G'day there, fellow ukulele enthusiasts! Today, we're diving into the fascinating history of Kiwaya, a brand that has been strumming its way through the hearts of music lovers for over a century.
So grab your favorite uke, settle in, and let's embark on this musical journey together.
The Early Days of Kiwaya: A Strum in Time
It's 1919, and the world is a different place. In the heart of Japan, a visionary by the name of Kitaro Okamoto decided to share the joy of music with the masses. He founded "Kihachiya Chikuonki," a company initially focused on selling and repairing gramophones. But Kitaro's dreams were big, and so was his heart for music.
Fast forward to 1955, and the world was experiencing its first Hawaiian ukulele boom. Japan, in the midst of this musical wave, saw the birth of Kiwaya's brand, "Famous."
Ryouji Okamoto, Kitaro's successor, had a dream – to make Kiwaya one of the most renowned ukulele brands in the world.
However, as fate would have it, the Hawaiian craze soon gave way to the tidal wave of Rock music. It was a tough time for ukuleles, and more than 30 manufacturers had to close shop.
But, Ryouji Okamoto was determined. He believed in the ukulele's magic and was committed to seeing it thrive.
Ryouji's Unwavering Passion
Ryouji Okamoto refused to give up on the ukulele, and his dedication was nothing short of inspiring. He went to great lengths to improve the instrument, collaborating with Japanese Hawaiian music players.
He tirelessly promoted ukuleles in small clubs all across Japan and even worked with local authorities to develop music education programs centered around the ukulele.
His efforts didn't stop there.
Ryouji successfully introduced the concept of a "mini-size guitar" using the baritone ukulele's body, but his heart always remained with the ukulele.
In this period, "Famous" stood as the lone ukulele brand in the Japanese market for four whole decades.
Ryouji's persistence paid off in the '90s when ukulele sounds began to trickle into commercial TV ads. Instead of just Hawaiian music, Jazz and Pop were taking center stage, thanks in part to the influence of Herb Ohta, a jazz ukulele maestro.
The ukulele seeds that Ryouji had planted were finally starting to bloom.
Famous: The Japanese Standard Ukulele
The turning point came with a TV program titled "How to Play Ukulele," which caused Famous' sales to soar higher than ever before. After enduring a long ukulele winter, Famous fulfilled its dream of becoming the Japanese standard ukulele, a beloved best-seller.
A New Era: Kiwaya's Evolution
In 2002, Ryouji passed the torch to his daughter, Kyoko Hara, who became the CEO of Kiwaya.
Kyoko had big plans...
She expanded the KIWAYA Ukulele School, initiated in 1998, which now boasts 40 classes and over 400 students.
In 1999, she launched the KIWAYA website and started the Ukulele contest, later renewed as the "Ukulele Online Contest" in 2018. In 2004, Kyoko founded the KIWAYA Ukulele Museum, lovingly named "RAKU."
One of her standout achievements was the introduction of ukulele lending services, aiming to share the joy of playing ukulele with as many people as possible, all for free.
Kyoko's mission was clear:
"I would like to have anybody experience the joy of playing the ukulele."
Through these initiatives, she opened the doors to countless individuals and spread the magic of ukuleles within local communities.
Kyoko also collaborated with the new generation of ukulele craftsmen and launched various ukuleles under the company's brand, such as Luna (Artist Series) and KIWAYA (Strummer). She transformed the company into a specialized ukulele powerhouse.
A Legacy of Popularization
All these efforts did not go unnoticed. In 2006, Ryouji Okamoto was inducted into the Oral History project of the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants), recognizing his significant contribution to popularizing the ukulele in Japan.
Kyoko firmly believes in KIWAYA's unique place in Japanese ukulele history and its role in nurturing ukulele culture.
She has a clear message for ukulele lovers worldwide – "Offering Happiness through the Ukulele." Her aim is to promote "Made in Japan ukuleles" in the global ukulele market.
A Centennial Celebration and Beyond
Kiwaya's remarkable journey reached a monumental milestone in 2019 when they celebrated their 100th anniversary. Ryouji was the visionary who planted the seeds of ukulele culture, and Kyoko has been the dedicated gardener nurturing its growth.
Fast forward to 2020, and under the leadership of the fourth president, Michihiro Hayashi, Kiwaya embarked on a new chapter.
Their mission remains steadfast: to make people's lives happier through the enchanting melodies of the little four-stringed wonder, the ukulele.
So, mate, there you have it – the incredible history of Kiwaya, a company that has weathered storms and celebrated triumphs while sharing the joy of the ukulele with the world.
Kiwaya Strummer Series Solid Mahogany Tenor Ukulele KPT-1M/E
Kiwaya Strummer Series Solid Hawaiian Koa Concert Ukulele KPC-1K
Kiwaya Eco Series Hawaiian Koa Tenor Ukulele KT-5G
Now, here's a little something to make your day even brighter – The 15% discount on Kiwaya ukuleles is still up for grabs!
But remember, this offer ends tonight at midnight. Head over to Kiwaya collection, find your dream Kiwaya uke, enter the code: STRUM15 at checkout and let's keep strumming and spreading the happiness. Cheers and happy strumming!