View Full Version : Famous brand Japanese ukuleles

05-09-2015, 08:50 AM
Hi, has anyone seen the 'Famous' brand Japanese sopranos on Amazon UK? I have read somewhere that these are the same as Kiwaya, just branded differently in Japan. Including import duty I can get a Famous FS-1 for around 140, which is around 80 cheaper than buying a Kiwaya KS-1 in the UK.
They do look very similar, I'm just curious if the build quality will be as good, that's why I havnt bought one yet.
There's also an FS-3 for slightly more money which again is laminate, but with a Bubinga finish.
Any info or opinions would be appreciated.

05-09-2015, 09:02 AM
I had been looking for a KS-0, the thin body soprano and no one in the US seemed to ever have them in stock anymore. I ordered the Famous FS-0 version of the same Uke from the Rakuten Japan website and got it delivered for $200 US in including the shipping from Japan. The US stores were listing them at $269 for the Kiwaya version. They appear to me to be the same product with a different name on them but I did not have the Kiwaya version to compare it to. Took about 3-4 weeks for it to make it's way to Michigan. Seemed to spend a lot of time in customs in Chicago but there were no extra duty charges.

05-09-2015, 09:33 AM
Thanks for your reply. Yes same problem here, no Kiwaya KS-1 in stock anywhere which is why I'm looking at the Famous ones. I've played a couple of Kiwayas over the years so I know what to expect with build quality and sound. I think I'll order the FS-3, seems a good buy and the Bubinga looks nice in photos I've seen online. I'll report back and review it when it arrives and let people know how the process went, delivery time and so on.

05-09-2015, 10:14 AM
Looking forward to your report. I've been looking for a KS5 forever and have been contemplating going the "Famous" route.

05-09-2015, 12:56 PM
Looking forward to your report. yes, ditto. :)

05-09-2015, 02:17 PM
Count me as interested too. I like the name "Famous" better too- kind of funny

05-09-2015, 05:56 PM
From photos I've seen on eBay the Famous ukes appear to use different tuners.

05-10-2015, 12:18 PM
From photos I've seen on eBay the Famous ukes appear to use different tuners.

From what I can tell, the FS models all have friction tuners but there other identical models with geared tuners. They basically add a G at the end of the model number.
I have decided to order the Famous FS-4P which is a laminate Koa pineapple. Works out around 150 including postage which I think is good, even if there's import duty of around 25 on top of that.
I placed the order through Guitar Planet Japan on Rakuten website and am awaiting an email with instructions to pay via bank transfer, they don't accept card payments so its bank transfer or paypal

05-10-2015, 11:53 PM
It's a family business, led by three generations of the Okamoto family:
- grandfather Kitharo Okamoto founded a repair shop for audio equiment in Tokyo in 1919, called 'Kiwaya Shokai'. I suppose Kiwaya is an abbreviation (first letters of his first name, the rest implying grammophones or electronics), Shokai simply means Retail Business.
- grandson Ryoji Okamoto became CEO (of a modest firm of about a dozen employees at its height) in 1957 and branched out in ukulele production. His brand was 'Famous', it was mostly produced in own workshops. He was late to that market which already had stiff competition (Luna made at Mituba, Toshiba, Kiso Suzuki and Nagoya Suzuki, Aria, Star made by Hoshino/Ibanez) but thanks to his focus on quaility (actually copying Martin's specification), endorsements by artists and sheer stubborness he was the only one to survive as a ukulele manufacturor. In fact, at the end of the 1960s he even sourced the lower end part of his ukulele line from his former competitors, the Mituba factory - or Mituba Gakki if you like to learn Japanese. Why he chose 'Famous' as a brand name is probably to emphasize the exotic American quality of the instrument. So the labels read 'Famous, by Kiwaya'.
- The company started dominating the Japanese market during the 2000 resurgence of the ukulele, and were only occassionaly sold in the West. But when Ryoji's daughter Kyoko Hara took over in 2002 she launched an export brand, simply called 'Kiwaya' (patented as a ukulele brand in 2008), a US dealership through Takuli and innovation in the ukulele line (bamboo, custom builds, eco series, k-wave rock series, ...).

It's perhaps confusing, but Kiwaya is at the same time a shop (which sells Kamaka, Koaloha, genuine Martin and even most other Japanese brands), a dealership (which imports LoPrinzi to Japan), a manufacturer (which makes Famous and Kiwaya ukuleles) and a brand in itself.

The difference between Famous and Kiwaya ukuleles is that the former is intended for the Japanese market, the latter for export. But because of that both brands weren't and aren't exact copies of each other: Kiwaya tend to be more 'upmarket' in apoointments and price.