Have ukulele, will travel: notes on the Haida 灰田 family

One of my favorite corners of YouTube is videos of old Japanese records being played on vintage phonographs. Reminds me of a time a while back when I was first exposed to pre-war Japanese pop music at the old Hibiya Hall, followed up by a visit to the Setagaya Literary Museum 世田谷文学館 and the wonderful exhibit, Expansion of Metropolis around 1930s 都市から郊外へ : 1930年代の東京 (From city to suburbs: the 1930s Tokyo).

The following video I found more or less randomly, and was struck by the song’s joyful simplicity and Hawaiian vibe. The recording is called Brilliant Constellation 燦めく星座, a 1940 tune by Katsuhiko Haida 灰田勝彦 (1911-1982), a musician and sometime actor who was born in Hawaii in 1911 but spent most of his life in Japan.

Haida and the ukulele

Based on the quality of the song, I’m not surprised to learn that Haida was a pioneer of Hawaiian-music (and ukulele) in Japan, along with older brother Yukihiko Haida (who has been described as the “Father of Hawaiian Music in Japan” and would found the Nihon Ukulele Association 日本ウクレレ協会.) The passage below provides a nice summary, noting that the Haida brothers were born in Hawaii and brought about a “ukulele boom in Japan”, which built upon the 1915 ukulele craze in the United States (due to its showcase in the Hawaiian Building at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco),

From Making Waves: Traveling Musics in Hawai‘i, Asia, and the Pacific (page 178).

This, from The ‘Ukulele A History (page 158), mentions Katsuhiko and older brother Yukihiko, who named their band the Moana Glee Club モアナ・グリー・クラブ.

Hiding the Hawaiian in wartime Japan

The Hawaiian background of the Haida brothers was essential to their role as ukulele evangelists, but this background would prove to be a challenge as the relationship between Japan and the United States soured due to WW2. The Moana Glee Club was forced to drop the explicit Hawaiian-themed name and take on the bland “His Southern Melodeers”. In Japanese sources I see this written as 「灰田晴彦と南の楽団」 Haruhiko Haida & Minami no Gakudan (Haruhiko Haida and the Southern Orchestra). Note that Haruhiko 晴彦 is older brother Yukihiko’s stage name.

From Unthinking Collaboration American Nisei in Transwar Japan, page 86.

Here’s an example recording with the band name (on the last horizontal line of text): 灰田晴彦と南の楽団, which is the aforementioned Haruhiko Haida and the Southern Orchestra (source):

Katsuhiko Haida and The Tokyo File 212 (1951)

I only recently discovered the music of the Haida brothers, but it turns out I’ve already been exposed to Katsuhiko Haida via his acting in the 1951 Japanese-American co-production, Tokyo File 212 東京ファイル212. I have a fondness for this film due to the name’s similarity to the title of my blog, but I also appreciate it for its on-location filming in post-war Tokyo. It’s said to be the first Hollywood movie made in Japan after the war (and was explicitly approved by General MacArthur, who oversaw Japan’s post-war rebuild in his role as Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP)).

This passage from Invasion USA Essays on Anti-Communist Movies of the 1950s and 1960s (page 126) is generally impressed with the film’s ability to capture the chaos of post-war Tokyo while (correctly, in my opinion) placing it on a slightly lower tier than the Kurosawa’s Stray Dog (1949) or Samuel Fuller’s House of Bamboo (1955), both of which are wonderful in their on-location film shoots.

The movie is a spy thriller with a hefty dose of Red Scare propaganda, following an American spy sent to Tokyo, under the guise of a journalist, to locate a Japanese man, Taro Matsudo, a former college friend and Communist sympathizer. Here’s a brief description of Katsuhiko Haida’s role in the film, as noted in Under Foreign Eyes Western Cinematic Adaptations of Postwar Japan, page 110.

The Haida family and how they got there

An interesting element of the Haida brothers is the story of their family’s establishment in Hawaii and subsequent return to Japan.

The father of Katsuhiro and Yukihiko was Katsugoro Haida, a prominent Japanese doctor in Hawaii and one of the first Japanese immigrants to the islands. Here’s an overview of father Katsugoro Haida, from Japanese Doctors in Hawai’i:

As previously noted, Katsuhiko Haida was born in Hawaii in 1911 (in Honolulu), along with his brother (in 1909). Their father passed away in 1920 and the boys traveled with their mother to Japan in 1922 to perform funeral services in Hiroshima, the father’s hometown.

The family had planned to move back to Hawaii following the father’s funeral but just as they were about to leave, the Tokyo area was hit by the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. In the chaos that followed, the family’s luggage and belongings were stolen, and the family was forced to stay in Japan. (Various sources, e.g.)

See also:


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