Virtual Talk--Paradise Calls: Hawaiian ‘Ukulele and Contemporary Japanese Dreams

Ayako Mizumura Announcement
Kansas, United States
Subject Fields
Asian American History / Studies, Asian History / Studies, East Asian History / Studies, Japanese History / Studies, Anthropology

The Center for East Asian Studies at University of Kansas invites you to the 2021 Grant K. Goodman Distinguished Lecture in Japanese Studies. Our guest speaker for this year is Dr. Christine Yano, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Hawai`i. This is a virtual event and registration is required.


Date: Thursday, April 15 at 6:00 - 7:30 PM CST, via zoom.

Online Registration:






In contemporary Japan, the small, four-stringed ‘ukulele with origins in the Portuguese island of Madera joins other pieces of associated Hawaiiana, from hula, steel guitar, and slack key guitar, to surfing and (improbably) pancakes, in an ongoing Hawai`i boom that began in the 1990s.  Within that boom, Hawai`i and its associated arts represent a site of paradisical iyashi (healing) for practitioners, fans, and the general public. Kiwaya Inc., the major ukulele manufacturer and distributor in Japan, goes beyond healing to more generalized emotional well-being in dubbing the instrument the “sound of happiness.” That “happiness” comes in a small foreign package, in terms of physical size and sound, prompting some Japanese observers to dub the ‘ukulele as kawaii (cute).  Exotic?  Perhaps, but feminized and miniaturized, as kawaii. This paper asks, how does the ukulele represent such utopic qualities that lend itself as an instrument of healing, happiness, and cuteness?  How does the very materiality of the instrument – sonically, physically – invoke a utopic paradise?  And how do issues of scale link utopia in this Japanese context to notions of size?  By analyzing multiple dimensions involved in the creation of this music-based utopia, I bring to bear the tensions, conflicts, and creative possibilities that constitute ‘ukulele culture in 21st century Japan.  Furthermore, this paper analyzes ways by which this sonic form of Global Japan constitutes a critical component of the personal.


About the speaker

Christine R. Yano, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Hawai`i, has conducted research on Japan and Japanese Americans with a focus on popular culture. In 2020-2021 she serves as the President of the Association for Asian Studies. She has written numerous books on a variety of topics from sentimental songs to beauty queens to flight attendants to Hello Kitty.  Her latest research is the transnational fandom surrounding the Hawaiian `ukulele, with a focus on Japan. 

Contact Information

Ayako Mizumura

Center for East Asian Studies

University of Kansas





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