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, August 17, 2017

Seishiro Kusunose -- Miss You

nikala wrote about singer-songwriter Seishiro Kusunose(楠瀬誠志郎)a few years ago for his 1990 song "Eien no Yakusoku"(永遠の約束...Eternal Promises). Unfortunately, the video with the original song has been taken down (although I've put up a cover version). To be honest, I forgot how the fellow sounded after listening to the video but my impression is that he has come up with some solid polished pop.

Earlier today, I found this compilation of City Pop songs that have been appearing like squirrels in my neighbourhood on YouTube over the past several months. And when I checked out the first song, it turned out to be a Kusunose track from his first album "Takarajima"(宝島...Treasure Island)from April 1986. Now, the uploader for the compilation tagged the song as "Shizuka na Gogo" (also on the same album) but listening to a cover version of that song elsewhere on YouTube, I realized that there was a mixup of sorts judging by the lyrics. So, the song is actually "Miss You".

If memory serves me correctly, "Eien no Yakusoku" from 1990 was pretty City Pop in its original form. Well, "Miss You" from four years earlier also definitely has that vibe but with a bit of something extra...something dreamier. Yep, Kusunose wrote and composed the song about getting in that car alone and driving on the highway while thinking about a loved one....perhaps permanently or temporarily parted.

Kusunose has got quite the voice and he certainly can weave quite an arrangement. That particular synthesizer and the backing vocals stand out. In fact, that first yell of what sounded like "HARD TIME" in the song knocked my neck back when I heard it for the first time.

The singer is still active today and he released his latest album, "Let's Sweet Groove",  in the last few months although it hasn't been mentioned in his J-Wiki entry but his new website has got it. As well, nikala has already written a bit of his bio in her article.

aiko -- Kabutomushi (カブトムシ)

Summer means a number of things in Japan (for me, it was meteorological torture). A couple of insect representatives come to mind: the cicada and the rhinoceros beetle. The former insect was most likely more heard (through their late-summer screams) than seen although I have seen cicadas since I was a little boy when at my grandfather's place in Wakayama Prefecture, a neighbour showed me a cicada larva transform into an adult by cracking out of its brown shell.

The rhinoceros beetle is far quieter but it's a huge insect, and quite a popular one, too, in Japan. Kids love finding them and I've seen pet shops selling them in small plastic cages with a piece of cucumber to feed them. In Japanese, the rhinoceros beetle is known as kabutomushi which translates literally as "helmet bug".

"Kabutomushi" is also the 4th single by J-Pop moppet, singer-songwriter aiko, from November 1999. I remember seeing the official music video with the images being washed out except for aiko's clothing and fingernails; it was quite the constant presence on the music shows for several months. The fall release date was interesting but apparently aiko had thought that the rhinoceros beetle was a winter insect instead of a summer insect.

aiko wrote this ballad's lyrics to compare someone with a rhinoceros beetle: the hard shell covering a soft body. A person might come across as a strong entity with plenty of attitude covering what is perhaps a very scared and uncertain type. We've all been there...often at discos. "Kabutomushi" was her second Top 10 hit following her previous single "Hanabi"(花火...Fireworks)by peaking at No. 8. The song was also a part of her 2nd album "Sakura no Ki no Shita"(桜の木の下...Under The Cherry Tree)which came out in March 2000. It hit No. 1 on the Oricon weeklies and eventually became the 10th-ranked album for the year.

It's pretty interesting comparing female singers like aiko at the end of the 20th century with their equal number a decade prior. Back in the late 80s/early 90s, there was this combination of mellow pop and urban sophisticated pop with images of perfume, necklace and taxis. Closer to 2000, I saw female Japanese singers going into R&B or, like aiko, down-home pop out in the countryside. I haven't paid too much information on the current J-Pop scene so I'm not quite sure what the trend is now.

Saburo Kitajima/Hachiro Kasuga -- Hakodate no Hito (函館の女)

Haaaaru baru kitaze Hakodateeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee ~

Just a couple of months ago, I happened upon the popular food-related manga, and subsequently, TV series "Shinya Shokudo" (深夜食堂), otherwise known as "Midnight Diner", via its second movie when returning from my trip to the US and Canada. This sort of anthology series centers around the characters, ranging from AV actors and yakuza to your run of the mill salary men, who patronize a nondescript late night diner in a little, grubby alley of Shinjuku run by a middle aged fellow only known as Master. There isn't much else known about Master besides his motto of preparing any item requested by the customer as long as it's within his means.

Nothing insane happens in the anecdotes told in "Shinya Shokudo", especially when compared to the other seinen manga I read, the gore fest that is "Berserk", but its quaint charm, warm atmosphere, and realism of the characters and their predicaments without excessive exaggeration drew me to it. The shout-outs to pop culture are an added bonus. I have since read the first three volumes (in English) online, and purchased their Japanese hard copies from Kinokuniya soon after.

At the moment, one of my favourite chapters from "Shinya Shokudo" comes from the third volume. Titled "Butter Rice", it features a butter rice-loving nagashi* (流し) and a food critic in what may as well be the comic adaptation of Saburo Kitajima's (北島三郎) "Hakodate no Hito". There was even a section where the elderly nagashi, Goro (ゴロー), "sang" said song, as you can see from the picture above. Plus, the design of the food critic, Masao Toyama (戸山正夫), reminds me of a certain Masao in enka history.

Masao Koga Toyama

Anyway, this leads me to the topic of the article, "Hakodate no Hito". J-Canuck already wrote an article on it so you can check it out for more details on the song. Moving on, I had been aware of Grandpa Enka's jaunty smash hit well before reading "Butter Rice", but never listened to it in its entirety - just the first line was all I really knew - till after the comic was read so I could get all the references throughout the chapter. Don't get me wrong, I like "Hakodate no Hito" and its signature belted-out intro has a penchant for getting stuck in my head, but for some reason it didn't occur to me to listen to it fully until then.

When I finally went to look up "Hakodate no Hito", I went for Hachiro Kasuga's (春日八郎) version first before the original since I'd heard pieces of the latter on multiple occasions and I was curious as to how the late enka veteran handled the song that has also been covered by a myriad of other singers.

I must say that their individual deliveries give "Hakodate no Hito" different vibes. Sabu-chan's sounded more "grass roots", like a common man and his guitar dedicating his love for his (Hakodate) sweetheart, or just like in "Butter Rice", a nagashi taking on a customer's request in an uramachi. On the other hand, Hachi's take was more polished, like a professional singer in a tux standing before a stand mic performing for a large audience. In that sense, I find Sabu-chan's delivery to be best suited for "Hakodate no Hito". However, I ended up preferring Hachi's rendition for his smooth and deeper vocals... Objectively speaking, of course. Kasuga's version can be found in his 1973 cover album "Enka Hyaku Sen" (演歌百選), where he did self-covers and covers of hits from the pre-war period up to the late 60's.

P.S. Y'know, reading and watching "Shinya Shokudo" has made me realised how easily persuaded I am by food - except beansprouts and ginger, that is. One chapter about chicken karaage and suddenly I have to have it. I'm not even a fan of fried chicken... Or at least I wasn't.


*Nagashi are those wandering performers, most common back in the day and rare now, who'd go to bars with their guitars/shamisens to sing requested songs from the bars' patrons. They've been the topic of many older enka tunes, like Hachi's own "Nigate Nandayo" (苦手なんだよ).

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Masaaki Hirao -- Kangoku Rock (監獄ロック)

On this day in 1977, Elvis Presley "left the building" for the last time, so to speak. Although I was born during an era when The Beatles had become the biggest pop act in the land (meaning Earth), Elvis was quickly made known to me since my parents had his Christmas album. And of course, there were all those movies he made along with the old footage of the guy swiveling his hips. Not surprisingly, Turner Classic Movies had a full-on marathon of Elvis movies today.

Of course, one of his biggest hits was "Jailhouse Rock" (1957) as you can see above.

Along with The Beatles, Elvis also had a lasting effect on Japanese pop culture. Basically, fans didn't just want to sing Elvis but they wanted to be Elvis. So as in America, there have been various Elvis impersonators from various points of his life, including his paunchy Las Vegas persona.

I tried looking for any Elvis covers that were done in Japan, and it didn't take too much effort to realize that the late Masaaki Hirao(平尾昌晃)did indeed do a Japanese cover of "Jailhouse Rock" under the title "Kangoku Rock" (1958) with Shoichi Kusano(草野昌一), the then-president of Shinko Music Entertainment, writing the lyrics under the pen name of Kenji Sazanami(漣健児). I just mentioned that it didn't take too much effort to find out that it was Hirao simply because he was a rockabilly singer. I figured it was going to be him or Mickey Curtis(ミッキー・カーチス).

Well, how about that? I managed to find a video with Hirao, Curtis and fellow rockabilly singer Keijiro Yamashita(山下敬二郎)doing the old "Kangoku Rock" in 1996. Back in the 1950s, the three of them were dubbed "Rockabilly Sannin Otoko"(ロカビリー三人男...The Three Rockabilly Guys)and took the country by storm.

Kaori Kuno -- Thank You For You

You might say that this is a reincarnation of this article. Originally, I had written this as the first article for singer/songwriter/saxophonist Kaori Kuno's(久野かおり)representation in "Kayo Kyoku Plus" way back in 2012. The song "Thank You For You" did have a YouTube presence until some months later when due to the usual copyright issues, it was taken down. Not having quite the patience back then that I do now, I re-molded the article so that it would take care of another song whose YouTube video was still there "Rifujin na Koi"(理不尽な恋)which was the opening track on her 3rd album "Breath". After all, I had also included how I got to find this album and what this singer was all about, so it would have been a waste to start totally from scratch.

Well, the video has returned much to my happiness. And "Thank You For You" is the one other song along with "Rifujin na Koi" that I do remember from "Breath" which came out in 1989. In fact, it is my favourite song by her from the same album. For the longest time, I had thought that it was the campaign song for an insurance company (the title would certainly seem appropriate), but as it turned out, it was actually the jingle for the Sendai branch of Mitsukoshi Department Store.

"Rifujin na Koi" feels like a city tune with a hint of drama but "Thank You For You" is definitely even breezier...more of a Sunday afternoon stroll in the park. Plus it is representative of a number of the works of female singer-songwriters during the late 1980s and early 1990s which tended to straddle between mellow and sophisticated pop.

Glad to see the song back up online and this time if and when it disappears again, I'll just retire the article back to Draft status. Hopefully, though, Apple or Amazon will have at least an excerpt. By the way, I listened to the entirety of "Breath" yesterday and I have a better appreciation of the other tracks. Provided that there is some more online presence of it, I may be able to do an article on the whole album someday.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Shinichi Mori/Keiko Fuji -- Sakariba Blues (盛り場ブルース)

I hadn't seen veteran enka singer Shinichi Mori(森進一)in quite some time so I was glad that he did show up on the annual "Omoide no Melody"(思い出のメロディー...Melody of Memories)broadcast about a couple of weeks ago. I was a bit worried about his health.

Had a craving of sorts for some of that old-fashioned Mood Kayo from a time when I was still toddling around in my diapers so I went with what was probably his 7th single from December 1967, "Sakariba Blues".

When I first saw the term, I had no idea what sakariba meant. And at the relevant J-Wiki article for the song, there was a fairly comprehensive list of these sakariba areas in 7 major Japanese cities. Several of them were already known to me and so when I punched the term into, I found out that it was another expression for "entertainment district".

In any case, Mori namedrops the whole lot of these places while he's crooning away. I know the Tokyo ones: Ginza, Akasaka, Roppongi, Shibuya, Shinjuku and Ikebukuro. "Sakariba Blues", despite the relatively fast pace of the ballad, is very much a blues song since the singer relates the hard-luck story of a woman, presumably a hostess working in one of those areas or even a frequent customer there, who is grieving at the loss of a relationship. There is probably no lonelier situation than crying in your beer while everyone else is living it up around you.

Although this was about a year before the Oricon rankings came in, "Sakariba Blues" did well enough so that there was a movie adaptation with the same title (with the English title of "Blue Neon"). According to the J-Wiki article, it was the second such adaptation following "Yanagase Blues"(柳ヶ瀬ブルース)the year before, and so the movie has been labeled as the second movie in the "Yoru no Kayo Series"(夜の歌謡シリーズ...The Night Kayo Series). Mori even has third billing as an actor. Come to think of it, I have never seen the man in a movie or TV drama.

Saburo Fuji(藤三郎)and Chiaki Murakami(村上千秋)wrote the lyrics while Miyoshi Jo(城美好)composed the song. There was also a cover version by none other than the Queen of Kayo Blues herself, Keiko Fuji(藤圭子)although I couldn't find out when this cover came out. "Sakariba Blues" may have been made for Mori but with Fuji doing her version, I couldn't have asked for anyone better to handle the concept of loss deep down in the hard-bitten streets of Tokyo or any other city.

Pearl Kyodai -- Sugar Sugar Tengoku (シュガシュガ天国 )

Coming from a time when I first knew Archie Andrews, Veronica Lodge, Jughead Jones and friends as a Saturday morning cartoon in the 1970s, I remember listening to "Sugar, Sugar", a song that went down in music history as one of the few hit tunes from a fictional band, The Archies, to hit No. 1 on Billboard. It became a staple on radio and also on those K-Tel compilation LPs (do I need to explain what an LP is?).

So you can imagine some of the memories that came when I first encountered the title for this song by the band called Pearl Kyodai (パール兄弟...The Pearl Brothers). "Sugar Sugar Tengoku" (Sugar Sugar Heaven) doesn't sound anything like "Sugar, Sugar", mind you. It's a bit of light New Wave-y music that sounds like it could have come out a decade earlier instead of the late 1980s. It was indeed a track from Pearl Kyodai's 5th album "Toyvox" released in April 1989, and along with the New Wave, I could hear a bit of PSY-S in there, too.

The band was actually formed in 1983 with the five "brothers" being led by Kenzo Saeki(サエキけんぞう)as main songwriter and vocalist. In their initial run between 1983 and 1994, it released 8 singles and a little over 10 albums. There was a hiatus lasting about a decade before Pearl Kyodai got back together in 2003 and they've apparently been performing ever since.

One reason that I've put this one up is that Saeki has already been mentioned in this blog due to his contribution in the creation of one of the cooler anison that I've heard "TRY UNITE!" by Megumi Nakajima(中島愛).

Tons of sugar sugar in this Cinnabon and Iced Milk Tea.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Mariya Takeuchi -- Variety (Follow-Up)

Back 5 years ago, one of my first album-based articles was "Variety", one of Mariya Takeuchi's(竹内まりや)classic releases in 1984. I provided four of the tracks from that album so I've decided to talk about a few more.

The one most recognizable to me from this batch is "Merseybeat de Utawasete"(マージービートで唄わせて...Let Me Sing In Merseybeat). I had never heard of the genre name before coming across this Mariya number, but I believe that I did hear some of its examples when I was a kid since I did know of some of the representative bands such as Gerry And The Pacemakers, Herman's Hermits and some outfit called The Beatles.

As was the case with all of the tracks in "Variety", "Merseybeat" was written and composed by Takeuchi. Although I knew of her tributes to American pop music of a certain age in her earlier material, I think this was the first time that she went across the Atlantic, as it were, to land in the music of Liverpool and the various cities by the Mersey River in England. I would really like to know the stuff she listened to as a high school student in Japan and in Illinois.

Well, it's back to America for "One Night Stand", a down-home country ballad that Takeuchi seems to have a talent for. Listening to it, it makes me wonder why she was never invited to "Hee Haw". As the title indicates, Mariya is relating the ultimate loneliness of not having a settled romantic relationship, instead just jumping from town to town looking for love. There's only his Stratocaster and his playing buddies to heal his heart temporarily.

There is something contemporary yet 1960s about "Futari wa Steady" (ふたりはステディ...They're Going Steady), a cheerful and jaunty track with her husband Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎)providing backing vocals, Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一)on synthesizer, and Ernie Watts blowing his sax. For me, this is the quintessential early Mariya tune: young and happy uncomplicated love.

The final track for tonight and the final track on "Variety" itself is "Shetland ni Hou wo Uzumete"(シェットランドに頬をうずめて). I wasn't quite sure how to translate the title since it literally comes out as "Burying My Cheeks in The Shetland". I had assumed that it had something to do with that dog on the back cover of "Variety", but on investigating further, I realized that it wasn't a Shetland Sheepdog.

Looking at the lyrics, I found out that the song could be about the couple from "Futari wa Steady", a number of decades later. Having gone through the usual ups and downs of marriage, the retired husband and wife are living by themselves in a more remote area during the winter while the latter is weaving what seems to be a sweater from Shetland Sheep, and she wants to rub her cheeks on the wool. As Takeuchi sings, she's very content to be living out in the countryside now with the kids on their own.

Still "Shetland" has that urban contemporary feeling to it despite the rural setting. It's quite the mellow finish to a fine album. Three more tracks that I'll have to wrap up, though, before putting the final close to the "Variety" file.

Probably not a Shetland.

Question from Fireminer

I don't get too many opportunities in this category but I received a question through the Contact Form the other day from Fireminer, and I thought the question was intriguing enough to throw it to everyone else. So my thanks to Fireminer on giving me permission to post it up.

The question is:

Which English song sung by a Japanese artist makes the strongest impression on you?

I did give my own answer to Fireminer but I also came up with a different choice right now which I will put up here.

With my age, my choice is quite old but it does involve one of my favourite singers, Ruiko Kurahashi(倉橋ルイ子), who is famous for seeing her cover of Bette Midler's "The Rose". Kurahashi's version seems a bit more delicate, almost elegiac.

The words and music were provided by Amanda McBroom, who actually played a Starfleet JAG officer on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" in the late 1980s. No idea on whether Patrick Stewart provided his own version of "The Rose" in outtakes.

In any case, if any of you readers or collaborators have your own answers to the question above, please let us know!

angela -- Zenryoku☆Summer!(全力☆Summer!)/ Sumire Uesaka -- Odore! Kyūkyoku Tetsugaku(踊れ!きゅーきょく哲学)

I suggested this one to my anime buddy but he politely declined the comedy "Aho Girl"(アホガール...Idiot Girl)since in my speculation, he thinks it's just too aho. Ironically, two of the seiyuu here are Aoi Yūki(悠木碧)and Yoko Hikasa(日笠陽子)who are playing two of the heroic kickass warriors right now in the latest of the "Symphogear" franchise which my buddy and I are indeed seeing. However, in another universe, Yūki and Hikasa are playing completely opposite types here: the former playing the Aho Girl herself, twin-tailed Yoshiko Hanabatake, and Hikasa playing her borderline psychotic gold-digging mother, Yoshie.

This is completely out of left field, but if Peter and Meg Griffin from "Family Guy" ever took in a Japanese exchange student into their Quahog, Rhode Island home, Yoshiko would be the perfect candidate. Much international hilarity would ensue. I would be slightly worried about how their neighbour Quagmire would "welcome" the Aho Girl, but then again she has that singular ability to wrap anyone around her pinkie, in spite/because of her density.

For all of the zaniness that takes place in an average episode of "Aho Girl", it would make sense for the theme songs to be just as zany. So, allow me to introduce them both here. The opening theme is "Zenryoku☆Summer!" (Full Power☆Summer!) is probably a musical equivalent to Yoshiko's bats-in-her-belfry mind. A little bit of Tito Puente Latin jazz here, some "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" there, even some enka thrown in for good measure, and general crazy circus everywhere.

The song was written and composed and performed by the band angela consisting of atsuko and KATSU, a duo that has been around since 1993 although their first single didn't come out until 2003"Zenryoku☆Summer!" is their 26th single from July 2017. The song managed to peak at No. 29 on Oricon, and vocalist atsuko gets my respect for her vocal gymnastics including her warp speed delivery at the beginning and her enka tribute in a couple of parts.

The ending theme is a bit more straight-line but just as exciting. In fact, it kinda harkens back to the old disco days, and with that male chorus in there, "Odore! Kyūkyoku Tetsugaku" (Dance! Extreme Philosophies) had me thinking of an old Morning Musume(モーニング娘。)number. In fact, I also remembered "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" by Frankie Valli at the same time.

Sumire Uesaka(上坂すみれ), who also has a role in "Aho Girl" as the supposedly no-nonsense Public Morals Chairwoman (despite the scary title, she is a student), takes on this one. From what I've heard of some of her other songs performed live, she does love the male fan participation so this one is right up her alley. There is no dedicated ending credits sequence at the end of each episode so it's hard to hear the song while the insanity is progressing....just means further incentive to buy the song.

"Odore! Kyūkyoku Tetsugaku" is Uesaka's 8th single also released at about the same time as the opening theme. It was able to get as high as No. 12 on Oricon. The band Gesshoku Kaigi(月蝕會議)wrote and composed the song with Uesaka also writing the lyrics.

I'd say that both theme songs are almost as catchy as my favourite anison of the year so far, the delectable "Aozora no Rhapsody"(青空のラプソディ)by fhana. Strangely enough, these will be among my favourite themes from a show that I will probably won't catch in its first run. YouTube will have to do for now until I get the DVDs.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Momoe Yamaguchi -- Sentimental Hurricane (センチメンタル・ハリケーン)

Man, I really should be trying to get a copy of Momoe Yamaguchi's(山口百恵)"LA Blue" from 1979. I wrote an article on this atypical album by her years back but my interest has sprung up once more after listening to the following.

This is another track from the album titled "Sentimental Hurricane". Strange title aside, it's Yamaguchi showing some smooth City Pop/AOR chops of the period. Plus, being an old disco fan, the opening Latin beat reminded me of Barry Manilow's "Copacabana". It's one of those songs that makes me wonder what it must have been like to walk down the streets of Tokyo back in the late 1970s. West Shinjuku, we really need to meet again!

In that tribute to the works of lyricist Keisuke Yamakawa(山川啓介)the other day, I mentioned that I wanted to give some other songs their own articles. Well, I gave one to Eikichi Yazawa(矢沢永吉)and "Sentimental Hurricane" is the other one. Tatsushi Umegaki(梅垣達志)was the composer behind this hot and sultry number.

Well, the search begins anew!

The First -- Larry Chan

In July, I got an email from J-Canuck, asking all Kayo Kyoku+ contributors if we can write about "Our First" - an account of how we get into Japanese music in the first place.  I thought it's a fantastic idea and so I made a promise.  Now that I got some time, I'm going to share "My First" with all of you.


Interesting enough, I didn't regularly listen to Japanese music till around 2010 when I started learning Japanese.  For a long stretch starting from my college years in the 90s till 2010, I listened to ZERO Japanese music.  Yes, that's right, NIL.

So, I decide to write The First and a follow-up article, Second Chance, in which I would share my recent (is 7 years too long to qualify as recent?) foray into Japanese music.

First Japanese Song Ever Heard

Honestly, I forgot.  But it HAS TO BE A SONG FROM AN ANIME SERIES.

When I was 4 or 5, every Sunday morning from 8 to 11, there's 3 hours of non-stop cartoon on TV.  Weekday 4-6pm was kids time and Japanese anime were all over TV.  There were occasionally American cartoons (e.g. Popeye the Sailor) but we all thought they're boring.  None of my friends wanted to talk about them.  We only talked about Japanese anime.  On the school bus, we would be singing those anime theme songs, in Japanese, because in that era TV stations in Hong Kong didn't ask local singers to cover like they do now (Well, Jade TV in Hong Kong started to ask local singers to cover starting in late 70s, if my memory serves correctly).

Drawing from my memory, it's EXTREMELY likely that the first Japanese song I ever heard was this one:

It was the theme song of Mazinger Z (マジンガーZ), an extremely popular Japanese anime in Hong Kong when I was small.  I forgot what the story was about now.  Of course, I never understood what I was singing on that school bus.

First Non-Anime Japanese Song (and First Kouhaku)

This I remember clearly.  It's Judy Ongg's (翁倩玉) Miserarete (魅せられて).  J-Canuck wrote an article about it in 2012 (sorry J-Canuck, I borrowed your YouTube link below).

On December 31, 1979, my Mom and Dad said that Ongg's going to appear in Kouhaku (紅白).  It was a big thing because Ongg's Chinese.  My Mom also said Ongg's going to wear a costume that would turn herself into a peacock.  I thought a person turning into a peacock would be pretty cool and so I watched Kouhaku with my parents.  It was also my first ever Kouhaku.

The song made a pretty strong impression, especially the paragraph "Wind is blowing from the Aegean...." (I didn't realize it was English and I thought it was Japanese at that time).   Ever since I listened to it for the first time in 1979, I would still remember the melody in all these years.  And whenever I describe who's Judy Ongg to my friends, I would hum that melody.

Okay, Okay, The Real First

First, some background.

I was 11.  A fresh school year had just started.  Hin-Chung Mak, my friend who sat in front of me, had something new in his wallet.  It was a photo of a young girl.  I asked him who that girl was.  He took the photo out of his wallet and showed me.  There's a name printed on the photo - 松田聖子 (Matsuda Seiko).  Not knowing who she was, I asked Mak why he liked her.  He told me that she's cute, and he liked her songs.  For some reason, I was not interested in anything Japanese at that time.  So we went back to talk about a popular local manga called 龍虎門 (Oriental Heroes).

A few years later, there's new name from Japan - 中森明菜 (Nakamori Akina).  Because the character 菜 means vegetable in Chinese, we're always joking about her name.  Not only that, but because 菜 in Cantonese slang also means one's girlfriend (similar to tea as in "my cup of tea" in English), we made even more jokes.  Still I never heard a single song from Seiko or Akina.

Summer 1984, I was spending a week at my cousin's house.  I was staring at his bookshelf.  There were cassette tapes - rows and rows of them.  Michael Jackson's Thriller & Beat It.  Here Comes the Rain Again from Eurythmics.  Cindy Lauper's Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.  Kenny Loggins' Footloose.  I duped every one of them into my TDK 90 minute tape that I brought with me!

I still remember that I didn't want to buy music because I thought it's a waste of money.  Pop songs, by definition, would fade in a few years when nobody listens to them anymore.  So why waste the money, I thought.

Then, my eyes suddenly caught something, Nakamori Akina's "Best Akina Memoir" was sitting right in the middle of all these Western pop music.  My first reaction was, "dear cousin, like my classmates, you also found this 'vegetable' attractive, don't you?"  In fact, I found Akina pretty cute at that time, but never thought I would buy her music, or even listen to her music because I was so absorbed by Alan Tam (譚詠麟) and other Hong Kong singers at that time.  But since I had a whole week, I might as well check her out, I thought.

And so I did.  Kinku (禁区) was the first song but I was not impressed.  I found Akina's voice too "rough", like Hong Kong singer Anita Mui (梅艷芳).  Then came the 2nd song, Twilight - Yuugure Tayori (トワイライト-夕暮れ便り-).  The piano intro immediately grasped my attention.  Then I heard a completely different female voice.

こめかみには 夕陽のうず
てりかえす海 太陽にそまる
日傘の下 目を細めて
あおいだ景色 あなたにも見せたい

She sounded like an angel to me.  Can this be the same Akina I just heard in Kinku?  Are they really the same person?  How did she do that?  I was amazed and puzzled at the same time by this "double personality".  So I listened more.  The 3rd song did not make any impression on me.  The 4th song, its piano intro mesmerized me again, it's Your Portrait (あなたのポトレート).  Same voice as the 2nd song, but definitely different from Kinku.  It almost felt comical because in my mind it could not be the same person.  It had to be a trick, I thought.  A little bit later, Shoujo A (少女A).  Yeah, I recognized the name of this song.  I saw it on entertainment news that it was banned for broadcasting in Japan.  I never listened to it till that point.  So this is the song, I thought!  Same voice as Kinku, but definitely a different voice than Twilight and Your Portrait.  Slow Motion  (スローモーション) - yes, my angel returns.  I have to say that at that time I loved the ballads much more than the others because they sounded similar to those Alan Tam songs that I loved.

I didn't have enough space to dup all the songs in Memoir.  Somehow, I was very indifferent about Second Love (セカンドラブ) and I never even considered it.  I decided I want Kinku, Twilight, Your Portrait, Ruri Iro no Yoru e (瑠璃色の夜へ), Shoujo A, Slow Motion, and 1/2 no Shinwa (1/2の神話).  I only had around 4-5 minutes left and I had to decide which song to include last.   After listening to the tape again and again, I finally settled for Ginga Densetsu (銀河伝説)!

I still had that tape with me till last year, when I finally said goodbye to it while I was doing this Marie Kondo exercise.  Too bad I didn't take a picture of this tape.

So, technically speaking, my first is not really a single song, but rather Nakamori Akina herself.

First Japanese MV

This, I also remember clearly.  It was this video (I hope it can escape from the YouTube police).

The most impressive scene was the last one, when she boards the train, then the train door closes, and Tamaki Koji watches the train leave the station.

Where did I watch it?  It was on a music show on Jade TV in Hong Kong.  Must be 1984 or 1985.  MV started to become popular and Jade TV decided to produce a music show dedicated to MV.  Like a radio show that allows people to call in and ask the DJ to play their song, you could call in to this TV music show and ask the VJ to play the MV of your choice.  Somebody called in and asked for Tamaki Koji's (玉置浩二) Love Premonition (恋の予感), and that's the first Japanese MV I watched.

Last Words

As I mentioned at the beginning, I didn't regularly listen to Japanese music, even though it has become quite popular in Hong Kong when I was in middle school.  After I came here to the US, I didn't listen at all.  It's not until 2010 that I really picked it up.

For that story, you have to wait till I write the follow up article, Second Chance.

Hopefully, I'll be able to write within the next 2 weeks, when I'm visiting my parents in Canada, and catching up with J-Canuck :)

(to be continued...)

Saturday, August 12, 2017


Visiting the CD stores, big or small, major or independent, was a weekly routine. It didn't even have to be the weekend. If I had a goodly amount of time between lessons or if I had time in the morning or late afternoon, I would make my way to one of my regular haunts. Shibuya in Tokyo was, therefore, a must-visit target.

The 3 biggies for me were Tower Records, HMV and Yamano Music in Ginza. And I had those pegged with certain "personalities". Tower was the all-purpose guy and the one that, without fail, I always visited. Meanwhile, Ginza Yamano was the more elegant and old-fashioned gent with what I thought was a bigger storehouse for the old kayo albums although plenty of the contemporary stuff such as the Johnny's idols was also on sale. HMV which was just around the corner from the huge Tower flagship in Shibuya was the lean, mean and eclectic cousin.

So, perhaps it is no surprise that I first heard about the band SEAGULL SCREAMING KISS HER KISS HER (for the sake of brevity and my typing fingers, I will heretofore refer to the band as SSKHKH) at HMV. I picked up one of the store's weekly booklets and saw the name along with a photo of vocalist/guitarist Aiha Higurashi(日暮愛葉)on the cover. It was one of those incredible band names that I could never forget but could never quite remember with 100% accuracy either.

Nope, I will give my full confession and say that I never ventured to listen to anything by them while I was living in the country. However, now that I've been writing this blog for years and SSKHKH will never leave my mind, I decided to finally check out some of their discography. And the one song that popped up often enough was "Sister Sister".

This came from their third album "17" from September 1998. "Sister Sister" stood out because it was counter to my assumptions about SSKHKH. I think some of their other output fit my impressions of them being devoted to thrashy rock, but "Sister Sister" was totally different. It sounded like playful minimalist avant-garde pop and the official video above looked more like what I used to see in the post-midnight out-there music video programs back in the 1980s. It does have that quirkily cute hook.

Now, if I'm not mistaken, the other two with Higurashi in the video are bassist Nao Koyama(小山ナオ)and drummer Takaharu Karashima(辛島孝治), both who have since left the band.

SSKHKH was first formed in 1992 and has had a number of ins-and-outs in terms of personnel. The band lasted for 10 years until 2002, but Higurashi brought it back out of mothballs in 2014. As for the name, it apparently came out of one of the tracks on an 1984 album, "The Big Express" by English band XTC, titled "Seagulls Screaming Kiss Her, Kiss Her". Higurashi was not only a fan of XTC but was apparently impressed by the length of the title so it was a done deal. Not sure whether the band has had to pay royalties.

Just for curiosity's sake, here is that XTC song. Personally speaking, I prefer their "Senses Working Overtime".

ZARD -- Don't you see!

I guess I can say that there for several years in the 90s and 00s, there was that golden age of ZARD. Time wouldn't pass too long during that time before there was another announcement of a single by the late Izumi Sakai(坂井泉水), aka ZARD, being released. Plus, there was that distinct sound she brought with her music via the guitars, the keyboards and her voice. It was always a sign of summer, in a way. And perhaps she could have been a female equivalent of TUBE.

One of the songs that got a lot of attention back then was "Don't you see!". This was her 19th single released in January 1997 (interesting release date, but it's still a summer song to me), and thanks to that title, it was an easy thing for the song to burrow itself into my memories. Written by Sakai and composed by musician-singer Seiichiro Kuribayashi(栗林誠一郎), it's an impassioned plea for love to someone who may be exhibiting some relationship reluctance or the fellow may be completely clueless about love.

I remember during those days when ZARD seemed to be as camera-shy as Greta Garbo in her later years. There would be some jokes about rare ZARD sightings on TV. And yet, I think she was probably plenty accessible at her concerts.

What I hadn't known before deciding to do the article was that "Don't you see!" was the 2nd ending theme for the anime "Dragonball GT"(ドラゴンボールGT)which had its run between February 1996 and November 1997. I noticed that the intro to the anime version was a lot more rousing. Of all of the theme songs for the "Dragonball" franchise, this was the only one to hit No. 1 on the Oricon weeklies and in its first week, to boot.

It ended up selling more than 600,000 copies and eventually became the 46th-ranked single of the year. Its first appearance on an album was "ZARD BLEND 〜SUN&STONE〜" from April 1997 which also hit No. 1 and became the 5th-ranked album of the year, breaking the 2 million barrier. Hard to believe that it's been over a decade since the passing of Sakai.

I found the English version of "Don't you see!" although I couldn't find out who the singer was.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Masashi Sada -- Nagasaki-City Serenade (長崎小夜曲)

Well, consider my jaw thoroughly dropped when I discovered this one today. Veteran singer Masashi Sada(さだまさし)always evoked one image on hearing or seeing his name: tenderhearted folk ballads. Plus, there is that famous TV theme he whipped up.

But I found this song called "Nagasaki-City Serenade" which was his 22nd single from September 1982 and gave it a listen. I had been expecting a quiet folk number but instead, I got the full glory of City Pop and it didn't even involve Tokyo. In fact, Sada, who wrote and composed the song, implored folks who had gotten tired of the rat race in Japan's largest city to come back into the loving arms of Nagasaki in western Japan. When a song sounds this nice to me, who's to refuse?

Crazily enough, the J-Wiki article for the song categorized it as a folk tune. Perhaps it was just out of habit because it was Sada. However, the piece even mentioned that when Sada performed "Nagasaki-City Serenade" for the first time in July 1982 in Tokyo, the fans were shocked to hear their hero sing something so pop and bubbly (one would be forgiven if he assumed that Sada came out wearing a shiny gray blazer with skinny tie). And over the next number of weeks, it would get onto radio before the official release, plus the singer would perform it again at another concert.

"Nagasaki-City Serenade" just missed out on the Top 10 by peaking at No. 11. Interestingly enough, that famous TV theme I had pointed out at the top is the B-side. But the single didn't assign A-side/B-side. Instead, "Nagasaki-City Serenade" was deemed the South Side while that TV theme got the North Side. 

Coincidentally, some of my translation work this week involved Nagasaki. And over a quarter-century ago, I did spend one night in the city and enjoyed my first taste of champon. But I hear that isn't the only distinctive cuisine available there.

Eikichi Yazawa -- Jikan yo Tomare (時間よ止まれ)

Earlier today, I wrote my own article on the works of lyricist Keisuke Yamakawa(山川啓介)who had passed away late last month and mentioned that there were a few songs of his that I wanted to devote full articles to instead of just inserting them into the tribute since they were so good.

This is one of them. Furthermore, it's the one other song that was mentioned in the news reports as one of Yamakawa's representative works alongside Hiromi Iwasaki's(岩崎宏美)hit "Madonna Tachi no Lullaby"(聖母たちのララバイ). As I mentioned in the only article that I had ever devoted to Eikichi Yazawa(矢沢永吉), "Somebody's Night", that was the only Yazawa song that I knew up to now and it rather defined my impression of him: cool and tough with a predilection for nighttime activities.

So it was a tad surprising and refreshing to find out that a little over a decade before that song came out, Yazawa had an even bigger hit with his 5th single from March 1978, "Jikan yo Tomare" ( Hey Time, Stop!). I may have heard it before briefly way back in the past....I'm not sure. However, the important thing is that hearing it (again) now, I really like this one.

Even back then, Yazawa had that cool and caressing voice. But for "Jikan yo Tomare", there is indeed that summery daytime atmosphere attached compared to the evening of "Somebody's Night". In fact, the setting for the song has got to be the beach under clear skies. Yazawa himself came up with the oh-so-relaxing melody with Yamakawa writing the lyrics of pleading for time to stop at this perfect moment of weather, place and the girl of one's dreams. Can't say it's a rock's more on some mellow Margueritaville pop trip.

According to the J-Wiki write-up, Yazawa was backed up by some heavy duty musicians: Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一)on keyboards, Yukihiro Takahashi(高橋幸宏)on drums (both from Yellow Magic Orchestra) and Tsugutoshi Goto(後藤次利)on bass. "Jikan yo Tomare" hit some good vibes among the listeners since it would hit No. 1 and stay there for 3 straight weeks, eventually becoming a million-seller and ending up as the 9th-ranked single of the year.

The song was also a track on his 4th album "Gold Rush" from June 1978. It also hit No. 1 on Oricon and according to Daisuke Kawasaki's(川崎大助)2015 book "Nihon no Rock Meiban Best 100"(日本のロック名盤ベスト100...Japan's Famous Rock Recordings Best 100), "Gold Rush" was selected as No. 5 on the list.

To wrap up, according to the J-Wiki article (originally from an NHK-FM program on May 5th 2014) for "Jikan yo Tomare", Yamakawa had received the demo tape of Yazawa singing the song in English for which Yamakawa and a few other lyricists changed the lyrics into Japanese. Yamakawa remarked on hearing the Japanese version that he would have loved to have sung it himself, and realizing that feeling, he also realized that coming up with the lyrics was hard but enjoyable. Perhaps that was how he had felt when it came to his whole career.

The Works of Keisuke Yamakawa (山川啓介)

This may go down as one of the sadder years for Japanese songwriters. In the wake of the passing of Toru Funamura(船村徹)in February and Masaaki Hirao(平尾昌晃)last month, I only heard a couple of nights ago of the death of lyricist Keisuke Yamakawa. He passed away on July 24th 2017 at the age of 72 from lung cancer, just three days after Hirao's departure and only five days after I had written an article for a song that he wrote for Hiromi Ohta(太田裕美), "City Lights".

I'm uncertain whether the announcement of Yamakawa's passing made the major newscasts that night, and I could only find something like the above "homemade" announcement on YouTube, although there was a very short news story about it on TV Asahi without any footage shown.

So, for the second time this year, along with Funamura, I'm writing this Creator article also as a eulogy of sorts to a departed songwriter. Going over the songs created by the Nagano Prefecture-born Yamakawa, I found that there were a number of tunes that I have yet to cover on the blog that I feel deserve their own articles. Therefore the songs below will be ones that I've already talked about but at least putting them together here, readers may find out how wide his range was when it came to the songs he helped write.

Keisuke Yamakawa was born Takao Ide(井出隆夫)in October 1944 in the city of Saku, Nagano Prefecture. It is a city that I have visited since a couple of my old friends now live there. He graduated from Waseda University's Department of Literature and became active in songwriting, screenwriting and translating from English lyrics. Unfortunately, that was pretty much most of what I could glean from his J-Wiki bio but it does provide a comprehensive list of the singers and songs that he was involved with, so perhaps those will do more of the talking. Of course, I can only give a thin sliver of his output.

In the couple of news reports I saw regarding Yamakawa's death, the one song that got mentioned was "Madonna Tachi no Lullaby"(聖母たちのララバイ)which he wrote for Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美)in 1982. It turned out to be Iwasaki's greatest hit and probably his crowning achievement.

Unfortunately the J-Wiki article didn't give a chronological order about his output. However, I think one of his earliest creations was the flashy "Taiyo ga Kureta Kisetsu"(太陽がくれた季節)for the folk-pop group Aoi Sankaku Jougi(青い三角定規)in 1972.

In comparison to Funamura who focused on enka and Hirao who stayed on the traditional side of kayo through aidoru and Mood Kayo, I think Yamakawa tipped a bit more to the other side of Japanese pop including the genres of City Pop and the more far-ranging New Music. I realize that he was a lyricist and not a composer but he did get into a wide range of music.

That also included anison. Perhaps one of his most famous sets of lyrics in this area was for the ending theme song for the first "Galaxy Express 999" (銀河鉄道999)movie in 1979 as performed by Godiego(ゴダイゴ). He and band vocalist Yukihide Takekawa(タケカワユキヒデ)made it very inviting to hop aboard the most famous train in anime.

One of my personal favourites, though, is Junko Yagami's(八神純子)"Naturally" (1983) which had that sweet/sultry tang.

And even into the 20th century, Yamakawa was even able to provide words to one of the most cheerful and earworm-y commercial jingles for a company, "Hello, Sofmap World" in 2004. Groovy 80s composer Tetsuji Hayashi(林哲司)came up with the happy melody so it was quite the atypical creation for both veterans.

Yamakawa has now left this mortal coil but there are still many songs left by him for me to delve into.

Saburo Kitajima -- Yama(山)

I was looking at the calendar from Japan I got for my parents earlier tonight and discovered that August 11th was done up in red. And the reason for that is it's Mountain Day, yet another national holiday. Supposedly the inaugural Mountain Day was last year in 2016 which I hadn't been aware of. What I am aware of is that with the exception of June, every month in Japan now has at least one national holiday. I figure that since there is also an Ocean Day in July, perhaps the somewhat geographically appropriate choice for a national holiday in June would be heiya-no-hi(平野の日)or Plains Day. On the other hand, the government can simply designate the first day of summer as an official holiday. Whatever the future holds, Japan is a national holiday-crazy country.

Now, how to commemorate this relatively newborn holiday? Well, I punched some information into the search engine, and quickly got this song by Saburo Kitajima(北島三郎)called "Yama" (Mountain). I actually wrote about another Sabu-chan song just a couple of weeks ago, so technically speaking, I'm breaking my personal rule of not writing about the same singer inside a month, but hey, I figure if I'm going to break the rule, I might as well do it for one of the best enka singers.

"Yama" was released in March 1990. It was written by enka lyricist Tetsuro Hoshino(星野哲郎)and composed by Kitajima himself under his regular songwriting pseudonym Joji Hara(原譲二). The arrangement has that usual mighty Sabu-chan brio (I think I even heard an alp horn in the intro) although the lyrics don't refer to any particular mountains in Japan themselves. In fact, Hoshino's words were meant to convey a man's attempts to be better than his old master whose legend is as big as a mountain. Kinda like Anakin besting Obi-Wan but perhaps that's not a happy example.

Some trivia I picked up from the J-Wiki article on "Yama" is that the ballad was the latest in a series of one-kanji character titles for the singer, following songs such as "Kawa"(川...River)and "Kokoro"(魂...Soul). As for this blog up to now, the only one-character title for a Kitajima song had been "Ohkami"(狼...Wolf)which I wrote up a little over a year ago.

"Yama" did moderately well by peaking at No. 39 on the Oricon weeklies. But this was the song that Kitajima sung not once but twice during his Kohaku Utagassen career. His first time was at the end of 1990 when the song was released and his second time was in 2001.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Toko Furuuchi -- OK, OK

On the night of Hump Day, it is nice to have something like this ballad to listen to, especially when I actually got hit with a lot of work from earlier this morning...the first time in several weeks, actually. I do like my translating but after several hours, it is also nice to be able to call it a day.

Well, time for some mellowness then. It has been a while since I put up a Toko Furuuchi(古内東子)song so it's great to hear her caramel voice once more. This time around, I'm writing about "OK, OK", a track from her 11th studio album, "Futsu no Koto"(フツウのこと)which was released in March 2004. It's not quite an R&B ballad to me although I feel some soul in there. Furuuchi has created a nice languid pop song for the night.

Furuuchi's lyrics talk about a woman's feelings of regret and sadness after that last big fight with her boyfriend which was punctuated by a slammed car door on her part. The days and nights have passed without any word from him so she's now starting to get worried whether she will ever hear his apparent catchphrase of "OK, OK" again. I wouldn't say that it's a tragic song at all since it's not known what the ultimate fate of the relationship is. It's more melancholy perhaps with a light at the end of the tunnel.

"Futsu no Koto" was able to get as high as No. 45 on Oricon.

I have to give my kudos to the fellow who crafted the video of those city nights in Tokyo and Yokohama. However, I don't think I really needed the abrupt sound effects of the helicopter and the like.

Akira Ifukube -- Rodan (ラドン)

It may have been bad timing on my part and I missed the news on NHK but I found out about Haruo Nakajima's(中島春雄)passing a couple of days ago on the local news channel here in Toronto. Now, who may Haruo Nakajima be, you ask? Well, he was an actor with a certain specialty...he put on the rubber suits for years to portray legendary kaiju such as Godzilla and Mothra.

As much as I have praised composer Akira Ifukube(伊福部 昭)for coming up with the theme song for Godzilla and even generating the sound effects for the big green lug, Nakajima was responsible for the visual representation whether Godzilla was in ferocious battle mode or being a comical ham. And along with the aforementioned monsters above, he also portrayed another big buddy, Rodan. One of my lasting memories of the big bird was seeing him team up with Godzilla and Mothra to battle the villainous King Ghidorah as seen above. It was so cool to see the teamwork!

During Monster Week on the local NBC affiliate in Buffalo (WGR-TV), I also saw the original film introducing Rodan which was released in 1956, a couple of years after "Godzilla". In fact, the screen grab you see above you is the most memorable scene for me from the movie...the pterodactyl landing and crushing down a building. The interesting piece of trivia I read about Rodan is that the original name in Japanese for him/her is Radon from the contraction of the word for the prehistoric animal pteranodon (and that's how I transcribed the name in katakana in the title line above). Apparently, when the Americans received the movie for distribution, they transposed the vowels so that viewers wouldn't get confused with the inert opposed to now possibly getting viewers confused with the new name with that of the famous sculptor, at least in a pronunciation sense (I know that the guy behind The Thinker has his name spelled "Rodin"). In any case, chemical element trumped artist.

To be honest, I don't remember anything of the theme song for Rodan. In fact, I hadn't been aware that the big bird even had a theme song. However, it was indeed Ifukube who came up with the ominous and rumbling horn-and-piano song for the movie. It starts low and slow before it starts picking up speed in the second half. From spareribs to stir-fry, as it were. Now that I have heard it, I don't think it quite holds the candle to the Godzilla theme, all due respect to the late great Ifukube.

Now that Hollywood has established a Monsterverse due to the latest King Kong movie earlier this year, it should be interesting to see all of those kaiju from my childhood come back on the big screen, although they will be sophisticated CG. Still, I hold those creatures as portrayed by Nakajima as beloved creations. He passed away at the age of 88.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Yoshitaka Minami -- Hometown

Some years ago, I wrote about Yoshitaka Minami's(南佳孝)classic 1982 album "Seventh Avenue South", a mix of urban jazz and resort pop that I fell in love with after listening to tracks such as "COOL" and "Scotch and Rain". The final straw for me to purchase "Seventh Avenue South" was seeing the cover of the album with the splendid painting of Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks". I'm not an art aficionado at all but that painting has always been one of my favourite pieces of pop culture.

"Hometown" is one of the tracks from "Seventh Avenue South", and it is the one middle-ground song of the album. Not jazzy and not necessarily sounding like something to be heard on the beach, Minami has crafted a musical picture of old friends getting together for the first time in ages in the titular hometown while they enjoy a barbecue and some beers. Considering some of the current turmoil in the world as of this writing, this wouldn't be a bad number to listen to. The timing of this writing is also good in that August is the O-Bon season in Japan, one of the prime times of the year for families to head back to their hometowns for a few days of recuperation.

Miyako Otsuki -- Haha Koi Shamisen (母恋三味線)

Enka singer Miyako Otsuki(大月みやこ)is most likely recognized as one of the grande dames of the genre but there is surprisingly not a whole lot of information about her on J-Wiki outside of her discography. There is a nice website devoted to her, though.

From what I've read is that she was born Setsuko Wakita(脇田節子)(although that first name has a number of different readings) in 1946 in Osaka. Her stage name originated from a famous record shop in that city called Otsuki Gakkiten(大月楽器店...Otsuki Music Shop)with someone throwing in the first name of Miyako. She's been releasing records since 1964 up to the present day but it wasn't until 1986 that she finally got her chance to get onto the Kohaku Utagassen, and this was for a single that had become a hit for her three years earlier, "Onna no Minato"(女の港...The Harbour of a Woman).

However, let's go back to the beginning here. I was going through my Doraemon's Pocket that is the Canada Dry bag of enka 45s when I came across the original record of Otsuki's debut from June 1964, "Haha Koi Shamisen" (Shamisen of a Mother's Love). She had just turned 18 when she sang this very sad song about a young woman, perhaps not that much older than Otsuki herself, working somewhere on the back streets of Tokyo, while her mother is pining for her back in the ol' hometown.

Written by Yukio Tanaka(たなかゆきを)and composed by Eiichi Kawakami(川上英一), perhaps the song could be relatable to anyone who had left their homes in the countryside to work in the big city in the 1950s and 1960s. And maybe looking at the karaoke video below, the woman of note in the lyrics didn't necessarily have to be a shamisen performer but someone working in any of the establishments within those back streets. The feelings of loneliness and pangs for family and home are pretty strong. Incidentally, in the video above, it is Otsuki and Ichiro Toba(鳥羽一郎)doing the duet of the song.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Misia -- Wasurenai Hibi (忘れない日々)

Oh good heavens! It's been almost a year since my last Misia article. Wonderful thing to have her back in the fold.

Buying her debut album "Mother Father Brother Sister" in the late 1990s, my impression was that there was a true talent in Misia but perhaps she was tapping those higher registers a bit too much in those tracks. However, with some more judicious usage of that sonic weapon, she could make a dramatic statement.

Her 4th single "Wasurenai Hibi" (The Unforgotten Days) actually was on her 2nd album from New Year's Day 2000, "LOVE IS THE MESSAGE" with the single itself coming out in November 1999. As they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder, so it's definitely nice to hear this one again. Actually, I used to hear this one quite often back in the day because it was used as a campaign song for Hitachi Maxell audiotapes (I guess they were still selling those back then).

Man, I do miss those soul ballads from back then. Misia came up with the lyrics about a lady asking her very-soon-to-be ex-boyfriend to hold her hand one more time and remember past days before the end of their relationship while Toshiaki Matsumoto(松本俊明)composed the lovely music. It may have signaled the end of a romance but "Wasurenai Hibi" couldn't get much more romantic. In all likelihood, folks in the audience had to grab a Kleenex or handkerchief before Misia finished her performance.

The single got as high as No. 4 on Oricon and ended the year as the 65th-ranked single for 2000 as it went Platinum. As for "LOVE IS THE MESSAGE", it went all the way to No. 1 on the weeklies and became the 4th-ranked album of the year, winning a Best Album prize at the Japan Record Awards and breaking the 2 million barrier in sales.