Probably anyone in their teens and older in Japan know this song. As soon as they hear Masashi Sada's（さだまさし） first crooning "la, la, la", they can name that tune as the theme song from the 1981 series "Kita no Kuni Kara"(From the North Country). The famous Fuji-TV franchise that spanned from 1981 to 2002 only had the one original successful serial from October 1981 to March 1982, but the periodic specials that popped up in the ensuing years guaranteed huge ratings with the finale in 2002 getting an average rating of around 35%....something that I'm sure a lot of drama producers would kill for nowadays.
I only saw bits and pieces of the franchise starring veteran actor Kunie Tanaka（田中邦衛） as Goro Kurosaka as he, a Tokyo gas station employee, decides to move his two adorable children up to his old home of Furano in Hokkaido Prefecture on hearing of his wife's affair. From a rather dark plot point, the show opens up on how the Kurosaka family adjusts to their new life in a land that may have as well been northern Canada in terms of the very different landscape. When I went to Sapporo for a brief vacation several years ago, as my plane was landing at Shin-Chitose Airport, I just saw all the pine out there and wondered if my flight had been diverted to the Yukon Territory.
As for the song's origins, I actually didn't have to go to J-Wiki to find out. A couple of weeks ago, Masashi Sada himself appeared on one of the many variety shows hosted by the current top-of-the-heap Johnny's Entertainment group, Arashi, where he explained how he came up with the song in all of 10 minutes! According to Sada, the creator of"Kita no Kuni Kara", Soh Kuramoto（倉本聰） invited the singer up to his house in Furano City and asked him to take a look at the first two episodes, and especially at the opening over and over, after getting the request (the order?) to come up with the score and the theme. Imagining the rolling lavender-covered hills of Furano, Sada created the basic rolling melody within a few minutes. With further encouragement from Kuramoto, he was able to come up with the entire theme within those 600 seconds. When Sada asked about lyrics, Kuramoto shot back that words weren't necessary; the song was already perfect.
The above video is of the opening of the pilot episode of the original series. Although the series premiered in late 1981, the song itself wouldn't be released as a single until the following year. However, over the decades, it has come out on a number of releases, including a series of Sada's singles on CD during the 90s.
The completed song included the Hakucho-za（白鳥座） chorus group near the end, and in the middle, there was that wonderful trumpet solo. Sada was the perfect person to perform the theme since his soft and sensitive voice conveyed that heartwarming feeling that seemed to roll over the hills of Furano and towards the viewers. I'd always thought that the show had some resemblance to that old American drama, "Little House on the Prairie", and sure enough, I read on J-Wiki that the concept for "Kita no Kuni Kara" took a bit of a bow towards that show, which was also a huge hit in Japan.
I've mentioned this analogy before for another song somewhere on this blog, but as much as composer John Williams and his works have usually acted as that 10th baseball player on those teams that were Steven Spielberg/George Lucas movies, I think Sada's theme and the score for this drama acted in pretty much the same fashion. You can't think of one without thinking of the other.