I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube, Oricon charts are courtesy of and my research is translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Masako Takeda -- Sayonara Binanshi (さよなら美男子 [メイナンツウ])

Recently, I came across the above video on YouTube and got instantly fascinated. It consists of an aidoru singer called Masako Takeda (武田雅子) singing a song called "Sayonara Binanshi" (or "Sayonara Meinantsuu"). First of all, I did a little research, but couldn't find many satisfactory meanings for the word meinantsuu (maybe an stylised Chinese word?). Then, I looked up for the definition of binanshi (美男子) and learned that it means handsome man. I searched for some images, but mostly got delicate Chinese guys with Imperial clothes, so I don’t really know if the word can be a generic term applied to all types of handsome men in Japan or is some kind of old word that came directly from the Chinese language. Well, I can only conclude that, if it's something specifically related to Chinese men, we can go with "Goodbye, handsome Chinese man"

Moving on to the song itself, it’s a cute late 80s Eurobeat inspired tune that features what I like to call stereotypical Chinese synth melodies. Masako Takeda, as I could see, didn’t release many songs, and was probably just a tarento that happened to release a couple of singles. She may be cute and wear nice shorts, but was very bad in the vocal department. I’m not complaining as, in the end, I liked her very much (well, that’s probably because I’m a sucker for weak and obscure aidoru singers, but whatever).

In this link, we can see a picture of the song's lyrics. At first, I assumed that binanshi was the right word to be used here, but Masako actually says meinantsuu in the first verse, so I had to consider it..., but, in the end, I must confess that this was a very hard article to write. As my Japanese language knowledge is extremely limited, I'm open to discussions here.

“Sayonara Binanshi (Meinantsuu)” was Masako's debut single, which was released in June 1990.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Team Syachihoko -- Iikurashi (いいくらし)

As Momoiro Clover Z’s (ももいろクローバーZ) youngest sister group, Team Syachihoko (チームしゃちほこ) delivers what must aidoru fans learned to expect from a group promoted by Stardust Promotion Agency’s 3B Junior section: quirky and over the top songs with dubious vocals.

That’s the case with “Iikurashi”, an interesting attempt that mixes aidoru pop with late 80s/early 90s style of house music (something in the lines of Madonna’s hit single “Vogue”, Black Box’s classic “Ride On Time”, or, staying in J-Pop’s domains, Perfume’s “GLITTER”). The result is an edgy song that still sounds cute. Let’s say that while the vocal lines during the verses are cute and strangely hypnotic (Team Syachihoko is good in this department, as we can see in "Ai no Chikyuusai" [愛の地球祭], their previous single, which was released in late 2013), the background arrangement just goes along between steady beats and dynamic synths.

Based on the pop music standards, “Iikurashi” is a fairly long song with its six and a half minutes, something that made me remember of the extended and 12’’ singles that were around mostly during the mid-to-late 70s, 80s and early 90s. In “Iikurashi’s” case, it’s never a boring or very linear song, thanks to a cute rap interlude and some instrumental buildups. The vocals can be considered a weak point, but an aidoru listener is more than used to rough and endless out of tone notes.

To finish, I found quite educational to post this amazing video of SynthMania, an YouTube channel that I like very much. In this video, he shows how a typical Italo house song of the early 90s was created. Enjoy!

“Iikurashi” was released in May 2014 and reached #2 on the Oricon charts, selling 34,830 copies in its first week. Lyrics were written by Mochiishiriri (もちいしりり), while music and arrangement were done by Tetsuto Yoshida (吉田哲人).

Hiroshi Sato featuring Wendy Matthews -- I Can't Wait

Ahhhh....a mellow glass of brandy for the ears and soul. "I Can't Wait" is another track from Hiroshi Sato's(佐藤博)wonderfully comfortable album, "Awakening" (1982) that I wrote about a little over a year ago. Wendy Matthews once again adds her lovely pipes to Sato's vocals and keyboards to create this slow and dusky ballad which fits it hand-in-glove with the rest of the album.

I listened to "Awakening" again on the stereo since I knew that I hadn't covered every song on that album and wanted to find another gem there to profile. And it was "I Can't Wait" that caught my ear once more. I'm definitely not one of those romantically mushy people by any stretch of the imagination, but I could see a couple of those folks suddenly go into a slow dance on hearing the lyrics.

And for those who have never seen the singer, this is Wendy with "The Day You Went Away".

Welcome, Noelle!

Hi, J-Canuck here! New month, new contributor. I just wanted to take the time to welcome Noelle Tham to "Kayo Kyoku Plus". Noelle had been commenting on a number of the enka/Mood Kayo articles and for the longest time, I'd wanted to find someone who had an interest in the genres who would be willing to talk about his/her experiences with singers such as Kiyoshi Maekawa, Hibari Misora and Hiroshi Itsuki and their music. And most fortunately, I was able to meet Noelle via the blog, and I'm looking forward to hearing about her own insights into one of the major parts of kayo kyoku.

She has already put up her first article on the aforementioned Maekawa, one of my own favourite artists from the Mood Kayo department, so why don't you have a read of that one? And she has her own blog via Google, so you can also read more about her there.

All the best!

nikala's Online J-Music Merchant Guide. Part 2: Middleman Services

So you've searched everywhere for some rare item and still can't find it in any of the stores mentioned in my other entry. The only places that do have it don't ship outside of Japan. The next step (other than waiting indefinitely for some luck) is to order it via a deputy/middleman service based in Japan that will deliver it to you for an extra charge. You basically make a deposit on their site and they store it in their warehouse. When you've ready, just request a delivery and method, and they'll repack and send it to your overseas address. Obviously this process is a tad lengthy. Sometimes it takes a couple of days for the middleman service to even pay the original seller for the item after they placed an order. Beside the item value cost, you'll definitely be paying a special service fee (which itself depends on the item cost), for domestic shipping to the warehouse within Japan and then shipping to your address. Often, you'll also pay a repacking fee, bank wire fee between the original seller and the middleman, and sales/consumption taxes. Depending on where you live, you may have to pay 1.5 or twice the value of the original item.

The stores that don't ship outside of Japan include Yahoo! Japan Auctions (and other Japanese auction sites), Tower Records, and various Amazon and Rakuten marketplace shops. There are numerous other small independent shops. All these places have one thing in common: lack of information in English. If your Japanese is poor, I suggest translating the pages and item descriptions through Google Translate to get the idea of what the condition is like, edition information, missing components, etc. The translation won't be perfect, but it'll help you pick up some useful words. Some middleman websites have an automatic translation feature to help you out before you commit to buy.

I've used a dozen of deputy services over time, but there's no need to list the inferior ones. This brief list contains all you need. They all handle PayPal.

Noppin, the King of Auctions. They offer a separate shopping service for places like Amazon and whatnot, but the fees are little steep. There a better option for those, listen below. Like all the other services, Noppin charges a fee per auction, but it's only 500 yen for the auction value of up to 4000 yenHere's a page listing all their surcharges and it might seem like a load, but if you read carefully and calculate, it's not that much. The bonus is that they hold your items in the warehouse for free for up to 60 days in case you win multiple auctions and want them consolidated together. Other services will start charging you extra if it's more than 30 days. Noppin also lets you bid in real time. Even the deposit process is automatic thanks to the pre-authorized PayPal deposit feature. And there's no need to deposit the total amount. Let's say you deposit 2000 yen, so with the multiplier of 3, you can bit for auctions of up to 6000 yen. Lastly, the search and bid pages all include an English translation interface. All in all, I can't recommend Noppin enough. Check them out.

For shopping other than auctions, I almost always use Tenso. Check their fees: relatively cheap. The neat thing about them is that up until the item arrives at the warehouse, you do the shopping yourself. No need to send them a request with the link asking them to buy for you manually. Once you register, you'll be given a unique Japanese address (of a storage box with your name and account number within the warehouse) which you'll enter as your delivery address on a given shopping site. When it arrives at Tenso, they'll give you an option to request shipping to your home address, or you can wait and consolidate multiple items together using their consolidation service. Of course, there are weight restrictions and time limit of up to 30 days.

The only reason not to use Tenso is when the original seller doesn't accept foreign-issued credit cards (those shops don't offer PayPal to begin with). Or your particular card just doesn't work. I've never had this problem myself, but you never know. So far the folks on Amazon and Rakuten I've bought from charged my Canadian Visa with no problem. Same with Tower Records, except so far I've only bought from there within Japan, but still with the same Visa. But if you do have this problem, direct yourself to the following.

Japamart and Celga, aside from the usual auction services, offer webshop services. Whereas Japamart has a separate set of fees related to it, Celga's are the same as the auction ones. Depending on the item value, you may prefer one over the other. You'll register there, and then everything is done through a special order form where you link the service to the item page and tell them which one you want. In case of Celga, they'll need to make a 100% before submitting that form and then they'll buy it for you. Japamart's process is slower: submit the form, wait for the total, you pay, and finally they buy. Then again, I haven't used these two for a while, so please check their guides to verify.

Now, Japamart and Celga mostly specialize in popular webshops like the ones mentioned above. If you want to buy something from a small independent shop, there's no guarantee they'll be willing to create an account for it and go through extra hoops to get the item for you. Sometimes these shops don't even have an automatic order system; you need to email the seller in Japanese. So even Tenso won't help you here. If that's the case, I suggest contacting Masa for his Otokichi Premium Middleman Service and he'll be happy to help you out. I didn't mention it up until now because there's an extra request fee on top of all the other surcharges. But a courteous service in rough situations like this is always welcome.

So yeah, such is the tough life for overseas buyers with a niche hobby. Hopefully you've found my guide helpful. You're welcome to mention the other middleman services you like in the comments.

Kiyoshi Maekawa -- Kimi ga koishi kute (君が恋しくて)

A few months ago, I got my first Kiyoshi Maekawa (前川清) album '2014年全曲集' that came out last year on the 20th of November. It had the usual fair, like The Cool Five's 'Nagasaki wa kyomo ame datta'(長崎は今日も雨だった) and 'Soshite Kobe' (そして、神戸).

And then there was this song at the top of the list that stood out to me in the sense that it was unusually 'Enka' for Maekawa in terms of the music, but the lyrics made it seem like a Mood Kayo song. Why I say 'Unusually Enka' is because I know Maekawa for his Mood Kayo songs that sometimes relatively contemporary - especially so in recent years - and I don't see him sing Enka songs often. Hmm... so I think this song would be a Mood Kayo song... its just that the music's a tad jaunty for the genre?

Anyway, that particular song is, as you can see from the title, 'Kimi ga koishi kute'. It was released on the 4th of September last year, so in other words, his most recent single. As much as I like Maekawa, I honestly did not really like the song that much when I first heard it. It was alright, but I felt that he had sung better songs. And then again, it could have been the music that put me off initially since it was rather... loud. But as with songs like this, a listen to it at least twice a day for five days a week while taking the train to and from school (ad nauseam) easily made the song grow on me and now its one of my favourite songs. Well then.

Here's a one of those picture things you'd find on the single... Wow, he looks angry...

Being the curious person I am, I always pay attention to those who write the song's lyrics and music. For 'Kimi ga koishi kute', it happened to be this fellow called Joji Hara (原 譲二) who wrote both. I didn't really bother about this Joji guy, but I had a funny feeling I had seen it before.

It was only until I had decided to look up Saburo Kitajima (北島三郎) on the Japanese Wikipedia out of boredom in class to see from when did he start his impressive, record setting 'Kohaku uta gassen' streak of 50 appearances did I realise who Mr Joji Hara (or as I just call 'George') really is. Turns out, 'Joji Hara' is ol'Sabu-Chan's pen name for when he writes lyrics and music! In other words, this song's a collaboration between Sabu-Chan and Mae-Kiyo.

Whoa, no wonder the music had an Enka feel to it. It was literally written by Grandpa Enka. Case closed.

From what I gather from the lyrics, it's basically about a fellow meeting the object of his passion (I think unbeknownst to him yet) in the 'Northern Country's Sapporo', then misses her like crazy when he's in Osaka and on the 'Sloped streets of Nagasaki'. And then at the end of the song, that final realization (seems like it), he has fallen in love with the woman. Hence the title, which means 'I'm in love with you'... I think and would like to think so... ...

Here's part of the MV for the song (couldn't find full version). If I'm not mistaken, this song's supposed to celebrate Mae-Kiyo's 45th anniversary of being in show business, which would explain the pictures of him back in the day. To think that after 45 years he'd move a little more. I guess not.

And from the link above, its a video of him singing the song on one of July's episode of 'BS Nippon no uta' this year with his trademark frown and statue-like stillness.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

1986 Omega Tribe -- Stay Girl, Stay Pure

Well, as I write this, I only have 1 hour left before August turns into September. I realize that summer still has 3 weeks to go but there is something symbolic about the transition from the eighth month into the ninth month, so I wanted to get in a summer song before the midnight hour strikes.

I'm not sure but "Stay Girl, Stay Pure" may be the first Omega Tribe (under its then-incarnation as 1986 Omega Tribe) song that I ever heard. In any case, it is the first Omega Tribe song that I saw performed by the band on "The Best 10". "Stay Girl, Stay Pure" was the 5th single by 1986 Omega Tribe (so not including the singles by its previous incarnation as Kiyotaka Sugiyama & Omega Tribe) released in November 1987. At the time, the lead vocal was Carlos Toshiki Takahashi from Parana, Brazil who had an even higher voice than Sugiyama.

To be honest, the only thing I remembered from viewing that particular episode of "The Best 10" was this band, since Carlos and company sounded really different in comparison. At the time, I didn't know the terms City Pop or J-AOR, but I do remember comparing their sound (perhaps erroneously) to that of the Minneapolis, Minnesota-based family band, The Jets, who were making their mark on the US Billboard charts at around the same time. To me, Omega Tribe sounded less Tokyo and more Los Angeles.

In any case, "Stay Girl, Stay Pure" reached No. 5 on Oricon. Masao Urino(売野雅勇)provided the lyrics while Tsunehiro Izumi(和泉常寛)was responsible for the smooth melody (do love the sax in there). The song itself was the reason for me to purchase the band's 1988 album, "Down Town Mystery". The single was also used as the theme song for the NTV drama, "Koi wa Hi-Ho!"(恋はハイホー!...Love Is Hi-Ho!)

Courtesy of
Photo Gal 2009
from Flickr