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, May 28, 2020

Seishiro Kusunose -- Boukensha-tachi(冒険者たち)

I think that this is more on the AOR or Resort Pop side of things (by way of Hakone or Shonan) than straight City Pop, but I refuse to split hairs here. Seishiro Kusunose's(楠瀬誠志郎)"Boukensha-tachi" (The Adventurers) is definitely one song to chase the blues away while bombing down the highway.

His 3rd single and also the title track from his 2nd album both released on the same day in April 1987, "Boukensha-tachi" begins gloriously with that guitar and no one should be blamed if they think that Kusunose was channeling some of that inner Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎)through the song. In fact, according to his J-Wiki file, the singer-songwriter focused on those wonderful harmonies of Tats for a lot of his early songs, and he had even worked as part of the background chorus for the City Pop legend himself.

Indeed, Kusunose was behind the music with Akira Inoue(井上鑑handling the arrangement. The lyrics were by Shigeru Okawa(大川茂), one-third of the vocal group Hi-Fi Set(ハイ・ファイ・セット).

J-Canuck's Foodie Kayo/Kenji Endo -- Curry Rice(カレーライス)

A little over three weeks following my last Author's Picks article on traveling around the world, I decided to go for another one. This time, though, it's on the topic of food.

Obviously when one thinks about world travel, one also has to consider the cuisine in those far-flung places. However, in actual fact, my inspiration to create this article wasn't based on trips to those nations, but the NHK program titled "Sara Meshi"(サラメシ). The show focuses on the working class in all sorts of industries and what they go for in terms of lunch with the title being an abbreviation of "salaryman's meal". It's hosted by veteran actor Kiichi Nakai(中井貴一)who narrates it as if he were trying to become an anime character. The lovely thing about "Sara Meshi" is that it doesn't only show the workers' bento but also presents some of those people's favourite eateries during the busy noon hour.

I think this has been a relatively recent segment to the show but at the end, "Sara Meshi" has also been focusing on the beloved restaurants and dishes for those famous folks who have departed this mortal coil. For example, one episode featured the late Hideki Saijo's(西城秀樹)favourite restaurant and his steak don.

Now, the impetus for me to write up this Foodie Kayo list was last night's episode in which folk singer-songwriter Kenji Endo(遠藤賢司)who had passed away in late 2017 was given his tribute through an eatery that he once frequented. His beloved dish there was curry rice, and not surprisingly, one of his big hits was "Curry Rice" from 1972 which sold around 100,000 records. The fiddle was played by Masahiro Takekawa(武川雅寛), a member of the band Moonriders as Endo quietly intones his love for the dish.

Up to now, I've had various types of curry with rice or naan: Indian, Thai, Pakistani and Indonesian. However, in my early days, it was always about the Japanese style over the rice thanks to those S&B cubes or powder. It was spicy to be sure but not fiery.

How about some of those other foodie kayo?

1. Akiko Yano -- Ramen Tabetai (1984)

COVID-19 has meant that access to those ramen restaurants here in Toronto has plummeted to zero for me since I don't live anywhere near one, although I still have my Cup Noodles and Sapporo Ichiban options. Until the restaurants are back up and running for dine-in service, I will be happy enough getting my aural version with the cool and funky Yano(矢野顕子)song.

2. Mariya Takeuchi -- Fushigi na Peach Pie (1980)

"Fushigi na Peach Pie"(不思議なピーチパイ)is as young and adorable as Mariya Takeuchi(竹内まりや)was back in those early days, and as the original article indicates, this was a song that was only performed by Mariya with Kazumi Yasui(安井かずみ)and Kazuhiko Kato(加藤和彦)doing the songwriting duties here. I've had peach pie before and it's fine although a bit tart. But I still prefer my apple pie over anything else in that category.

3. Masatoshi Hamada & Noriyuki Makihara -- Chicken Rice (2004)

Never thought that I would actually hear a song paying tribute to the classic yoshoku dish, but Noriyuki Makihara(槇原敬之)pulled it off and had good buddy, comedian Masatoshi Hamada(浜田雅功), pair up with him to perform this folksy number. I've had chicken rice on its own before but usually it is the majority component for the bigger dish of rice omelette when it's buried under a carpet of creamy beaten egg slid from a hot frying pan.

4. Masato Shimon -- Oyoge! Taiyaki-kun (1975) from 1:56

In the attempts to be perfectly transparent here, I don't think I ever dove into taiyaki all that much during my years in Japan. I mean, anko is splendid and all that, but I can't really say that it was a go-to sweet for me. But obviously, I was very much in the minority in the country, and Shimon's(子門真人)famous "Oyoge! Taiyaki-kun"(およげ!たいやきくん)may still be the biggest selling single of all time. You might want to check the Guinness Book of World Records, though.

5. Kirinji -- Pizza VS. Hamburger (2019)

Man! Do I really have to choose? Just glad that the title wasn't "Pizza VS. Hamburger VS. Hot Dog VS. Ramen". Kirinji(キリンジ)apparently wanted to make this somewhat humorous track from their 2019 "cherish" a walk into the gastronomic version of "The Twilight Zone" where someone like William Shatner or Jack Klugman has to make that impossible decision between comfort foods. Still, the musical path is a fun one to take.

6. Rina Sato & Asuka Ohgame -- Egao ni Naru (2015)

Had to throw in an anison since I believe that the anime industry has also been a frequent purveyor of foodie-ism over the years. And one such show that gave new meaning to the words foodie porn is "Koufuku Graffiti"(幸福グラフィティー)which I'll be wrapping up viewing for the umpteenth time later tonight. All of the performed songs are great concoctions but I have an especial affinity for the ending theme "Egao ni Naru"(笑顔になる)because of its addressing of all of the scrumptious dishes in the lyrics and the sunny Bacharach-esque arrangement.

I know that I've left at least one other food-based tune out of the list and there are probably quite a lot of other such songs, but the above is my reflection. If any of you readers out there have your own choices, please let me know.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Ichiro Fujiyama -- Nagasaki no Kane(長崎の鐘)

Currently with the adapted biography of composer Yuuji Koseki(古関裕而)being televised as the NHK morning serial drama "Yell"(エール), the network has also been providing 5-minute vignettes of some of Koseki's work. The themes for the Hanshin Tigers baseball team, "Rokko Oroshi"(六甲おろし)and everyone's favourite heroic moth, "Mothra", have already been given their due in the vignettes.

Another song that has been featured is the elegiac "Nagasaki no Kane", inspired by the January 1949 Takashi Nagai(永井隆)book of the same name with the translation of "The Bells of Nagasaki", which referred to the bells of Urakami Cathedral in Nagasaki. The song itself was released as a single later in July with Koseki providing the melody while Hachiro Sato(サトウハチロー)was behind the lyrics.

Veteran kayo singer Ichiro Fujiyama(藤山一郎)was the first to record "Nagasaki no Kane", and in the vignette, singer and TV personality Akihiro Miwa(美輪明宏)noted that the song was perhaps one of the first kayo to feature a combination of major and minor chords to reflect both sorrow and hope with the additional help of a women's chorus. That was a pretty noteworthy point Miwa made since I've often heard Japanese pop songs from way back that had that similar pattern of sad-and-happy melodies.

According to the J-Wiki article on the song, "Nagasaki no Kane" never made any direct reference to the atomic bombing of Nagasaki itself but referred to all those who suffered because of the war. Lyricist Sato himself had lost a brother in the Hiroshima bombing.

It would be years before I realized how much of an association Fujiyama had with NHK's Kohaku Utagassen because of his traditional role as the orchestra conductor when it was time to wrap the show up with the annual playing of "Hotaru no Hikari"(蛍の光). I've also now learned that Fujiyama was one of the performers at the very first edition of the Kohaku on NHK Radio back on January 3rd 1951 in which he sang "Nagasaki no Kane". He would perform the song again on the 1964, 1973 and 1979 editions.

JUJU -- Remember (The Good Times)

(If any of you at NHK disagree with me putting up the picture, please let me
know and it'll be promptly taken down.)

Recently, I've gotten into watching another NHK program via TV Japan once "Uta Kon"(うたコン)finishes up on Tuesday night. Titled "Sekai wa Hoshiimono ni Afureteru"(世界はほしいモノにあるふれてる...This World is Filled With Wants), it's a show about Japanese buyers for various shops searching all over the world for unique wares, and it stars singer JUJU and actor/singer Haruma Miura(三浦春馬). In all honesty, though, my timing hasn't been too good since due to COVID-19, "Sekai wa Hoshiimono ni Afureteru" has had to curtail its main function of showing the buyers traveling the Earth, so we've been watching reruns for the past few weeks. But those reruns themselves have been entertaining in showing some of those products and the lifestyles that they've helped in shaping in those nations such as Italy and Denmark.

The theme song for the show is performed by JUJU and it's called "Remember (The Good Times)". Now, I've been hearing about JUJU for years and have seen her appear on the aforementioned "Uta Kon" a few times here and there, but wasn't aware that she had initially aimed to become a jazz singer. I had assumed that it was always about the R&B through soul and hip-hop with her, though she also sings in those genres.

So I was pleasantly surprised on hearing the full version of "Remember". The theme only gets a very brief appearance on the show, and it's so quiet that I couldn't even identify it as a Big Band swing number. It's just a shade under three minutes but during its short time, it manages to pack in a lot of good ol' jazzy schmaltz. "Remember" is the first track on JUJU's 3rd jazz cover album "Delicious ~ JUJU's Jazz 3rd Dish" released in December 2018, and for whatever bizarre reason, I've also treated the final month of the year with all of that Xmas cheer to be a fine time for jazz. Kiyoshi Matsuo(松尾潔)wrote the lyrics for the song (as well as produce the entire album) with Daisuke Kawaguchi(川口大輔)providing the melody and handling the arrangements. "Delicious" hit No. 11 on Oricon.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Kirinji -- Koi no Kehai(恋の気配)

It was my anime buddy who first informed me about the singer-songwriter kotringo(コトリンゴ), aka Rieko Miyoshi三吉里絵子)because of her version of the classic folk song "Kanashikute Yarikirenai"(悲しくてやりきれない)as the theme song for the acclaimed movie "Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni"(この世界の片隅に)that we watched at his place a few years ago. Then, I realized on watching episodes of one of my favourite anime "Koufuku Graffiti"(幸福グラフィティー), the Osaka-born singer had also composed the show's eclectic soundtrack, although the theme songs weren't handled by her.

Another surprise regarding kotringo was in store for me on learning that she had been a member of the band Kirinji(キリンジ)between 2013 and 2017, and she joined one of my favourite bands in the same year that founding member Yasuyuki Horigome(堀込泰行)had left for his own solo work. I read one comment underneath one Kirinji YouTube video which stated that when kotringo was with them that the band was truly special back at that time and that she's still missed.

That is indeed high praise considering that I've been very impressed with Kirinji's last two albums, "Ai wo aru dake, Subete"(愛をあるだけ、すべて)and "Cherish" which were produced after kotringo's departure. I can only imagine what Kirinji must have been like back then, but I got a little inspiration just recently on hearing "Koi no Kehai" (The Sign of Love), a track from Kirinji's 12th album "Neo", released in August 2016 and the final album with kotringo as a band member.

Written and composed by Kirinji vocalist Takaki Horigome(堀米孝樹), kotringo is the main vocalist here, and that delicate and breathy voice of hers really helps lift the amazing and soothing melody. The arrangement is also helped by that quirky spacey keyboard that hints at what Kirinji was going to do in the next two albums. Other lovely ingredients are the onomatopoeia used in the lyrics, the whistling and what sounds like a steel pedal guitar. Something undeniably strange and romantic is taking place surrounding the lyrics depicting the classic illustration of autumn being the season of love fading away in Japanese music.

At this rate, once I return to buying CDs again, I'm going to have to add "Neo" to the Kirinji collection. By the way, the album had the highest ranking in the band's career by placing at No. 11 on Oricon, although I don't know how well their latest album "cherish" has fared.

Wyenra (ゑんら) - UKIYO

I hope everyone has been dealing with these times the best way possible. I sure am trying, amidst online classes and assignments, to dedicate myself to my hobbies, including the Animal Crossing craze.

While exercising, I have been listening to some music I wanted to pick up for a while, mostly modern aidoru. One of these is the album I am going to cover.


Wyenra (ゑんら) is one of my favorite idol groups of the last few years. It was formed in 2018 after Hikari Takiguchi and Misato Miira (formerly known as Misato Misaki) departed from their former group to seek creative independence. They scouted Hikari's younger sister and also an idol, Kirara, and set to produce their own act. The peculiar name is based on the smoke youkai Enra/Enenra, derived of the wish of becoming an unrestricted musical act. However, the theme of Japanese youkai and other folklore is recurrent in the group's songs and overall aesthetic.

Last year's UKIYO is the first full album of the group, promoted with the tagline "looking to become 'scary-cute'." Mixing some traditional idol music elements with waltzy and techno sounds, each song has its own charm and I will be covering a few of my favorites.

The first track of the album is Unbalance (アンバランス), which I consider Wyenra's trademark song. It is has a distinctive pop sound and it is very catchy, with repetitive but nice guitar instrumentals and phrases accompained by drums that keep the mind focused in the tune. The composition is courtesy of koma'n, a singer-songwriter who rose to fame doing Vocaloid covers and has been responsible for a few of Wyenra's songs. The group's leader Misato is also their creative producer, penning most of the lyrics, as well as providing the illustrations for the cover arts and merchandise. I think Unbalance is a very good entrance into Wyenra's sound, but definitely only a fraction of what they have to offer.

This is what I'm talking about. Mayoi Jibakurei (迷い地縛霊) is one of my absolute favorite Wyenra songs. The title translates to something like "lost landbound spirit" - the ghost that cannot understand why it died, so it stays tied to the place of death. Judging by the lyrics, this can be taken as a metaphor, which amplifies the sort of despair and hurry one can feel while listening to the song. This track really is one of its kind and helps defining the "scary" side of Wyenra's character.

Retro Hanako (レトロ花子) is a softer tune based on the popular urban legend of the toilet-haunting ghost "Hanako-san". With an almost acoustic-sounding arrangement, this song makes me feel nostalgic, with the lyrics also alluding to reminiscing about the memories of Hanako-chan, who lives in the subject's memory even after they became an adult, even talking about... Being Hanako-chan themselves. Who knows?

Remember the tagline for this album - Horror Kawaii (ホラーかわいい) is a very upbeat traditional idol song that mixes a bit of sadness and despair with cuteness and romantic love. The lyrics were penned by the whole group while the composition is also credited to koma'n. Misato and Hikari's former group drop was also known for high-tempo cutesy songs such as this one, so it's nice to see them exploring a similar formula with a more individual twist.

To wrap it up, this is probably my most listened song in the past month: Yakuneko (厄猫). This is a very fun piece composed by Jun Matsumoto, frequent member of support bands for artists such as Chara and Kana Adachi. The bass and piano sounds jump around while the members sing about a "mischievous cat, deceiving cat" who looks to no means to see their needs met, leaving the subject with no other option than to stop caring about them anymore. I got hooked into this one since I first listened to the instrumental version.

It is my first time covering an entire album and it was hard to squeeze it down to a few tracks, but I feel like this is already one of the albums of the year for me. It's a breath of fresh air since Wyenra keep on doing their own thing, not overlapping too much with any other modern idols and also offering a hint of nostalgic sounds and a good variety of music. While it's definitely still an idol group with its perks and quirks, I would recommend giving a listen to this album and, if possible, the previous mini-album KEMURI, which has some more songs worth looking into.

I hope everyone stays as safe as possible and do not forget to keep doing your favorite things. I will definitely keep listening to a lot of idol music. Some of Akina's albums are up for streaming and a few concerts were uploaded to YouTube, so I might get around to a re-re-re-relisten...

Iyo Matsumoto -- Love Me Tender(ラブ・ミー・テンダー)

It seems as if those first two singles by 80s aidoru Iyo Matsumoto(松本伊代)were quite happy with "used" song titles from the past. There is, of course, her debut single and arguably her most famous song, "Sentimental Journey"(センチメンタルジャーニー)whose namesake happens to belong to one of the jazz classics from yesteryear.

Then, there is her follow-up single released in February 1982, "Love Me Tender". Of course, there was a 1956 ballad with that very title by the King of Rock and Roll that has become a common selection at the karaoke bars and boxes for decades.

Iyo-chan's "Love Me Tender" is neither rock n' roll nor a ballad, to say the least. It is a cute little aidoru ditty that seems to have incorporated a bit of that Doobie Bounce and a background chorus that had me thinking of the Manhattan Transfer or the Norman Luboff Choir from the 1960s. Written by Reiko Yukawa(湯川れい子)and composed by Kyohei Tsutsumi(筒美京平), it's a fun and smooth teenybopper song that can go with her "Sentimental Journey", which had also been created by the tandem of Yukawa and Tsutsumi. "Love Me Tender" just missed out on another Top 10 ranking by peaking at No. 11 and it finished 1982 as the No. 89 single of the year. According to J-Wiki, it stands as her 3rd-most successful single, selling a little over 160,000 records.