I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Tazumi Toyoshima -- Everyday, Every Night(エヴリデイ・エヴリナイト)

Had a nice evening down at University of Toronto being part of a panel discussion on students about to graduate from East Asian Studies and what they can do thereafter. It was rather nice meeting the fellow panelists (one of whom is an old friend of over 40 years) and meeting some students who were crazy to go to Japan...reminded me of yours truly a few decades ago.

Still digesting my Indian dinner which was catered into the venue so I'm keeping things simple tonight with a pleasant number from Tazumi Toyoshima(豊島たづみ). A little over a couple of years ago, I wrote about her 4th single, "Tomadoi Twilight"(とまどいトワイライト)which was most likely her most successful release back in 1979. Well, her previous single is also eminently listenable.

"Everyday, Every Night" is a nighttime City Pop tune from October 1978 with a twist of bossa with Toyoshima singing it in a gently swinging manner. There is also something about it that reminds me of some of Henry Mancini's music from a decade earlier. Some nice solo guitar as well. Veteran lyricist Etsuko Kisugi(来生えつこ)took care of the words and Mutsuhiro Nishiwaki(西脇睦宏)came up with the mellow music. It's a nice way to finish up an eventful night.

Ebisu Muscats -- Bibiru-Body de-Boo (ビビる-Bodyで-Boo) / Honey Popcorn -- Bibidi Babidi Boo

Honey Popcorn (source:

One of the headlines of the K-Pop world this week is the debut of a group called Honey Popcorn, which is comprised of three Japanese AV idols. Yeah, that’s right… AV idols in Korea recording cute and virginal aidoru-like songs. The world can be quite ironic sometimes, and I just love it to death.

The other interesting thing about Honey Popcorn is how they’re a somewhat crossover group, since one of the members, Yua Mikami (三上悠亜), is also part of Japanese AV idol super group Ebisu Muscats (恵比寿マスカッツ). Not only that, but Yua Mikami was a member of SKE48 in the past, with a different name, Kito Momona (鬼頭桃菜), before starting doing porn… eventually landing in Ebisu Muscats, where she remains as a member nowadays (alongside her new activities as a Honey Popcorn member and lead girl). Apparently, other members were also part of aidoru groups before launching their respective porn careers. For instance, Miko Matsuda (松田美子) was once a member of NMB48 as Risako Okada (岡田梨紗子), and Sakura Moko (桜もこ) was formerly known as Yuu Ito (伊東裕) during her time as a member of Bakusute Sotokanda Icchome (バクステ外神田一丁目).

Honestly, I can’t even imagine where this crazy thing is going to head in the future, or if this group will simply fade into obscurity in Korea. In fact, the reception there, from what I’ve been reading, is far from being good, since the girls are facing prejudice because of their porn activities, and also from being Japanese. Well, we all know that both countries have their own share of historic problems, and no one really thought that a bunch of Japanese AV idols debuting in the highly competitive Korean idol industry would get praise from Korean people.

Diplomatic matters apart, Honey Popcorn’s debut single is called “Bibidi Babidi Boo” and, quite frankly, it’s better than I thought it would be. Sure, it’s not revolutionary by any means, but still catchy enough, and surprisingly similar to what cute K-Pop idol groups are recording these days.

However, what got me really interested in this whole story was another case of crossover between these two groups, and this time coming from the song’s title. The thing is, back in 2016, Ebisu Muscats released a single called “Sexy Beach Honeymoon”, which had a song called “Bibiru-Body de-Boo” included as one of the coupling tracks. Of course, the two songs have nothing similar besides the title and the crossover between members. Yet, for me, it’s too much of a coincidence that both projects, similar in nature and everything else, have interchangeable songs for both Asian markets. Well, I don’t know what happened, and maybe Yua Mikami simply started humming Ebisu Muscats’ “Bibiru-Body de-Boo” in a meeting for the Honey Popcorn project… which ended in someone liking the title and all, but I just thought this whole story was quite hilarious to begin with.

That these girls are trying to make some cash recording virginal songs in Korea (one of Honey Popcorn’s coupling songs is called “First Kiss”, probably just for the sake of being ironic) while also having careers in both Japanese aidoru and porn industries is also part of the joke. For me, though, I’ll take Ebisus Muscats’ “Bibiru-Body de-Boo”, which is quite catchy in its own right, as a nice reminder of this crazy story that heated up discussions in this yet very stagnant period of the year, both in Japan and Korean’s music markets. And I just love its disco sound, of course.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Hiroki Matsukata -- Hana no Uchi ni(華のうちに)

Usually after the broadcast of "Uta Kon"(うたコン)here on TV Japan, there is a 10-minute segment originally shown on NHK called "Ano Hito ni Aitai"(あの人に会いたい...I Want to Meet That Person)which features notable Japanese people from all walks of life who have left this mortal coil. Last night was focused on the actor Hiroki Matsukata(松方弘樹)who had passed away last year at the age of 74.

I was surprised and saddened when I heard about Matsukata's death since his face was a very regular one on TV for the years that I had lived in Japan and even before that on rental videos. He played one of the most ferocious-looking mobsters in the "Battles Without Honor or Humanity" yakuza series but I also got to know him as the wise hotel manager of the oh-so-80s drama "Hotel". And of course, there are the many commercials he starred in.

One of the interesting things that I got from the tribute to Matsukata on "Ano Hito ni Aitai" was through one interview he did in which he spoke about his early years in the 1960s. He had initially wanted to become a pop singer and actually trained under songwriter Gento Uehara(上原げんと). The actor had thought that he wasn't too bad a singer compared to some of the other young up-and-comers of the time but then, one day, the appearance of one particular man and his talent brought Matsukata's confidence down like shattered glass. From that point onward, he decided to head on the path of the thespian.

Still, although he would never be a full-time professional singer, Matsukata did put out singles now and then over the decades, including this one in 1993 which was created by enka singer Ikuzo Yoshi(吉幾三). "Hana no Uchi ni" (Among the Flowers) was the ending theme song for a long-running jidai geki TV show titled "Mei Bugyo: Tohyama no Kin-san"(名奉行 遠山の金さん...Famed Magistrate: Kin-san of Tohyama)that Matsukata starred in for about a decade as a heroic peace officer with a penchant for disguises.

"Hana no Uchi ni" certainly sounds heroic in itself with the urgent strings although a lot of the melody is quite gentle with the shakuhachi (?) and Matsukata's delivery. Perhaps the ballad is reflecting the two sides of the title character with Kin-san not resorting to the rough stuff unless absolutely necessary. Hmm...quite Jedi-like.

Although I didn't ever become an ardent follower of Kin-san, I remember his signature move which was to expose his tattooed right shoulder. Kinda reminds me of the inevitable scene in "Mito Komon"(水戸黄門)when the jig is up and that amazing crest is shown to the bad guys' awe and horror.

Ah, before I for that young lad who scared Matsukata away from singing back in the 1960s? He would have a very long and successful career as Hiroshi Itsuki(五木ひろし)! Heck, "Ano Hito ni Aitai" even showed the two of them together performing a duet on a music show. Too bad I can't find any of that footage on the Net.

Naotaro Moriyama -- Sakura(さくら)

This is the first full day of spring, and yet, the temperatures aren't quite there yet. The chief meteorologist has asked us all to keep our patience and endure some of the unseasonable weather for another two weeks. No problems with me here...snow is largely gone and it's not like it's minus 30 degrees out there. Plus, Toronto is far better than places like Washington DC and New York City which has been getting socked with nor'easter after nor'easter this winter, and even Tokyo got a surprise by getting snowed under just a few days after someone officially declared the annual Cherry Blossom season in full swing. I wonder if there is an official word for "snow cherry blossoms" in Japanese. Yukizakura(雪桜), perhaps?

Yesterday was another "Uta Kon"(うたコン)episode with the appropriate theme of spring songs although the weather didn't seem to cooperate in the Kanto (mind you, it looked nice in Osaka where the show was broadcasting from that night). Of course, with that theme in mind, there were the usual tunes of optimism and graduation songs.

Ironically enough, I already have a couple of Naotaro Moriyama(森山直太朗)tunes on the blog but neither of them is arguably his most famous ballad. "Sakura" (Cherry Blossoms) has probably now become a standard for this time of year in Japan as Moriyama sings about friends departing on their own paths and then meeting up again in the future. I wouldn't be surprised if "Sakura" were being used as an actual graduation song to be sung at the annual ceremonies.

"Sakura" was released as Moriyama's 3rd single, his 2nd as a major artist, in March 2003. According to the J-Wiki write-up, the singer-songwriter had initially created the song along with poet-lyricist Kaito Okachimachi(御徒町凧)as a tribute to a friend who was getting married but somehow the song was given a soft first release of 1200 copies which debuted at No. 80 on the charts. Then, the sky was the limit as the song gradually hit No. 1 on Oricon and stayed there for 3 straight weeks, becoming the 4th-ranked single for the year, followed by a No. 32 ranking in 2004. As of 2006, it managed to sell about 1000% of that original pressing. And before I forget, the Kohaku Utagassen did come knocking for him to perform on the 2003 show.

Hopefully, things will be warmer and more pleasant for the ohanami parties under the trees this weekend. I will have to check with my English student this weekend to see if the weather has become more seasonal.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Yumi Seino -- Natural Woman

Another recent acquisition is Yumi Seino's(清野由美)"Natural Woman" from 1981. I first found out about her through some of her songs that got onto YouTube in the last couple of years, all through her third album "Continental" from 1983. But what finally had me pulling the trigger on my credit card was hearing her lovely cover of Yumi Arai/Hi-Fi Set's(荒井由実・ハイ・ファイ・セット)"Sky Restaurant"(スカイレストラン)which is indeed a track on "Natural Woman". I was about as surprised as anyone else that "Natural Woman" could actually be purchased at CD Japan, and I wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth, so I picked it up lickety-split.

The bad news is that Yumi Seino's output on YouTube is almost only represented by her "Continental" tracks, except for "Sky Restaurant", of course. However, I was talking with commenter Daemonskald last night through my recent article "Some Pages to Make You Happy by Commenters", and he mentioned about the site Hip Tank Records with its wealth of information and song excerpts. I had heard about HTR and I've even linked to some of the pages through other articles, and I will be doing the same over here since the site does have "Natural Woman" represented with a few excerpts of the tracks. Of course, I will be writing about the songs that can be listened to in part.

Track No. 1 is "You & I", a cool and slick City Pop piece that has Seino tripping the light fantastic with her voice. The song has all the tropes for the genre: funky synths, soaring strings and sexy sax. Plus there is that overall feeling of a night in Tokyo in 1981. Man, do I miss those early nights in the metropolis during my graduation trip! Shinzo Higurashi(日暮真三)took care of the lyrics while singer-songwriter Yoichi Takizawa(滝沢洋一)provided the great music.

"Summer Hotel"(サマーホテル)is as the title says...a musical trip to a luxury resort inn along the coast with a young lady leaning languidly against the balcony railing while taking in the view. There is some Latin mixed into this one like some lemon zest in a cocktail, and I think I even heard a whiff of Boz Scaggs material. Again, like the city-based "You & I", the resort-based "Summer Hotel" brings some nice sense of nostalgia. Ayumi Date and Naoya Matsuoka(伊達歩・松岡直也)created this track.

The last track I can cover tonight is the last track for "Natural Woman", "Midnight Blue", a little bit of a reggae strut to end the proceedings with Machiko Ryu's(竜真知子)lyrics hinting at a late-night visitor coming to the door. I do like the boss baritone saxophone which starts things off and the seeming salaciousness of the arrangements. We can all thank Akira Inoue(井上鑑)who came up with the melody. Usually my feeling is that the final track of a typical Japanese pop album is showcased by an introspective ballad. Not this time...this is far steamier.

Another happy acquisition in "Natural Woman". With Seino, I get this feeling of a voice reminiscent of Meiko Nakahara(中原めいこ)or Yasuha(泰葉)tackling a range going from City Pop to mellower fare covered by Ruiko Kurahashi(倉橋ルイ子). At this rate, I may just have to get "Continental" and her debut album "U-TA-GE", if only to complete the set and to be able to talk about some of her stuff that's on YouTube.

Yurina Hirate - Yamanotesen (山手線)

Source: La_mela

This is a topic I already talked a bit about in my introduction post. I had ventured through the world of vintage idols for maybe a year and half when I decided it was time for a break - from vintage, not from the idols. So I decided to follow one of the only recent idol groups I knew, which was AKB48.

After some time browsing their members and songs, I stumbled upon this, at the time, recent group called Keyakizaka46 (欅坂46), the sister group of Nogizaka46, which in turn is the "official rival" of AKB48 (another way to say that the profit ends all in the same pockets). They were about to release their third single when I started hearing about them, and had a seemingly permanent center member called Yurina Hirate (平手友梨奈) (affectionately called "Techi", shortened from "Hiratechi").

With only 14 years old, she passed the audition singing "Hoshizora no Distance" (link to J-Canuck's article), a quite mature song for her age. And that was probably part of what Yasushi Akimoto ended up basing the image of Keyakizaka46 on: a tale of resistance of youth towards the shackles of society. And Hirate ended up embodying that image on stage and in her soul, as she herself says in interviews.

"Yamanotesen" (山手線) is Hirate's first solo song, included in the 2016 debut single of Keyakizaka46, "Silent Majority". The title song was a big hit by itself and the whole single is a pretty solid one, so I plan on writing another article about it.

The lyrics were written by Yasushi Akimoto, as usual with all groups under his wing. The theme coincides with the aforementioned image choosen for Keyakizaka46. There's a girl who doesn't know which "train stop" to choose in order to reach happiness and love in the future, so she keeps going around in circles. As does the railway line that circles the Tokyo metropolitan area, Yamanote Line.

And this is the thing I wanted to mention. The song sounds like it could have been taken straight out of Momoe Yamaguchi's early repertory (pre-"Yokosuka Story"). And look at the picture I started the post with: she resembles Momoe-chan, doesn't she? Not only physically, but also in the tone of the songs she sings, both solo and with Keyakizaka. Just when I "was supposed" to take a break from the older idols, lol. And it's not just me to notice this: it was already mentioned in media several times.

I'm not as passionate with Keyakizaka46 as I was when I met them, but I still keep an eye on them. The picture I posted is from a magazine released this week. I just can't keep myself from feeling happy when I see Hirate looking like one of my favorite singers of all time. By the way, this girl is also a fascinating person by herself, and I wonder where the future will take her.

To finish this post (I swear it's the final line about my hyping with Techi and Momoe-chan, lol) here's Keyakizaka46 singing Momoe's "Hito Natsu no Keiken", in the 2016 edition of FNS Uta no Natsu Matsuri. The group's singing is far from good, but it's worth it for that initial solo line.

P.S.: These days I'm more into Keyakizaka's "little sisters", Hiragana Keyakizaka46. Maybe I'll get to talk about a deep-voiced girl called Kyoko Saito and her great cover of Akina Nakamori's "Desire".

Mariya Takeuchi -- Ichigo no Yuuwaku(イチゴの誘惑)

Well, some mere days after I wrote about Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子)celebrating a birthday, I only found out that songbird Mariya Takeuchi(竹内まりや)is having her 62nd birthday today! I will have to thank that chance encounter with a tweet by a Mariya fan for informing me of the auspicious day today.

There was a momentary quandary, though. For a fellow like me who has collected a lot of her albums including a couple of BEST compilations, I was rather wondering if there were any songs left that I could really talk about by Takeuchi. Giving a Gibbs slap up the back of my head, I found out that there was at least one tune from her old days that I had yet to cover.

Not only that, but it was a tune that I had never heard of before! Ironically enough, the cover for the single 45" is something that I have seen countless times over the years, and I consider it to be one of the iconic images of Mariya. A cute beaming lass in a pink outfit and white sneakers? I can look at that all day! The cover is for her 7th single "Ichigo no Yuuwaku" (Strawberry Temptation) which was released back in April 1981.

Listening to the song for the first time, I'm sure that there will be further insights to bubble out in the years to come. However, initially speaking, I have to say that "Ichigo no Yuuwaku" comes off as cute as that cover photo with a melody that has that mix of her old-style bubblegum pop and an aidoru sensibility. I can imagine someone like the aforementioned Seiko-chan tackling this one just as easily, and perhaps it could have indeed done better on the charts than this original which only got to No. 80. Interestingly enough, Takeuchi had nothing to do with the creation of the song at all. It was actually a couple of other songwriting masters that took care of it, lyricist Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆)and composer Tetsuji Hayashi(林哲司), and they seemed to have gotten the Mariya aesthetic quite nicely.

"Ichigo no Yuuwaku" was also a track on the singer's 5th album "Portrait" from October 1981.  In any case, Happy Birthday to Mariya!