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.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Mina Aoe -- Isezakicho Blues (伊勢崎町ブルース)


For paella, it's saffron. For the "Iron Man" franchise, it's Robert Downey, Jr. For this song, it's the late Mina Aoe's(青江三奈) throaty moans that spike it. "Isezakicho Blues"is all about style over substance, but that's not a's a compliment. The lyrics by Kohan Kawauchi (川内康範) aren't suggestive at all; the words only describe a night in the commercial district of Yokohama. But the music by Yoichi Suzuki(鈴木庸一) (who also composed Mari Watanabe's "Tokyo Dodonpa Musume") is sexy and flirtatious, and paired with Aoe's sultry vocals, the song is the kayo kyoku equivalent of a striptease that never goes all the way but still leaves the listener/customer happy.

When my brother and I were kids, and we just happened to hear this song, we started getting the case of the giggles (as was our immature right) which only earned a half-admonishment from Mom for developing dirty minds. Hey, she was the one singing it, not us!

When Aoe appeared on television to perform one of her biggest hits, I think her looks helped to sell the song as well. She had that face which suggested a knowing expression of what was what in the mizu shobai (水商売....the nightlife business)...friendly and enticing at the same time. I could've easily envisioned her working at some hostess club, tying some drunk salaryman into a knot around her finger...and yep, I'm sorry if that sounds somewhat insulting to her. But that face, that melody and that voice....

"Isezakicho Blues"was Aoe's 7th single released in January 1968. Born in Tokyo's Koto Ward in 1941 as Shizuko Ihara(井原静子), the singer took on her stage name from a character in a short story. Following her graduation from high school, she worked for a short while in a Seibu Department Store before starting her music career performing in clubs. Once she started recording, her career went into overdrive with her debut single "Koukotsu Blues"恍惚ブルース...Ecstasy Blues). Her songs often had the name "Blues"in them....for example, "Koukotsu Blues", "Isezakicho Blues", "Sapporo Blues" and "Nagasaki Blues"...even "Blue Blues". Also, another trait in her titles were that they often gave a shout out to Japanese geography, but then again, back in those days, the names of cities and neighbourhoods were a treasure trove for enka/Mood Kayo songwriters. Yokohama was one of the big names.

The moaning certainly worked. "Isezakicho Blues" won Aoe a Japan Record Award (among other awards) and was a million-seller. In fact, her 4 singles in 1968 alone sold a total of 3.2 million records. This single peaked at No. 5 and eventually became the 11th-ranked song of the year. Kohan Kawauchi and Yoichi Suzuki (川内康範・鈴木庸一)wrote and composed the song respectively.

Aoe did get an appearance on the Kohaku Utagassen of that year on top of all of the other accolades accorded her. However, those sexy moans (euphemistically referred to as "sighs") had to be cleaned up a little during the performance on the national network (the indication was that kids would definitely be watching the special), which meant using a kazoo (!) in place of her voice when those sighs were made. Not sure what Aoe thought of that, but apparently Kyu Sakamoto, who was the captain of the Men's White Team, remarked that the "revisions" sounded not unlike "an ostrich's sighs". Ouch! And strangely enough, even in the 1982 Kohaku when Aoe appeared to perform her trademark song, the moans were apparently cleaned up again! I gather that Aoe didn't mind things too much, though, since she ended up appearing a total of 18 times with her final appearance in 1990.

Regrettably, about a decade later, Aoe would pass away at the age of 59 in 2000 from pancreatic cancer.

Not Isezakicho, but a part of the old Tokyo setup
in the Ramen Museum in Yokohama. Still,
the sentiments are there!


  1. I'm a relative latecomer to Japanese popular music of the post-war decades, but I've now amassed myself 400 or so songs and for me, Mina Aoe is one of the absolute standouts. Look, if I were in a Yokohama nightclub and Mina was singing at me like that, I'd be happy to be twisted around her little finger. It's a pity voices like this don't cross over into the Western musical world, but there you go. There seems to be a tradition of (I assume) relatively small Japanese women singers with deep, husky voices - like Ogi Hiroko, another favourite of mine, or Matsuo Kazuko. Well done, buddy. This is a great blogspot & you're favourited too - JK, Melbourne, Australia.
    BTW - next time I'm in Japan, I'm off to the Ramen Museum.

    1. Hi, Melbourne.

      Thanks for your comments. Yeah, I wish I knew more of these 60s tunes, but a lot of them are just straight from snippets of memory. "Isezakicho Blues" is definitely one of the more memorable ones, though.

      Enjoy the Ramen Museum if/when you get there. Word of advice, though. The museum is going into Winter hours, so it'll be open from 11 a.m. Get there about half an hour before it opens since a few tour buses come in with a hungry pack of tourists just before opening time.

  2. This sounds like the type of song that you'd hear live bands play at those Jazz clubs/bars with that lone female singer out in front.

    As immature as it sounds, I actually find her... "sighs" hilarious and it makes the song sound suggestive (ignoring the lyrics). It's either that or I'm reminded of Akira Shimizu's (Another impressionist like korokke) impression of Aoe.
    Here's the link to that video if you want to check out Shimizu's impression of Aoe (the second one after his Hideo Murata impression). Its more comedy than actually being accurate though.

    1. Hi, Noelle.

      Don't worry about the giggling whenever you hear the were no more immature than my brother and I were (or are) when we listened to the song. I'm pretty sure kids in Japan had snarky grins on their faces, too. :)

      Shimizu, Korokke and all of those other impressionists were probably sending New Year's cards of gratitude to Aoe for providing such a meaty source of parody! But hey, the song is memorable....I think even if folks today don't remember the title or even the singer, they will most likely know the song.

  3. love your blog, Fuji Keiko and Mina Aoe are my favorite


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