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Hula draws visitors from across the sea

WAIPOULI — Hula is a big draw for the Japanese, and on Wednesday night, one of the biggest names in Japanese hula came to congratulate Mayor-elect Bernard Carvalho.

Kaleinani Hayakawa, proclaimed the Ambassador of Hula in 1978 by then-Hawai‘i governor George Ariyoshi, is no stranger to Kaua‘i, having formed the annual Kaleinani Fete, a hula festival that played at large-capacity resorts such as the Grand Hyatt Kaua‘i Resort and Spa, the Kaua‘i Marriott Resort and Beach Club.

But several years after retiring the festival from Kaua‘i, she came to renew her bond with the island and the banner which had been retired, was flown again on the walls of the dining room at the ResortQuest Kaua‘i Beach at Maka‘iwa.

“Her primary purpose was to come and congratulate Mayor-elect Carvalho,” said Art Umezu, the Kaua‘i film commissioner. “But she misses the hula here and is planning on returning with halau for more hula festivals.”

Hayakawa, who was the inspiration for “Hula Girl,” a four Japan Academy Award-winning film in 2006, was portrayed in the film as the hula instructor who overcame obstacles to create a new life for Iwaki, a northern Japanese coal-mining town that was facing unemployment in 1965 due to reduced use of coal, as oil became the predominant energy resource in Japan.

As the saga of the transformation of the coal mining town becoming a resort destination unfolded, capitalizing on the hot springs which were a plague to the coal miners, more connections to Kaua‘i were being forged.

“When Mayor Bryan Baptiste was elected, Hayakawa came within the first month of his being elected,” Umezu said. “Now she’s here to congratulate Mayor-elect Carvalho.”

But beyond the protocol, Chris Faye, a well-known Westside artist and writer, was on hand as one of the characters she designed, Kaimana (based on a popular hula tune “Kaimana Hila”) is one of the main attractions of the Spa Resorts Hawaiian, a big visitor destination in Iwaki City.

Joining Faye were a collection of musicians and dancers who have, at one time or another, visited the Spa Resorts Hawaiian to perform while being ambassadors of Kaua‘i. They were joined by some of the 26 hula dancers from the Japanese resort who accompanied Hayakawa and performed in true pa‘ina fashion at the Waipouli resort’s dining room.

More recently, Umezu said the Spa Resorts Hawaiian revamped their entertainment lineup, and among the group of 26 hula dancers, the lead solo dancer for the troupe was in attendance to get more experience in the Hawaiian culture.

That comes when the group spends time with students and staff at Ke Kula o Ni‘ihau in Kekaha before leaving the island, Umezu said.

Daphne Sanchez, a student at Kapa‘a High School, returned from a trip after performing at Spa Resorts Hawaiian over the summer when Kaimana was unveiled. Sanchez performed the song developed for the character, drawing accolades from the resort and city leaders and was invited to revisit the city.

Kevin Matsunaga and his student video crew at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School developed a video loop of a hula dancer at the former Coco Palms Resort which plays continuously during the operating hours of the resort, Umezu said.

Additionally, the resort opened the only hula museum in the world, and on that occasion, a special tile created by Joanna Carolan and the staff at the Banana Patch Studio in Hanapepe was presented to the Japanese by Baptiste.

“It is the centerpiece of the museum and is the first thing you see when you enter,” Umezu, who had just returned from Japan, said. “Mayor Baptiste was supposed to attend the opening of the museum, but with the passing of Rosie Bukoski, sent Kaui Tanaka to represent Kaua‘i.”

The melding of peoples separated by thousands of miles of ocean through the Hawaiian culture was evident as Troy Lazaro of the Marriott Waiohai Beach Club led a group of dancers through a sit-down version of “Pearly Shells.”

Iwaki City has sent numerous groups to Kaua‘i through the year, Umezu said. This gesture is in line with the promotion of tourism in Asia currently being undertaken by Governor Linda Lingle.

In late September, an Iwaki City group of hula dancers came to Kaua‘i to take in the hula competition at the Mokihana Festival, followed several weeks later by another group who participated in the annual Matsuri event coordinated by the Kaua‘i Japanese Cultural Society.

In a Web article released Wednesday on the “Around Hawai‘i” page of the Time Warner Cable Web site, there are 250,000 hula students and 220 hula halau in Japan. Additionally, there are 230 cultural schools, 1,230 community centers and 2,164 gymnasiums in Japan where hula is being practiced.

That data was from research data from a 2004 Ikaros Publications story published in Satekina Hula Style Magazine and reprinted in Pacific Business News in November 2007.

For more information, visit the Around Town Web site at


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