Fukushima #5: Hula Dance (フラダンス)

Hula Dance?! In Fukushima, Japan?! You might be pretty confused as to why the hula girls of the Spa Resort Hawaiians in Iwaki are on a postcard depicting famous things from Japan, but let me tell you the history of the resort and a story, and I think you’ll agree they deserve a postcard too!

Originally called the Joban Hawaiian Center, Spa Resort Hawaiians is a resort and theme park originally built in the 1960’s as a way to utilize the hot springs of a once-prominent coal mine which was becoming obsolete in the face of oil becoming more popular as a major source of energy. The Joban Company came up with the idea of using the hot springs in a resort, and chose a Hawaiian theme. It was the first in the country.

You can’t have a Hawaiian themed resort without hula girls, right? Most places at that time hired outside troupes, but Joban wanted to keep things in-house… so the company trained up the daughters of its miners to perform. The company kept its miner employees and their families instead of hiring outside the company, promoted area ryokan (traditional Japanese style hotels), and bought locally as much as possible to help the town’s economy recover from the loss of the coal business. The hula girls went on a performance journey through Japan to promote the resort, and as a result, the opening was a huge success (The girls’ stories were even made into a popular movie, Hula Girls).

On March 11, 2011 a huge 9.0 earthquake hit off the coast of the Tohoku Region, causing damage throughout the region and the initial earthquake and aftershocks to be felt down through the Kanto region and up as far as Hokkaido. 30 minutes after the first quake hit, a giant tsunami hit the coastline of Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima Prefectures, causing widespread death and destruction to the region. Moreover, due to the proximity to the sea, the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant also suffered damage, and one of its cores suffered a meltdown.

The Spa Resort Hawaiians was damaged, mostly by the aftershocks, and had to close. The resort also worried about even being able to reopen, as fear about the radiation from the plant meltdown had people reluctant to visit the entirety of Fukushima, despite the damage being confined to a small area of the prefecture. Remembering their successful tour when the resort first opened, the Hula Girls of the Spa Resort Hawaiians once again toured the country, bringing hope and happiness to people in the aftermath of a devastating disaster. They also visited several evacuation centers to lift spirits of those most affected by the quake and tsunami, and are therefore seen as a symbol of hope to the people of Tohoku. So while it is perhaps a little odd to see hula on a postcard about famous things from Japan, they’ve definitely earned their spot!

The Hula Girls aren’t usually on tour, so if you’re interested in visiting them and seeing a show, head over to Iwaki and The Spa Resort Hawaiians to catch them. You can also enjoy a waterpark, relax at a traditional style Japanese hot spring, and enjoy the resort’s facilities including getting your own hula dance lessons!

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