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.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Hisaya Morishige/Tokiko Kato/Chieko Baisho -- Shiretoko Ryojou (知床旅情)

I wouldn't let that picture of a foppish Hisaya Morishige(森繁久彌) make you believe that his song is comic in nature. In fact, his "Shiretoko Ryojou"(Shiretoko Feeling) has survived for over half a century as one of the most heartwarming and enduring kayo kyoku ballads. I've known this song for a very long time as well, and I knew about Morishige as one of Japan's veteran actors but didn't know about the connection between them until just a few years ago.

The late Morishige (he passed away in November 2009 at the age of 96) had actually been born in Osaka Prefecture and was a student of Waseda University in Tokyo. Starting off as a stage actor, he had a stint as an NHK announcer assigned to Manchuria for a while before coming back  to further his career in film. I knew of him much later in life as the old dramatic actor, so it was surprising to have found out that he had become famous as the comedic center of a couple of franchises known as the "Company President"and the "Station"series starting from the late 50s and throughout the 60s. But for one movie which required the actor to live on Hokkaido's Shiretoko Peninsula for a long while, Morishige was affected by the scenery and life there to such a degree that he wrote and composed a song originally titled "Okhotsk Funauta"オホーツク舟歌...Okhotsk Shanty) whose lyrics spoke of the harshness of  the Shiretoko Winter and the joy of Spring returning there.

However for some reason, Morishige also created an alternate version of the song which became the more famous "Shiretoko Ryojou", released in July 1960, which focused on the various points of attraction of the area. Unsurprisingly, tourism to the northeastern point of Hokkaido increased, and Morishige found himself singing the song on the 1962 Kohaku Utagassen. The Oricon rankings wouldn't start for another several years but when they did, "Shiretoko Ryojou" went as high as No. 11. By the way, I should clarify that the term "ryojou" refers to those feelings experienced during a journey.

The song also became one of the trademark songs for veteran chanteuse Tokiko Kato(加藤登紀子). The "Sounds of Japan" radio broadcast that I used to listen to once dedicated its entire half-hour to her songs and they ran the gamut from folk to New Wave/City Pop. According to the J-Wiki profile on her, she has also performed chanson and rock. However, Kato is often remembered for her rendition of "Shiretoko Ryojou" which was her 14th single since her debut in 1966. And my image of her performing this has always been her sitting on a stool in front of a microphone as she strums her guitar.

I could say that Kato's cover of the kayo kyoku classic is probably even more famous than the Morishige original. Kato has always handled the song in a way that makes people stop whatever they're doing and listen. However, I also think Morishige sang his song as if he were the proudest lifelong resident of the Shiretoko Peninsula. In any case, Kato's version was released in November 1970 and this time the song went to the very top of the Oricon charts, and became the 2nd-ranking single of 1971, just behind Rumiko Koyanagi's "Watashi no Joukamachi" and just above Kiyohiko Ozaki's "Mata Au Hi Made"(both already profiled).  Her rendition also sold 1.4 million records and earned Kato her 2nd consecutive Japan Record Award and her first appearance on the 1971 Kohaku Utagassen for which you see above.

Actress-singer Chieko Baisho(倍賞千恵子), most famous for her role as the main character's younger sister Sakura in the "Tora-san"series, released her version in 1976 under the original title of "Okhotsk Funauta". Her version has a slightly more epic and polished quality...almost operatic.

As for the area itself, in 2005, Shiretoko Peninsula was designated as a World Heritage Site which probably warmed Morishige's heart greatly in the last few years of his life.

Tokiko Kato -- Shiretoko Ryojou


  1. Thanks for the compilation of video's for just about the only Japanese song I remember in full after an eight+-years sojourn in the land of the Rising Sun.

    1. Always a pleasure, Asumen. I realize that it's the only song you remember but feel free to drop on by again.


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