Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Best Hit UKE

Just in case some reader have looked at the News section of Rolling Coconuts recently and wondered "What on earth is that?"......

JVC is releasing tomorrow Japan time an ukulele album containing some of the songs that were big during the heyday of a old TV program (basically the 1980s).

Best Hit UKE (probably read U-K-E) is a take-off on the old Japanese TV music program "Best Hit USA". The gent on the cover holding the Kamaka pineable, Kobayashi Katsuya, used to host the pop/rock music video program back in the days before MTV really made it to Japan. It aired late Saturday nights and had occasional interviews with musicians visiting Japan.

The album contains:

01. Surfside Freeway (the program's theme song)
02. Thriller (Kuricorder Quartet)
03. Living on a Prayer (Nomura Yoshio)
04. Ebony and Ivory (Kondo Kenji of Kuricorder)
05. Every Breath You Take (Nomura Yoshio)
06. Take on Me (Matsui Tomotaka&Sweet Hollywaiians)
07. Like a Virgin (Kondo Kenji)
08. Let's Dance (Nomura Yoshio)
09. Time After Time (Matsui Tomotaka&Sweet Hollywaiians)
10. Purple Rain (Kondo Kenji)
11. Karma Chameleon (Kuricorder Quartet)
12.Wake me up before you go-go (Katsu Seiji & Ukulele Eiji)
13. There Must be an Angel (Sekiguchi Kazuyuki)

Unfortunately, Victor's website does not have any song samples. Perhaps Tower Records Japan will have something up tomorrow.

Incidentally, there seems to be a younger Kobayashi Katsuya--an actor I know nothing about. They are obviously not the same people.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Pops and Hawaiian

Out of curiosity, I decided to find out how many of what kinds of ukulele classes are on offer around Tokyo. The reasoning was that this should show to some extent what kind of demand there is.

Pops and Hawaiian are pretty much king. There are a few places offering other kinds of music, such as swing or some jazz, but in total terms, it does look like Hawaiian and Pops are about 45% and 45%.

1,000 person ukulele

It's pretty late notice, but there is the 1,000-person ukulele event going at the Yokohama Hawaii Festival tomorrow opening at 1PM. You can download the PDF for Hawai'i Aloha, the song to be played, here. This link will take you to the musicians from Hawaii that are playing there this weekend. For those that are interested, there are also some hula events.

Unfortunately, I am scheduled to be at a different ukulele event this Sunday.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Tin jaPan Alley

A couple of weeks ago Chiyodad wrote:
The TPA theme is less-encountered in Hawaii. In California, there's a mix; but it still is predominantly Hawaiian. The East Coast seems to lean more towards TPA.

Are there similar theme associations in Japan? The impression that I get is that it is predominantly Hawaiian, with an infusion of Modern Jazz and Pop.
The impression you have is pretty much the impression I have with some exceptions.

As an instrument, it is not taken so seriously. In a group of people recently, one person introduced his friend as being able to play the ukulele really well. Most listening laughed. I remained cowardly silent.

Hawaiian is very much in the forefront of many--that and Takagi Boo, whom I wrote about 22 June last year.

Ironically, Jake Shimabukuro is one player that seems to be diversifying that image. Tsuji Ayano is well-known here more as a pop musician than as an ukulele-player.

Ohashi Hidehiko has put collections of music such as bossa nova for ukulele. There are gobs of books available for pop songs, some jazz, bundles of Hawaiian, and even some classical music. But, as for TPA, it is a bit sparse, with perhaps the exception of Janet Klein fans here and an Osaka-based group. (Their name escapes me right now, but I think I have made reference to them somewhere.)

I guess that in some ways that is not too surprising. During the time TPA was big in the US, Japan and the US were not in the best of terms and it wasn't a particularly happy time for Japan in general.

Personally, I would love to get my hands on some Fats Waller for the uke.

One of the exceptions I hinted at above was enka (Japanese country??). Some of the people who started playing ukulele during its first boom here are getting older and settling back into some more familiar music. I know several of these that play enka on the ukulele. To me that would be like playing blues on the bagpipes, but to each his own.

PS Sorry to take so long in getting back to you!

Kobayashi's Ukulele Method book

Well, I broke my promise to myself and ordered Kobayashi's book without looking at it first. I've got the CD coming out the speakers as I type. So far, so good.

The table of contents is broken up into three sections: exercises for the left hand, exercises for the right hand, and practice songs.

Had I been the editor, I would have broken the last section into two. Pages 58-78 contain a collection of practice pieces of varying lengths (8 bars-over 40 bars) and of graded difficulties noted by numbers of stars. Following the practice pieces are songs from Kobayashi's albums, mostly his own compositions. These do not really seem to be graded, but are simpler versions of what he put on his albums--and sanely so.

Working backwards, the section on the right hand (pages 46-56) is considerably shorter than the section for the left (pages 6-44). The right hand section focuses on using the thumb, arpeggios using multiple fingers, and rhythm patterns. There are 43 rhythm patterns introduced, but unfortunately, these are not included in the accompanying CD. The arpeggio practices are included.

The left hand practices what most would expect, scale training, hammer-ons, pull-off, slides, stuccato, and the like. One part of this section that I am looking forward to working with most is almost in the dead middle--diad positions in keys C and F. These should be pretty useful for adding a little color to arrangements.

Am I happy with the purchase? So far, it looks good and I am looking forward to being able to say that I have worked my way through it. But, I will really need to work through the material in the book before I can responsibly give it thumbs up or down.

Friday, July 06, 2007


Summer is here and Japan's ukulele scene is ramping up. It seems everyone is putting something out last month or this. Today's new introduction includes one of those.

A duet that has made mention here a couple of times but never properly introduced is Laula. (Linked page in Japanese.) Rinkai Hiroshi plays ukulele and Matsui Takashi plays guitar and sings. Readers of Rolling Coconuts or owner of any RC/Geneon compliations have without doubt encountered this pair.

Rinkai's mother apparently is heavily into hula, starting her son off on ukulele. Both members were born in Fujisawa, more or less next door to Kamakura, one of Japan's ancient capitols. It seems the combination of birth place and interests gives them their direction in choices of songs to record. They seem to focus on songs about the area from which they come and Hawaiian standards.

They released their "Double Rainbow Best of Laula" on 6 June this year. The double album also comes with a DVD. If this kind of music is your kind of thing, you can have a listen to some of their songs here.

Kobayashi Kiyoshi albums

Mr. Kobayashi has been keeping himself busy.

On June 27, he released his new album of classical music, "
Ukulele Adagio Vol.1". As the title implies, there will be a Volume 2; it's release date is set for July 25. On July 26, he also plans a promotional concert in Tokyo's Shinjuku area.

Volume 1 includes:
1 Jesus, Joy of Man’s Desiring (J.S.Bach)
2 Schon Rosmarin (Kreisler)
3 Piano Sonata No.8 In C Minor ’Pathetique’ Op.13-Ⅱ. Adagio Cantabile (Beethoven)
4 Rondo (Carcassi)
5 String Quintet, Op 13 No.5 Minuet (Boccherini)
6 Orchestral Suite No.3: Air (J.S.Bach)
7 Walzer Donauwellen (Ivanovici)
8 Zwolf Variation Cdur K.265 uber “Ah, vous dirai-je, Mana” (W.A. Mozart)
9 Traumerei (Kinderszenen) (Shumann)
10 Adagio (Albinoni/arr.Giazotto)

There are some samples available at Japan's Tower Records. Tower Records in Japan is still alive and kicking.

Samples of Volume 2 will probably come online after the album is released.

Method Book Breakdown

A quick check of the DOREMI publishing company website a couple of days ago has revealed that the publication of Kiyoshi Kobayashi’s “Ukulele Method” book has indeed been pushed back to the middle of this month. No reason was given, but they are at least now taking advanced orders for it.

Unfortunately, that means that it is probably going to be several weeks before I get the chance to even look at it…unless a local shop here starts carrying it. There is one shop here in town that may have it a week or so after it comes out.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Places for ukulele books in Tokyo

On a recent run down to Tokyo, I had a peek at the revamped Yamano Music store in Ginza. They have managed to cram more ukulele material in their third-floor music book section than any music store I visited Hawaii--or anywhere else I have visited. Those in their Ginza shop can take the elevator or escalator to the third floor, go through the entrance to the floor room and look the the lower section of the bookshelves just next to ones to your immediate right.

Probably the only place in Japan to see more is to order it online from Gakufu Net.

Akio Instruments perhaps has the biggest seclection of English language Ukulele books in Tokyo that I know of. Click the button on the middle of their web page to get a pop-up map to his shop. If you are visiting Japan from overseas, it might be best to get the English books elsewhere. Some of the books there are a bit more than you would pay outside Japan.

Both Yamano and Akio sell ukulele and Hawiian CDs as well.

New Ukulele Method book

Kiyoshi Kobayashi is coming out with a new ukulele method book and CD soon. The English title is simply "Ukulele Method", but a direct translation of the Japanese title would run something like "Ukulele Method--Effective Training Book for Each Finger".

When this 96-page volume does come out, it will be interesting to see exactly what the contents are. The blurb on the publisher's website claims it is a "practical and effective pratice method for beginners playing for the first time to players that want to bring their performances to a higher level".

In an interview with "Rolling Coconuts", the author discussed the fact that even he has to make the effort of practicing with all his fingers and noted the fact that he does not always use his little finger as effectively as he would like. The implication seems to be "use this book to give all your fingers the workout". Being about US$30--¥2,625 including tax, I would like to get a look at it before plopping down the dough.

Supposedly, the book was due to come out tomorrow, but both the publisher's and Amazon Japan's website are a little vague about the exact date. It leads one to speculate that there may have been some last minute trouble of some sort. I have to run down to Tokyo in a week or two. I hope I can have a good look at it then.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Ukulele Magazine volume 1

Rittor Music has released volume one of "Ukulele Magazine" with the cooperation of Rolling Coconuts. The 130 page-magazine comes with a CD which includes some of the learning material covered in the last third of the publication. The songs included as learning material are James Hill's "Down Rideau Canal", Bach's Jesus Bleibet Meine Freude (BWV147), "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes", and "S'Wonderful". There are chords and strums for nine other songs, as well. Some of the strumming section is presented by Iwao and demonstrates some ways to bring your playing out of beginner mode and into a more intermediate arena.

There is also some description of the "three chords" idea, why they work, and how to expand on them. It give patterns in the keys of C, G, F, and A.

The first half of the magazine includes information on the various Japanese and other ukuleles available here and introductions to some of the larger shops in Tokyo and Osaka. One interesting side-bit is Iwao's confession of now using T's ukuleles primarily.

It can be order through Amazon Japan. If you are in Japan, quite a few music and bookstores are carrying.

A blurb at the back of the magazine claims that Rittor intends to make Ukulele Magazine an annual publication.

Ukulele Picnic 2007 Pre-event

Ukulele Picnic 2007, a free admission, big-name ukulele bash, is coming up 18 August. I will be be bringing some of the details to this blog in the very near future.

More pressing is the pre-event. On 16 July, there will be a concert given by many of the musicians performing at the main even in August. Those appearing at the pre-event include Sekiguchi Kazuyuki, Iwao, Arizato Tomoka, Kiyoshi Kobayashi, yoheiOKAMOTO, Ukulele Eiji, Ukulele Elvis, Alani Ohana Band, Dan, and Hirai Dai. (Hirai Dai is a 16-year-old protegy that will probably a big name in another 5-6 years. He was one of the opening acts at last year's Ukulele Super Jam.)

Tickets are 3,000 yen and include a drink at the venue, the DUO Music Exchange.

More details are available at the website. This link will lead you to a page covering all the various Ukulele Picnic info. Information on the pre-event is about 1/5 up from the bottom of this long page.

There will also be an "Ukulele Picnic four strings, for life" coming out in July. You can get some previews of some of the songs here.

Monday, May 28, 2007

temporary suspension

My apologies for having not regularly posted recently. I will resume posting at the end of June. A family tragedy has occurred.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Hawaii in Odaiba

Another Golden Week event will be at Venus Fort in Odaiba in Tokyo Thursday, May 3. Konishiki will be joining the week-long schedule of Hawaiian events there. Vaihi follow a couple of days later, sandwiching Laula. This coming Sunday will see Manoa DNA.

Check the Venus Fort site for times.

Last year Jake Shimabukuro also appeared at this Hawaiian event in Odaiba.

Kiyoshi Kobayashi at Hawaiians

If you are in Japan and have some free time during the upcoming Golden Week*, you might want to head over to Hawaiians in Iwaki, Fukushima. Kiyoshi Kobayashi and the Ukulele Ultraman routine will be giving two shows (11:30 AM and 3:30 PM) May 3-6. Being not all that far away, I am tempted to give it a try myself. Tickets are going for 2,940 yen tax included.

Ukulele Ultraman, an ablum of songs from the old Japanese super-hero show, was released April last year. It received quite a bit of coverage in the February, 2006 Rolling Cocounts.

*Golden Week is several days of national holidays all bunched up at the end of April and beginning of May. Many people take a week or more off of work. It is one of the really big holidays here.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

James Hill locally

Earlier this week I was really lucky to catch a show in James Hill's tour of Japan.

It was an entertaining evening given to an almost sold-out crowd. The songs featured were mainly those that owners of his CDs would be familiar with. It seemed like the selection was almost designed to be as international and diverse as possible. He highlighted this diversity by commenting that the ukulele is indeed a versatile instrument.

One song that I hadn't heard before was an original composition he dedicated to the folks looking after him in town. It was a happy, bluegrass-inpired piece. Apparently, one of the minders is a fan of bluegrass.

Being four rows back from the stage, it was great to be able to see some of his right-hand techniques--at least when this hand was moving slowly enough to see. His upward rolling-stroke was particularly interesting.

I had seen James Hill last year at the Ukulele Super Jam in Tokyo. His performance this week was more enjoyable and had a nice at-home feel to it.

Seeing that he will be in Quebec the weekend of this year’s Ukulele Super Jam, attendees will not be able to enjoy his magic there.

This year’s Ukulele Super Jam will be at the same Yakult Hall as last year, but the date has been moved to 12 May. The date change knocks me off the attendance list, unfortunately.

Vietnamese (?) Tangi

An anonymous commenter wrote a couple of days ago stating that Tangis are made in Honolulu, not Vietnam. I mentioned that they are made in Vietnam a day or two prior.

My comment was based on what I was told by a sales clerk at Ukulele House in Honolulu last August. Considering the price and the quantity of Tangis available in Honolulu, I had little reason to doubt the sales clerk.

I have checked the Tangi website and have found no information on where they do make their ukuleles. Since they offer custom products, it might be safe to guess those may be manufactured in Hawaii. However, I wrote to them directly and asked where their factory was. They wrote back and gave me their "location" but there was no mention of where the factory is--particularly for the non-custom products.

There are manufacturers that have their main office in one place but the bulk of their product is actually put together elsewhere.

Given conflicting information, it seems safe for me to say that I don't really know where they are made.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Back from North America

Back in the saddle. I needed to take a trip to North America over the past few weeks and was unable to write at all during that time.

A difference between the ukulele scene in North America and Japan became very evident to me while poking around music shops during my recent trip. There really is an awful lot more available in Japan in terms of published material on playing the instrument and music adapted for it.

First, most of the music stores that had anything are stocking the same "Jumpin' Jim" strum-and-sing books. There is nothing wrong with that unless you sing like a badger in a blender--like me. There are a few introductory books here and there, but you can pretty much find everything on Amazon or at Elderly Music. Perhaps that explains why the shops seem so desolate. Of course, if it is available at Amazon or Elderly, it is available here in Japan, too. This lack of published material goes some way to explaining why so many individuals and groups are putting songs up on the web in the English-speaking world.

Second, generally speaking, Japan really does seem to have quite a bigger variety of published material for the ukulele player. Not only is all of the English-language material available, but there are quite a few people publishing with reasonable frequency a variety of how-to-books and arrangement books. Some of these I have touched on earlier in other writings. I don't know if these books would be available outside of Japan due to copyright regulations, but I will start focusing a little more on those in this blog. The difference even in the local shop up the street and those I looked at on my trip is quite striking.

The same hold true for instruments also. All the shops on the mainland seem to pretty much stock Lanikais as their main ware. That is an interesting contrast with Honolulu, where you see quite a few more Vietnamese-made Tangis than most anything--at least the last time I was there. In Japan, brands under the Kiwaya umbrella are big, but looking around shops, it would be difficult to just assume they have the same sort of market share as Lanikai probably does.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Rolling Coconuts #34

As mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Tornadic Uke did make the new edition of RC. The lower have of a page about three-fourths through the magazine heralds their arrival as something new. It points out that the album is definite rock on an uke. Ukulele is a free-wheeling instrument and rock is free-wheeling music, they go on to say.

This issue also introduces someone I have never heard of--Chihiro Wada. She is described as an ukulele-player doing avant-guarde and pop. I have been rummaging around to try to find out what this would sound like, but I have yet to find anything on the Internet to listen to. She seems to be heavily involved in a group called California Dolls. You might be able to find their voiceblog on their website. Apparently, she has also been featured in the British magazine "Wire".

The most surprising bit for me personally in the article on Wada really concerned something else. In the interview she talks about buying her ukulele in Pan Music in Ochanomizu. I dropped by there yesterday out of coincidence looking for the new RC. They have scaled back their ukulele section from most of one floor to the stairwell. The ukulele publications were gone, including RC. Perhaps they have been move up to the floor above with the other magazines, but it was closed.

I did find a shop up the street selling unusual handcrafted ukuleles. I will find that again and post on that in a month or two.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Ukulele coffee shop in Tokyo

If you ever find yourself in Tokyo with an urge to play your uke, but your uke is nowhere to be found, there's a place you can go. "Bucky" in Shibuya has ukuleles for playing. For a 400-yen cup of coffee, you can borrow one of theirs and play with othe affectinados during the day. At night, you can also feed yourself as well as strum along.

They also hold various events like a hula night (second Friday of each month). Those are advertised as 3,000 with a free drink. Another is performances by Shiraishi Atae, son of Bucky Shiraishi.

They are located on the bus terminal side of Shibuya Station in Tokyo. It should be about a three minute walk from the station. There is a very simple map on their website.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Kiyoshi Kobayashi workshop

Kiyoshi Kobayashi will be holding an hour-long workshop in Kamakura followed by a 45-minute mini-concert. Adult admission to either one will be 3,000 yen or 5,000 for both plus drinks, according to the website. Participants in the workshop are invited to play along in the mini-concert.

The workshop apparently starts at 2PM on 3 March and is quickly followed by the mini-concert. The venue is a place called the Aloha Cube.

Monday, February 19, 2007

CD kickoff concert

This coming Sunday (2/25) at Thumbs Up, a three-minute walk from Yokohama Station, there will be a kickoff concert for the CD I wrote about a couple of days ago. If you are in Japan and want to go, detailed info can be had at this website (in Japanese).

Doors are said to open at 6:30, adult tickets on the day cost 3,500 yen. They are 3,000 in advance. Laula, Iwao, Kiyoshi Kobayashi, Ukulele Eiji and others are slated to be there according to the website. Kuricorder isn't mentioned, so we can probably assume they won't be there. This is according to the website anyway.

I won't be going, but I would if I could swing it.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Loco Factory

Having finally secured a couple of moments to phone up Headway, makers of La Uke ukuleles and possibly Loco ukuleles, I gave them a quick dial.

The brief conversation confirmed my suspicions. Locos are indeed made by Headway China.

A look at their website has lots of nice photos showing how La Ukes are handcrafted etc, etc. The page for Locos are considerably more simple and less impressive. It leaves one wondering if it is only guitars that they make at Headway China. Wonder no more.

Upcoming Rolling Coconuts

A new Rolling Coconut comes out on the 27th of this month. Tornadic Ukulele, who has kindly left comments on this blog, has written to tell us he will be making an appearance there. Congratulations on that! I am looking forward to seeing what they have to say.

Other big features that they will apparently be running will revolve around some of their Geneon projects. The headliner will be the (directly translated) "From the North Ukulele". "From the North" was a series of tv programs that ran here for YEARS. It was about a family of a father, son, and daughter and how they struggled to make do in Hokkaido, where there is nature and it is COLD.The theme music was done by a guitar-playing folk singer named Sada Masashi.It has been redone on a new CD by the usual suspects: Kuricorder Quartet, Iwao, Ukulele Quartet, BanBan Bazaar, and Kiyoshi Kobayashi, to name the majority.

There will be another article about James Hill and one on ukulele Iwao style.

Again, congratulations to Tornadic Ukulele.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Loco ukulele factory

After receiving a comment about the location of the Loco ukulele factory, I have been reading up some on the company that makes them.

Headway is based in Matsumoto in Nagano, Japan. They are well-known for their guitars here. The venture into ukuleles appears to be a new step for them.

It seems that La Uke ukuleles are manufactured at their factory in Nagano. Unfortunately, I can't yet work out if their Locos are made there or by their sister company, Headway China. I have seen several mentions of guitars being put together in China, but the ukuleles are still a mystery.

I will continue fishing around for information until I find exactly where Locos are made. At worst, I suppose I might have to phone up the company.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Ukulele maker sites

Here is a quick list of some smaller ukulele makers here in Japan.

First, there is Urabe based in Kyoto. He has made a few unusual ukuleles which I hope to report on soon. In case you get tempted, here is his price list. Sorry, folks, the whole thing is in Japanese. The price lists includes materials. The four charts show sopranos, medium-sopranos, concerts, and finally concert-tenor sizes at the bottom of the page.

La Uke's product page has enough English in it to make it readable for the non-Japanese reader. As does the more down-market Loco Ukulele page.

Isana ukuleles can be nice to look at. I have never heard one, so I can not make much comment on sound or playability.

And finally, Ohana, a shop in Osaka, has a page to view some of the more flashy ukuleles they flog.

I apologize for the lengthy absence, work has been very busy. This blog will be seeing more frequent posting again in the very near future. Thanks for the understanding.