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.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Poplar/MIQ -- Yodobashi Camera no Uta(ヨドバシカメラの歌)

A couple of years ago, I did an article about some of the catchy jingles that represented the various superstores in Akihabara including the one that I focused on, the kiddieland-friendly "Hello, Sofmap World".

Well, although I did mention the massive Yodobashi Akiba, I never got around to its theme song. Incidentally, before I go ahead with that song, I have to say that since the building was erected, it was the place for me to take friends from Toronto whenever they visited during my life there. Even when I visit Japan as a mere tourist now, I still make sure that I drop by the place just to take a look around at the goods and also to visit one of the many restaurants on the higher floor. I'm not exaggerating too much when I say that a visitor wanting to explore all that Akihabara has to offer can easily spend an entire day in this Yodobashi branch. It would basically be one day for Yodobashi Akiba and then another day for the rest of Akiba.

As I cited above, the jingle for Sofmap is a tune that would have folks envision a fantasy land for kids. The one for Yodobashi Camera is jazzier...and familiar, especially for Americans. Yup, once you hear it, you'll know it's completely based on "Battle Hymn of the Republic" by William Steffe and Julia Ward Howe from the mid-19th century.

According to the J-Wiki article, the initial version had been just an instrumental march with some male chorus in the background, but then in 1986, the singer Poplar(ポプラ), who has focused on theme songs for anime and dramas as well as commercial jingles, gave a slightly rock version of "Yodobashi Camera no Uta" (The Yodobashi Camera Song).

But then in 1990, anison singer and vocal trainer MIQ (pronounced Miku) performed the jazzier take that has been usually heard in the stores nowadays. I tried to find out who came up with the Japanese lyrics but apparently they differ depending on the branch whether it is in Tokyo, Osaka or Sapporo, for example. So I can only figure that someone in an advertising company or the marketing division of Yodobashi itself has been responsible for those. However, the lyrics for the branch in Shinjuku West were created by the actual founder, Terukazu Fujisawa(藤沢昭和).

The above video is approaching three years old and so the format has changed since then (according to my visit there last year), but you can take a gander at the restaurant floor for Yodobashi Akiba. I don't have any recommendations; they all seem scrumptious!


It's been a couple of months since I've covered a BEST compilation, and this time will be the first time that I've covered a second BEST compilation by any singer or band. The honour here falls on that pop group which automatically heralds the hot season, TUBE. I'm writing this here on the day before summer's official arrival but in Japan, it's already June 21st so the timing couldn't be better.

"TUBEst II" was released on shelves in April 1996, about 6.5 years following the release of "TUBEst" in December 1989. As such, the album covers the period of TUBE's singles in the early 1990s.

Now, a bit of a confession here from me. And I would like to preface things by bringing up a couple of famous sayings: "Familiarity breeds contempt" and "You can get too much of a good thing". I'm not sure when I bought "TUBEst II"; perhaps when it was first put into the CD stores. But I listened to it once....and that was it. It was returned to my shelf and there it sat for 22 years...except for one time that I took it out to be photographed as a thumbnail picture. I actually put the CD itself into the stereo for the first time yesterday since Bill Clinton was POTUS!

For TUBE fans, perhaps my confession would come across as the equivalent of approaching lead vocalist Nobuteru Maeda(前田亘輝)and slapping him with a huge red snapper. But to be honest, and I again reference those sayings in the above paragraph, after listening to "TUBEst II", I just thought I was getting too much TUBE music. It just seemed as if the band had been releasing singles once every few months and as you know, TUBE is all about the summer sound. I guess I finally got tired.

In any case, I will let you know the conclusion of my estrangement from The Boys of Summer after focusing on some of the tracks. For now, allow me to introduce the lineup.

1. Ah--Natsu Yasumi (あ~夏休み)
2. Shonan My Love(湘南My Love)
3. Sayonara Yesterday(さよならイエスタデイ)
4. Natsu da ne (夏だね)
5. Glass no Memories(ガラスのメモリーズ)
6. Natsu wo Machikirenakute(夏を待ちきれなくて)
7. Datte Natsu janai(だって夏じゃない)
8. Natsu wo Dakishimete (夏を抱きしめて)
9. Koi Shite Mucho(恋してムーチョ)
10. Melodies & Memories
11. Yuzurenai Natsu(ゆずれない夏)
12. Ano Natsu wo Sagashite (あの夏を探して)

Bonus Tracks
13. Shonan Bon Odori(湘南盆踊り)
14. Yõ Yõ Yõ
15. Umi e Ikou(海へ行こう)

All of the tracks were written by Nobuteru Maeda and composed by TUBE guitarist Michiya Haruhata(春畑道哉).

First off, I will begin with "Glass no Memories" (Glass Memories), TUBE's 15th single from July 1992. It's actually close to the middle of the order but I wanted to start here since this is the song that I most remember from "TUBEst II" because of that keyboard flourish. Also, it's perhaps the first time that I ever heard of a TUBE song that sounded like it originated in a place other than the familiar beaches of Shonan. Maeda and the guys may have decided to high-tail it to Acapulco for their muse.

"Glass no Memories" peaked at No. 5 on Oricon and was the 23rd-ranked single for 1992.

Speaking of Shonan, there is "Shonan My Love", a love letter to the place where the band members had spent their salad days. I have to admit that on hearing this again, the nostalgia nerves were pressed although I would hardly ever consider myself a lover of sea and surf. This was TUBE's 12th single from May 1991 which reached No. 7 on the weekly charts and finished the year at No. 64, going Gold.

"Natsu wo Machikirenakute" (Can't Wait For Summer) takes things nearly into B'z land with the guitars and power. Dusting off the disc after so long and listening to the album, I have to say that this particular single was the one that got me thinking "Perhaps I was a tad too harsh in my assessment". For the lack of a better way to express things, it comes off as being rather cool and dramatic as Maeda sings about making a broken relationship right again. TUBE's 16th single came out in May 1993 and hit No. 1, becoming the 33rd-ranked single and going Double Platinum. This was also the single that got the band their first invitation to NHK's Kohaku Utagassen that year.

TUBE's 19th single "Koi Shite Mucho" (Fall In Love A Lot) from July 1994 takes things back overseas for some spicy salsa. I wonder if Orquesta de la Luz and TUBE ever collaborated during one of the latter's concerts. In any case, this also broke the Top 10 by reaching No. 6 and becoming the 71st-ranked single of the year. Looking at all this concert footage, I wonder if I did miss out by not only not catching Kome Kome Club(米米クラブ)but also TUBE.

My final part here is the reason that I have also put up the enka label for TUBE, strangely enough. I could only find the Apple excerpt as a decent sample, but I just had to include the Bonus Track known as "Shonan Bon Odori". Just a traditional festival dance the TUBE treatment, but it does make a wonderful example of Japanese musical kismet. "Shonan Bon Odori" was the coupling song for the above-mentioned "Glass no Memories". Nice way to take it back to Japan.

"TUBEst II" did even better than the inaugural BEST album by peaking at No. 3 and becoming the 19th-ranked album of 1996. It even broke the millions barrier. It was good listening to all of the tracks this time around, and I can provide yet another expression "Absence makes the heart grow fonder". All I needed was some time away (perhaps not as long as 22 years) to appreciate the good times of summer Japanese pop again. Perhaps this could even get me to try out some of TUBE's more recent fare...yep, they're still going!

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Izumi Kimoto & Kyosen Ohashi And The Thoroughbreds -- Dokoka de Dareka ni(どこかでだれかに)

In terms of generations and Japanese TV, I was perhaps at the very tail end of the Kyosen Ohashi(大橋巨泉)era. For those fans of the medium over there who know about veteran hosts such as director Beat Takeshi(ビートたけし), Tamori(タモリ)and Sanma Akashiya(明石家さんま), before all of them, there was Kyosen Ohashi with his many commercials and his long-running stints as hosts of late-night program "Wide Show 11PM" and the quiz show "Quiz Derby". I don't remember seeing him a whole lot during my time in Japan but he was enough of a presence that his beaming and bespectacled face is something that I can still identify.

I read on his J-Wiki bio that although Ohashi had never dabbled in singing, he was involved somewhat in the recording industry. However, I'd had no idea that his name was actually connected with a group.

Still, tonight I discovered this lovely Japanese bossa song titled "Dokoka de Dareka ni" (Somewhere With Someone) that was performed by Kyosen Ohashi And The Thoroughbreds(大橋巨泉とサラブレッズ)with the vocalist Izumi Kimoto(木本いず美). Not sure how Ohashi and The Thoroughbreds got together but I think that the latter may have been the house band on "11PM". In any case, according to Kimoto's website, the group coalesced in 1969 with Kimoto as the second vocalist.

"Dokaka de Dareka ni" was the B-side to their 1970 single "Onegai ga Aru no"(お願いがあるの...I Have A Favor), and I do have my soft spot for bossa nova. And "Dokaka de Dareka ni" hit that spot rather nicely just when I was going to call it a night on the blog. With Kimoto's lovely and lilting vocals leading the way, I ended up listening to it twice. Ohashi himself came up with the lyrics (and was even in the chorus) while band saxophonist Atsushi or Jun Sugihara(杉原淳)composed the melody. According to one site, Ohashi, The Thoroughbreds and Kimoto released a few more singles afterwards.

Not a bad way to end the day and a pleasant surprise from a longtime veteran of the Japanese TV industry who passed away in 2016.

Reiko Mari -- Psyche na Machi(サイケな街)

Combing through some of the funkier kayo of the 1960s, I became somewhat curious about all those go-go dances that I had always heard about back in the decade that I was born. I was obviously way too young to try them out although my mother once told me that I had done my fair share of intensely bouncing on the sofa whenever the opening credits for the original "Mission: Impossible" TV show came on (still a cool theme). In any case, I decided to take a look at the above video provided by Dusty Old Thing as a historical and cultural update on my knowledge. Was not aware of The Stroll or The Hully Gully.

The trigger for my curiosity was the above video containing the song "Psyche na Machi" (Psychedelic Town) by singer Reiko Mari(万里れい子). Although I've provided the translation of the title in the previous sentence, according to one site, the official English title was apparently "In The Town". Released back in October 1968, the number just dares folks not to try out one of those 60s dances. And looking at the cover, Mari looks like she's ready to paint the town red through The Frug or The Pony. "Psyche na Machi" was written by Hiroshi Mizuki(水木ひろし)and composed by Jun Sakurai(櫻井順).

There's not a whole lot of information on Mari except for what I found on the site "Ongaku no Aru Mura"(音楽のある村...A Village With Music). She was born in 1948, and at the age of 23 sometime during the mid-1960s, she entered a Nichigeki dance troupe called NDT (wow, so it wasn't Yasushi Akimoto who had started up the idea of all those alphabet girl groups 😉) in which there were a number of smaller sub-units with the one that Mari had entered being called The Eight Poppies(エイト・ポピーズ). She later left the troupe, auditioned for Columbia Records and took on the stage name of Reiko Mari. Her debut was in May 1967 with the single "Seishun no Nagisa"(青春の渚...Youth Beach).

Going into the 1970s, she would later join the vocal group Koichi Morita and The Top Gallants(森田公一とトップギャラン)under the name of Reiko Watabe(渡部玲子).

Lamp -- 1998

Back in February this year, I wrote about the pop band Lamp that had been recommended to me by a commenter and enjoyed my first experience with them, the City Pop-py "A Toshi no Aki"(A都市の秋)sung by member Kaori Sakakibara(榊原香保里).

Well, I've found out "1998" which is a track from their latest album "Kanojo no Tokei"(彼女の時計...Her Clock)which came out in April 2018. The music video for this song was directed and edited by Sakakibara according to the YouTube description, but I think it's band composer/lyricist Yusuke Nagai(永井祐介)taking care of the vocals here.

The title may be "1998", but the music by the band definitely hearkens back to an even earlier decade. I'm thinking more along the way of late 1970s/early 1980s AOR filtered through the song stylings of Kingo Hamada(濱田金吾)or Tohoku Shinkansen(東北新幹線). It's so dreamy and comfortable that I probably would be hard pressed to even reach across the table for that bottle of Perrier. Plus, the video has got that really old-fashioned look of something filmed through a Kodak movie camera; heck, those ancient devices known as public telephones make cameos.

I was going to remark that they don't come up with that sort of music anymore, but in fact, they are!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Hidemi Ishikawa -- Yu-re-te Shonan(ゆ・れ・て湘南)

The sudden passing of 70s aidoru legend Hideki Saijo(西城秀樹)last month caught everybody by surprise, including the above TV personalities. One person in the brief video above who may have been especially shocked was veteran Hirohide Yakumaru(薬丸裕英), formerly one of the boys in 80s aidoru group Shibugaki-tai(シブがき隊). He's the one in glasses seated at the far right of the guest panel.

His wife happens to be former aidoru Hidemi Ishikawa(石川秀美), and there was another video that had later footage of that show in which Yakumaru related the fact that if it hadn't been for Saijo, his wife wouldn't have had that career as a singer 30+ years ago. According to a book titled "Hachi-juu Nendai Aidoru Collection"(80年代アイドルcollection...Eighties' Idol Collection)(via J-Wiki), when Ishikawa was a junior high school senior back in the summer of 1981, she entered a contest called "Hideki no Ototo/Imoto Boshuu Audition"(HIDEKIの弟・妹募集オーディション...Hideki's Younger Sibling Invitational Audition)which was looking for some new talent. The teenager ended up getting selected out of a total of 55,460 contestants. Saijo himself had pushed hard for Ishikawa's selection. Several months later, she would make her debut as an aidoru in early 1982.

Ishikawa's 2nd single was "Yu-re-te Shonan" (Sway Me, Shonan), a number that seems to hint at a bit of 50s and a bit of disco within the melody by Yuuichiro Oda(小田裕一郎). Prolific lyricist Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆)handled the story of summer love on the famous Japanese beach, and it's a comforting piece of musical nostalgia with the strings, bass and horns in there backing the high tones of the new singer.

Strangely, although there is no listing of how it did on Oricon on J-Wiki, according to the Yahoo Japan Q&A, "Yu-re-te Shonan" did modestly well by getting as high as No. 29, selling around 87,000 records. However, it did earn raves during awards seasons by getting at least three Best New Artist prizes from sources such as the Japan Record Awards.

Hiroshi Uchiyamada and The Cool Five -- Ai no Tabiji wo(愛の旅路を)

Cool it wasn't in Toronto today. It has been the hottest and most humid day that we've had this year so far with Humidex readings in the 40-degree Celsius range...that would be 100 degrees in Fahrenheit. The strange thing is that although the air conditioner was pressed into service in the living room, I didn't even turn on the decades-old fan in my small chamber. Perhaps it was those long steamy summers in Tokyo and Chiba that hardened me to the hot season. My advice to the athletes heading for the Tokyo Olympics: get yourself acclimated to the weather there, pronto!

Well, it is a Monday night so perhaps in a tiny segue from the above paragraph (or first word), why don't we go with Hiroshi Uchiyama and The Cool Five(内山田洋とクール・ファイブ)for some beginning-of-the-week Mood Kayo? I came upon their 4th single from April 1970, "Ai no Tabiji wo" (Love's Journey), and it's that reassuring tune of the genre done in the inimitable Cool Five style. In fact, I think it sounds quite similar to the group's first big hit, "Nagasaki wa Kyou mo Ame Datta"(長崎は今日も雨だった)from the previous year, although the songwriters are different. This time, they are Akari Yamaguchi(山口あかり)and Takuya Fujimoto(藤本卓也)in charge of words and music respectively.

"Ai no Tabiji wo" is basically a huge soppy love letter from vocalist Kiyoshi Maekawa(前川清). I mean, I could envisage the hubby half of an older couple singing this to his beloved at karaoke. The song was also The Cool Five's third Top 10 hit, peaking at No. 4.

I have to give my kudos to the person who made the above accompanying video through Kyoto. If YouTube's Van Paugam had been interested in Mood Kayo (which I've always thought was a father/uncle to City Pop), he probably would have based his online radio on this video. Plus, there is something just right listening to "Ai no Tabiji wo" while driving on the Hanshin Expressway at night.

(empty karaoke version)