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.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Ikuzo Yoshi -- Yukiguni (雪国)

OK, I'll lay it out on the line for you. I do like my enka. Perhaps not to the extent of some of the other avenues of kayo kyoku, but I sometimes see it as a bit of a palate cleanser if I ever get stuck hearing too much plain pop. After all, the music, despite using a lot of Western melodies, is heard as something quintessentially traditional Japanese. Comparisons have often been made between enka and American country & western or even Portuguese fado. Certainly between enka and C & W, there are similarities in themes: lost love, drinking in the local bars, or traveling the lonesome highways in a truck.

My own memories of enka start all the way back...even before I took my first steps on Japanese soil in 1972. My dad was always playing his enka LPs of Hiroshi Itsuki (五木ひろし)or Kiyoko Suizenji(水前寺清子) on the huge oaken RCA stereo while I was playing with some toy in front of the speakers. I guess that might explain the eternal warbling in my mind even to this day.

Now, to explain my first choice of enka on this blog. Back in the day, when I was first teaching in Gunma Prefecture, my colleagues often had me accompany them to the various karaoke bars that populated the small towns and cities. Of course, I had to sing in front of not only my drinking buddies, but also to the other patrons and staff in the usually tiny place. Well, I refused to sing anything that would put me in a bad light, although it certainly didn't stop my colleagues from wrecking a tune like that train in "The Fugitive". So, I chose the song above, "Yukiguni" and practiced the hell out of it. The title means snow country...I'm from Canada, get it? And after singing at all of the bars and year-end parties all over northern Gunma, it became my signature song, or as they say in Japanese, "ju-hachi-ban".

Anyways, the real master of the song is Ikuzo Yoshi (吉幾三)who comes from the snowy country of Aomori Prefecture. It first came out in February 1986 but it took a whole year to reach No. 1 on the Oricon charts....quite a feat, especially for an enka song. The YouTube video here is an excerpt from an old TV Tokyo Sunday night show called "Enka no Hanamichi" (演歌の花道The Flower Path of Enka (the flower path was apparently the premium part of the stage for a kabuki actor that went through the audience). The show was a half-hour of 2 or 3 enka singers crooning their tunes against backdrops of expensive bars or ports. It went off the air several years ago but now lives on in DVD packages....hmmm...something for Dad? 

In any case, Wikipedia has a comprehensive explanation on enka right here.

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