MIA member Mark Pugh (Stones Music) sent us this news:
We recently learned of the sad passing of Ryoji Okamoto, president of Kiwaya Ukuleles from 1955 – 2002. Ryoji’s steadfast devotion to the instrument saw the company continue to produce and promote the instrument throughout every wave of the ukulele’s popularity – at one time Kiwaya was the only producer of ukuleles in Japan, when the rest of the world was going guitar crazy.
Throughout this time, Ryoji Okamoto devoted himself to personally inspecting every instrument from the production line. He met with many Japanese Hawaiian music players in order to improve the quality of the instruments, he sold to ukulele clubs all over Japan and he went to see local authorities in order to develop music education programs using and promoting the ukulele.
Ryoji’s daughter Kyoko Hara, took over as the company’s president in 2002, when Ryoji became CEO, and, in 2019, the company celebrated its Centenary. Ryoji was very much involved in the business right up to his passing in December 2021.
His 2006 contribution to NAMM’s Oral History Project can be seen here: https://www.namm.org/library/oral-history/ryoji-okamoto
Kiwaya instruments became available in the UK for the first time through a dedicated UK distributor, Stones Music, in 2018.