Steel Trappings

Steel Guitar Chronicles

Hawaiian Steel Guitar and Japan

February 1, 2024 • Geronimo "Geri" ValdrizSteel Guitar History

"HAWAIIAN STEEL" is a weekly radio program that spotlights the Hawaiian steel guitar masters from the past to the present. "The Steel Guitar Chronicles" is a monthly feature of the show that tells the stories, history, and origin of Kīkā Kila.

This month we look at the story of the Hawaiian Steel guitar and Japan.

The history of Hawaiian music in Japan can be traced to March 9, 1881, when King David Kalakaua landed at Yokohama and was welcomed by a Japanese military band playing Hawai‘i Pono‘i.

However, the first time that a Hawaiian music group played in Japan was 1914 when Helen Makela, her musicians and hula dancers performed in Tokyo.

Credit for the early development of Hawaiian music in Japan goes to two brothers, Katsuhiko and Yukihiko Haida. Both were born and raised in Hawai‘i, but went to Japan in 1922 to bring home the ashes of their deceased father. They never returned to Hawai‘i.

Katsuhiko and Yukihiko Haida

In 1929 the Haida brothers formed the Moana Glee Club&nsash;a combination orchestra and chorus with 22 singers and 24 musicians. The Club members performed at dances, parties and concerts throughout Japan. They also recorded Hawaiian music and appeared regularly on the radio.

Moana Glee Club

The Moana Glee Club exerted profound influence on the early development of Hawaiian music in Japan by exposing Hawaiian music to Japanese audiences and training Japanese musicians to play it.

Next to the Haida brothers, the man who most influenced the development of Hawaiian music in Japan was Buckie Shirakata, the steel guitarist and bandleader.

Buckie was born and raised in Hawai‘i and went to Japan in 1935. He learned to play the steel guitar mostly by listening to Sol Ho‘opi‘i in person and on records. He brought the first electric steel guitar to Japan, a Rickenbacher A22 Frying Pan! Buckie formed the Aloha Hawaiian Trio and his successful musical career spanned over 40 years. It included numerous concert, radio, television appearances, and studio recordings. He recorded with his own group as well as with Ray King's Hawaiians, the Aloha Hawaiians, and many others.

Buckie Shirikata and His Aloha Hawaiians

During the War years Hawaiian music came to a halt. However, it was revived after Japan's surrender in 1945. Hawaiian musicians began touring in Japan again and local Japanese players had direct contact with them.

In post-war World war II Japan, the steel guitar was the signature sound of Hawaiian music. The steel guitar masters and their groups include Makoto Shiraishi and Na Lei O Hawaiians, Poss Miyazaki and the Coney Islanders, Setsuo Ohashi and the Honey Islanders, and Tatsuo Otsuka and the Palm Serenaders.

Today the steel guitar in Japan is not as popular as its heyday in the 1950s–1960s. Hula is more popular today. However, Kīkā Kila is currently making a comeback in the land of the rising sun!

Today's players include Kiyoshi "Lion" Kobayashi, Yoshi Niihachi, Shinichi Kakiuchi, Hiro Yamazaki, and many others! Tadashi Arakawa, another well-known steel guitarist from Japan, passed away in 2022.

And that ends the "Steel Guitar Chronicles" for this month, with more stories, history, and the origin of the Hawaiian Steel Guitar to come! Ka ua e ho‘okani ka kīkā kila!

"Hawaiian Steel" with Geri Valdriz is broadcast live every Tuesday from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm (HST) on Mana‘o Radio, Wailuku, Maui, Hawai‘i, KMNO, 91.7FM on the radio dial.

You can catch it on the air, or streaming live at www.manaoradio.com. Listeners can also access our online archives to enjoy previously recorded programs at your convenience. Just search "Listen on Demand" for past shows.

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HIMELE Events

2024 Festivals and Workshops
Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festival at Ka Makana Ali‘i
February 17, 2024 – 11:00 AM - 3:00 PM HST
Ka Makana Ali‘i Shopping Center, Kapolei

Kona Steel Guitar Festival
April 4-6, 2024
Outrigger Kona Resort and Spa, Keauhou, Hawai‘i

Kaua‘i Steel Guitar Festival
May 11, 2024 – 12:00 Noon - 4:00 PM HST
Kukui Grove Center, Lihue, Hawai‘i

Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festival at Windward Mall
June 8, 2024 – 11:00 AM - 4:00 PM HST
Windward Mall, Kāne‘ohe (O‘ahu), Hawai‘i

Royal Hawaiian Center Presents Waikīkī Steel Guitar Week (July 10-15, 2023)
July 8-13, 2024 – 5:30 PM - 6:30 PM HST
Royal Grove Stage, Royal Hawaiian Center, Waikīkī (O‘ahu), Hawai‘i

Royal Hawaiian Center Presents Japan-Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festival
July 12, 2024 – 4:00 PM - 6:30 PM HST
Royal Grove Stage, Royal Hawaiian Center, Waikīkī (O‘ahu), Hawai‘i

Royal Hawaiian Center Presents Waikīkī Steel Guitar Festival
July 13, 2024 – 11:00 AM - 2:00 PM and 4:00 PM - 6:30 PM HST
Royal Grove Stage, Royal Hawaiian Center, Waikīkī (O‘ahu), Hawai‘i

Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festival Keiki Kine at Kahala Mall
August 17, 2024 – 11:00 AM - 1:00 PM HST (tentative)
Kahala Mall, Honolulu, Hawai‘i

Maui Steel Guitar Festival
October 19, 2024 – 3:00 PM - 7:00 PM HST
The Shops at Wailea, Wailea, Hawai‘i

2024 Hawaiian Steel Guitar Showcase Livestream Broadcasts

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All broadcasts originate from the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Showcase Facebook Page and YouTube Channel.


Kona Steel Guitar Festival
April 6, 2024 Ho‘olaule‘a concert – 12:00 Noon - 3 PM and 5 PM - 8 PM HST

Royal Hawaiian Center Presents Japan-Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festival
July 12, 2024 Ho‘olaule‘a concert – 4:00 PM - 6:30 PM HST


Royal Hawaiian Center Presents Waikīkī Steel Guitar Festival
July 13, 2024 Ho‘olaule‘a concert – 11:00 AM - 2:30 PM and 4:00 PM - 6:30 PM HST


Other Events
2024 AISGC Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festival *
July 25-27, 2024 – Towne Square Community Center, Winchester, IN
* Registration Fee Required

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About HIMELE
HIMELE is a Hawai‘i non-profit corporation that supports music enrichment and education for people of all ages. Our purpose is to educate, promote, and perpetuate Hawaiian music, Hawaiian culture and Hawaiian musical instruments.

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