Local Heroes: Roy Sakuma

Roy Sakuma has been teaching ukulele for nearly 50 years. He is also the founder of the largest ukulele festival in the world.

“When I was 16 years old, I heard a song on the radio. It was ‘Sushi’ by Ohta-san,” Sakuma recalled. “I don’t know what made me fall in love with that song, but I needed to learn that song. I would spend my days just practicing and practicing, not realizing that someday, this would become my life passion to teach.”

But there’s a side of Sakuma that many don’t know.

“People make the comment, ‘What a wonderful life you’ve had,'” Sakuma said. “They just can’t believe when they find out that I had such a troubled upbringing.”

Sakuma revealed his mother was mentally ill and his brother once tried to kill him with a kitchen knife.

“It scarred me a lot, because I was so afraid to be home in bed,” he said.

Sakuma also had a birth defect that affected his right ear.

As a child, he was constantly teased and bullied, and “it just sunk me into depression and hurt and paranoia. So I started smoking and drinking at a young age.”

That’s when Sakuma discovered the ukulele, and it changed his life.

“It brought a lot of comfort at me, because I was hurting so much. Every single day was a challenge,” he said. “But when I started playing the ukulele, it consumed so much of my time that when I had the ukulele in my hand, all those thoughts of wanting to hurt myself would not be there.”

Ukulele provided a comfort to Sakuma that the world couldn’t.

Today, he shares his story with others as a message of hope and healing, especially to island keiki.

“So many kids have written to me that that talk has brought their family closer together, and that’s what inspires me to keep on speaking. Because if I can reach one child, it’s worth it going to that school,” Sakuma said. “Those letters are confirmation that something that I was sharing was helping them in their life.”

If you’re interested in hearing Sakuma speak, he’ll be at the Hawaii Senior Fair this Friday, Sept. 22, from 10:45-11:30 a.m., at the Neal S. Blaisdell Exhibition Hall.

Click here for more information.

If you know someone who you think is a local hero, email Trini at trini.kaopuiki@khon2.com.

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