Songs of Japanese Plantation Workers Focus of UH West Oahu Documentary

University of Hawaiʻi-West Oʻahu
Julie Funasaki Yuen, (808) 689-2604
Public Information Officer
Posted: Sep 9, 2015

Canefield workers posing 1919.  Photo courtesy of the Barbara Kawakami Collection
Canefield workers posing 1919. Photo courtesy of the Barbara Kawakami Collection

This September, PBS Hawaii will air Canefield Songs: Holehole Bushi, a compelling documentary about the songs of Japanese immigrant workers sung while laboring in Hawaiʻi’s sugar plantations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Hosted and narrated by ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro, Canefield Songs: Holehole Bushi will air on PBS Hawaii on September 17 at 9 p.m. with a sneak preview screening of the documentary on Tuesday, September 15 from noon to 1:30 p.m. in the UH West Oʻahu Library ʻUluʻulu Archive Exhibition Space.

Called holehole (Hawaiian for dried cane leaves) bushi (Japanese for melody or tune), the songs are an intimate record of the workers’ joys, sorrows, and challenges, and provide a fascinating window into early plantation life.

Canefield Songs: Holehole Bushi was co-produced by the University of Hawaiʻi-West Oʻahu Center for Labor Education and Research and PBS Hawaii. The production team included Executive Producer and Writer Chris Conybeare; Producer/Director Joy Chong-Stannard; and Franklin Odo, former UH West Oʻahu distinguished visiting scholar, founding director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Asian Pacific American Program and former acting chief of the Asian division at the Library of Congress.

For more on Canefield Songs: Holehole Bushi, and to view the promotional video, go to:


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Canefield Songs: Holehole Bushi is part of The Canefields Songs Project that seeks to preserve and protect the legacy of holehole bushi as part of Hawaiʻi’s plantation history. The Canefield Songs Project includes Voices from the Canefields, a book about holehole bushi by Franklin Odo; a sugar plantation website designed by UH West Oʻahu Creative Media students, and the preservation and digitization of historic video interviews with original plantation workers. The Canefield Songs Project is generously supported by The Smithsonian Institution, Arthur A. Rutledge Endowment for Labor Studies, Bank of Hawaii Foundation, Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaiʻi, and Farmers Insurance Hawaii. A portion of the archival footage was supported by a grant from the Hawaiʻi Council for the Humanities.