The Canefield Songs Project


Holehole bushi are the songs of Japanese immigrants who worked on Hawai‘i sugar plantations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They sang as they worked, and their lyrics provide a record of their joys, sorrows, and challenges. Holehole is the Native Hawaiian word for dried cane leaves. Bushi is the Japanese term for melody or tune. Holehole work, stripping the dried cane leaves, was deemed “women’s work”. Many of these songs, composed and sung by women workers, provide a direct connection to history from a woman’s perspective. These songs are the Japanese American “blues” and a window on the soul of early plantation life.


About the Project:

The centerpiece of the project is comprised of the folk songs and stories of immigrants who came from Japan in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries to work on Hawaii’s plantations. The project has been created to encourage understanding and knowledge of Hawai’i history and culture, as well as the historical context for relations between Hawai‘i, the United States, and Japan.


Canefield Songs Premiere and events schedule:

July 18, 2015
Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles, 6 p.m.

September 17, 2015
Hawaii Broadcast Premiere PBS Hawaii, 9 p.m. Click here to view the video.

September 24, 2015
Amherst College, 6 PM



  1. Canefield Songs, a half-hour television documentary for PBS Hawai’i broadcast, hosted and narrated by ukulele virtuoso, Jake Shimabukuro.
  2. An interactive website for both curriculum support and general public education, with extended video interviews, photos, transcripts, and music; and
  3. A book, Voices From the Canefields, by Dr. Franklin Odo, Oxford University Press, 2013

The project also will restore and preserve moving images containing interviews (many in Japanese language) with women who came to Hawai‘i in the early 20th century and who sang these songs at work. Without this intervention, these video records will be lost due to deterioration of old format video tape.