Maui Hālau Nā Lei Kaumaka O Uka in a 2011 Photoshoot [Image: Flickr,Peter Liu Photography]

Hawaiian Culture Celebrated in Japan


On September 15th, the winners of two of Hawai‘i’s biggest cultural events took part in a two day celebration of Hawaiian arts with an eager Japanese audience. The Nā Hiwahiwa O Hawai‘i festival, hosted in the Tokyo Dome, brought in Hawaiʻi’s top recording artists and hula halaus. The performers included the best overall hula halau from the 2018 Merrie Monarch Festival, Hālau Nā Lei Kaumaka O Uka of Maui, along with Miss Aloha Hula, Shaila Kamakaokalani. Musical guests included Kimie Miner, the winner of 2018’s Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards Female Vocalist of the Year and Song of the Year. Both the Merrie Monarch Festival and the Nā Hoku Hanohano awards are Hawaiʻi based competitions that serve to promote and preserve Hawaiian cultural practices in hula and music. The Japanese Nā Hiwahiwa O Hawai‘i festival — now in its 10th year — serves as an extension of these efforts.

Hawaiian performing arts are a popular interest in Japan as a result of a deep and multi-faceted relationship. Hula, the Hawaiian dance art, is practiced in Japan as well as Hawaiʻi. Demand for authentic Hawaiian culture is high, with many Hawaiian musicians and hula teachers travelling regularly to Japan as part of their teaching and performing schedules. Immigrants from Japan first arrived in Hawaiʻi 150 years ago and now make up 35% of the Asian American population in Hawaii. According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, Japan is the largest source of international visitors to the state, accounting for $2.26 billion in visitor spending in 2017. Events such as the Nā Hiwahiwa O Hawai‘i festival are an opportunity for a touch of aloha abroad between two deeply intertwined cultures.

Jonathan Banasihan is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington. He is an undergraduate student at American University majoring in International Studies, concentrating in Foreign Policy and National Security in East Asia.

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