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.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Aiko Hirano -- Minato ga Mieru Oka (港が見える丘)

Last week's "Uta Kon"(うたコン)had its tribute to the wonderful city of Yokohama and during its 45 minutes which I enjoyed thoroughly, there was also another song that I was happy to discover.

"Minato ga Mieru Oka" (The Hill Overlooking The Harbour) was sung that night by enka chanteuse Yukino Ichikawa(市川由紀乃)in this quiet nighttime jazzy tone which always has had a soft spot in my heart. So I was quite enchanted. And happily enough, in looking up this song online, I found out that there was an interesting story behind it.

The song was originally released in April 1947 as one of the early postwar ryukoka流行歌...literally, popular song)by Victor. Sung by then-newbie Aiko Hirano(平野愛子)and created by Showa Era composer and lyricist Tatsuzo Azuma(東辰三), the original version had that sweet music orchestra sound surrounding the lyrics regarding a young couple in love admiring the view of a harbour from the top of that hill. It became that huge hit for Hirano who followed up with a number of other hits and soon earned the title of "The Young Blues Queen".

However, after the sudden passing of her mentor, Azuma, in 1950, Hirano didn't enjoy another major hit and would change recording companies a couple of times. In her later years, she started a music school in her home before she passed away in 1981. She did appear in the 2nd and 3rd Kohaku Utagassen in 1952 and 1953 but not for the song of this article.

As was illustrated during the Yokohama tribute on "Uta Kon" last week, "Minato ga Mieru Oka" has been seen as one of those old songs celebrating the city of Minato Mirai 21, Yokohama Bay and Chinatown. Plus in 1962, the Minato-ga-Mieru-Oka Park was even opened with a stone memorial inside pointing out its musical lineage. However, there has been a tiny controversy over whether that was actually true. Apparently, Azuma may have created the song in tribute to his hometown of Kobe which also has that wonderful view of the port from up above. But his son, famed lyricist Michio Yamagami(山上路夫), calmed the few ripples that may have resulted and wondered aloud whether the song had been created in tribute to both cities, and for that matter, any of the port cities in Japan.

Nonetheless, it's a lovely song, and considering the melody, I believe it could have one of the great proto-Mood Kayo tunes. To cement its classic standard status, it's been covered by a whole range of singers/musicians (including City Pop maestro Toshiki Kadomatsu/角松敏生...too bad, his version isn't online). Chieko Baisho(倍賞千恵子)is one of those artists and she gives a slower and slightly smokier jazz cover here.

Masako Mori(森昌子)provided her own mellow Big Band cover, and although the video footage looks a few decades old, her version is on a 2007 album titled "Ano Koro"(あのころ...The Old Days).

And then there is Rumiko Koyanagi(小柳ルミ子)with a sunny and relaxed version that could have had her performing it from a chaise lounge on Long Island. Her take on "Minato ga Mieru Oka" is on her massive 2002 6-disc collection titled "Rumiko Koyanagi CD-BOX"....on CD 4, if you were wondering.

The one last piece of trivia that I found on the article for the song, though, is that "Minato ga Mieru Oka" had also been the inspiration for Hiroshi Miyagawa(宮川泰)to create The Peanuts' "Teami no Kutsushita"(手編みの靴下)which later became Mari Sono's(園まり)hit "Aitakute, Aitakute"(逢いたくて逢いたくて)in the 1960s. That would explain the Follow-Up tag in the Labels.
Thank you, zaimoku_woodpile

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Haruomi Hosono -- Tokyo Shyness Boy (東京Shyness Boy) perfect honesty, Haruomi Hosono(細野晴臣)has never had the prettiest of voices. "Tokyo Shyness Boy" doesn't break that streak in "Kayo Kyoku Plus". But with my usual random foray into the wilds of YouTube especially when I threw in that "Japanese City Pop" into the search engine, this is what I found.

"Tokyo Shyness Boy" is a track from Hosono's 3rd studio album from 1976, "Bon Voyage co."(泰安洋行). And I will give my regards to Wikipedia and provide the direct description of the album:

This album continues the tropical style of Hosono House and Tropical Dandy (which would continue later on with Paraiso) while showing influence from the music of New Orleans and also features performances from Tin Pan Alley and Happy End (excluding Takashi Matsumoto. The album's Japanese title was influenced by a Nagasaki convenience store of the same name that Hosono met while on Tin Pan Alley's "First & Last Concert Tour". This album was re-issued as part of a box set with the single version of the Tropical Dandy song "Peking Duck" (which was coupled with a song from this album) and an interview Hosono gave on a Tokyo Broadcasting System radio show.

(the introduction from "Bon Voyage co." on Wikipedia)

I've seen the album of the cover in the book "Japanese City Pop", and I think listening to even this one track, it's pretty interesting since I know that Hosono would become one of the big three in the totally different Yellow Magic Orchestra. He may not have a great voice but I have been interested in his discography pre-YMO.

"Tokyo Shyness Boy" has that City Pop edge since I can't help but feel that this would be something which I could hear in some sort of live house in Shinjuku or Harajuku of the 1970s. Plus the fact that this can never be identified as anything conventionally Japanese puts this squarely into New Music territory. There is that down-and-dirty brass sound in there which reminded me of the house band on the various incarnations of "Saturday Night Live" over the decades.

One other piece of trivia about "Tokyo Shyness Boy" is that Hosono whipped this up as a bit of a tease against Keiichi Suzuki(鈴木慶一)of the Moonriders. Apparently, Suzuki was the type of person who would blush at the drop of a hat. As for "Bon Voyage, co.", it made it as high up as No. 76 on Oricon.

P.S. There was quite the lineup of musicians on the album: old Happy End bandmates Shigeru Suzuki and Eiichi Ohtaki (guitar and backing vocals respectively), Akiko Yano (piano), Taeko Ohnuki (backing vocals) and Hiroshi Sato (piano and clarinet) among others.

Seiko Matsuda -- Ruriiro no Chikyuu (瑠璃色の地球)

I borrowed Seiko Matsuda's(松田聖子)13th album, "Supreme" from a university friend back in the mid-1980s, and I think it was still the time when Seiko-chan was away from the spotlight. And of course at that time, it wasn't nearly as easy to find out about the latest news about Japanese aidoru as it is now so I was wondering whether the Queen Aidoru of the early 80s was going to make her retirement permanent.

The one song that I remembered from that album was the final track, "Ruriiro no Chikyuu" (The Bright Blue Earth). Takashi Matsumoto's(松本隆)lyrics were all about love of humanity and about what a wonderful blue ball we all live on (let's try to remember this now in the era of Brexit, ISIS and potential President Trump). Still, I couldn't quite help thinking that this ballad with all of the heartrending strings and delicate piano could have been the swan song for Seiko-chan.

Shinji Kawahara(川原伸司)was the composer behind the music here although he used his pen name of Natsumi Hirai(平井夏美)for "Ruriiro no Chikyuu". With the grand scale of the melody, I think this would have been one of the final tunes at a Seiko concert with the proverbial darkened stage and one lonely spotlight on Seiko. In keeping with the feeling that this could have been made into the goodbye song for the lass, "Ruriiro no Chikyuu" would have been to Seiko-chan as "Sayonara no Mukou Gawa"(さよならの向う側)was to the premier aidoru of the previous decade, Momoe Yamaguchi(山口百恵). An epic pop ballad for the young woman who was no longer an aidoru and was on the cusp of motherhood. The audience would have been going through the collective box of tissues like a hot knife through butter.

Incidentally, the above video has Seiko and daughter Sayaka Kanda(神田沙也加)doing a duet version of "Ruriiro no Chikyuu". According to J-Wiki, the ballad had been recorded during Seiko's pregnancy. Sayaka has mentioned that whenever she listens to this particular song, she gets this rather odd feeling. In any case, it is still the song that struck me as being the coda to Seiko's pure aidoru period.

Kohmi Hirose -- Groovy!

I actually have this song on Kohmi Hirose's(広瀬香美)BEST album "Love Winters" which came out in 1998 but had no idea that it had also been the first ending theme for the anime "Card Captor Sakura"(カードキャプターさくら). A few days ago, I wrote about how much I loved the second ending theme "Honey" by chihiro and then came my discovery of Hirose's contribution to this apparently iconic show.

"Groovy!" was Hirose's 13th single from September 1998, and all I can say is that "Card Captor Sakura" really liked to boogie with its music. I'm now convinced that Hirose can cure the common cold with that voice of hers. She came up with both the words and music, and as for the latter, it really does groove with that sound that had me hearkening back to another Japanese singer with cheer and voice, EPO, and some old-style poppy R&B. It's just a shame that it got no higher than No. 67 on the charts.

And look here...even Miku wants to get into the mix! Can't say I blame her! That piano and the Santana guitar gets me every time.

Tatsue Kaneda -- Hanamachi no Haha (花街の母)

It's been a fairly washoku(和食)weekend for me. Well, I have Japanese food all the time at home but what I meant was that the past couple of days have been spent with friends and colleagues enjoying the fare outside. On Friday, I met up with my fellow translators for dinner at a Okinawan-style izakaya known as Ryoji in Little Italy before going up College St. a few blocks away for further drinking at another izakaya named Hapa. I think it was the first time in over 4 years that I've actually done any sort of hashigo (barhopping...literally translated as "ladder") where J-watering holes are concerned...mind you, Friday's affair was just one rung on the ladder.

The earnest hashigo that I experienced regularly was back in my Gunma days over 25 years ago. The teachers back there could really knock them back...and I guess teaching junior high school kids can bring its own share of stress. Anyways, barhopping in the wilds of the Japanese Alps usually meant the main dinner and then a drink at an izakaya or nomiya followed by a late-night slurp of ramen or ochazuke. One time, we even went 5 stages...I don't remember much from that. However, karaoke would somehow inevitably slip itself among the rungs at one of the bars.

"Hanamachi no Haha" (Mother of the Hanamachi District) would be one of those enka songs sung at the bars. Because the teacher group on the hashigo would mostly be in their thirties and older, enka and Mood Kayo were often the genres of choice. The thing about "Hanamachi no Haha" was that it wasn't my first choice for a Tatsue Kaneda(金田たつえ)song tonight. Earlier this afternoon, I was watching NHK's "Nodo Jiman"(のど自慢)weekly song contest and heard one of the citizens try out what was probably a much later Kaneda single but couldn't find any information about it at all. So, looking at the singer's J-Wiki discography, I did see one song that picked up attention and that was "Hanamachi no Haha". And as it turned out, it is an enka that I have heard over the years without knowing the original singer or title.

Tatsue Kaneda was born and raised in Sunagawa City, Hokkaido Prefecture in 1948. And a few years following her win at a minyo-singing contest when she was an early teen, she made her way to Tokyo in 1965 at the age of 17 and ended up marrying the president of the company representing her in the same year! A couple of years later, she made her debut as a minyo singer.

However, Kaneda decided to make the genre shift to the more popular enka for which she debuted with "Hanamachi no Haha" in June 1973. Written by Shohei Mozu(もず唱平)and composed by Toshi Miyama(三山敏), the sad song is about a geisha performer who longs to be with her daughter after so many years but cannot do so due to the demands of her profession. The hanamachi mentioned in the title, by the way, refers to the geisha district of a city or town (believe me, I am no expert on the life of a geisha but this is what I've been able to pick up online so if there are any errors in the above, please let me know). Despite the gentle melody by Miyama, the lyrics gradually make it clear that the geisha has resigned herself to her lot in life and can only imagine what her daughter may be doing.

According to Kaneda's biography on J-Wiki, the lyrics also hit the singer hard in the heart. Originally, "Hanamachi no Haha" was only meant for release in the Osaka area but Kaneda felt that the story in the song resembled elements in her own life so she pushed the people around her to have this released in a much wider area. It gradually became known nationwide and 6 years later in 1979, it finally became a hit (although Kaneda had also released 18 or 19 other singles by that time) and even got her an invitation to appear on the Kohaku Utagassen for that year for the first time. By 1988, the single managed to sell over 2.5 million records.

Memorial Hall Visits Part 1: Yujiro Ishihara

Finally managed to pull myself away from the manga "Berserk" after finishing the Golden Age Arc. While I enjoy the story line and the complex main characters, I can't deny that Kentaro Miura has created something that's graphic in all sense of the word, and he seems to like drawing eyes popping out of the sockets of victims of vicious violence. It's either that or that's what really happens if one gets sliced down the head with an obscenely huge sword.

Alright, eyes flying out of eye sockets aside, I would now like to touch on the items that were of high priority on my Japan to-do list: visiting the memorial halls of Yujiro Ishihara (石原裕次郎) and Takashi Hosokawa. I've decided to split them into articles of their own since I think they may be quite long, and I'll start with the former since I went there first.

I don't remember how I came across the Ishihara Yujiro Memorial Hall, but the moment that I saw it was in Otaru, and that we would be dropping by the canal town somewhere along our itinerary, I was determined to go. After all, I wouldn't want to miss a chance to see a whole building dedicated to everyone's favourite Tough Guy.

Despite the day being rainy and starting off on the wrong foot, all the negativity got erased the moment I stood at the memorial hall's entrance and saw the words "石原裕次郎記念館". It really cheered me up. All the more when the first thing that greeted me upon entering was Hiroshi Tachi (舘ひろし)... 's cut-out. Dang, while my smile was not as wide as anticipated, my hands were grabbing on to my grey newsboy cap so tightly I thought would have torn it!

Dandy Takayama! Oh, wrong franchise...
Um... Bad-ass Hato! Oldbutstillhot.
As to why there's a "Tachi" sitting on a the "Hato bike": there's a "Seibu Keisatsu" (西部警察) area in the hall's foyer that displayed some of the show's popular character's vehicles. Standing by the iconic vehicles were cut-outs of the actors that played the respective characters. So there were also cut-outs of the cool Tetsuya Watari (渡哲也), a.k.a. Yujiro's right-hand man, beside a crazy weaponized car, and the man himself beside something sporty and more normal. Unfortunately, I don't remember the names of the vehicles as I was too enamored by their drivers/rider. Plus, other pictures of Ishihara and the gift shop had me buzzing around just this one area alone.

As mentioned, this was only at the entrance, there was a huge area in the back (that required the purchase of tickets) that showcased the popular singer-actor's professional life and personal life. No photo taking was allowed there - being the idiot I can be sometimes, I immediately forgot about that and took some photos, but deleted them out of guilt after seeing a "No Photos" sign halfway through - so I'm not able to show you guys the incredible effort that was put into documenting his life, but I can say that they even displayed his swim trunks and the labels and corks of champagne he used to drink. There was also a section that told of his love for sailing, which stemmed from his childhood, and a section on his life in Hawaii. Oh, and Yu-chan in his early days was cute.

While I do like Yujiro and hold a great deal of respect for him, somehow I wasn't as moved as I thought I'd be when wandering around his memorial hall. Poignant, yes. But not emotional. On hindsight, perhaps it was because my main motivation of going there was actually to see the Tachi cut-out, as crazy as that sounds - if you've read my articles on Mr. Dandy, you'll know why.

However, there was one part where I did sort of feel moved. And that was when I heard "Yogiri yo Konya mo Arigatou" (夜霧よ今夜も有難う) at the start of the "No Photo" zone where they were playing clips of a handful of Tough Guy's movies along with the respective movies' theme songs in a theater-like environment. Of course, there were other tunes I enjoy like "Arashi wo Yobu Otoko" (嵐を呼ぶ男) and "Ginza no Koi no Monogatari" (銀座の恋の物語), but it was "Yogiri..." that had ninjas attempting to cut onions. I guess it's as close as I could get to hearing one of my favourite songs being sung by the original singer.

When all was said and done, it was time for souvenirs at the gift shop. It was something I had been looking forward to as well because firstly, it was quite big and well-stocked, and secondly I had eyes on a cap that had Ishihara's name on it. I did get the black one, and while it is actually rather large for me despite being the smallest size, heavy, and made of a thick material, I love it. Besides that, I got a key-chain with a black and white photo of Tough Guy that I'm currently using as a bag accessory, and the "Yogiri..." single (y'know, just 'cause). Just some physical souvenirs to accompany the incredible experience.

All aboard the S.S. Yujiro!

Epilogue: While not much time was spent in Otaru, we did also visit the that iconic canal that's a must-see for those visiting the place. Well, to be frank it was kinda underwhelming; I thought it was bigger but it was rather quite picturesque. And it wasn't a complete waste either as along the waterway were 2 music plaques: the first featuring "Otaru no Hito yo" (小樽のひとよ) by Tokyo Romantica, and the second featuring "Ore no Otaru" (おれの小樽) by Yu-chan

Yeah, yeah, it's the cliche picture of the canal.

If you're wondering why Yujiro's museum is situated in Otaru rather than his birthplace of Kobe, it's because he spent his childhood in this seaside city. And I think he really liked the place as he could sail in his Yachts, one of them being the Hale Contessa, if I'm not wrong.

"He was strong-willed & innocent.
He shall give us beautiful dreams and hopes forever."

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Kobukuro -- YELL (エール)

I remember when I first saw the duo Kobukuro (コブクロ) on TV. It was when they came out with their huge hit, "Tsubomi"(蕾)in the latter half of the last decade. I just saw these two fellows with a huge height differential and remarked "That guy is no singer...he's a basketball player!".

That tall fellow is Shunsuke Kuroda(黒田俊介)at 193cm or 6'4" according to Wikipedia. Nope, compared to some of the guys in the NBA or the NHL, he would be seen as just one of the guys but on Japanese telly, he might as well be Gulliver on the island of Lilliput. But digressing, his partner is Kentaro Kobuchi(小渕健太郎)and the two of them formed Kobukuro at the end of the century when they met up as street buskers in Osaka.

Kobukuro paid their dues on the indie scene for their first few years but then hit pay dirt with their first single as a major act. That was "YELL" from March 2001 and listening to it for the first time recently, the song further confirmed my impression of the duo as mellow but passionate musicians who never quite left the street despite their current fame. Thousands may be in their comfy stadium seats surrounding Kuroda and Kobuchi but I still get that feeling of a few passers-by suddenly stopping in front of the pair and giving them a good listen.

According to the J-Wiki article on "YELL", their debut single was a big hit as it peaked at No. 4 on Oricon and went Platinum in sales. Kobuchi wrote and composed the song which was used as a theme for a couple of variety programs and as a commercial tune for an insurance company. Ultimately, it became the 77th-ranked song for 2001 and it was also placed on Kobukuro's debut album "Roadmade" which was released in August that year. It hit as high as No. 6 on the album charts.