Friday, September 29, 2006

About this blog

Work has begun piling up recently. It has begun to get more difficult to maintain this blog....a fate that probably befalls many of these enterprises.

I hope to continue this as long as I have something to write about, but, the frequency of postings will probably fall to about one a week for the next couple of months.There is just too much other stuff to do.

A couple of kind people have informed that they do read this. I am grateful that they have told me they read it. It removes the "barking at the moon" feeling that one can get.

I would like to take this opportunity to ask any reader if there is something in particular they would like to read about concerning ukuleles and ukulele music in Japan. With falling frequency, it would probably be a worthwhile strategy to focus on topic interesting for readers rather than go on ad nauseum about some trivial rummagings uninteresting to anyone.

Any constructive comments are welcome. (I do have moderator options switched on, so comments aren't just splashed out there for those who prefer some privacy.)

Ukulele House

I had an informal talk with someone at Ukulele House in Honolulu at the end of August this year. He told me that there were no ukulele shops in Honolulu when they got their start about 30 years ago.

I can't testify to the accuracy of that, but in some ways, I am not terribly surprised--at least not now. Before this most recent trip to Honolulu, I decided to check out music stores in general and ukulele shops in particular. What I found was a bit of a surprise. There are something like 180 albums of Hawaiian music put out per year; lots of school kids learn the ukulele in Hawaiian schools, there are endless musicians playing in bars, hotels, lounges, and parks. And yet, Honolulu music supplies do not seem to be a big retail commodity. Almost all the shops that I found were considerably more compact and down-home that I had anticipated.

I decided to ask local musician and shop people where the best place to get scores for uke/Hawaiian music. Interestingly, everyone pointed me in the same direction--including a winner of a Na Hoku Hanohano Award I was privileged to talk with! It seems Harry's Music is just about the big shop for music in Honolulu.

While Harry’s was worth the trip on the bus, it is not the sort of place one is likely to find on Japanese tourist circuit. It gave me more of the impression of a musical wizards shop than the sort of place the Kalakaua Avenue crowd would gravitate towards.

Ukulele House has shifted out of it previous location in the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center. It now has four locations. Although it is not marked on their webpage, for reasons beyond me, they have two shops in the Ala Moana Shopping Center, which is the big shopping mall and transit center just off the west end of Waikiki. They also have a small shop in a shopping center just across from the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center. These three of the four are places accessible to many tourist, no matter where they may be from. They also have much more of a Hawaiian ambiance that tourist would prefer to Harry’s work-a-day paint and panel board atmosphere.

It is not much of a surprise to discover most of the staff in all the shops are either Japanese or Japanese speakers. Most of the customers are Japanese, probably by a large margin. Additionally, the owner is a man that immigrated to Hawaii some 30 years ago.

Perhaps as an attempt to balance out PuaPua’s web presence, Ukulele House has got their website going as well, but it doesn’t seem nearly as developed as their rival’s.

A large majority of the ukes hanging on Ukulele House’s walls when I was there were Tangis. The Hawaiian-made merchandise probably ships to their waiting list.

The Ukulele House also offers free ukulele lessons for tourists. These are aimed more at the beginner than more advance players. I had my daughter take a lesson at one of the shops. A very nice lady who has quite a touch with children taught her one-on-one. She managed to get my daughter more interested again than she had been for some time. However, when I quizzed her about a couple of ways to do triplets, she confessed ignorance. The purpose of the lessons is probably to launch the strumming careers of those who have just bought their first uke or are thinking of getting their first. I do have to note, however, that some of the staff do seem to play pretty well. It may well be that she taught the lesson given that the student was an eight-year-old.

Friday, September 15, 2006


As promised in the last post, this blog will start looking at the Hawaiian connection for ukuleles.

As may be expected, a lot of Japanese ukulele enthusiasts having the dough would like a Hawaiian-made, Hawaiian koa ukulele. Of course, buying one in Japan often implies selling off the house or an offspring on the black market. Prices are roughly twice what you might pay in North America for the same instrument. Kamakas in particular demand a human sacrifice at the rim of an active volcano.

In steps Puapua. A fellow from Japan, Nishimoto Ken, set up an ukulele shop in an upscale (at least for me) Waikiki hotel. While his shop, Puapua, caters mostly to Japanese tourist in Waikiki, it also sells Hawaiian ukuleles over the internet at slightly higher prices than perhaps Elderly Music, but considerably cheaper than what you are likely to find in Japan.As far as I can make out, it is really this business that keeps the cash flowing in. My visits to his shop have always been punctuated by stacks of wrapped ukes heading for the airport on courier trolleys.

Like Ukulele House (the subject planned for the next posting), staff will give newbies a free 30 lesson on playing some simple song. Even if the staff is not Japanese, they can usually handle enough Japanese to get through the lesson. Puapua also has lessons taught by Bruce Shimabukuro (Jake's brother), Jody Kamasato, and Hawaiian style ukulele lessons by Tyler. These are popular with Japanese tourists.

Although I have no proof or direct evidence whatsoever, I would be inclined to speculate that Puapua and Ukulele House might be partially responsible for lengthened waiting lists for Kamakas, Koaholas, G Strings, and other well-known ukuleles. These have helped linguistically challenged Japanese to buy ukuleles directly from the source in their own language, an avenue long closed to many.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Japanese ukuleles in Hawaii

This blog is returning to life after a month of downtime. It has been an eventful month for me, despite this (actually, because of this), this blog has been neglected. The time for revival has come.

Given the numbers of Japanese tourists going to Hawaii each year and Japanese enthusiasm for things Hawaiian, it is not surprising that there is a kind of Japanese ukulele circuit there.

Starting with the next post, we can take a tour of what this curcuit reveals.