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.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Top 10 Albums of 2015

1.  Arashi                                        Japonism
2.  Sandaime J Soul Bros.              Planet Seven
3.  Dreams Come True                   Dreams Come True! Watashi no Dorikamu
4.  AKB48                                      Koko ga Rhodes da, Koko de Tobe!
5.  AKB48                                      0 to 1 no Aida
6.  Mr. Children                              REFLECTION
7.  Southern All Stars                     Budou
8.  Sekai no Owari                         Tree
9.  Kanjani Eight                            Kanjani Eight no Genki ga Deru CD!!
10. Kis-my-Ft2                               KIS-MY-WORLD

Mari Iijima -- The Christmas Song

Yes, folks, Christmas has once again descended upon the good folks here at "Kayo Kyoku Plus". Mind you, I pretty much burned the entire wick in the first couple of years of the blog's existence in terms of J-Xmas tunes. However, I like to think that there are still some undiscovered Yuletide niceties out there.

And I found one. This would be Mari Iijima's(飯島真理)pretty cover of the classic "The Christmas Song" originally by Mel Torme and Bob Wells. Her version comes on her own Xmas album "The Christmas Song" from 1989, and includes "Blue Christmas" which was actually her own creation and not a cover of the song also covered by Elvis Presley. I appreciate the fact Iijima's version has got that nice acapella and an arrangement that reminded me of the classic version by Nat King Cole.

Saburo Kitajima/Mirei Kitahara -- Gyouka(漁歌)

Man, I do love my sushi. What I have to remember then is the fishermen who go out into often stormy waters to get the necessary fish and other sea life.

"Gyouka" (Fishing Song) is the 78th single by enka legend Saburo Kitajima(北島三郎), released in 1983. True to his reputation of singing gutsy brio-filled enka tunes of folks working hard, this song pummels through your ears to send the message of the fisherman who won't let something as little as high waves or punishing storms deter him from providing for his family back onshore. I remember this one especially since it has Sabu-chan giving those high-pitched wails near the end. It's about as Kitajima-esque a song that I have heard from him.

One small note about the above video is that this was Kitajima's contribution to the 1983 Kohaku Utagassen and at the end of the performance, you might see the late supermodel Sayoko Yamaguchi(山口小夜子)as one of the judges for the contest that year. For those Steely Dan fans, she was the lady on the cover of the classic "Aja" album.

"Gyouka" was written by Takao Yamada(山田孝雄)and composed by Keisuke Hama(浜圭介). In the same year of 1983, Mirei Kitahara(北原ミレイ)also released the same song as her 19th single. Not sure if the above performance has the same arrangement in the original recording but it seems like Kitahara's version has a slightly more folksy and romantic quality although it's no less gutsy.

1983 Kohaku Utagassen (34th Edition)

Well, being as it is December and therefore close to the 68th Kohaku Utagassen for 2017, I figure that I will close off the trilogy of my Kohaku remembrances with the 34th, or 1983, edition, following my article on the 1982 show back in the summer.

The 1981, 1982 and 1983 shows are the ones that have remained the most memorable for me. After that, for some reason, the Kohaku Utagassen stopped becoming ultra-special. I can remember a couple of performances for the 1984 and 1985 shows but following those, it all becomes a hazy blur.

First off, let's get the Red and White teams for the 1983 edition out of the way.

Red Team

Hiromi Iwasaki                        Ieji (9th appearance)
Yoshie Kashiwabara                Haru Nanoni (1st)
Naoko Kawai                           UN Balance (3rd)
Miyuki Kawanaka                   Yarazu no Ame (3rd)
Ikue Sakakibara                       Kanashiki Claxon (6th)
Rumiko Koyanagi                   Ohisashiburi ne (13th)
Chiyoko Shimakura                Tsumiki Kuzushi (27th)
Mieko Makimura                    Juhyou no Yado (3rd)
Mika Hino                               Hisame (1st)
Yu Hayami                              Natsu Iro no Nancy (1st)
Akina Nakamori                     Kinku (1st)
Mizue Takada                         Sonna Hiroshi ni Damasarete (6th)
Anri                                         CAT'S EYE (1st)
Harumi Miyako                      Naniwa Koi Shigure (19th)
Mina Aoe                                Osaka Blues (17th)
Seiko Matsuda                        Glass no Ringo (4th)
Aki Yashiro                             Nihon Kai (11th)
Naoko Ken                              Nakasete (7th)
Masako Mori                           Ettou Tsubame (11th)
Sachiko Kobayashi                  Futatabino (5th)
Kiyoko Suizenji                       Asakusa Monogatari (19th)

White Team

Hideki Saijo                            Gyarandu (10th)
Goro Noguchi                         19:00 no Machi (11th)
Hiromi Go                               Suteki ni Cinderella Complex (11th)
Eisaku Okawa                         Sazanka no Yado (1st)
Shibugaki-tai                           Chouhatsu Mugendai (2nd)
Kenji Sawada                          Hare Nochi BLUE BOY (11th)
Haruo Minami                         Sasurai Goza Makura (26th)
Masao Sen                               Yuuyake Gumo (11th)
Tomio Umezawa                     Yume Shibai (1st)
ALFEE                                    Marie-Anne (1st)
Masahiko Kondo                     Tameiki Rockabilly (3rd)
Joji Yamamoto                        Umi Nari (3rd)
Kenji Niinuma                         Sake to Futari Zure (8th)
Hideo Murata                           Karate Ichidai (22nd)
Southern All Stars                   Tokyo Shuffle (3rd)
Toshihiko Tahara                     Saraba...Natsu (4th)
Saburo Kitajima                      Gyouka (21st)
Yoichi Sugawara                     Amant (17th)
Hiroshi Itsuki                          Sasame Yuki (13th)
Shinichi Mori                          Fuyu no Riviera (16th)
Takashi Hosokawa                  Yagiri no Watashi (9th)

Quite some interesting things in this show. For one thing, unlike the 1981 and 1982 editions, the rookie singer didn't start things off. It was actually one of my favourites, Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美), who launched the 1983 special with one of my favourites by her, "Ieji"(家路). I was accustomed to seeing her near the end of the Kohaku.

The show was notable for featuring a lot of singers I have now known for years making their debut on the Kohaku. For example, this was the first time for me to ever find out about Anri(杏里). And it was one of her most famous works, "CAT'S EYE".

Plus, there was ALFEE with "Marie-Anne"(メリーアン). My first impression of them from their individualistic appearances was that this was indeed a band which was a motley crew. Unfortunately, I couldn't find their Kohaku appearance online but at least you can see what the song is all about above.

On the aidoru front, there was Yu Hayami(早見優)with "Natsu Iro no Nancy"(夏色のナンシー)who knocked me for a loop when she actually spoke in English to the folks out there.

But of course, there was future superstar Akina Nakamori(中森明菜)who made her first appearance at a Kohaku with "Kinku"(禁区). Always loved that hairdo from back then.

One of the other highlights for me was seeing Ikue Sakakibara(榊原郁恵)performing "Kanashiki Claxon"(悲しきクラクション)with some of her teammates giving their version of an 80s fashion show.

Of course, the enka side of things was still well represented with folks like Sachiko Kobayashi(小林幸子)and Shinichi Mori(森進一).

One of the reasons that I've remembered Kohakus 1981~1983 so fondly was that all three of them had their big showstopping numbers. The 1981 edition had the young singers give their tribute to Quincy Jones' "Ai no Corrida" (it is the reason that I eventually bought the amazing album "The Dude") and the 1982 show had those young'uns do a Beatles medley.

However, the 1983 number may have have outdone the first two with pretty much everybody on the Red and White teams take part in an epic Latin version of an American standard "Begin The Beguine". The execution wasn't perfect but the energy and intent were full-on. Plus, seeing the old buddies Murata and Minami give the final note and catching Hiromi Iwasaki laugh up her lungs were worth the price of admission.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Top 10 Singles of 2015

1.  AKB48                                      Bokutachi wa Tatakawanai
2.  AKB48                                      Halloween Night
3.  AKB48                                      Green Flash
4.  AKB48                                      Kuchibiru ni Be My Baby
5.  SKE48                                       Coquettish Juutaichuu
6.  Nogizaka46                               Ima, Hanashitai Dare ka ga Iru
7.  Nogizaka46                               Taiyo Knock
8.  Nogizaka46                               Inochi wa Utsukushii
9.  Arashi                                        Aozora no Shita, Kimi to Nari
10. NMB48                                    Don't Look Back!

Hiromi Iwasaki -- Hashi(橋)

The end of the year is night which means that the end-of-year party season is also upon me. First up was the annual gathering involving friends at Kingyo downtown as usual. Food and service were great as usual but I didn't like the table too much since I think it stretched the folks a little too far apart. There will be a couple of more visits to the place this month but there's absolutely no complaint from me since the food is so good there.

Well, it's been a while since I put up a Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美)article. So I'll be providing one from her short list of melodic contributions for the venerable "Kayo Suspense Gekijo"(火曜サスペンス劇場...The Tuesday Night Suspense Drama)series in the early 1980s. Her 35th single "Hashi" (The Bridge) can be put alongside "Madonna Tachi no Lullaby"(聖母たちのララバイ)and "Ieji"(家路)as those hauntingly beautiful and melancholy love ballads which typically ended an episode from the mystery anthology show. Not surprisingly, it was the same duo of Keisuke Yamakawa and Toshiyuki Kimori(山川啓介・木森敏之)who provided words and music for "Hashi", a musical metaphor for the end of a romance through a countryside scene. Yeah, it's a beautiful song but I probably wouldn't have it played to celebrate an anniversary.

I didn't know that there was an actual music video for the song and the imagery in there would probably make for a good opening sequence for an episode of "Kayo Suspense Gekijo" itself if sped up a bit.

To be honest, I'm fonder of the earlier Iwasaki/Yamakawa/Kimori collaborations than I am of "Hashi" but still hearing it again after a number of years was a nice experience. It peaked at No. 31 on Oricon after its release in August 1984.

And you can see how the song was used at the end of a "Kayo Suspense Gekijo" episode right here. Nothing better to contemplate life after a crime than a Hiromi Iwasaki ballad. :)

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Frank Nagai -- Koi-san no Love Call(こいさんのラブ・コール)

Among just about everybody in the old kayo era, I believe Frank Nagai(フランク永井)was the original crooner of love songs. There is something about his delivery and voice that brings to mind some of those romantic singers in the United States back in the 1920s and 1930s. They're the ones who I would envisage cradling those huge microphones in the radio studios like a lover while the NBC orchestra is playing in the background.

Even among Nagai's long discography, I think I may have discovered his crooniest love song in the form of "Koi-san no Love Call" (Love Call From The Youngest Daughter). Recorded in 1958 and created by Tsuneo Ishihama and Masao Ono(石濱恒夫・大野正雄), the singer pretty much places himself in ancient RKO Studios when I hear him sing this tribute to young ladies, perhaps barely out of their teens, weeping for their beaus leaving town, perhaps to start work elsewhere.

"Koi-san no Love Call" may be just the song to end the radio broadcast before everyone hits slumberland, and so I will close down my computer and hit the hay. Good night!

Hiroshi Sato -- Seat For Two

It's been a little over 5 years since Hiroshi Sato's(佐藤博)untimely passing and I'm still quite stuck on his magnum opus album "Awakening".


However, "Aqua", his 8th album from June 1988 may become a future catch. I say this because I've become quite enamored with the second track, "Seat For Two". It's a dynamic piece that's quite different from any of the tracks from "Awakening". For some reason, I kinda figure that it fits perfectly with Japan's Bubble Era of a high-flying economy, and I do like that album cover which also fits snugly with this particular song.

It could be the percussion involved in here but for another reason, I also think there's a hint of Latin spice and energy in the arrangement. Perhaps it could also be the voice of Sato and his backing singers seeming rather reminiscent of the vocals I've heard from Sergio Mendes' gang back in the 1980s. Anyways, the song promises quite the ride through the streets of Tokyo.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Farewell to the 100% Chocolate Cafe

On the day before I left Japan, Dan and I were walking toward Ginza. And I knew before I had even arrived in the country that there was an establishment that I knew in Tokyo which was going to end its time on December 26th this year.

The 100% Chocolate Cafe was a place that I visited with friends perhaps around 2~3 times during my residency there and has had a good run of more than a decade. In a megalopolis which has a high frequency of restaurant openings and closings, the Meiji-sponsored cafe has done quite well.

I wasn't about to pass this final opportunity to drink at my old haunt so Dan and I did a half-hour there over chocolate drinks. Wish that I could have had some of the chocolate desserts there but after a rather large soba lunch in Akihabara, my stomach didn't have the heart. Still, I was glad that we could have one last time.

Well, perhaps there are other chocolate-themed J-Pop tunes but this is the one that automatically came to mind.

Rentaro Taki -- Kojo no Tsuki (荒城の月)

Instrumental version

At this point in time, I'm aware of a few kayo that are meant to be odes to ancient Japanese castles, namely Michiya Mihashi's (三橋美智也) "Kojou" (古城) and Kiyoshi Hikawa's (氷川きよし) "Haku-un no Shiro" (白雲の城). I'm a fan of Michi's biggest hit and I'm in the midst of getting used to Hikawa's iconic single, but I hadn't yet got formally introduced to their spiritual predecessor "Kojo no Tsuki" until now.

"Kojo no Tsuki", which translates to "Moon Over the Ruined Castle", has a forlorn and haunting atmosphere, created by long drawn out strings and, in some versions I've heard, the tinkling notes of the koto (adds a more Japanese flavour). This eerie composition, written by the short-lived Rentaro Taki (滝廉太郎) in 1901, highlights the fact that these fortresses, once grand in their time, are now nothing but moss-covered ruins and remnants of the past. This brings to my mind the phrase "If the walls could talk, what would they be saying?". Perhaps the cobblestone walls must be lamenting over their fate of being forgotten or having been turned into a tourist attraction after being the epitome of power in their prime.

Yoshiko Yamaguchi's version

I digress. Moving on, the inspiration for the two aforementioned hits by the huge enka stars actually started out as a tune for music lessons in school. After Taki passed on, one thing led to another and some changes to his score were made and the lyrics were added by poet Bansui Doi (土井晩翠). Eventually, it did become popularized nationally as well as internationally in the 1920's, although I'm not very sure who was the first to record it. The English Wiki stated that operatic singer Yoshie Fujiwara (藤原義江) recorded it in 1925, but the J-Wiki has no mention of it. That aside, it was covered a number of times by a myriad of artistes, like the venerable Yoshiko Yamaguchi (山口淑子), Ichiro Fujiyama (藤山一郎), and of course, Michi and Hikawa. I'm not able to find Michi's take, but I've put up the others. I don't have a favourite, but I feel that Yamaguchi's soprano gives "Kojo no Tsuki" an extra layer of loneliness and eeriness.

Mr Fujiyama's version

Between "Kojou" and "Haku-un no Shiro", I think the latter resembles "Kojo no Tsuki" more in terms of its music. You can hear it in the video below. The score of "Kojou", on the other hand, sounds like it has slightly more modern touch to it.

Hikawa's take plus "Haku-un no Shiro"

A little tidbit of information here: The castles the words and the music were based on were different. Taki had Oita prefecture's Oka Castle in mind, while Doi pictured the Aoba Castle in Miyagi and Aizuwakamatsu Castle in Fukushima.

Personally, I've not visited many castles in Japan. The only one I've actually gone up to for a look was the Osaka castle about 4 years back. T'was a majestic sight against the night sky and it's nowhere near ruin, but to be frank, I was more interested in this enormous Siberian Husky or Alaskan Malamute (probably the latter) that was stationed inside a photo shop. I really wanted to give it some love but I was advised not to - the elderly shop owner seemed sour over people going into the shop for the dog and not for the photo services. Well, lady, what do you expect when you've got a dog big enough to be ridden into battle? I wonder if Fido is still there.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

CHAKA with Toko Furuuchi -- Huckleberry Friends(ハックルベリーフレンズ)

Better-late-than-never situation here. This song, and the album that it is included in, is now over 20 years old but didn't know about its existence until tonight.

I've known CHAKA and Toko Furuuchi(古内東子)separately as singers with some wonderful voices, the former during her time with PSY-S and the latter during her early career in the 1990s. Never did I think that the two would actually get together for a duet, though. But that is what they did for one track, "Huckleberry Friends", on CHAKA's 2nd solo album "with friends" in 1996.

CHAKA took care of the lyrics while Furuuchi came up with the groovy and relaxed melody in a nice collaboration about two friends sticking with each other through thick and thin. And as the title would suggest, I would say that the pair makes for good buds hanging out with each other on the weekend at a cafe or at a baseball game. The only other surprise is that "Huckleberry Friends" wasn't used as a theme song for a J-Drama or something.

If I had known about this song and album, it would have been up on my shelf for a couple of decades already. Just goes to show that there are still treasures to be found in the Japanese music iceberg.

Rock A Japonica -- Kyōka Shock!(教歌SHOCK!)

Friday was the final full day of my time in Tokyo. Met up with Dan one last time and did some more shopping around in the big city. Before meeting up with my congenial host from the past weekend, Rob, and some of the others, Dan and I went over to the Shinjuku Station branch of Tower Records. It just so happened that on the 7th floor where the J-Pop stuff was located, there was quite the yelling and shouting.

It turned out that yet another aidoru group was making its presence felt in a Tower Records. This time, it was the 5-girl unit Rock A Japonica(ロッカジャポニカ)and they were actually there performing what I assume was their latest single. The audience was quite the lively mob, being proactive and reactive to what was happening on stage. Of course, I couldn't take any photos lest the Tower Records staff and group's representatives started swarming me with crossed arms (it's happened to me once before).

To give a taste of what Rock A Japonica is like, this is their 2nd single from July 2016, "Kyōka Shock!" (Teaching Song Shock!), a high-speed tune which reached No. 5 on Oricon.

Was getting a tad noisy so we went up another floor to ease our ears. I was surprised to find a small but noticeable display of City Pop in one corner, and as you can see in the above photo, there was even a listening post for Taeko Ohnuki's(大貫妙子)"Sunshower" and Takako Mamiya's(間宮貴子)"Love Trip". That latter album was a real shock since for the past decade, I had always understood it to be one of the rarest and most obscure releases that I had ever known about in contemporary Japanese music although it is one of the classics of the genre in my estimation.

Perhaps its popularity on YouTube might have gotten the attention of a few Tower staffers...or perhaps this blog (heh, heh). Whatever the case, I'm glad that Ms. Mamiya has been getting her due at last.

Shiritsu Ebisu Chugaku -- Sing along sing a song(シンガロン・シンガソン)

With just two full days left in my Tokyo 2017 trip, my friend Dan and I decided to make November 16th the day for searching for those rare albums.

So I met up with him in Akiba where his hotel was. However, since I got there an hour ahead of schedule, I ended up getting a UNIQLO cardigan and having an impromptu brunch at Vie de France. Golly, I did miss that place. My caloric intake suffered a quick increase but despite the sugar and cholesterol, it was well worth it.

Anyways, we first stopped off at some of the old/used CD shops in Jimbocho including my old haunt of Tacto and I was happy that my friend could track down one of his rarities there. After that, we took the Hanzomon Line down to Shibuya and walked it up to Tower Records. Of course, I went a bit crazy with the disc shopping and I've already talked about a couple of the new acquisitions over the past week.

We decided to have lunch down on the 2nd floor where the Tower Records Cafe is located. Apparently, for a limited time, the cafe was made into the central fan location for the aidoru group Shiritsu Ebisu Chugaku(私立恵比寿中学...Ebisu Private Junior High School). We had never heard of these ladies before but the waitress smilingly asked us whether we would want to be seated by the huge poster where the girls were posing. I politely demurred and said that we would be happy being seated anywhere.

We got the comfy sofa set in one corner of the cafe. And the menu consisted of dishes that the individual members of Shiritsu Ebisu Chugaku had recommended. I went with the gyoza-and-fried rice combo and the mango juice. I gathered that SEC had garnered quite a fan following since some of them actually came up to our table to take photos of the pictures on the wall above us containing the girls. So this was what fame was all about, eh? To give credit where credit was due, the lunch was quite delicious.

SEC began in 2010 and had their major debut in 2012. I couldn't quite hear any of their songs at the cafe so I did some digging when I got back home to Toronto and found their 11th and latest single, according to J-Wiki. "Sing along sing a song" had come out right in the middle of my trip on November 8th, and the video and song is actually quite fun to hear. Written and composed by Motoki Ohmori(大森元貴), the song went as high as No. 2 on Oricon.

I will have to give my respects to them as well for the food recommendations.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Kiyotaka Sugiyama & Omega Tribe -- Alone Again

I don't think I ever got a photo of an Omega Tribe(オメガトライブ)album to store as an article thumbnail so I'm quite happy that I could get a shot of the actual Aqua City shopping mall in Odaiba, Tokyo.

As for Kiyotaka Sugiyama's(杉山清貴)old band, their "Aqua City" was their debut album from September 1983. Initially when I saw the title for one of the tracks, "Alone Again", I had assumed for a few seconds that the band was actually doing a cover of the 1970s hit by Gilbert O'Sullivan but then again, that song had the extra word "...Naturally" in the title.

Nope, "Alone Again" by Omega Tribe was written by Yasushi Akimoto(秋元康), now the most prolific lyricist in Japan, and composed by Tetsuji Hayashi(林哲司)who could probably be credited for giving the band its mellow sound. He was the one, after all, who came up with "Summer Suspicion", Omega Tribe's debut single which was also recorded onto "Aqua City".

Listening to "Alone Again", it has all of the tropes that got me interested in Omega Tribe in all of its incarnations in the first place: smooth vocals, mellow beat and that summery sheen. Couldn't have asked for a better song for a young couple strolling on the beach at dusk while holding hands. And I gotta say that the folks who set up the concert above for Sugiyama and the band planned the setting, including the lighting, just right for the song. As for "Aqua City", it peaked at No. 4 on Oricon.

Tetsuji Hayashi/Junko Ohashi -- Rainy Saturday & Coffee Break(レイニー・サタディ&コーヒー・ブレイク)

Another recent acquisition for me is the second album of veteran singer-songwriter Tetsuji Hayashi(林哲司), "Back Mirror" from 1977. I had seen the album at Tower Records back in 2014 but unfortunately didn't come around to getting it. This time, I didn't repeat the same mistake.

I've listened to "Back Mirror" just once so far. I will have to get back to it but in the meantime, the one standout track is "Rainy Saturday & Coffee Break" which pretty much says it all there in terms of the music. Perhaps Hayashi had a regular breakfast place that he hung out at during the weekends near his apartment in Tokyo or whichever city he was residing in at the time. I could see him sucking back on his cigarette after having done his coffee and toast and boiled egg while it's showering outside.

Whatever the scenario, I like this song. It's laidback but cheerful and I do groove to that electric piano. There's something very reassuringly 70s City Pop about it. While Hayashi took care of the music, Machiko Ryu(竜真知子)wrote the lyrics.

One of the backup singers for "Rainy Saturday & Coffee Break" just happened to be chanteuse Junko Ohashi(大橋純子)and strangely enough in the same year, she did a cover of the same song for her own album "Rainbow". This time, it was Hayashi backing her up. Slightly different arrangement but still lovely to listen to.

eufonius -- Kokoro ni Tsubomi(ココロニツボミ)

As we approach the end of another year, I've been able to catch the usual 4 seasons' worth of anime. Personally speaking, I haven't been as enamored with the stuff in the autumn season. Not as crazy about "Just Because" since I'm simply not a fan of straight drama and "Two-Car" just seems to have screaming matches and tension for the sake of having them.

However, one show that I have gradually come to enjoy is "Konohana Kitan"(このはな綺譚). The remarkable thing about it is how much, at least on the surface, it resembles an anime that we saw all the way at the beginning of the year, "Urara Meirochou"(うらら迷路帖). Both shows have magic and mysticism infused into the setting but I think "Konohana Kitan" has some more gravitas and perhaps some harder knocks although it often shows a sense of humour among the characters.

I also like the opening theme by the band eufonius "Kokoro ni Tsubomi" (Buds on the Heart) which begins with a piano resembling a babbling brook before having lyricist and vocalist riya sing the song reminiscent of some of the ballads that I used to hear around the early 2000s from chanteuses like Misia. The melody was provided by keyboardist Hajime Kikuchi(菊地創). There may be some melancholy in the some of the episodes but I think there is a certain reassurance within "Kokoro ni Tsubomi" that things will always be looking up at the end.

Plasmagica -- Ryuusei Dreamline

Met up with my anime buddy for the first time in quite a while. He was quite happy with the souvenirs. To be honest, though, I haven't been as enthused about this current group of anime that he has shown me with the exception of the continuing hilarity of "Mahojin Guruguru"(魔法陣グルグル)and the fascinating "Konohana Kitan"(このはな綺譚).

However, during the anison hour segment of my day, I got to hear an old song from the initial season of "Show By Rock!!". "Ryuusei Dreamline" (Comet Dreamline) was a tune by Plasmagica(プラズマジカ)that I heard now and then. My buddy reminded me that it was the song that got Cyan and the band to the top.

"Ryuusei Dreamline" was written and composed by the musical group RegaSound and I'm sure the song is placed on one of the many CDs that the show has spawned since that first season in 2015. Not sure if there will be a third season since the end of the second season was underwhelming but I know that some franchises have a sophomore jinx so perhaps another "Show By Rock!!" can be brought back. If so, a ton of more soundtrack-and-song CDs are on the way.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Norihiko Hashida and Climax -- Futari dake no Tabi(ふたりだけの旅)

Another kayo singer-songwriter left this mortal coil earlier today. Norihiko Hashida(はしだのりひこ)who participated in a number of bands, notably The Folk Crusaders(ザ・フォーク・クルセダーズ)and Norihiko Hashida and Climax(はしだのりひことクライマックス), passed away at the age of 72 due to Parkinson's Disease.

I wanted to do a small tribute to him so I did a search on his J-Wiki page. His band Norihiko Hashida and Climax had that huge hit from their debut single "Hanayome"(花嫁)when it was first released in January 1971. But then I found their second single which came out later in June of that year, "Futari dake no Tabi" (A Trip Just For Two).

Written by Osamu Kitayama(北山修), Hashida's old bandmate from The Folk Crusaders and composed by Hashida, "Futari dake no Tabi" keeps the cheeriness of "Hanayome" but also brings in a bit more of a seeming urgency that rather makes the song sound less like a folk song and more like something from the Old West. The theme of marriage continues with this song from their debut hit, though, as a young couple puts up roots and then heads off on a trip somewhere...perhaps the honeymoon.

There's no mention about how it did on the Oricon weeklies but according to the folks at entamedata, the song was the 71st-ranked single for 1971.


Well, Dan and I got our nighttime Gundam fix out of the way. We figured that we could stick around Odaiba and walk some of that hefty tonkatsu lunch off from earlier in the day. So we did so. However, one fly in my ointment was that my right knee was giving me conniptions. I rather felt like a veteran baseball player getting injured two-thirds of the way through the season. Therefore, I cried "Uncle!" and we both decided to take a break for at least 30 minutes right beside a vending machine in the VenusFort complex.

While I was recuperating and talking about old times with Danny, I put in the coins to get this intriguing substance called Premium Morning Tea which is supposed to taste like Iced Milk Tea, a popular drink (I certainly was a huge fan back in my Tokyo days) in Japan. This particular version was completely clear. Memories of Clear Coke and Clear Pepsi were brought back to the surface. Mind you, the concept of invisible milk tea should have terrified me but at the time, I was exhausted and my knee was killing me. Furthermore, if I'd had my eyes closed and drank the stuff, I wouldn't have guessed that it was clear. It truly did taste like my beloved Iced Milk Tea....perhaps that observation should be terrifying YOU.

In any case, this article for Tokyo 2017 isn't about Clear Premium Morning Tea. For one thing, I doubted very much that I would be able to find an appropriate song to link it with.

After that rest, I was able to walk more normally without limping too badly and then we decided to get something relatively light for dinner. Unfortunately, we couldn't find anything on that level in Odaiba...apparently, folks in the Tokyo Bay area like their dinners heavy. However, we weren't going to give up and so we decided to hit the shopping mall Aqua City and after some looking, we rested again in a place called Pomme's. As you can see in the display above, you can figure out that the restaurant specializes in omurice (rice omelette).

Not sure how it's been received in other parts of the world outside of Japan, but omurice is still relatively unknown in Toronto at least, despite the fact that we've just gone through a major ramen-and-izakaya boom here. Perhaps its time is still in the offing but also maybe the majority of folks in my burg may not cotton too fondly for ketchup fried rice under a blanket of runny omelette.

In any case, I went for the Chicken Nanban version as you can see at the very top and just above. In retrospect, I'm quite surprised that I was able to finish it off at all but maybe having the bum knee gave me that impetus to nourish my body and soul.

Plus, having a glass of mango milk didn't hurt, either. My only question was why anyone would put lemon slices on an omelette.

Well, here's the song of the article, Chisato Moritaka's(森高千里)"Rockin' Omelette"(ロックン・オムレツ).

Naoko Ken -- Kishuu(帰愁)

One of the songs from Yumi Matsutoya's(松任谷由実)"OLIVE" that I couldn't include in my article for the album yesterday was "Kishuu" since I couldn't find it in its entirety on YouTube. However, there is a brief excerpt of it on the Amazon page below.

The arrangement for the original song kept reminding me of "El Condor Pasa" because of those pan flutes. "Kishuu" was actually Yuming's 13th single from June 1979 and it only did very modestly on Oricon, getting as high as No. 89...not too high compared to how "OLIVE" did.

To be honest, I may actually enjoy the cover version performed by Naoko Ken(研ナオコ)since it has more of a contemporary City Pop sheen to it. She first released the song as her 37th single in November 1985 and it was also a track on her 14th album "Deep" which came out on the same day as the single.

As for "Kishuu", apparently the kanji compound may not exactly least, not as a regular word per se, since my online dictionaries didn't register it. However, the overall meaning comes across as "return to regret". And that is what the song is all about...a lady who meets an old flame but just can't come around to say how she truly feels about him and goes home filled with regret.

Hearing Ken's voice, it has always had that smoky and cracking quality to it like burning embers or representing a woman who's seen it all and has become cynically world-weary. I would say on that point, she makes "Kishuu" work. That City Pop arrangement also sounds better here than the original's inclusion of pan flutes and mandolin.

Not sure how she (or her manager) did it, but less than 2 months after releasing "Kishuu", Ken found herself performing that very song on the 1985 Kohaku Utagassen. I'm not sure whether it even got onto the Oricon rankings.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Gundam Unicorn

Never was a huge "Gundam" fan. Don't know why that was...perhaps I just got too mecha'ed out with reruns of "Force Five" and "Robotech" in my teens. Still, I have a couple of friends who are fans and they wanted me to take photos of the new Gundam Unicorn behind Diver City in Odaiba. So, on the 7th, I hopped on the Yurikamome and took it down to Tokyo Bay to take a couple of shots of the new robot on the block during the daytime.

Treated myself to some Krispy Kreme since I did my friends a solid.

About a week later, when my friend Danny arrived from Osaka with his wife, all three of us had lunch in Akihabara before his wife had to head off to her hometown up north. Meanwhile, Dan and I decided to fulfill the other half of my mission which was to take some photos of Unicorn at night.

I gotta say that the night shots are a fair bit more dramatic.

Of course, since it was located near the top of Diver City, we also had to visit Gundam Base, the ultimate museum/shop for all things Gundam.

If you are a Gundam fan, feel free to salivate over the photos but really you owe it to yourself to visit Gundam Base someday.

Strangely enough, when I was thinking about a song to associate with all of these robots, none of the theme songs from the original anime or its descendants ever came to mind. Instead, it was Taeko Ohnuki's(大貫妙子)"Carnaval".

ZARD -- Yureru Omoi(揺れる想い)

Well, this news about the abdication of Emperor Akihito has gotten about as much time and pomp as the anticipated abdication itself, by my estimation. But yes, the bell has rung and the countdown has begun toward the end of the Heisei Era....April 30th 2019, to be exact.

That did get me thinking a bit today. When Emperor Akihito's father, Emperor Hirohito (the Showa Emperor) passed away in 1989, there were all sorts of remembrances about the Showa Era through many aspects. And this blog began almost 6 years ago initially as a platform to talk about Showa Era music. For me, music from 1925-1989 would arguably be best characterized by the advent of the Golden Age of Enka and Mood Kayo, but there were also three decades of aidoru-dom plus the smaller waves of New Music, City Pop and technopop.

It's all but guaranteed that there will be tons of news reports and documentaries on NHK and the commercial networks about the 30-odd years of Heisei for the next several months. And I'm sure that music will be part of the equation. So what was Heisei music like between 1989-2019?

Well, for me, I could probably talk best about the early Heisei period in the 1990s. There was the transition from kayo kyoku to J-Pop through the diversification of mainstream Japanese music, the emergence of the Komuro boom, the overall lack of female aidoru for most of that decade until Morning Musume came onto the scene in 1997, and then the rise of J-R&B among other things.

If someone asked me about a prime Heisei Era singer, I could say that ZARD would fit in there. She had that long string of hits through the 90s although her appearances on TV were few. The late Izumi Sakai(坂井泉水)struck me as being somewhat of a J-Pop Greta Garbo. Nonetheless, she was well heard if not seen.

"Yureru Omoi" (Wavering Thoughts) was one of her big hits as her 8th single. It was another summery song of optimism that first came out in May 1993 as ZARD sang about making that leap of faith to commit to that special someone. While Tetsuro Oda(織田哲郎)was behind the melody, ZARD took care of the lyrics.

The song was the first one in ZARD's career to enter Oricon at the No. 1 position which it held for 2 weeks and ended up as the 9th-ranked single for the year. It was her second hit following her earlier "Makenaide"(負けないで). Her 4th album also ended up with the same title; it came out a couple of months after the single and also hit No. 1 for a total of 5 weeks, becoming the No. 1 album for the year.

Being the 1990s, "Yureru Omoi" just had to be attached to Pocari Sweat. Because of its Oricon success, the song also became the most successful contribution to the isotonic drink's campaign history.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Hi-Fi Set -- Saigo no Haru Yasumi(最後の春休み)

A bit of a follow-up from Yumi Matsutoya's(松任谷由実)"OLIVE" album that I have just wrapped up.

I mentioned about Yuming's take on "Saigo no Haru Yasumi" (Last Spring Break), the bittersweet tale of a high school girl who's now mourning the departure of the boy of her dreams due to graduation. Well, Hi-Fi Set(ハイ・ファイ・セット)also covered the ballad in their 7th album "Flash"(閃光)which came out at about the same as "OLIVE" in July 1979.

While Yuming's version has that 50s feeling to it, Hi-Fi Set's take has the more contemporary 70s pop arrangement for the vocal group. I also like this cover but I think I prefer Yuming's "Saigo no Haru Yasumi" since there is a bit more lushness to her arrangement. However, vocalist Junko Yamamoto(山本潤子)still goes for that high note at the very end of the song just like for the writer of the song herself.

Yumi Matsutoya -- OLIVE

Back in the early days of my fascination with kayo kyoku, the singers I knew at the time were separated into two categories: the ones that I could see on television thanks to the wonder of VHS tapes such as Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子), Akina Nakamori(中森明菜)and Naoko Kawai(河合奈保子), and the ones that I had only heard through the radio program, "Sounds of Japan". Those folks included Mariko Takahashi(高橋真梨子), Mariya Takeuchi(竹内まりや)and Yumi Matsutoya(松任谷由実). I had no idea what the singers who often popped up on my old CHIN-FM broadcast looked like for many years.

This brings me to the topic of this article. I actually had seen the cover for Yumi Matsutoya's 7th original album "OLIVE" many years ago in some magazines without knowing who the singer was. Just from the huge serif font at the top, I naturally assumed the singer below was actually named Olive and she was just a little too much in love with herself posing like that. Of course, that was indeed the divine Yuming(ユーミン)on the cover there.

Now, the very first album by Yuming that I had ever purchased was her "Love Wars" from 1989 so she was fully into her vivacious image and high-stepping performances onstage, and basically my history of collecting her material had me going back and forward in time. My impression is that when she was Yumi Arai(荒井由実)in the early 1970s when she helped start off the New Music boom, she didn't strike me as being the most outgoing person. Her early albums often didn't show her face and when they did, she looked quite dour. So it must have been quite something for her fans when "Olive" was released in July 1979 with that cover of her seemingly out-vogueing Madonna...a few years before the Material Girl even debuted. There was an entertainer about to hatch from the Queen of New Music. According to J-Wiki, photographer Alao Yokogi(横木安良夫)and Yuming came up with the idea to have the cover look like something from a 1960s Italian fashion magazine.

So I finally bought "OLIVE".

 I've listened to the album twice now and I don't think Yuming meant to have any particular overarching theme for "OLIVE". Still it starts off with something that seems to hint at that cover. "Mirai wa Kiri no Naka ni"(未来は霧の中に...The Future's In the Fog)sounds rather French poppy as the singer-songwriter goes autobiographical and sepia when she sings about her memories of the 1960s including the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 and the moon landing in 1969.

Arguably the most famous song from "OLIVE" is "Aoi Air Mail"(青いエアメイル...Blue Air Mail)which seems to pop up on a lot of Yuming's BEST compilations. And why not? It's another one of those sweet and wistful ballads that she can concoct so well. In this case, it's about a woman in love with a friend who may have been close by but now is far enough away that pen-and-paper correspondence is necessary (remember the time period LINE messaging). I just want to look out a window and sigh whenever this comes through the headphones.

I think another Yuming trope I've picked up over the decades is how her voice can get playful and coquettish depending on the song. Such is partly the case with "Amai Yokan"(甘い予感...A Sweet Premonition), a happy-go-lucky number about that sunny drive. There is a light tropical beat and Yuming manages to name-drop The Beach Boys. According to J-Wiki, "Amai Yokan" was originally offered by Yuming to Ann Lewis(アン・ルイス)back in 1977 as her 13th single.

"Tsumetai Ame"(冷たい雨...Cold Rain)is another self-cover which had originally been created when the singer was still Yumi Arai. In fact, I had written an article about the song way back in 2012 when Hi-Fi Set(ハイ・ファイ・セット)did their own gentle version a few years earlier. Yuming's next try at the song about a very awkward ending of a relationship has got a bit more brass and pop into it. In fact, at one point in the recorded version, I think the instrumental makes it sound as if it should have been put onto the soundtrack of a Japanese comedy.

(karaoke version)

"Inazuma no Shojo"(稲妻の少女...Lightning Bolt Girl)comes across as a cheerful tribute to 50s/60s American pop about a girl who's as good with her surfboard as she is with twirling the boys around her pinkie.

My final song for tonight is the track "Saigo no Haru Yasumi"(最後の春休み...Last Spring Break). As with "Tsumetai Ame", this was another Yuming contribution to Hi-Fi Set who recorded it in the same year as her version. Once again, it's all about the bittersweet heartbreak as a girl realizes her beloved senpai will no longer be around the school since he graduated. I will shortly be talking about Hi-Fi Set's version but Yuming's take on it has again that innocent Sandra Dee 50s sheen. When she hits that final high note, it's almost as if she suddenly regressed to the age of that lovelorn kid. Aww, you just wanna get her an ice cream at that point.

"OLIVE" peaked at No. 5 on Oricon and ended the year as the 35th-ranked album for 1979. Yep, she's another Yuming keeper, and despite that glamourous cover, it's really another album of Yuming's feelings about the life of regular young women.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Shinichi Mori -- Inochi Karetemo(命かれても)

I gotta say...that album cover of Shinichi Mori(森進一)cradling that goblet there is priceless! Kudos to Steve in New York City for giving me the album of Mori's best work along with a lot of other kayo records. Just to get that photo in there, I decided to write about another one of his tunes.

Well, I found a classic Mori ballad...his 6th single from September 1967, to be specific, "Inochi Karetemo" which I believe translates to "Even If My Life Dries Up". I posit it as a classic Mori since my impression of his take on enka/Mood Kayo is that there is often a lot of suffering involved, perhaps more so than the average song from those two genres. Perhaps it's because of that near-weepy quaver in his gravelly voice.

The arrangement of "Inochi Karetemo" with the saxophone and guitar seems to place it solidly in the Mood Kayo territory but there is also that feeling of enka underneath as if the protagonist could have easily been living out in the countryside. In any case, Mori sings it from the woman's point of view. The woman has been done wrong by a guy but can't help but still be attached to him. That could explain the odd juxtaposition involved in the video I chose above with Mori singing while pictures of longest-serving Morning Musume(モーニング娘。)member Sayumi Michishige(道重さゆみ)pass by. Perhaps she "betrayed" the uploader by leaving the group.

Minoru Torii(鳥井実)provided the lyrics while Masao Saiki(彩木雅夫)came up with the gentle music. "Inochi Karetemo" became Mori's first million-seller while hitting No. 5 on Oricon (although Oricon didn't officially debut until January 4 1968). Not surprisingly, a little over a year after its release, a movie was made based on the song. Mori even had a small role as himself.

While listening to Mori, a thought came into my head that this would be the ideal song for Keiko Fuji(藤圭子), who knew a thing or two about songs of suffering. Sure enough, she did cover it although I couldn't find out when her version got released. Her take has a bit more defiance in there.