I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Tatsue Kaneda -- Hanamachi no Haha (花街の母)

It's been a fairly washoku(和食)weekend for me. Well, I have Japanese food all the time at home but what I meant was that the past couple of days have been spent with friends and colleagues enjoying the fare outside. On Friday, I met up with my fellow translators for dinner at a Okinawan-style izakaya known as Ryoji in Little Italy before going up College St. a few blocks away for further drinking at another izakaya named Hapa. I think it was the first time in over 4 years that I've actually done any sort of hashigo (barhopping...literally translated as "ladder") where J-watering holes are concerned...mind you, Friday's affair was just one rung on the ladder.

The earnest hashigo that I experienced regularly was back in my Gunma days over 25 years ago. The teachers back there could really knock them back...and I guess teaching junior high school kids can bring its own share of stress. Anyways, barhopping in the wilds of the Japanese Alps usually meant the main dinner and then a drink at an izakaya or nomiya followed by a late-night slurp of ramen or ochazuke. One time, we even went 5 stages...I don't remember much from that. However, karaoke would somehow inevitably slip itself among the rungs at one of the bars.

"Hanamachi no Haha" (Mother of the Hanamachi District) would be one of those enka songs sung at the bars. Because the teacher group on the hashigo would mostly be in their thirties and older, enka and Mood Kayo were often the genres of choice. The thing about "Hanamachi no Haha" was that it wasn't my first choice for a Tatsue Kaneda(金田たつえ)song tonight. Earlier this afternoon, I was watching NHK's "Nodo Jiman"(のど自慢)weekly song contest and heard one of the citizens try out what was probably a much later Kaneda single but couldn't find any information about it at all. So, looking at the singer's J-Wiki discography, I did see one song that picked up attention and that was "Hanamachi no Haha". And as it turned out, it is an enka that I have heard over the years without knowing the original singer or title.

Tatsue Kaneda was born and raised in Sunagawa City, Hokkaido Prefecture in 1948. And a few years following her win at a minyo-singing contest when she was an early teen, she made her way to Tokyo in 1965 at the age of 17 and ended up marrying the president of the company representing her in the same year! A couple of years later, she made her debut as a minyo singer.

However, Kaneda decided to make the genre shift to the more popular enka for which she debuted with "Hanamachi no Haha" in June 1973. Written by Shohei Mozu(もず唱平)and composed by Toshi Miyama(三山敏), the sad song is about a geisha performer who longs to be with her daughter after so many years but cannot do so due to the demands of her profession. The hanamachi mentioned in the title, by the way, refers to the geisha district of a city or town (believe me, I am no expert on the life of a geisha but this is what I've been able to pick up online so if there are any errors in the above, please let me know). Despite the gentle melody by Miyama, the lyrics gradually make it clear that the geisha has resigned herself to her lot in life and can only imagine what her daughter may be doing.

According to Kaneda's biography on J-Wiki, the lyrics also hit the singer hard in the heart. Originally, "Hanamachi no Haha" was only meant for release in the Osaka area but Kaneda felt that the story in the song resembled elements in her own life so she pushed the people around her to have this released in a much wider area. It gradually became known nationwide and 6 years later in 1979, it finally became a hit (although Kaneda had also released 18 or 19 other singles by that time) and even got her an invitation to appear on the Kohaku Utagassen for that year for the first time. By 1988, the single managed to sell over 2.5 million records.

Memorial Hall Visits Part 1: Yujiro Ishihara

Finally managed to pull myself away from the manga "Berserk" after finishing the Golden Age Arc. While I enjoy the story line and the complex main characters, I can't deny that Kentaro Miura has created something that's graphic in all sense of the word, and he seems to like drawing eyes popping out of the sockets of victims of vicious violence. It's either that or that's what really happens if one gets sliced down the head with an obscenely huge sword.

Alright, eyes flying out of eye sockets aside, I would now like to touch on the items that were of high priority on my Japan to-do list: visiting the memorial halls of Yujiro Ishihara (石原裕次郎) and Takashi Hosokawa. I've decided to split them into articles of their own since I think they may be quite long, and I'll start with the former since I went there first.

I don't remember how I came across the Ishihara Yujiro Memorial Hall, but the moment that I saw it was in Otaru, and that we would be dropping by the canal town somewhere along our itinerary, I was determined to go. After all, I wouldn't want to miss a chance to see a whole building dedicated to everyone's favourite Tough Guy.

Despite the day being rainy and starting off on the wrong foot, all the negativity got erased the moment I stood at the memorial hall's entrance and saw the words "石原裕次郎記念館". It really cheered me up. All the more when the first thing that greeted me upon entering was Hiroshi Tachi (舘ひろし)... 's cut-out. Dang, while my smile was not as wide as anticipated, my hands were grabbing on to my grey newsboy cap so tightly I thought would have torn it!

Dandy Takayama! Oh, wrong franchise...
Um... Bad-ass Hato! Oldbutstillhot.
As to why there's a "Tachi" sitting on a the "Hato bike": there's a "Seibu Keisatsu" (西部警察) area in the hall's foyer that displayed some of the show's popular character's vehicles. Standing by the iconic vehicles were cut-outs of the actors that played the respective characters. So there were also cut-outs of the cool Tetsuya Watari (渡哲也), a.k.a. Yujiro's right-hand man, beside a crazy weaponized car, and the man himself beside something sporty and more normal. Unfortunately, I don't remember the names of the vehicles as I was too enamored by their drivers/rider. Plus, other pictures of Ishihara and the gift shop had me buzzing around just this one area alone.

As mentioned, this was only at the entrance, there was a huge area in the back (that required the purchase of tickets) that showcased the popular singer-actor's professional life and personal life. No photo taking was allowed there - being the idiot I can be sometimes, I immediately forgot about that and took some photos, but deleted them out of guilt after seeing a "No Photos" sign halfway through - so I'm not able to show you guys the incredible effort that was put into documenting his life, but I can say that they even displayed his swim trunks and the labels and corks of champagne he used to drink. There was also a section that told of his love for sailing, which stemmed from his childhood, and a section on his life in Hawaii. Oh, and Yu-chan in his early days was cute.

While I do like Yujiro and hold a great deal of respect for him, somehow I wasn't as moved as I thought I'd be when wandering around his memorial hall. Poignant, yes. But not emotional. On hindsight, perhaps it was because my main motivation of going there was actually to see the Tachi cut-out, as crazy as that sounds - if you've read my articles on Mr. Dandy, you'll know why.

However, there was one part where I did sort of feel moved. And that was when I heard "Yogiri yo Konya mo Arigatou" (夜霧よ今夜も有難う) at the start of the "No Photo" zone where they were playing clips of a handful of Tough Guy's movies along with the respective movies' theme songs in a theater-like environment. Of course, there were other tunes I enjoy like "Arashi wo Yobu Otoko" (嵐を呼ぶ男) and "Ginza no Koi no Monogatari" (銀座の恋の物語), but it was "Yogiri..." that had ninjas attempting to cut onions. I guess it's as close as I could get to hearing one of my favourite songs being sung by the original singer.

When all was said and done, it was time for souvenirs at the gift shop. It was something I had been looking forward to as well because firstly, it was quite big and well-stocked, and secondly I had eyes on a cap that had Ishihara's name on it. I did get the black one, and while it is actually rather large for me despite being the smallest size, heavy, and made of a thick material, I love it. Besides that, I got a key-chain with a black and white photo of Tough Guy that I'm currently using as a bag accessory, and the "Yogiri..." single (y'know, just 'cause). Just some physical souvenirs to accompany the incredible experience.

All aboard the S.S. Yujiro!

Epilogue: While not much time was spent in Otaru, we did also visit the that iconic canal that's a must-see for those visiting the place. Well, to be frank it was kinda underwhelming; I thought it was bigger but it was rather quite picturesque. And it wasn't a complete waste either as along the waterway were 2 music plaques: the first featuring "Otaru no Hito yo" (小樽のひとよ) by Tokyo Romantica, and the second featuring "Ore no Otaru" (おれの小樽) by Yu-chan

Yeah, yeah, it's the cliche picture of the canal.

If you're wondering why Yujiro's museum is situated in Otaru rather than his birthplace of Kobe, it's because he spent his childhood in this seaside city. And I think he really liked the place as he could sail in his Yachts, one of them being the Hale Contessa, if I'm not wrong.

"He was strong-willed & innocent.
He shall give us beautiful dreams and hopes forever."

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Kobukuro -- YELL (エール)

I remember when I first saw the duo Kobukuro (コブクロ) on TV. It was when they came out with their huge hit, "Tsubomi"(蕾)in the latter half of the last decade. I just saw these two fellows with a huge height differential and remarked "That guy is no singer...he's a basketball player!".

That tall fellow is Shunsuke Kuroda(黒田俊介)at 193cm or 6'4" according to Wikipedia. Nope, compared to some of the guys in the NBA or the NHL, he would be seen as just one of the guys but on Japanese telly, he might as well be Gulliver on the island of Lilliput. But digressing, his partner is Kentaro Kobuchi(小渕健太郎)and the two of them formed Kobukuro at the end of the century when they met up as street buskers in Osaka.

Kobukuro paid their dues on the indie scene for their first few years but then hit pay dirt with their first single as a major act. That was "YELL" from March 2001 and listening to it for the first time recently, the song further confirmed my impression of the duo as mellow but passionate musicians who never quite left the street despite their current fame. Thousands may be in their comfy stadium seats surrounding Kuroda and Kobuchi but I still get that feeling of a few passers-by suddenly stopping in front of the pair and giving them a good listen.

According to the J-Wiki article on "YELL", their debut single was a big hit as it peaked at No. 4 on Oricon and went Platinum in sales. Kobuchi wrote and composed the song which was used as a theme for a couple of variety programs and as a commercial tune for an insurance company. Ultimately, it became the 77th-ranked song for 2001 and it was also placed on Kobukuro's debut album "Roadmade" which was released in August that year. It hit as high as No. 6 on the album charts.

Akira Kobayashi -- Mukashi no Namae de Deteimasu (昔の名前で出ています)

It had been about 2 weeks since I caught "Uta Kon" (うたコン) since the week before I was watching a movie and getting a nice if slightly pricey yakitori dinner with a couple of old friends. But I was back in front of the screen on Tuesday night and I was quite fortunate since the partial theme for that "Uta Kon" happened to be about Yokohama. And a lot of songs about that port city are old kayo.

One song under that theme was one that I had never heard before. Titled "Mukashi no Namae de Deteimasu" (Under My Old Name), I found out that this a single by former 50s young turk Akira Kobayashi(小林旭). Now, my image of him has always been of him during his appearances on shows like "Uta Kon" as a middle-aged guy built like a proverbial wall (I'm thinking a J-Robert Mitchum) instead of his early heartthrobbing movie-star turns, and musically speaking, the song that I always associate with Kobayashi is his "Atsuki Kokoro ni"(熱き心に)from 1985.

As I mentioned in that article, "Atsuki Kokoro ni" was quite unusual in that it was neither fully enka nor fully pop. Singer-songwriter Eiichi Ohtaki(大瀧詠一)crafted this song to sound somewhat like a heroic cowboy theme for the big guy Kobayashi and it turned out to be another melodic feather in his ten-gallon cap. However, "Mukashi no Namae de Deteimasu" which was released a decade earlier in January 1975 has turned out to be his most successful song.

Written by Tetsuro Hoshino(星野哲郎)and composed by Gendai Kano(叶弦大), "Mukashi no Namae de Deteimasu" is a more traditional enka or Mood Kayo song compared to "Atsuki Kokoro ni". Again, it's one of those tunes that I couldn't really peg down to a single genre. Kobayashi sings it from the point of view of a woman...a club hostess, to be exact...pining away for a long-gone flame after years working in Yokohama, Kobe and Kyoto under different aliases. And perhaps she is saying this just to herself but she is letting her love know that she is back under the name that he had known her as.

The pining away for a lost love is a typical enka trope but it is enveloped in this Mood Kayo arrangement including the sorrowful chorus of Singers Three (I automatically thought of Yujiro Ishihara). And kayo singers crooning from the view of the opposite sex is nothing new but I'm sure a few pairs of eyes were raised when the burly Kobayashi took on this singing role.

"Mukashi no Namae de Deteimasu" was a slow burner after its release in 1975 but Kobayashi performed it in a lot of the country's various cabarets and other establishments, whether they were in the big cities or in the smaller regional towns. As a result, its fame gradually grew to the point where the song finally broke the Top 10, reaching No. 6 at its highest. In fact, it became the 5th-ranked song for 1977, 3 years after its release, and hung for another year, becoming the 60th-ranked song for 1978. It even broke the 2-million-record barrier in sales and got Kobayashi his first appearance on the Kohaku Utagassen.

To be honest, I'm starting to actually like this song even more than "Atsuki Kokoro ni" just because I'm a Mood Kayo softie at heart. As for the final video above, I just had to let viewers see Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子)perform a nice version of "Mukashi no Namae" in front of the master himself. Imagine the premier aidoru of the early 80s performing a shibui Mood Kayo. Will wonders never cease?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Yoko Kuzuya -- True Lies

I picked up this compilation CD titled "Smooth Vintage" back in 2003 just from looking at the lineup. There were indeed some smooth and groovilicious tracks including Toko Furuuchi's(古内東子)"Distance" and Masayuki Suzuki's(鈴木雅之)"Misty Mauve". It's been a long, long time since I listened to this one and a few days ago, I was happening to return one other disc back to its rightful place when I saw "Smooth Vintage" again and pulled it out. There were quite a few songs and singers that I had to re-acquaint myself with.

And that included the first song, "True Lies" by Yoko Kuzuya(葛谷葉子). Listening to it again, I mentally smacked myself upside the head, wondering why I would ever forget something this sultry and slow funky. This was Kuzuya's debut single from August 1999, a song that she composed and wrote and a song that I should be equating with some of the soul-good material from divas such as Misia, bird and Momoe Shimano(嶋野百恵).

Right from the introduction percussion and Kuzuya giving that soft howl (also love the bass, by the way), "True Lies" had me strutting my shoulders for a nice little workout in front of my computer. Her lyrics talk about a woman who's caught between a jerk boyfriend and a hard place...she hears about these terrible things about him that are most likely true but she is really hoping that they are not. It's a pretty cool way to listen to romantic distress. The song was also in her debut album "MUSIC GREETINGS VOLUME ONE" which came out in September 1999.

Maiko Ito -- Yasashii Kizuna (優しい絆)

When I was in the midst of writing up the article for that City Pop album, Makoto Matsushita's(松下誠)"The Pressures and the Pleasures" the other day, I came across this YouTube video of 1980s aidoru Maiko Ito(いとうまい子). She was performing her 6th single, "Yasashii Kizuna" (Gentle Bond) from June 1984 (almost exactly 32 years ago...those gray hairs are just growing in as I write), a song that was arranged by Matsushita. When he was not strumming away and making these urban contemporary wonder songs, he was also helping out aidoru with their tunes.

And "Yasashii Kizuna" had quite the songwriting pedigree behind it. Not only was Matsushita in there, but veteran lyricist Masao Urino(売野雅勇)was providing words and Anzen Chitai(安全地帯)vocalist Koji Tamaki(玉置浩二)made the music. Especially with Tamaki and Matsushita involved, I guess it was no surprise that the song had that certain downtown feeling along the lines of anything by Tetsuji Hayashi(林哲司). In fact, there was one part of the song that sounded a bit like an old tune by Donna Summer. Nope, Ito wasn't exactly the greatest interpreter of the song but, hey, she was an aidoru and sounding a bit off-key was almost essential to be identified as that perennial Japanese teenybopper. Still, comparing her vocals to the ones she gave the only song that I had identified her with, "Aki no Hohozue"(秋のほほづえ), she did drop her voice and gave it a bit more velvet. Not bad at all.

I didn't see any Oricon rankings for the song so it probably didn't make much headway, and Ito never threatened anyone's position on the top of the aidoru leaderboard such as Seiko and Akina. However, I am glad to make the acquaintance with this particular tune and add the 2nd Ito entry to the blog.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Yosui Inoue -- Jenny My Love (ジェニーMy Love)

There was one song that I hadn't included on my article for Yosui Inoue & Anzen Chitai's (井上陽水・安全地帯)collaborative concert album "Stardust Rendezvous" and that was because I felt (and still do) that it deserved its own entry. I just thought it was that good. Having Inoue and good buddy Koji Tamaki(玉置浩二)throw out a cool blues tune sealed the deal for me.

The song is "Jenny My Love" and it wasn't an official single but a track on Inoue's 7th album, "Sneaker Dancer"(スニーカーダンサー)from September 1979. Inoue wrote and composed "Jenny My Love" seemingly as if he were truly in thrall with a lass named Jenny. The song does this slow simmer throughout its time punctuated with a few roiling boils when the line "Just walking in the rain" gets delivered and then that guitar solo sends everyone into the night sky. This would probably be a challenge for any Inoue fan/karaoke singer but the payoff would be excellent. As for "Sneaker Dancer", it went as high as No. 3 on Oricon.

I'm kinda surprised that no YouTuber has placed this song onto a video collage of Jennifer Lawrence yet. :)