Water Park at Spa Resort Hawaiians
Water Park at Spa Resort Hawaiians.

Updated: Oct. 11, 2020 (First posted in June 2012)

Spa Resort Hawaiians (スパリゾートハワイアンズ) is a Hawaiian-themed water park and hot spring (onsen) amusement park in the coastal city of Iwaki in Fukushima Prefecture. It centers on the Water Park housed in a huge indoor dome built in 1966.

The Water Park has water slides, large and small pools, Hawaiian shops, restaurants, and a stage and seating for hula and Polynesian dance shows. Locally, Spa Resort Hawaiians is simply called, “Hawaiians.”

All the water in the Water Park is hot spring water at lukewarm temperatures. The entire dome is heated to tropical temperatures even in winter. Visitors can stroll around the complex in swimsuits or fully-clothed with or without footwear.

Adjacent to the Water Park are segregated hot spring baths for men and women. This is where the word “Spa” in Spa Resort Hawaiians comes from. You bathe in the nude in indoor or outdoor onsen baths. The outdoor bath has an Edo Period-style design and touted as the world’s largest outdoor hot spring bath (roten-buro 露天風呂).

Indoor public bath facilities for shampooing and body washing and showers and a sauna are also provided. Note that the hot spring water (and tap water) has no detectable amounts of cesium or other radiation. Totally safe.

Twice a day, the famous Spa Resort Hawaiians hula girls perform a Polynesian dance show at the Beach Theater inside the Water Park. There is an afternoon show and an evening show. Both shows include crowd-pleasing fire knife dancers (more dramatic during the evening show when it’s dark). Although all the dancers and musicians are Japanese, they are highly trained and the shows are top-notch.

Formerly named Joban Hawaiian Center (常磐ハワイアンセンター), Spa Resort Hawaiians gained renewed fame in 2006 with the hit movie, Hula Girls. Loosely based on how the Joban Hawaiian Center was established, the movie depicts a coal-mining company in the 1960s trying to replace its ailing coal-mining operation with a Hawaiian-themed hot spring amusement park in Iwaki. The park’s main draw would be these hula girls performing on stage. Coal miners’ daughters and wives were recruited and trained to become hula dancers. The comedy movie won many awards including the Japan Academy Prize for Best Picture. (More about the movie below.)

Admission (as of April 2023) is ¥3,570 for junior high and older visitors, ¥2,250 for grade school kids, and ¥1,640 for infants age 3 to 5. (Pricing is higher during peak periods such as spring vacation in early May and July–Aug. summer vacation periods.) It includes admission to the Water Park, hot spring baths, and the Polynesian dance shows. Rides on the large water slides cost extra. Discounted tickets are given to disabled persons, groups of 10 or more, and evening admission from 6 pm. The hours are 10 am to 10 pm (9:30 am to 10 pm on weekends and national holidays).

There are also two main hotels, Hotel Hawaiians and the new Monolith Tower opened in Feb. 2012. Free round-trip bus transportation (Vir Express) from Tokyo Station, Shinjuku Station, Yokohama Station, Matsudo Station, Chiba Station, Nishi-Funabashi Station, Omiya Station, and Saitama Shin-toshin Station is available to hotel guests. This is a good deal when you consider that it costs more than ¥12,380 round trip by express train from Tokyo. This is almost the same cost as the hotel for one person. There is also free shuttle bus service from JR Yumoto Station if you decide to go by train. (See “Getting there” below for details.)

Facilities and Attractions

Water Park at Spa Resort Hawaiians.
Water Park at Spa Resort Hawaiians.

I visited Spa Resort Hawaiians for the first time in mid-February 2012 shortly after they repaired the earthquake damage and fully re-opened the Water Park on Feb. 8, 2012. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and found the whole place a lot bigger and more impressive than I had expected.

When you arrive at the Water Park, there is a ticket booth at the front entrance to buy admission tickets. I bought my ticket and went inside, but couldn’t figure out where to go next. There was a stairway so I went up and found the men’s locker room. If you don’t plan to get wet, you can still use the locker to store your coat (in winter) and belongings.

You are free to bring your own swimwear, goggles, inflatable tube, towel, rubber slippers, etc. You can walk around the whole place barefoot in a swimsuit. The floor is totally safe for bare feet. But if you plan to do a lot of walking around, I recommend wearing rubber slippers. Having a towel to cover up when you stand in line at an eatery or watch the hula girls would also be nice. A waterproof case for your cell phone and wallet is essential. Swimsuits, towels, and Aloha wear for adults and kids are available for rent at reasonable prices at a shop called Surfer’s Paradise near the Water Park entrance.

Water Park
Water slide
Water slide.

In the big dome, this is the main attraction with three large water slides (each one is over 100 meters long), a large rectangular pool, a smaller pool and water slide for small kids called Waiwai Ohana, and a long wading pool that swirls around like an elongated doughnut. If you want to dip into any of these, you need a swimsuit. Otherwise, you can just walk or lounge around fully-clothed, shoes and all. There’s no pool where you can swim laps for exercise. It’s all for splashing and frolicking around. Thus, the Water Park is great for kids and family fun.

Note that the water slides cost extra. An all-day pass for all four water slides sells for ¥3,500 in summer. The water slides are open until 7 pm (or 8 pm on weekends and national holidays). You can slide down as fast as 40 kph. One slide provides an inflatable ring to sit or lie on down the slide. Another has a portion that is totally covered (black).

If you go during the colder months, the Water Park is a real oasis that makes you forget about the cold. The entire Water Park dome is heated to tropical temperatures (around 28˚C) and the water (all from a hot spring) too. In February, it was a real relief for me to totally forget about the winter cold for a few hours.

When you want to take a break from the water, there are a number of eateries, a buffet restaurant, and gift shops along an alley called Aloha Town with a colorful, Hawaiian-style facade. Japanese-style relaxation rooms are also available on the upper floor for rent for groups.

Note that they do not allow entry to yakuza, anyone with large tattoos, and heavily intoxicated persons. Pets (except seeing-eye dogs), coolers, drinks, and food are not allowed although they don’t check your bags.

Hula shows at the Beach Theater
Beach Theater
Beach Theater

Another main attraction is the Polynesian dance shows performed daily by the eye-catching Spa Resort Hawaiians hula girls at the open-air Beach Theater in a corner of the Water Park.

In the evening, they perform the “Grand Polynesian Show.” The afternoon and evening shows are slightly different, but both feature hula, Samoan (fire knife dances), New Zealand Maori poi balls (glows in the dark), and Tahitian dancing.

The evening show’s Tahitian dance is the same one seen in the Hula Girls movie. The afternoon show has a different Tahitian number. The crowd pleaser in both shows is the fire knife dance from Samoa. It is certainly more dramatic in the evening when it’s dark. The fire knife dancers are Japanese, but they are highly trained and as skilled as any Samoan fire knife dancers I’ve ever seen.

Both Polynesian shows are free (included in the admission price), but premium seating costs extra (includes one drink). People in the front-row seats on the first floor (SS seats) have the option to take a picture together with two of the dancers after the show. Tickets for premium seating are available at the ticket counter near the theater. The free seats are further away from the stage and there is also standing room at the back. Photography of the shows is not allowed. If you’re there on a day trip and want to see the evening show, be sure to check your bus and/or train schedule home. It might be too late to catch the last bus or train home if you stay for the evening show.

I only saw the afternoon show and thought it was great. The dancers were very good and highly synchronized. The costumes were colorful and all the girls were pretty and smiling nicely. There is also a solo dancer who is the leader of the dance troupe. The live band was good, but since they are all Japanese, the pronunciation of English songs inevitably had a Japanese accent.

Also in the afternoon and evening, a few hula girls go on stage to give free hula lessons to kids and adults.

Hula girls and entertainers
Official video of Tahitian dance ʻōteʻa.

The Spa Resort Hawaiians hula girls are officially and plainly named, “Spa Resort Hawaiians Dancing Team.” Everyone calls them hula girls, but they also dance Tahitian and other Polynesian dances. There are around 30 of them, plus four male fire knife dancers and six Hawaiian band musicians. They are all Japanese and the prominent poster faces of Spa Resort Hawaiians.

The hula girls have a leader, two assistant leaders, and three other solo dancers. Most of them hail from Fukushima Prefecture. A few of them were affected by the no-go zone around the nuclear power plants and had to move out of their homes and towns following 3/11.

To become a hula girl at Spa Resort Hawaiians, you have to be no older than age 22, at least 158 cm tall, and pass a written exam and interview. If you pass the tough screening process, you become a full-time employee and undergo a two-year training program at the Joban Music and Dance Academy (常磐音楽舞踊学院) that is affiliated with Spa Resort Hawaiians. Around 5 or 6 recruits are selected and from April, they undergo rigorous dance lessons and practice every day.

Besides hula and Tahitian dances, the curriculum includes jazz dancing and classical ballet lessons. They consider classical ballet as the basis of all dances, although I’ve never heard of hula students having to learn ballet before taking up hula. But ballet will definitely make their bodies more flexible and supple. They also learn how to apply make-up, make their own small implements such as poi balls and the haku head lei. The dance costumes are tailor-made to fit the body.

They even take ukulele lessons and study tea ceremony and ikebana flower arrangement. The girls attend classes every day from 10 am to 5 pm and only have Sunday off. After three months of training, they appear in Spa Resort Hawaiians hula shows from July.

The girls are trained by a Japanese instructor who was a former student at the Academy and a Spa Resort Hawaiians hula girl. After they graduate, they sign a contract to be a dancer for Spa Resort Hawaiians. Each graduating group of hula girls are labeled according to the numerical order of graduating classes. Instead of saying “Class of 2014,” they say “Dai-48 kisei” (第48期生) which means the 48th group of students.

The girls typically dance for about 10 years and most retire while still in their 20s. A few of them become solo dancers and are given a Hawaiian name. The Hawaiian name is given internally, for example by the first hula dancer at Spa Resort Hawaiians. As far as I can tell, they seem to work within their own hula world and philosophy without receiving advice from hula people in Hawaii.

The fire knife dancers have one leader and they are highly trained as well. Part of their job is to keep fit by having macho-looking muscles. So they lift weights and work out regularly as part of their jobs.

The musicians work only at Spa Resort Hawaiians. The current group leader (as of 2012) has been doing it for over 30 years.

Besides the regular Hawaiians entertainers, special guests and entertainers also perform at the Water Park or Beach Theater. They could be comedians or even an aerial trapeze act.

Hot springs
Spa Garden Pareo
Spa Garden Pareo

Spa Resort Hawaiians uses natural hot spring waters. There are people (like the elderly folk) who go to Hawaiians just for the hot springs for therapeutic purposes. There are diverse hot spring baths to relax in. All the amenities are provided like Jacuzzi baths, hinoki cypress tubs, pelting showers, sauna, cold baths, fresh water showers, and hair dryers. It’s all included in the admission price (except for Vir Port described below).

As a single facility, Spa Resort Hawaiians uses the largest amount of hot spring water in Japan, a whopping 3.5 tons per minute. The hot spring water is piped in from a spring called Iwaki Yumoto Onsen located 5.8 km away. Normally, the quality of the hot spring water degrades as it travels longer distances due to oxidation. However, since Spa Resort Hawaiians uses so much water, there is hardly any air inside the pipe it travels through. Thus, the hot spring water is quite fresh when it arrives at the resort.

Along with Dogo Onsen Spa in Ehime Prefecture and Arima Onsen Spa in Hyogo, Iwaki Yumoto Onsen is one of Japan’s three oldest hot springs. The hot spring comes from the water heated by the friction of the Eurasian and Pacific tectonic plates deep underground. The water is 58.1˚C when it gushes out at an astounding rate of 5 tons per minute.

Various minerals dissolve into the water, namely sulfur and chloride. Spa Resort Hawaiians is unusual in that you can enjoy both sulfur and chloride spring waters. Sulfur spring water helps to relieve adult diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure. It is also good for the skin. Chloride spring water helps you retain body heat for a long time even after you bathe. It also makes the body more buoyant, making you feel more relaxed. Most of the spring waters at Spa Resort Hawaiians are sulfur.

Connected to the Water Park are a few hot spring facilities. Just look for the large “Spring Park” sign inside the Water Park. A short indoor walk brings you to Spring Town which has shallow hot spring pools with a southern European flair. Swimsuits required, so it’s for mixed bathing. The water is not hot though. Adjacent to this is a real hot spring bath called Onsen Palace segregated for men and women. This is where go in naked and where you can find the chloride spring water. You can try various baths such as a tub made of hinoki cypress wood, a Jacuzzi, and indoor and outdoor hot spring baths.

Don’t spend too much time in Spring Town because there are more waters to dip in. Nearby is Spa Garden Pareo, an outdoor facility of three hot spring pools (includes Jacuzzi) and a sauna. Swimsuits are required since it is for mixed bathing. In winter, it’s freezing cold and when you’re all wet, it makes it worse. I found it hard to walk around outside and try all the different pools in February.

But the climax was yet to come. There was one more hot spring to try out at the segregated Edo Jowa Yoichi (江戸情話与市) outdoor onsen bath. This is an Edo Period-style outdoor hot spring. Everything is made of wood or stone. Marvelous design and atmosphere. Since it’s outdoors, it’s cold in winter. I unclothed quickly and went in the hot outdoor bath. Ahhh, feels good and not too hot. It was perfect. They say that it is the world’s largest outdoor bath (sulfur spring). Photography is not allowed, so I have no photos.

After that bath, I felt very satisfied at having visited Hawaiians. Well worth the trip. All these hot spring baths were included in the admission price.

Costing extra is a hotel-integrated facility called Vir Port (ウィルポート) for women. Designed after the French Riviera, Vir Port offers aqua exercises in a hot spring pool, lomilomi massages, aesthetic salon, hula lessons, aroma treatments, and more. The two hotels (Hotel Hawaiians and Monolith Tower) also have hot spring (sulfur type) communal baths. Note that a few of the baths are diluted with ordinary water.

Hula Museum
Hula Museum
Hula Museum

The fringes around the Water Park has a few floors with restaurants, private resting rooms, gift shops, and the Hula Museum. I didn’t expect much, so I was surprised to see how substantial the museum was. They made the Hula Museum soon after the movie Hula Girls became a hit. The museum has two large exhibition rooms. The first room when you enter starts with congratulatory letters in English from the Governor of Hawaii and Mayor of Kauai. Followed by display panels explaining the Hawaiians’ coal-mining history and how the hula girls were recruited and trained.

The second room explains about hula and includes real hula implements (feathered gourd rattles, bamboo rattles, etc.) for you to try out yourself. Memorabilia related to the movie Hula Girls are also on display, including the Japanese Academy Award for Best Picture and autographed placards by the movie stars. There’s also a small stage for mini concerts. The museum is open 10 am to 6 pm.


Monolith Hotel 
Monolith Hotel 

Spa Resort Hawaiians has two large hotels right next to the Water Park: Hotel Hawaiians and the new Monolith Tower that opened on Feb. 8, 2012. Both hotels provide ample Hawaiian touches with Aloha wear (instead of yukata) for guests, Hawaiian music, and Hawaiian décor. Both have their own hot spring communal baths.

The Monolith Tower has 121 rooms with a blend of Japanese- and Hawaiian-style interiors. Family rooms can sleep up to six people. Room rates include two meals and admission to Spa Resort Hawaiians. Elementary school children get a 30% discount, and infants age 3 to 5 receive a 50% discount. Check-in time is 1 pm and check-out is 11 am.

Hotel Hawaiians is the largest accommodations with 293 rooms most of which are Japanese-style with twin beds. There are also 38 single rooms. Hot spring water flows in the bath of the most guest rooms. (Some rooms do not have a private bath.) It also has banquet rooms, a convention hall, and large hot spring communal baths with a view. Room rates include two meals and admission to Spa Resort Hawaiians. Elementary school children get a 30% discount, and infants age 3 to 5 receive a 50% discount. Check-in time is 2 pm and check-out is 10 am. Also, the hotel’s East Wing has five luxury rooms on the 2nd floor called Yasuragi-tei, where they charge more.

There is also Vir Port connected directly to the Water Park. The rooms are ideal for families and you can go directly from your room to the Water Park in swimsuits.

Spa Resort Hawaiians History

Original flyer to recruit hula girls in 1965.
Original flyer to recruit hula girls in 1965.

Spa Resort Hawaiians is in an area of Iwaki that once boasted the largest coal mine on Honshu, Japan’s main island. The coal mine opened in 1883. Until the mid-1950s, coal mining was one of Japan’s main heavy industries. It brought higher incomes to coal miners who dug for “black diamonds.”

However, by the latter 1950s, Japan was shifting to other energy sources, especially oil. There was also natural gas and even cheap, imported coal. Another factor squeezing the coal-mining company was the huge amount of hot spring water that would gush out during coal mining. For every ton of coal mined, they had to remove 40 tons of hot spring water at great cost. 

The writing was on the wall for the Joban Tanko (常磐炭鉱) coal-mining company. Faced with the prospect of shutting down the coal mine and going bankrupt, Joban Tanko had to do something for its 13,000 employees (50,000 people when family members are included). The company motto was “Ichizan Ikka” (一山一家) or “One Coal Mine, One Family.” The company considered its employees as family and felt responsible for their livelihood and well-being.

In the early 1960s while the company was barely surviving, company Vice President Nakamura Yutaka (中村 豊) and his delegation traveled overseas twice in search of new ideas for a new company. On their way home during their second, hitherto fruitless overseas trip, they stopped over in Hawaii. He was struck by Hawaii’s charm. 

He then hit upon his “Hawaii” idea. Why not use the tons of hot spring water and heat to create that tropical Hawaii in Tohoku (northeastern Japan)? Turn a negative into a positive. However, his idea received no support from other company executives. They knew nothing about operating a tourist attraction. It was beyond their imagination. 

However, a persistent Nakamura ultimately got his way and the company embarked on a massive project that would cost 2 billion yen. In September 1964, they established the Joban Yumoto Onsen Kanko Co. (常磐湯本温泉観光) to carve out the Joban Hawaiian Center water park on a low mountain. Nakamura became the company president.

The concept was to make it as close as possible to a Hawaiian atmosphere. There would be a large indoor pool where people in swimsuits can enjoy tropical temperatures year-round in a cold Tohoku. They also planted palm trees. And the main attraction would be the Grand Polynesian Show still held today.

For this Polynesian show, they needed hula girls. In April 1965, the company started the Joban Music and Dance Academy (常磐音楽舞踊学院) to recruit and train dancers. At first, they were going to get someone from Hawaii to come and teach. But the company president happened to see a Japanese hula teacher on an NHK TV program dubbing her as “Japan’s first hula teacher.” He contacted her immediately to set up a meeting.

She was Kaleinani Hayakawa (カレイナニ早川). She had studied Polynesian dance in Hawaii in 1956 while in her early 20s. In 1966, she was made a kumu hula in Hawaii. (I still have to find out who made her a kumu hula.). After meeting these stodgy businessmen, she agreed to be the first instructor at the Academy in Iwaki. In the movie Hula Girls, she is portrayed by Matsuyuki Yasuko.

The Academy’s first students were 18 coal miners’ daughters and wives who hardly had any dance experience. They underwent an intensive, 10-month training program before the Joban Hawaiian Center opened. Before the opening, the girls also went on promotional “caravan” tours all over Japan and danced. These girls became the Academy’s historic Dai-ikkisei (第1期生) which is the Academy’s 1st group of students.

Meanwhile, hot spring ryokan owners at nearby Yumoto Spa were strongly opposed to the Hawaiian water park. They were afraid that it would draw their customers away. But the Vice President convinced them that water park’s success would be good for all of Iwaki and revitalize the town.

Company employees and even the hula girls were anxious over whether people would actually come to the Water Park when it opened. The Joban Hawaiian Center opened on January 15, 1966. And it was full of people. The hula girls were elated to perform in front of a sold-out crowd. A great example of “build it and they shall come.”

The Joban Hawaiian Center proved to be very popular. They saw over 10 million visitors in 8 years. It was great timing, when Japan was undergoing a leisure boom and overseas travel restrictions were lifted in 1964. The hot spring facility was also great for families and kids. Hot spring resorts had been conventionally geared for adults, but now families could enjoy it at the Joban Hawaiian Center. In those days, traveling to Hawaii was still a far-fetched dream for most Japanese. At least they could experience a bit of Hawaii at the Water Park.

In 1971, the Joban Yumoto Onsen Kanko Co. absorbed the coal-mining company and changed its name to Joban Kosan Co. (常磐興産). It also paid off company debts. In 1976, the coal mine was shut down for good. All the while, the Joban Hawaiian Center kept expanding as a full-fledged hot spring amusement park by adding new facilities and attractions. In 1973, they even had an underwater theater for underwater performances.

In 1990, they changed the name to “Spa Resort Hawaiians” to better reflect its hot spring facilities. Local people today simply call it, “Hawaiians.” By 2001, they opened more hot spring facilities, each one outfitted with a different cultural theme. You now have a choice of enjoying hot spring waters in Hawaiian, Tahitian, southern European, Mediterranean, and Edo style baths. They also opened a golf course. The place is no longer Hawaiian only. They also want to make it a place for short-term stays, although most visitors go for a day trip.

In 2006, another major break came for Spa Resort Hawaiians in the form of a hit movie called, Hula Girls (フラガール). This award-winning, comedy-drama movie depicted the first group of hula girls being recruited and trained for the opening of the Joban Hawaiian Center in 1966. (More about the movie below.) The movie put Spa Resort Hawaiians back into the spotlight and led to a major increase in visitors.

Hula Girls, the movie

Hula Girls movie trailer.

In 2006, a comedy movie called, Hula Girls (フラガール) was released and became a major hit and went on to win numerous awards including the Japan Academy Award for Best Picture.

The fictional movie is set in 1965-66 and loosely based on the story of how Spa Resort Hawaiians started off. The coal-mining company, seeing its fortunes decline with the rise of oil, decided to build a Hawaiian water park complete with hula girls. The movie depicts the recruitment and training of coal miners’ daughters and wives to become hula dancers. The struggle of the girls learning to dance, the company management struggling to survive, and the familial clash between those for and against the new venture are vividly and dramatically depicted. The results are hilarious, heartwarming, and impressive.

Matsuyuki Yasuko stars as Hirayama Madoka, the hula teacher from Tokyo contracted to teach hula to the hapless women. Aoi Yu (Best Supporting Actress) is Kimiko, one of the first hula recruits and the leader of the hula girls. Toyokawa Etsushi is Kimiko’s sympathetic, older brother who works at the coal mine. Another lovable character is Sayuri, played by Yamazaki Shizuyo who is a tall and husky hula girl. She is a manzai comedian who made a her raving acting debut in this film. And Kishibe Ittoku plays Yoshimoto Norio, the president of the coal-mining company who pushed for the Hawaiian water park. Besides the main cast, a bevy of hula girl extras make the final dance sequence a real spectacle.

The film was directed by Lee Sang-il (李相日), a third-generation Korean resident of Japan. He won the Japan Academy Award for Best Director.

The movie is pure entertainment, depicting almost the entire range of raw human emotions: Love, hate, joy, sadness, anger, pride, shame, frustration, desperation, insecurity, sympathy, gratitude, friendship, and sense of achievement. We can really feel for and identify with the characters. It is inspiring and a crowd-pleaser with so much hilarious comedy and tear-jerking scenes. One of Japan’s funniest and most memorable movies. 

Spa Resort Hawaiians was extremely lucky to have a major hit movie made about them. It brought them free publicity, renewed fame, and a major boost in visitors. Hula and Hawaii are also very popular in Japan, so there was a guaranteed movie audience.

The movie’s theme song was by ukulele superstar Jake ShimabukuroHula Girls was Jake’s very first film score. He at first wondered how he should do it. Make it a soft ballad or make it sound more Hawaiian or more Japanese. After reading the movie script, he composed the main theme based on how he felt after reading it. It was spot on. Songs by Na Leo are also part of the soundtrack.

The movie soundtrack is available on CD, but be aware that the movie’s main theme song Hula Girl is not on the official soundtrack CD. It is available only on Jake Shimabukuro’s CDs called my life and Gently Weeps. A big disappointment to people who bought the soundtrack CD.

Jake Shimabukuro performed the Hula Girls theme song in Iwaki, Fukushima in Oct. 2016.

The movie is available on DVD. There is also the Hula Girl DVD Memorial Box that has three DVDs including the movie DVD. The other two DVDs show behind-the-scenes shots of the movie, footage that didn’t make the final cut, and interviews of the actors, actresses, and director. There’s also some footage of the dances performed when they first opened in 1965.

Also interviewed are Kaleinani Hayakawa who was the original hula teacher (portrayed by Matsuyuki Yasuko), Emiko “Leimomi” Ono (小野恵美子), the first hula student and group leader portrayed as Kimiko (Aoi Yu) in the movie, and other women who were in the historic first class. Jake Shimabukuro is also interviewed about how he decided to compose the main theme.

Leimomi Ono was already working at the coal-mining company’s Tokyo office when she was asked to learn the hula and take the lead since she liked dancing. So she wasn’t a school girl as portrayed in the movie. She was a hula girl for 10 years before retiring. She then helped Hayakawa sensei with teaching hula and developing the shows.

In the interviews, they give fascinating details about how the hula girls started out. Ms. Hayakawa and Ms. Ono were special instructors and advisors to the movie, no doubt helping to make it more authentic. I thoroughly enjoyed all three DVDs. (Only the movie disc has English subtitles.)

I was surprised to see how hard the actresses practiced to master hula and Tahitian dancing for the movie. When watching the movie, I thought they were using stand-ins for the actresses during the dance sequences. But the actresses themselves were actually dancing hula and Tahitian in the movie. It took them three months of intense training. Very impressive.

3/11, Aftershock, and Grand Re-opening

All was going well until March 11, 2011 at 2:46 pm when the Great East Japan Earthquake hit. The city of Iwaki was hit with the tsunami as well, but Spa Resort Hawaiians was too far inland to be inundated. It actually was in pretty good shape. They still had power, gas, and running water. No one got hurt and there was no major damage to the resort. The quake occurred soon after the afternoon Polynesian show that had ended at 2:30 pm. The mass of people in the Beach Theater had already dispersed. And there were hardly anyone on the water slides because most were waiting for 3 pm when it would be half price. 

No one inside the Water Park got injured. An announcement was made over the P.A. system and everyone inside were evacuated outside in an orderly manner without any panic. However, some of the guests were still in swimsuits and shivering as it was snowing. Quick-thinking staff brought out towels, gowns, and blankets for them. The staff was later able to send all the visitors home after two days. They also took in evacuees into Hotel Hawaiians.

The hula girls were in their dressing room ready to have lunch when the quake struck. Two of them held on to the lockers to prevent them from falling and blocking their way out. When the shaking finally stopped, they evacuated and stayed outside in the cold for an hour until they went back in to retrieve their belongings. Their cell phones would not connect to anyone, making them all worry about their families.

Thirty minutes after the quake, the staff confirmed that all guests were safe with no injuries, to their great relief. Their No. 1 priority was the safety of the guests. This later brought them many thank you letters and faxes from customers who appreciated their efforts. The management thereby began to feel the “kizuna” (絆) bond with their customers and subsequently created the “Kizuna Resort” nickname.

Since the earthquake damage was minimal, they first thought that they could reopen by June or July 2011. However, on April 11, 2011, a strong aftershock (magnitude lower 6) centering on the coastal area of Fukushima wrought major damage to Spa Resort Hawaiians. Large cracks formed here and there inside the Water Park. The stairway going to the top of one water slide had been pushed up by a meter. Although they were relieved that there were no visitors in the closed Water Park, they were forced to close for a longer period.

For them, it was like deja-vu. The company faced another major crisis with the quake damage, Fukushima nuclear power plants leaking radiation, and radiation fears. More than a few employees wondered whether they could actually reopen. But the company stuck to their “One Coal Mine, One Family” spirit and thought of everyone in Tohoku as “family,” not just their employees. They decided that they had to move forward no matter what and become a symbol of recovery.

The hula girls resumed their practice on April 22, 2011 even though a few of them had lost their homes or became evacuees due to the nuclear power plants. It was a tearful reunion for the girls. On May 3, 2011, the girls embarked on their promotional “Kizuna Caravan” tour all over Japan. The last time the hula girls went on a national tour was in 1965. Rather than a PR tour, this time they went around to spread their cheer to evacuees and send the message that Tohoku was working hard to recover. Their dancing brought smiles and joy everywhere they went. Since they couldn’t dance at Spa Resort Hawaiians, it was nice that they could dance elsewhere.

The girls traveled to 26 prefectures and even to Seoul, South Korea. They performed 247 times during the tour that ended in late September 2011. This tour was made into a documentary movie called, “Ganbappe Hula Girl!” They were a shining light in the darkness and became a symbol of recovery for Tohoku.

All the while, earthquake repairs were progressing in the Water Park. Cracks in the floor of the pool were being repaired. The Water Park’s dome was not damaged, but it was reinforced with three pillars. One wing of Hotel Hawaiians also sustained cracks.

Video of Spa Resort Hawaiians partial reopening on October 1, 2011.

On October 1, 2011, Spa Resort Hawaiians partially reopened for business. The hot spring baths were reopened, but the main Water Park was still closed for repairs. A temporary stage for the Polynesian show was also constructed adjacent to the Water Park. They received a big crowd on opening day, but the crowd became sparse afterward. Sadly, the fire knife dancers were not allowed to perform on the temporary stage due to fire prevention regulations.

The hula girls visited travel agents to encourage more people to visit. But the typical comment was that tourists avoided Fukushima due to earthquake and radiation fears. Of course, the Water Park not being open yet also put a major damper on tourist numbers.

Earthquake repairs and renovations were finally completed and Spa Resort Hawaiians reopened completely on February 8, 2012. The company took out a bank loan of 1 billion yen for the repairs and improvements. The Beach Theater sported a new and white, sand-like surface, replacing the old artificial green grass. A new hotel called Monolith Tower also opened. Finally, we could play in the huge Water Park and see the fire knife dancers during the Polynesian shows.

It was a worthwhile investment as the tourists are returning. It was packed when I visited on a Sunday in mid-February 2012. Most of the visitors came from outside Fukushima. Admission was half price until March 19, 2012.

Making the TV commercial for the grand reopening on February 8, 2012.

Bright Spot in Tohoku

Spa Resort Hawaiians is one of the brightest spots in the Tohoku region. They have overcome the 3/11 disaster and re-opened their doors as a symbol of recovery to a loving public. Their unique history and appeal already overshadows their Hawaiian aspects. They aim to entertain as well as encourage. Even after Hawaii became a popular and accessible destination for Japanese tourists from the early 1970s, Spa Resort Hawaiians has continued to see enough visitors to stay in business. In an age when many amusement parks are struggling or closing in Japan, it’s hard to pinpoint the secret of their success. Repeat customers is certainly important, and I for one hope to visit again.

Getting There

Free shuttle bus from JR Yumoto Station.
Free shuttle bus from JR Yumoto Station.

The closest train station is JR Yumoto Station on the JR Joban Line. From JR Yumoto Station, free shuttle buses are provided once an hour to Spa Resort Hawaiians taking 15 min. Shuttle bus schedule here (in Japanese). From Tokyo, you can catch the Joban Line at Ueno, Tokyo, or Shinagawa Station. The fastest route would be from JR Ueno Station where you catch the Hitachi tokkyu express train on the Joban Line and get off at Yumoto Station. This takes about 2 hours 15 min. and costs 6,290 yen (as of Oct. 2020).

If you’re traveling along the Tohoku shinkansen line, you can go to Koriyama Station and catch a bus to Iwaki Station taking about 105 min. and costing abut 1,500 yen. From Iwaki Station, take the Joban Line train for a short ride to Yumoto Station. At Yumoto Station, there are free shuttle buses leaving about once an hour. (Buses from the resort back to Yumoto Station are not free.) Bus schedule here in Japanese: https://www.hawaiians.co.jp/access/acs02.html

If you have reservations at one of the hotels, you can ride one of the free buses to Spa Resort Hawaiians and back from Tokyo, Shinjuku, Yokohama, or Saitama Shin-toshin Station. More information in Japanese here (https://www.hawaiians.co.jp/otoku/bus/).

You can also sign up for overnight stays and day trips with major travel agencies. They have buses leaving major areas such as Shinjuku and Tokyo Stations.

Spa Resort Hawaiians contact information: Address: 〒972-8326 福島県いわき市常磐藤原町蕨平50 (You can copy and paste this address in Google Maps.) Phone: 0246-43-3191

English Website: https://www.hawaiians.co.jp/english/

Further info and information sources

  • るるぶ情報版 スパリゾートハワイアンズ、2012年4月1日発行
  • フラガール3.11, 清水一利/著, 講談社 2011.11
  • Hula Girl DVD Memorial Box, Happinet
  • Spa Resort Hawaiians Hula Museum
  • Official site: https://www.hawaiians.co.jp/

More photos: Spa Resort Hawaiians