The Hula Girls of Iwaki Yumoto Onsen

A town on the eastern coast of Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, is probably the last place that you would expect to find a Polynesian Hula Girl Show.

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But since the 1960s, Spa Resort Hawaiians (a resort complex, home to countless spas, swimming pools, hotels and the world’s largest open-air bath) has been the venue for Polynesian dance performances.

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I was quite confused by the concept of Spa Resort Hawaiians… I couldn’t comprehend why you might want to go to somewhere themed as a Hawaiian resort if you were coming to Japan… but after learning a little about the history of the resort, I realised it is a pretty interesting place after all.

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Iwaki used to be a thriving mining town, with the majority of local workers involved in the industry, but as a result of the shift in demand from coal to oil during the 1960s, the future of the local area was thrown into uncertainty.

To tackle this issue, the influential local company Joban Mining Co. decided to open the Hawaii-themed resort, in order to provide jobs for locals, and to allow many Japanese who couldn’t afford to travel abroad a chance to experience a vacation in another country! It soon became a famous family-holiday resort across Japan.

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The story was even turned into a film in 2006!

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Grand Polynesian Shows and Knife Fire Dance Shows are held every day, with seats available to both guests and those who are visiting for the day. The performance was one hour long, and was really fun and engaging. I particularly enjoyed the topless, oily men juggling fire…

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I couldn’t help but break into a smile whilst watching the girls’ dancing. I even briefly daydreamed about learning how to hula dance, and joining them onstage.

I soon snapped out of my daydream and found myself mildly horrified when the girls called for participants to join them, as my boss was egging me to go on stage! I wasn’t brave enough this time, but maybe next time…

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In the evening, I stayed at Ryokan Koito, and was lucky enough to meet three members of the Hula Okami group (Okami translates as ‘hotel proprietress’, but that doesn’t slip off the tongue quite so easily).

These are a group of ladies who own or manage ryokan (Japanese inns), who have found inspiration from the story of Iwaki’s Hula Girls. In turn, they have decided to start their own group, and to begin performing a traditional local dance across the country in order to revive their local area, in the same way as Spa Resort Hawaiians did when it originally opened in 1966.

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Instead of creating jobs at a hotel, they are establishing and spreading interest in the fun, lively community of Iwaki Yumoto Onsen town.

They’re dancing in the hope of increasing tourism in the area they love, and to show the rest of Japan (and the world) that, despite the damage of the tsunami five years ago, the town is alive and moving forward.

Having had the opportunity to speak to Ms. Koito about the Hula Okami, and what she hopes the group will achieve, I was really moved by her passion to do anything she can to support Iwaki, and to revive tourism in the area.

They perform every month outside Yumoto Onsen Station, and have also danced in other venues across Japan. I really hope that I’ll get a chance to go and watch them perform next month!

You can read more about Spa Resort Hawaiians here.

 

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