This is another one of my enka songs from my childhood. The flourish of strings within Minoru Endo's（遠藤実）melody at the beginning makes "Kitaguni no Haru" (Spring in the North Country) instantly recognizable for me. Haku Ide's（いではく）words about heading back home after a long time away evokes that eternal enka love for furusato (home). And Sen's plaintive singing at the end of the chorus: "Shall I go home?" always reaches those hearts who have traveled far from home.
Masao Sen（千昌夫）is one of the few enka singers who have made the trip to Toronto to do a concert for the Japanese-Canadian community. I didn't go to that concert in the 80s but my parents sure did. They dressed up to the nines as did, I'm sure, every one else who attended to see Sen and his wife at the time, Joan Sheppard. Sen has had that old-fashioned balladeer's voice which beautifully renders the lyrics even more tenderly for this song. It also didn't hurt that he is also from that north country....Iwate Prefecture, to be exact.
"Kitaguni no Haru"was Sen's 26th single since his debut in 1965, and the song has become his trademark. Since its release in April 1977, it managed to reach its peak of No. 6 on the Oricon charts, but it has also achieved many other accolades as well. Not only did it sell 3 million records, it also earned the Long-Seller Prize at the Japan Record Awards since it remained on the charts for 92 weeks! In fact, in 1979, it was the 5th-ranking song of the year.
Getting on the Kohaku Utagassen was a foregone conclusion. The success of "Kitaguni no Haru" helped him get on the New Year's Eve special for his 5th appearance in 1977 (his first in 6 years), and he repeated the same performance for the next couple of years afterwards. He would sing his trademark song a couple of more times before the century was out, making it the most-sung tune on the Kohaku up to the year 2000. And he did his 6th rendition of the song just last year....considering the events of March 11 2011, Sen's singing must have held special significance.
The song also became very popular outside of Japan as well. It has been sung in Mandarin and Thai, and in China, it's apparently recognized as the most well-known Japanese song there.