The Journey of the Incredible Shoji Tabuchi – In his own words

Just SWhoji and his fiddle. ( Photo by Gary J. Groman)
160615 Shoji Tabuchi Fiddle 600x338 - The Journey of the Incredible Shoji Tabuchi - In his own words
Just Shoji and his fiddle. (Photo by Gary J. Groman)

On August 11, 2023, the incredible Shoji Tabuchi passed away. He leaves a legacy that will forever echo through the annals of Branson entertainment history and in the hearts of his fans. Since then, many have written tributes and accolades about his life and career.

This one is a tad different. Those who have experienced Shoji on stage know that, along with his legendary skills on the fiddle and violin, he had a special love for interacting with his audience. His words shared his extraordinary journey from Japan to Branson and his love and appreciation of America. Without fail, they touched the hearts of his audiences, adding to their enjoyment of the total Shoji Tabuchi entertainment experience.

Shoji answered questions about that journey during a “Q & A” interview* with this writer (GG) a few years ago. Shoji shares glimpses of the journey that made him a Branson entertainment icon as he did every performance. A journey taking him from Japan to the National Fiddlers Hall of Fame and into the hearts of millions of fans.

GG: What came first, the “violin” or the”fiddle,” and whichever it was, how did you learn to play it as you do?
SHOJI: As I have said on stage many times, they are the same instrument. It’s just how you fiddle around with them. My mother started me playing the violin using the “Suzuki method” when I was seven years old.

GG: What caused you to start fiddling around with the violin?
SHOJI: I Started fiddling around with the violin when Mr. Roy Acuff and his Smoky Mountain Boys came to Japan. They did a concert that I went to out of curiosity. It included “Listen to the Mocking Bird,” played by fiddler Howdy Forrester that just knocked me out. That song and the music and encouragement of Mr. Acuff inspired me to start fiddling and come to the United States.

GG: How did your mom feel about your change to fiddling around instead of playing the classical violin?
SHOJI: My mom was a little questionable, but she was open about it. I had a problem with my violin teacher because initially, she “Wasn’t buying it.” Eventually, however, they both came around.

GG: When did you come to the United States?
SHOJI: A long time ago – 1967.

GG: How did you end up in Branson?
SHOJI: I was working in and out of Nashville and all over the country performing concerts. A friend of mine told me about Branson. It sounded really interesting, so I decided to come and visit. I fell in love with the beautiful surroundings and the warmth of the people here.

GG: What is your first memory of Branson?
SHOJI: The great fishing! I just loved the warm water fishing for bass in Table Rock Lake and being able to fish for trout in Lake Taneycomo.

GG: How long have you been Performing in Branson?
SHOJI: I have performed in Branson for about 34 years, of which 27 have been in my own show.

GG: Why did you build your own theatre?
SHOJI: Dorothy and I had a vision of the kind of show we wanted to present. There was not an available existing theatre in Branson at the time that would enable us to fulfill that vision, so we built our own.

GG: The Shoji Tabuchi Show became the de-facto standard for a musical production show in Branson. How did that evolve?
SHOJI: The theatre was specifically designed for a production show, but, in addition, it is thanks to the vision, planning, and production of my wife Dorothy that we enjoy our reputation in that regard.

GG: Your theatre has been recognized nationally for its extravagant and unusual restrooms. How did they develop?
SHOJI: They were Dorothy’s idea. I was initially against the idea, but WOW, am I ever glad that she didn’t listen to me!

GG: Who in your family is involved with the show?
SHOJI: My daughter Christina sings and dances in the show and, along with my wife Dorothy, co-produces the show.

GG: Recently, you became a grandfather to a beautiful granddaughter. What is her name, and what is the story behind how she got the name?
SHOJI: Yukie Bailey-Jae. “Yukie” was my mom’s firShoji name.

GG: What do you like best about performing in Branson?
SHOJI: The audiences and being able to have my own theatre allows me to perform my show the way I want to and permits me to give them the very best show possible.

GG: If you could perform or meet with any entertainer/person (living or deceased), who would it be and why?
SHOJI: I would love to have seen and met Jascha Heifetz when he was alive. He was truly such an exceptional master of the violin.

GG: In your career, which performance was the most meaningful to you and why?
SHOJI: The performance that has meant the most to me was the first time my mom and dad came from Japan and saw me perform in my theatre in Branson.

GG: Do you have a little-known fact about yourself that you think our readers would enjoy?
SHOJI: I absolutely love to paint and also enjoy landscaping.

GG: What part of the show do you enjoy performing the most and why?
SHOJI: I love talking with the audience and the variety of music we play. It runs from Michael Jackson and Led Zeppelin to rock-n-roll, western swing, Gospel, and a lot in between.

GG: Of all the songs you have played in your Branson shows, which is your favorite, and why?
SHOJI: “Looking Through the Eyes of Love” from the movie “Ice Castles” because it’s such a beautiful melody and story.

GG: Anything else you want our readers to know?
SHOJI: Our goal, every year, is to have our guests come to see the show and walk away saying, “I didn’t think it could get any better, but it has!”  Making our guests feel, at all times, from the time they drive into the parking lot to the time they leave, that they are very special and deserve the very best. That is our daily goal. We want our guests to know that our dream of having our own theatre would never have been possible without their support. We want to say a great big thank you!

Having experienced Shoji’s deep love and appreciation for his wife Dorothy, this would not be complete if I did not add the following. It’s from a similar interview with Dorothy Tabuchi a few weeks later.

GG: Where and when did you first meet Shoji, and what was your reaction?
DOROTHY TACUCHI: I met Shoji while vacationing in Branson in 1983 when some friends introduced me to him. For me, it was love at first sight, and it’s still true. He is the love of my life.

GG: Whether or not in the show, what is your favorite number Shoji plays?
DOROTHY TABUCHI: I love “Unchained Melody.” On our anniversary and my birthday, I wake up. Shoji is standing at the foot of the bed playing “Unchained Melody” on his violin.

GG: What’s your favorite part about working with Shoji in the show?
DOROTHY TABUCHI: Having the privilege and blessing of getting to see and work with my husband daily. How fortunate I am to spend my days working with the two loves of my life. It doesn’t get any better than that!

To paraphrase Dorothy, “What a privilege and blessing it was for Branson and its visitors to experience the Incredible Shoji Tabuchi over the last three plus decades. It doesn’t get any better than that!”

* This interview took place a few years ago, but it still expresses what happened and Shoji’s feelings. No attempt has made to readjust numbers, etc.