I was watching a televised kayo charity concert on NHK which took place in Saitama recently, and there were the usual enka performances and a surprise entry by Yoko Takahashi performing the theme song from the anime "Evangelion" among others. But then one singer appeared and he did a wonderful Nat King Cole-ish version of an old kayo kyoku from decades back. "Yoake no Uta" (Dawn Song), as sung by this singer, reminded me so much of Cole's legendary "Stardust" that I had to dig this one up from the Net and check it out further.
My parents kept talking of Yoko Kishi （岸洋子）while I saw Kyu Sakamoto's （坂本九）name on the screen as "Yoake no Uta" was being performed, so I had plenty of information to track it down. The song first saw life in September 1964 after being written by the recently departed Tokiko Iwatani (岩谷時子...passed away last year at the age of 97) and composed by Taku Izumi（いずみたく）. Kishi, who was born in Yamanashi Prefecture in 1935, had originally tried to become an opera singer only to have her dream dashed due to illness. However, from a chance listening to an Edith Piaf album while in hospital, she steered her ambitions into chanson, debuting in 1962.
But then came "Yoake no Uta" in 1964, and although the song wasn't a definite example of chanson, I think Kishi brought in the proud and grand elements of the genre into it. And as a result, it became one of her most well-known entries in her discography. She won a Grand Prize at the Japan Music Awards that year and was invited for the first time onto the Kohaku Utagassen with another appearance 5 years later. The above link shows that 1969 performance.
Sadly, Kishi passed away at the age of 57 in 1992. However, her connection with the song has lived on through Sakata Station on the JR Uetsu Main Line in her hometown of Sakata with it being played as the train arrival melody.
The great Kyu Sakamoto provided his own version of "Yoake no Uta" as a single released just a month after Kishi's original. His take on the song had more of a Big Band, bluesy jazz flavour which suited the Sakamoto style. It was sung as the theme for a drama that Sakamoto had starred in at the time, "Boya"（ぼうや...Boy）.
"Yoake no Uta" has also been performed by various singers over the decades from genres ranging from enka to rock. Yujiro Ishihara and Ringo Shiina are just some of the artists who have given their own spin to this very malleable Japanese standard.