Immigrant of the Week: Shoji Tabuchi, A Japanese-American Country-Western Star

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“Folks, I came over here from Japan over 20 years ago, with only five hundred dollars in my pocket…A friend of mine told me about Branson. Branson sounded really interesting so I decided to come and visit. I fell in love with the beautiful surroundings and with the warmth of the people who live here. For me, the American dream came true..”- Shoji Tabuchi

One of the hallmarks of world culture after World War II is the ubiquity of things American. Blue jeans, Coca Cola, muscle cars, McDonalds, and Rock and Roll probably did more to defeat communism than anything else.

So, it shouldn’t surprise me that one of the hottest tickets in Branson, Missouri (the twin capital of country music along with Nashville, Tennessee) is a fiddle player named Shoji Tabuchi, an American citizen born in Japan. It shouldn’t surprise me, but I am surprised all the same – pleasantly so.

Shoji Tabuchi, a Fiddle Prodigy

timelessImage Source: Shoji

Tabuchi was born in Daishoji, Ishikawa, Japan in 1944. At the age of 7, his mom arranged for him to learn the violin using the Suzuki method (basically, it’s playing by ear, imitating the instructor). The American occupation of Japan after 1945 meant a huge American cultural influence entered Japanese life, and Tabuchi turned into a country music fan. His violin playing turned to fiddling.

While a sophomore in college in the mid-1960s, Tabuchi arranged to meet Roy Acuff, who was touring Japan with his country band. Acuff said if he was ever in Nashville to look him up. During those years, Tabuchi formed a band called the Bluegrass Ramblers, and they won a national contest in Japan. With $500 and his violin, he moved to America. He started in San Francisco, then Kansas City and Louisana before going to Nashville and tracking down Acuff. Acuff remembered Tabuchi and got him a performance at the Grand Ole’ Opry. It was not his last. He performed throughout the 1970s on the country music circuit, and in 1980, he moved to Branson, Missouri.

Branson needs some explaining. It’s a town of 10,000 or so in the Missouri Ozarks. Branson is within a day’s drive of millions upon millions of Americans from the South, the Midwest and the Great Plains. The Branson Travel office says that there are 147 shows there playing in dozens of theatres. On a per capita basis, it makes New York look like a sleepy little town in the Ozarks.

Shoji Tabuchi Builds His Own Theatre

11235114_10202773930229367_593586184_oImage Source: Deals on Branson

Tabuchi gambled on his future in Branson and built his own theatre there. It was a gamble that paid off in gold coins and country music fame. “The Shoji Tabuchi Theater takes in maybe $14 million a year, more than those featuring the likes of Willie Nelson, Mel Tillis, the Osmonds — or just about any other big name in the country and western music scene. Johnny Cash? His plans to become a part of the hottest attraction in the American music scene fell through when financing for his planned theater fell through. Branson is getting so hot, even Las Vegas potentate Wayne Newton is building a big new theater in town. In Branson, he’ll just be one of the new kids in town. The reigning king is Shoji Tabuchi.”

Tabuchi is, in many respects, just like every other big wheel in the music business. He is addicted to the thrill of live performances, and he doesn’t mind including his family in the act. Paul let Linda McCartney join the band, and Johnny Cash and June Carter met on the road. In Tabuchi’s case, his daughter, Christina Lingo-Tabuchi, has co-starred with him at the family theatre for almost 25 years. It seems she’s got what it takes.

Our goal is to make our guests feel, at all times, from the time they drive into the parking lot to the time they leave the parking lot, that they are very special and deserve the very best. We want them to know that our dream of having our own theatre would never have been possible without their support and would like to say a great big “Thank you!”- Shoji Tabuchi

“In addition to being a featured performer, Lingo-Tabuchi is also co-dance captain and helps produce the show. Throughout the past few years, Christina has been implementing more contemporary music like Bruno Mars and Adele, as well as classics from Michael Jackson. ‘He didn’t want to do it at first,’ she said of her father playing the Michael Jackson song ‘Smooth Criminal’ in the show. ‘I just kept on and kept on until he said, ‘Yes,’ and it has been a hit, and people are really enjoying it’.”

I don’t like the expression, “Only in America.” It suggests that there is no opportunity, hope or social mobility elsewhere, and I have seen enough of the world to know that isn’t true.

But in this case, the case of a Japanese country-western western fiddle player who has become such a fixture in Branson, that he has his fans cheering a Michael Jackson cover, well. Only in America.

Now See this Video of Tabuchi and his Marvelous Shows:

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Shoji Tabuchi - The Emperor of Branson

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