanese came to see hula performances at major shopping malls during Golden Week. “They wanted to touch my hands, touch my clothes,” he said.

Many of those who are learning hula in Japan come to Hawai`i to perform in competitions such as the King Kamehameha Hula Competition, The Waikiki Hula Conference, the World Invitational Hula Festival, a hula competition sponsored by Japan Airlines each year at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, the new Moku O Keawe International Festival at Waikoloa on the Big Island now in its second year, and others.  Although some Japanese hula schools perform in public shows in Hilo during the Merrie Monarch Festival week, they are not allowed to compete in that festival.

They also come to attend other events, and to shop.  Some of our Japanese kumu hula friends buy huge amounts of Hawaiian print fabric here and take back home to outfit their dancers.  On some visits, they take back `ukuleles, hula instruments and other hula-related items.  Some also buy recordings of hula songs by local artists.  Some have developed very close ties with local musicians too.

Some come here to vacation, often hoping to be called up to dance at clubs and lounges where Hawaiian music is performed.  And they are given that opportunity.

Once, while performing at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, we sang and played for 140 dancers from a Japan-based halau hula that was here celebrating their 10th anniversary.  On other occasions, dancers asked if they could perform with us so they could go back to Japan and say “I danced at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.”  We were thrilled to accommodate them.

The “E Ho`i Mai I Ka Piko Hula” competition last month drew dance groups from Colombia, the Philippines, Mexico, New York, Hawai`i, and the South Pacific, as well as from Japan, an indication of how popular the hula is in other countries.

The Merrie Monarch Festival has allowed halau hula from California, Chicago, and other places outside Hawai`i in past years, excluding only those from “foreign” countries.  As a result of that festival rule, hula competitions have proliferated in Japan as well.

Hula rules in Japan.

“Peace on Earth” Christmas Concert - It’s FREE and open to the public.

The Second Annual “Peace on Earth” Christmas concert will be held at the Kapi`olani Park Bandstand, 6 p.m., Wednesday, December 19, and you are all invited. The concert began last year when music fans suggested to your columnists that there are many concerts during the holiday period, but they are expensive and “we can’t afford to go to all of them.”

The first “Peace on Earth” Christmas concert was a huge success, and more local artists offered to perform this year.  Once again, the entertainers are all donating their time and talent – it’s their Christmas gift to the community.

The evening will open with trumpeter Stanton K. Haugen and the Thursday Night (Big) Band, with vocalist Jamie Uchima.  The big band will also back popular singers Noelani Kanoho Mahoe and Al Waterson, and Al will double as master of ceremonies.

Others on the program include Mel Murata and the Keiki Palaka Band, an `ukulele ensemble; Dennis & David Kamakahi, internationally popular father and son slack-key guitar and `ukulele duo; slack-key master George Kuo; `ukulele virtuoso Bryan Tolentino; country singer Don “Geezer” Humphrey; young singing sensation Allison Chu, with “uncles” Albert Kaai and Art Kalahiki; and The Carmen Haugen Quartet, featuring keyboard artist Ron Miyashiro and pakini master Frank Uehara.

Bring something to eat and drink, a mat or blanket, and an umbrella if it looks like rain.  The focus is on “peace” and the artists donate their time and talent to sing and play favorite Christmas songs to residents and visitors alike.

We do think you should go to the other concerts too – including the Makaha Sons on December 15 at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel, Na Leo on December 19-20 at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel, and the Brothers Cazimero on December  21-23 at the Hawai`i Theatre.  You know they will be wonderful holiday concerts.  There are many other holiday events too and many are very reasonable.

“Peace on Earth” is FREE.

Dennis & David Kamakahi

Dennis & David Kamakahi will be one of many featured acts in the “Peace on Earth” Christmas concert, December 19 at the Kapi`olani Park Bandstand. -- Kamakahi Productions file photo

Bryan Tolentino

`Ukulele virtuoso Bryan Tolentino is one of the new guest artists added to the “Peace on Earth” Christmas concert on December 19.  -- Photo by Lezlie Kiaha

Art, Allison, Albert

Allison Chu, backed by Art Kalahiki and Albert Kaai, is one of two “youth” acts performing in the FREE “Peace of Earth” Christmas concert this year. The other one is a repeat from last year – the Keiki Palaka Band. -- Photo by Tina Chu

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anonymous — Friday, December 5, 2014

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anonymous — Friday, December 5, 2014

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anonymous — Friday, December 5, 2014

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anonymous — Friday, December 5, 2014

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anonymous — Friday, December 5, 2014


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