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Aloha Yokohama marks Hawaii’s 50th

by Minoru Matsutani

Every July, Yokohama hosts Aloha Yokohama, featuring authentic Hawaiian music, hula dances, food and cultural events.

This year was special because it marked the 50th year since Hawaii became a state and the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Yokohama port. To celebrate the special year, the event was held for five days starting July 22, two days longer than past years, said Aloha Yokohama 2009 Organizing Committee official Sachiko Miyazaki.

Visitors to the eighth annual event rose to 360,000 from 310,000 last year.

The event, held at several venues in central Yokohama including the Osanbashi Pier and Landmark Tower, featured hula dances and ukulele performances, including one by Konishiki, the Hawaii-born former ozeki sumo wrestler.

Shops selling authentic Hawaiian clothing and food were prominent. Hula performances were almost nonstop from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Osanbashi Pier, with Hawaiian foods like Loco Moco available from start to finish

For some, finding the event was a matter of serendipity. Ralf Schubert, 53, from Germany and Gabriela Broenimann, 46, from Switzerland dropped by at the Osanbashi Pier, an international passenger ship terminal, during their 13-day trip from Osaka to Tokyo.

“We went to Kyoto, Mount Fuji and then all the sudden we see something totally Hawaiian in Yokohama,” Schubert said. “We walked in by accident, but it’s nice to see hula dances.”

Canadian Robert Baldwin, who has lived in Japan for more than 30 years, enjoyed the event on his way back from a trip to Iwoto Island to see the total solar eclipse July 22.

“When I got off a ship at Osanbashi Pier, a group of girls there told me about this event. They said I should stop by, so here I am,” Baldwin said. Those girls were hula dancers, he added.

“I never thought about Hawaii being 50 years old, but if you tell me, yeah, that’s right,” he said.

Hawaiian male duo Michael Kailipunohu Canopin and Alex Gnos, who live in Osaka, came to Yokohama with Canopin’s hula students, who performed the dance for the event. Canopin runs a hula school in Osaka and Gnos, who has a day job elsewhere, plays ukulele.

“It’s amazing the way Japanese embrace Hawaii. It’s great Japanese like Hawaii so much,” Canopin said. “I miss Hawaiian food and culture sometimes, but it’s all here.”

A number of merchants flew in from Hawaii to open shops at the event.

Lana Ozaki, a Honolulu resident of Japanese descent, is traveling around Japan with her mother from April to August to take part in similar events.

“We don’t have shops in Hawaii. We just do this in Japan,” Ozaki, who has attended Aloha Yokohama events for the past six years, said at her clothing and accessories shop. “When we receive orders, we send goods from Hawaii.”

Previously, the event had few shops run by Hawaiians, so the event organizer asked Ozaki to take part six years ago, she said.

Other performers included Boo Takagi, a comedian and ukulele player, and Raiatea Helm, a Hawaiian music star and the first Hawaiian female solo artist to be nominated for a Grammy Award with her second album “Sweet and Lovely.”

“Hawaii is a paradise visited by about 1.2 million Japanese tourists,” according to Hawaii Tourism Japan representative Takashi Ichikura, who is quoted in the Aloha Yokohama 2009 pamphlet. “2009 is a special year when Hawaii became the 50th state in America 50 years ago. I hope everyone will come to Hawaii’s attraction at the Aloha Yokohama and they come to Hawaii next time to celebrate a special time together.”

Yokohama hosts the event because of close ties between the city and Hawaii, committee official Miyazaki said. In 1881, Hawaiian king Kalakaua visited Yokohama as the first Hawaiian leader to enter Japan. The two venues have since had active exchanges of people and cultures.

The event was sponsored by the city of Yokohama, the Port of Yokohama Promotion Association, Hawaii Tourism Japan, TV Kanagawa, FM Yokohama and other companies and organizations.