I heard "Otaru no Hito yo" (Man of Otaru) the other night on NHK's "Kayo Concert", and as with a lot of the other songs from the genre, I started getting images of a heartbroken man sitting by himself at some small bar while the bartender is shaking a cocktail or heating up a ceramic bottle of sake. It starts off as something of a more traditional enka in the first few bars with that guitar and flute, but then the light Latin rhythm comes in and the sweet, sorrowful tones of lead vocal Masato Sanjo（三条正人） then reassure me that this is indeed a Mood Kayo song.
Although I was able to get up to Sapporo in Hokkaido for a few days of R&R, I didn't get a chance to head over to the port city of Otaru not too far away. That earned me some half-joking reprimands from a few of my students when I got back since, as they told me in no uncertain terms, the place boasts of having some of the best sushi and sashimi in the entire nation. That struck me as high praise indeed considering that I have yet to remember a bad sushi place wherever I went in Japan (well, there was one kaiten sushi restaurant in Asakusa in which some of the fish was partially frozen...nice crunch, though).
Composer Masayoshi Tsuruoka（鶴岡雅義）started up the Tokyo Romantica vocal group in 1965 and in the first couple of years, he filled in as a "guest" vocal (his official position is guitar) since there was no official lead vocal. Then, when "Otaru no Hito yo"became a hit when Sanjo performed with the group, he was made the official lead vocal.. Tsuruoka, by the way, was behind the creation of the melody for this song with Mitsuo Ikeda（池田充男）writing the lyrics.
"Otaru no Hito yo" was the group's 5th single which came out in September 1967, but it wasn't until May 1968 that it finally cracked the Top 10 of the then-embryonic Oricon charts. It peaked at No. 2 and became the No. 4 song for that year, selling about 1.5 million records.Their newfound hit status got Tsuruoka and Tokyo Romantica onto the Kohaku Utagassen, a show that would invite them back for the next 6 years during the time when Mood Kayo was at its peak.
There was a bit of history behind the song.. At first, a song titled"Denwa de Ai wo"（電話で愛を...Love By Phone） was created, but Tsuruoka nixed it as having very little punch, so he asked Ikeda to take over on the writing of the words. From that collaboration, "Kona Yuki no Love Letter"（粉雪のラブ・レター...Powder Snow Love Letter）was the result, but then the people representing the city of Otaru asked whether a song couldn't help sell their city as a tourist spot, so "Otaru no Hito yo" was made. The requisite Otaru sites were incorporated into the lyrics while the usual Mood Kayo trope held firm about lamenting that lost love. And several decades later, the song is still seen a representative anthem of sorts for the northern Japanese city.
As for me, I'm currently lamenting that lost opportunity for great raw fish!