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, April 3, 2014

Hiromi Iwasaki -- Hatachi Mae... (二十才前...)

Fortunately for a guy who loves the oldies, the various recording companies kinda got rather nostalgic at the turn of the century and started releasing kayo kyoku galore from as far back as the 50s via compilation albums, and then they began to re-issue actual re-mastered albums by specific singers such as Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子), Junko Ohashi(大橋純子), etc. Hiromi Iwasaki's (岩崎宏美)collection also got the same treatment and since she was one of the first Japanese singers that I fell in love with, as soon as I saw her soft-cover (as I like to call them) jacket versions of her 70s and 80s albums hitting the shelves, I went on the hunt.

One of the first re-issued albums I bought was Iwasaki's "Hatachi Mae..." (Before 20...), her 6th album from April 1978. Aside from the title track, I hadn't known any of the other songs on it but I decided to buy this one solely because of the cover photo of the then-19-year-old lass standing in front of the mixing board at the studio. She just looked so young and quite different from my image of her with the long, long hair and the formal dresses; according to her comments in the liner notes, everything she was wearing in the photo was all bought by her without any stylist calling the shots. She could've just been shopping at the local supermarket.

The album starts off with her 12th single, "Hatachi Mae", a song that I'd actually heard from years back when Mom got me a BEST tape of hers. Now in Japan, the age of 20 is one of the big ones since the teens legally become adults and there seems to be this romanticism surrounding the big 2-0. Written by Yu Aku(阿久悠) and composed by Yusuke Hoguchi(補口雄右), the intro and Iwasaki's sung prelude strikes me as being the innocent and nostalgic end to adolescence as the singer elegantly makes a written greeting to a certain young man about how he's doing and if it isn't too much trouble if he could meet her. Then the song ramps up into a light bouncy disco trot as she looks forward to life beyond 20 although she hopes to get that answer from her Romeo before the big birthday.

I think that "Hatachi Mae" probably strikes a chord with a lot of people in my age range with the music and lyrics. However, according to those liner notes from the album, it was memorable for Iwasaki in that it was exceedingly difficult for her and the orchestra to tackle during recording due to the arrangement and the tempo shift. It also didn't help that the lass was in the throes of a bad cold at the same time, so an initial version of that recording has also been included in my softcover album along with the official one. To be honest, I couldn't really tell much of a difference....Iwasaki handled herself with aplomb....and tissues.

"Hatachi Mae" was released as a single in February 1978 and got as high as No. 10 on the charts, and eventually placed No. 76 in the annual singles charts.

Also on the album is her 10th single from July 1977, "Nettaigyo"(熱帯魚...Tropical Fish). What struck me about this song was that the Aku-penned lyrics already had Iwasaki growing up even faster than the innocent in "Hatachi Mae" as she sings about hanging around that bar in a melancholy state while nursing that cocktail and refusing to go home due to guy trouble. Makoto Kawaguchi(川口真) provides a jaunty aidoru kayo melody that reminds me a bit of Momoe Yamaguchi's(山口百恵) discography to a certain extent. The single peaked at No. 4 and ended the year as the 44th-ranked song.

(uploader has restricted "opening" hours)

However, the one song from the album that got my attention was "The Man"(ザ・マン). The same fellows behind the more famous "Hatachi Mae" were responsible for a song that I think would have made a cool theme for a 70s Japanese detective show. The cool staccato horns and the guitars just give "The Man" a really nice City Pop beat for that decade. And lyrically, Iwasaki takes on the role of that manly man and the woman who doesn't quite know what to do with him by alternating the masculine and feminine speaking styles. Not that I would have noticed the difference on first listen since she sounds so beautiful either way. The song was the B-side to the "Hatachi Mae" single.

(uploader has restricted "opening" hours)

Two of the songs on the album were written and composed by singer-songwriter Keiko Maruyama(丸山圭子) which also got my attention. The one above is "Imayo Tsuzuri"(今様つづり), the type of wonderful ballad that Iwasaki has done so well for so many years, and listening to it, I immediately had images of a young couple in ancient Japan walking discreetly on a country lane since the lyrics referred to floating cherry blossom petals, castles and old tiled roofs. I'm not all that confident of my translation of the title but it may mean "Heian Style Writing" or "Modern Style Writing" (If my Anonymous Iwasaki fan commenter can clear this up, I would appreciate it).

(Sorry but the video has been taken down.)

Finally, I have that initial version of "Hatachi Mae" while Iwasaki was suffering from that cold. Have a listen and check if the poor girl sounded any different.

As for the album, "Hatachi Mae..." peaked at No. 10 on Oricon.

(excerpts from the album)


  1. Hello, thank you so much for this amazing post. I have been an Iwasaki Hiromi fan for almost 40 years. Hatachi Mae was the very first song of hers that I heard. It was in 1979 while I was living in Japan. I was able to get a cassette tape recording of it, and I have listened to it off and on over the years. Thank you for the insights

    1. Hello, Brad and thank you for your comments. I guess you've beaten me as the senior Hiromi fan here. :) I only became a fan in 1981 but still am as of this date. I'm not sure if you have your copy of "Hatachi Mae" the album but if you don't, I certainly recommend it!


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