Ah, yes....my earliest memories of Japanese TV mostly consisted of this TV program, "Mito Komon"（水戸黄門）. Heading to the old Toronto Buddhist Church basement on Wednesday nights to watch tapes on this newfangled machine called a Video Cassette Recorder (which was the size of a small coffee table in the 70s), the longest-running jidaigeki（時代劇...period drama) in Japanese TV history (it finished its run almost a year ago....43 years!) started out with the brass blast before going into a military march while the crest of Lord Mito was proudly displayed on screen.
Everyone who watched knew the story, and I'll let the Wikipedia entry help out with the explanation:
The title character is the historic Tokugawa Mitsukuni, former vice-shogun and retired second daimyo of the Mito Domain. In the guise of Mitsuemon, a retired crepe merchant from Echigo, he roams the realm with two samurai retainers, fun-loving Sasaki Sukesaburo (Suke-san) and studious Atsumi Kakunoshin (Kaku-san).
Each episode was about the same as every other episode. The trio, joined by reformed thief-turned-Edo Era foodie Hachibei and one other female character, travel through a particular region of Japan often famous for a particular dish (Hachibei must've been the planner), come across some form of injustice being perpetrated on a few of the locals which they resolve by stealth and an episode-ending sword-clanging battle. Of course, for boys like my brother and me, this was our favourite part of the show (although we appreciated the long talky portions to get some nap time), and of course, who can resist the scene in which seemingly frail Mitsuemon reveals himself as the mighty Mitsukuni when one of his two retainers flashes out the sign and everyone, enemies and allies alike, prostrate themselves in awe? (I wonder how Lucas came up with the character of Yoda.....hmmmmmm.)
But this is a kayo kyoku blog, after all, so back to the theme song. Written by Michio Yamagami（山上路夫）and composed by Chuji Kinoshita（木下忠司）, the actual title is "Aa, Jinsei ni Namida Ari"(Ahh, There Are Tears in Life) and actually debuted on TV when the series did in 1969. Throughout the history of "Mito Komon", there have been 8 different "generations" or duos responsible for the singing of the famous song. The first generation had actor Ryotaro Sugi（杉良太郎） the very first Suke-san, and Tadashi Yokouchi（横内正）, who played Kaku-san, performing it.
However, it was the second generation that I remember the best. When Sugi left the role, the new Suke-san, Kotaro Satomi（里見浩太朗）, took on the singing duties along with Yokouchi. I think Satomi's rich baritone really made this song; this version was recorded in 1973. In any case, this started the tradition of having mostly actors on the show (often Kaku-san and Suke-san) perform "Aa, Jinsei ni Namida Ari". Every time I hear the theme, I just feel like I should sit up a bit straighter.