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.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Sayuri Ishikawa -- Danryuu(暖流)

Looking through enka singer Sayuri Ishikawa's(石川さゆり)vast discography, it was obvious that her big breakout year was 1977. Her classic "Tsugaru Kaikyo Fuyu Geshiki"(津軽海峡・冬景色)was released right on New Year's Day of that year and became an enormous hit, then came "Noto Hanto"(能登半島)a little over 5 months later which was another Top 10 achiever.

To wrap up 1977, Ishikawa released her 17th single in September "Danryuu" (Warm Current). As was the case with the previous two singles, this one was also created by Yu Aku and Takashi Miki(阿久悠・三木たかし). I actually caught it back on Tuesday night during "Uta Kon"(うたコン), and it had been a while since I heard an Ishikawa enka from decades past so it was quite nice listening to the nostalgic arrangement again. I've been accustomed to seeing her in a kimono in recent times so it was interesting to see her when she first started singing "Danryuu" dressed in Western clothing as above.

Also another common thread weaving through all of her 3 singles of 1977 was that it was another geographical enka about love lost. "Tsugaru Kaikyo Fuyu Geshiki" was set on the Tsugaru Strait between Aomori Prefecture and Hokkaido, and "Noto Hanto" was based on the famous peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture. "Danryuu" had its breakup theme placed in Kochi Prefecture on the island of Shikoku. Perhaps the only difference here is that whereas the first two songs dealt with the aftermath of the breakup, the lyrics for "Danryuu" have the breakup happening right within the song itself with Ishikawa's character quietly but resolutely stating that she will be leaving the guy and starting afresh by the ocean.

"Danryuu" just missed the Top 10 by peaking at No. 11 but it still managed to get into the Top 100 of the year by ranking at No. 67. It was quite the hat trick year for Ishikawa but her collaboration with Aku and Miki didn't start in 1977. Actually, the three of them were together from 1976 for her 12th, 13th and 14th singles but the breakthrough didn't occur until the following year.

Seiko Matsuda -- Seifuku (制服)

As a teacher on the JET Programme, I realized that junior high school graduation ceremonies had far more gravitas than their counterparts in Canada. Well, for one thing, my junior high school never had a graduation ceremony...once we passed Grade 9, it was just head for the different high school come September. The only thing notable was a semi-formal prom night and the bravery that I had to wear a corduroy suit!

Nope, graduation ceremonies in Japan are big deals. Diplomas are given with a lot of grave pomp and circumstance, and there is quite a bit of crying involved. Plus, the popular boys are asked to give mementos to the girls who like them by giving away those gold buttons on their dark school uniforms. Basically, the really popular guys probably end up heading to the ceremonial lunch with their suits open. Not sure how the parents would react to that.

This brings me to another wonderful B-side to a Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子)single, "Seifuku" (School Uniform). I first heard this on her special BEST album from 1985, "Train", which consisted of all of those hits that had been created through the collaboration of lyricist Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆)and composer Karuho Kureta(呉田軽穂). However, originally, this was the B-side to Seiko-chan's huge 8th single from January 1982, "Akai Sweet Pea" (赤いスイートピー).

Beginning like some sort of dramatic piece of classical music, "Seifuku" quickly morphs into a cheerful bit of music about a high school couple after the boy's graduation with the girlfriend realizing that this will be the last time that she will see him in the uniform. In fact, he is due to be heading to university in the big city but she seems to be taking the news in stride. Perhaps she is glad to see the lug going from boy to man.

For how the single did, you can check out "Akai Sweet Pea" through the above link. The other piece of trivia I got from students and media is that a good number of those former young charges have said that they preferred their uniforms instead of regular street clothes during their school years since they didn't have to fret about what to wear each day in class.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Emiko Shiratori -- Irodori no Aki(彩りの秋)

A couple of weeks back or so, one of the commenters was suggesting some other singers with one of them being Emiko Shiratori(白鳥英美子). Now, I've actually heard of Shiratori since she was part of the 1970s duo Toi et Moi(トワ・エ・モワ)and some of her songs were played on my old radio program "Sounds of Japan" back in the 1980s.

Although Shiratori has been listed in J-Wiki as a pop/folk singer, my impression of her through the songs from "Sounds of Japan" is that of someone who is an expert in healing music. As soon as you listen to her, the effect is almost something you would get from a cup of chamomile tea. Her beautiful voice is very calming to the soul.

Some time after the initial breakup of Toi et Moi, Shiratori began her solo career. Her first single coming out in 1982 but it wouldn't be until 1988 that she got her first hit through her cover of "Amazing Grace". However, she had been releasing solo albums since 1973 and her 9th album "Irodori"(彩り...Colours)from September 1992 has this lovely number called "Irodori no Aki" (Colourful Fall).

I did forget what a lovely voice Shiratori has and it's nice to be reminded of it through this ballad. Perhaps that cup of chamomile and some cookies would be fine to have right now. Also, if my tape recorder Jaws is in a kind mood, I may try to track down those old songs of her on the ancient audiotapes of "Sounds of Japan".

Charan-Po-Rantan -- Ocha Shiyo(お茶しよ)

The above is from a local Doutor coffee shop in Tokyo. Yep, a hot dog and an iced milk tea is my thing. No, I didn't need to visit a washroom and then have an Imodium afterwards. It all went down smoothly. Still, even as of 2014, I think Japan needed to work on their frankfurters when it came to hot dogs...just not quite the hot dogs I love here back in Canada. When I came back here to visit over the Holidays, I just had to have my hot dogs for lunch at least twice.

I don't know quite what it is. Nathan's Famous did give it a go in Tokyo for a few years but ultimately failed. I can say that I was one of their more loyal customers since I did love their dogs as something reminiscent of home. But I guess it's just one of those things. The Japanese didn't really go for our franks and I don't particularly go for theirs. The Doutor hot dog was OK but Nathan's or Maple Leaf or Schneiders has nothing to worry about.

Still, going out with a buddy or a few friends and getting some tea and stuff at a local watering hole was one of my favourite pastimes when I was in The Big Sushi. It's easy to get into since there are so many coffee shops and tea rooms in the megalopolis.

Apparently, the sister act of Charan-Po-Rantan(チャラン・ポ・ランタン)thinks similarly since they've come up with their own tribute to a girls' day out on the town with "Ocha Shiyo" (Let's Get Some Tea). The song is so new that the album that it has been recorded on, "Mirage Collage"(ミラージュ・コラージュ), isn't due out until November 1st (two weeks from now).

Up to now, it's been difficult for me to categorize the Matsunaga sisters' sound. Officially, J-Wiki has them pegged as an alternative/chanson/ska duo. I have yet to hear anything on my own from them that would be heard as chanson but I can pick up on the ska. And yet I can also sense some gypsy jazz and perhaps even some old-fashioned chindonya. However, one commenter on YouTube under one of their other videos was perhaps right on the mark when he remarked that it was the first time he had ever heard of Asian polka.

Certainly, there is that genki polka feeling in "Ocha Shiyo" along with Momo (vocal) and Koharu (accordion) bantering frenetically at warp speed (or should I now say spore speed considering "Star Trek Discovery"?) while doing their Harajuku tea thing. Of course, I've been out of practice with my comprehension of youth talk in Shibuya (not that I was all that fluent in the first place) but I think the Matsunagas are using a goodly amount of the current teen patter (although both are now in their twenties). I wouldn't dare butt into such a conversation.

Anyways, I'm looking forward to seeing some old friends and doing our old kaffeeklatsch when I hit Tokyo again someday.

Mitsuko Nakamura/Daishiro Masuiyama -- Yume no Hana Sakasou (夢の花 咲かそう)

This picture of Ikuzo Yoshi (吉幾三) doesn't have any relation to the song I'll be talking about in a while, but I'd say it's a good representation of how I felt when I discovered that there are some fans of KKP from Singapore. For some reason, I didn't think that I could come across other natives of The Little Red Dot via this blog. At the same time, I never thought I'd be able to interact with Singaporeans who really know about enka and kayo rather than simply seeing such songs as the originals of popular Chinese covers, so it was a happy yet oddly strange feeling to encounter Francium and Karen. I mean, there are probably more Singaporean readers here too, and there are probably others from the island nation who appreciate more genres of Japanese music than just anisong or current day aidoru/J-rock, just that I'm not aware of/haven't had the chance to interact with them yet. But still, it was quite an amusing and eye-opening experience.

With that thought out, let's move on to the topic at hand. The song I'll be talking about today is "Yume no Hana Sakasou", a fairly recent (2013) entry in the discography of a couple of enka singers I see on the Tube from time to time - the bubbly Mitsuko Nakamura (中村美律子) and the husky Daishiro Masuiyama (増位山太志郎). This was introduced to me via Karen in the comments of my The First article when I asked about the type enka she listens to, and I have to say that I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected.

I found Nakamura's version first when I looked up "Yume no Hana Sakasou", and my first impression of it was that it kind of reminded me of Hibari Misora's (美空ひばり) "Kawa no Nagare no Youni" (川の流れのように). Soon, I took a liking to Tetsuya Gen's (弦哲也) light and encouraging pop-inclined melody - which still has a hint of enka - for the low horns and the way the rolling drums and smooth strings swell at certain bits. I was also quite surprised to hear something like this from Nakamura as the impression I have of her is that she tackles the traditional side enka, but it's nice to hear that she can pleasantly carry stuff like this as well.

As for Masuiyama's take, it's pretty much the same in terms of arrangement but I find that both singers' differing deliveries give the same song a different flavour. From Takashi Taka's (たかたかし) lyrics, "Yume no Hana Sakasou" seems to be saying that despite how tough life's trials can be, one should persevere as there's always a light at the end of the tunnel - hits pretty close to home at the moment, if you ask me...With Masuiyama's soft and almost Yujiro Ishihara-like vocals, this message sounds rather reflective, as if it's coming from someone who's been through said trials and is now looking back on his experience. On the other hand, Nakamura's spunkier and more hopeful delivery feels like how a maternal figure would encourage you when you've hit a rough patch. Personally, I don't have a favourite version as I like both just as much.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

EPO -- Middle Twenties

Man, I'm going to have to look into making another purchase of an EPO album. "Go Go Epo" was her 9th release from April 1987, and it has that lovely duet between her and soulful Masayuki Suzuki(鈴木雅之)called "Downtown Rhapsody"(Down Townラプソディー).

Now I've found another track from the album titled "Middle Twenties" and it's another humdinger. But what else to expect from EPO? It's a happy-sounding pop song with plenty of fuel that would be right up the alley of folks like Senri Oe(大江千里)and Misato Watanabe(渡辺美里). And yet EPO's lyrics actually have a bit more vinegar as the woman of the story envies a colleague who has just thrown off the shackles of her job and she herself decides to kiss off her boyfriend. I don't think my middle twenties were nearly as dramatic.

However, her thematic loss is my musical gain. "Middle Twenties" has the typical EPO spark and I wouldn't have been surprised if it had been used as the theme song for a trendy drama of the late 1980s. In fact, though, it was used as the campaign song for a commercial involving the Nissan Langley.

Etsuko Sai -- Golden Best(ゴールデン☆ベスト)

Reading about singer-songwriter Etsuko Sai(彩恵津子)in "Japanese City Pop" and then actually listening to one of her trademark tunes, "Reach Out" a few years ago, I finally decided to invest my yen into one of her albums. But still not having a full idea about her discography, I then chose to purchase her BEST compilation as a primer. I found this one titled "Etsuko Sai: Golden Best" which, according to Amazon Japan, was released in 2012.

I got the album some months ago, and perhaps my expectations were too high at the time. I had been hoping that I would get a good earful of smooth bass-heavy City Pop much along the lines of the mysterious Takako Mamiya(間宮貴子). However, that wasn't quite the case; the tracks gave me the impression of a mix of genres flittering among City Pop and regular pop, so I was a bit disappointed. Perhaps that wasn't a fair tally but I couldn't deny my emotions.

But with some passage of time, I listened to it a second time, and this time, my impressions were much more favourable. Simply some adjustment was needed. That has been the case with a few albums I've bought over the decades.

In any case, here is the lineup:

1. Whisper Not(ウイスパーノット)
2. All I Need
3. Don't Say It
4. Eien no Morning Moon(永遠のモーニング・ムーン)
5. Rear Window no Palm Tree(リアウインドゥのパームツリー)
6. Everlasting Dream(エヴァーラスティング・ドリーム)
7. Second Virgin(エヴァーラスティング・ドリーム)
8. Kuchibiru no Junan(くちびるの受難)
9. Side Seat no Natsu(サイドシートの夏)
10. Yuki no Valentine(雪のバレンタイン)
11. Ame ni Egaita Regret(雨に描いたリグレット)
12. Pygmalion(ピグマリオン)
13. Reversible de Koi Shiteiru(リバーシブルで恋してる)
14. Reach Out (Japanese version)
15. Reach Out (English version)
16. Miotsukushi(澪つくし)

Sai's first single was "Whisper Not" from 1984. Listening to this song as the first track, I got that first notice that it wasn't all about City Pop when it came to the Tokyo native. Listening to it again, I received that new feeling of a happy-go-lucky tune with a Jackson 5 flavour. Written by Tetsuya Chiaki(ちあき哲也)and composed by Tetsuya Furumoto(古本鉄也), "Whisper Not" definitely had that more mature pop sense and seemed to be about a feckless young lady who was taunting a soon-to-be ex-lover.

"All I Need" was her 2nd single and the title track from her 2nd album which was released in 1985. The J-Wiki article for Sai listed the album as having been recorded in Los Angeles, and just from listening to this particular song, I felt that it had that taste of 1980s AOR. It was written and composed by Soo Jeffers. Slapped myself upside the head since I wondered why I didn't fall for "All I Need" the first time because I always did love that particular keyboard used in there.

From her 3rd album "Delication" (1986) comes "Reversible de Koishiteiru" (Falling In Love Inside Out). It isn't quite an earworm but I like the horns and I finally get my bass. This is where I get my bright lights and big city from listening to this one. Furumoto from "Whisper Not" also composed this uptempo song with Sai providing the lyrics.

Seeing that title of Sai's 4th single for the first time, "Rear Window no Palm Tree" (Palm Tree Through The Rear Window) from January 1986, I couldn't help but think of a certain Alfred Hitchcock movie. Having said that, the actual song is far less urgent although the lyrics by Sai speak of the bittersweet end of a relationship while taking in the seashore sights. Furumoto once again provided the music although it's a much more languid melody.

In a way, this may be another movie shoutout. "Pygmalion" was the source for the famous Rex Harrison/Audrey Hepburn hit "My Fair Lady", and it's also a track from Sai's 4th original album "Passio" from October 1986 as well as her 7th single from November of that year. Although the setting seems to be Tokyo, the arrangement has that pan-Asian atmosphere as a woman who has helped mold her beau into something of a ladykiller on the dance floor. Chinfa Kan(康珍化), under his pen name of Shirusu Morita(森田記), wrote the lyrics this time, while Tetsuya Tsujihata(辻畑鉄也)composed "Pygmalion".

I could only find "Miotsukushi" (Marks In A Water Channel) through the Apple site as an excerpt but I wanted to include this one not only because it is the last track on Sai's "Golden Best" but it is also a melodic outlier compared to the other tracks. It was actually the theme song for an NHK morning serial drama of the same title from 1985 about life in Choshi City, Chiba Prefecture between the 1920s to the postwar era. With lyrics by James Miki(ジェームス三木)and music by Shinichiro Ikebe(池辺晋一郎), "Miotsukushi" has that old-fashioned beauty and Sai's voice matches the feeling of how I thought ballads were sung back in the early 20th century.

Happily, my reaction to Sai's "Golden Best" has been improving and it has me interested in more of her original albums (hopefully they aren't too difficult to track down) if only to find some more gems that perhaps should also have been included on her BEST compilation.