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.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

J-Canuck's 5 Go-To Karaoke Tunes

For almost 20 years, karaoke was one of my leisure activities with the various groups of people I hung out with. However, back in my university days when I first got involved with the Japanese hobby, I spent several months at that Yorkville karaoke bar, Kuri, without getting anywhere near a microphone due to fear. But with growing familiarity to my surroundings and several drinks' worth of Brown Cow (known as Kahlua Milk over there) later, my friend and I finally gathered up the gumption to try out one song together. And this will segue into my list of those go-to songs I had in my arsenal whenever I took part in singing in the years to come.

1. Anzen Chitai & Yosui Inoue -- Natsu no Owari no Harmony

Yep, my humble beginnings in picking up a microphone and singing to that empty orchestra resided with this ballad. It was just the perfect duet for a couple of fairly pickled undergraduates to try out at a time when neither guy was willing to go it alone. Lack of talent was no barrier for us...especially when alcohol was coursing through our veins.

Basically my career in amassing a karaoke repertoire was a matter of trial and error. Gradually, I developed some basic rules in picking a song which I thought I could handle:

A: A nice even melody without any shifts in key.
B: Lyrics that didn't require me to leaf through a kanji dictionary many times.
C: No demand for vocal gymnastics (therefore, Kazumasa Oda and Dreams Come True were out)

2. Ikuzo Yoshi -- Yukiguni

When I finally graduated from U of T in 1989 and got on that plane for Japan to start my teaching career in Gunma Prefecture, trips to karaoke bars became more of a professional demand. After all, the various official dinner functions always required the nijikai(二次会...second party)which often meant a visit to drinking establishments armed with karaoke equipment. I found Ikuzo Yoshi's "Yukiguni" to be fine with me since it fulfilled those 3 rules above, and in a way, it represented The Great White North.

Singing this dozens of times over the years, I was finally able to develop that deep growl that enka singers use to launch the title in the refrain...often got some applause for that.

3. Saburo Tokito -- Kawa no Nagare wo Daite Nemuritai

Mysteriously, I never mentioned in the original article for this bluesy ballad that I had first heard it on "Sounds of Japan". That piano that starts things off had me right there. One time at a karaoke box, I was leafing furiously through the thick tome of the listings when that song suddenly percolated up through my memories. I hadn't thought I would find it but sure enough it was right in there, so I decided to give it a try. Strangely enough, it worked out pretty well although none of my compadres that night knew the song at all. They were quite impressed that it was Tokito who sang it since they (and most other people) knew him just as an actor.

4. Takashi Hosokawa - Kita Sakaba

During those Gunma days, I was giving the aforementioned "Yukiguni" quite the workout so the guys knew my go-to song. However, being the demanding folks they were, they wanted another song from me, so somehow I went with another tune that I had first heard on "Sounds of Japan", the jaunty "Kita Sakaba". This song by Hosokawa is perfect for a lot of the older karaoke-going group to get all cheered up and clapping. And for some reason, the order gets to the front desk for more beer afterwards. "Kita Sakaba" became my Commander Will Riker to the Captain Picard of my "Yukiguni".

5. Yumi Matsutoya -- Blizzard

Unlike "Yukiguni", I didn't pick Yuming's "Blizzard" because it had some sort of connection with Canada (last year's Ice Storm aside). I just liked singing it because it sounded good to me (love the dramatic intro) and the three rules were once again met. Yuming's voice may have already become quite high even back then, but I still could get through it in a lower register.

Believe me, there were many others I've tried and succeeded/failed at. But the above are the ones that were my juu-hachi-ban (my go-to tunes). Perhaps some of the other collaborators can clue us in on their karaoke likes.

Also, you can take a look at my article on karaoke in general which I wrote back in April 2012.

And finally, you can take a look at the five that I failed miserably at.


  1. Hi J-Canuck,

    This is an interesting list you've got here! When it was still a draft, I was sure Yoshi's "Yuki guni" would be in the list, and to a lesser extent Hosokawa's "Kita sakaba". Anzen Chitai and Yosui Inoue's duet "Natsu no owari no Harmony" was interesting to see on the list, but I have to say that it seems like an easy song to sing. I've never heard of Yuming's "Blizzard", but it sounds pretty cool... definitely worth a second listen.

    I don't sing karaoke... mostly because there doesn't seem to be any Japanese karaoke joints around, and I don't sing much. Plus, I don't have many who'd join me on a Japanese karaoke session. But if I were to do so, my choices would usually stick to Enka or Mood Kayo songs since I find that they're easier to sing than J-pop songs (I find that it requires less "Vocal gymnastics", as you said). I doubt I'd be able to pull off the "Enka growl" though. But that's really amazing that you're able to do it... or for "Yuki guni" at least!

    1. Hi, Noelle.

      I hope New Year's was good to you and your family. Oh, yes..."Yuki Guni" and "Kita Sakaba" were my one-two punch at the extended karaoke sessions; after that, it was dipping into the grab bag of other stuff. As for "Natsu no Owari no Harmony", it was because it was so easy that we decided to try it out. I didn't have the guts back then to approach Anzen Chitai's other big hits at the time.

      Karaoke is very much a group activity. In my group, there were a lot of folks who were into the singing so the attitude slowly oozed into me...took a good lone while, though. I think enka/Mood Kayo is probably easier on the whole to sing than other genres of kayo kyoku, but the vibrato (kobushi) does take some time to develop.

  2. J-Canuck, what a great list, and great hint as well. Next time we meet, I think we should do Karaoke. I have yet to sing a Japanese song in a Karaoke, and I'm dying to try that.

    Natsu no Owari no Harmony was covered by 2 Hong Kong singers so I'm quite familiar. But I'm surprised that you said it fits your criteria, as I think the tone goes quite high. Among them, I like Yukiguni the best as a song. I have confidence that I won't be out of tone when I sing Yukiguni and Kita Sakaba. Kawa no Nagane wo Daite Nemuritai requires a certain kind of voice and I'm sure I'd fail.

    But great tips for choosing Karaoke songs. I have a couple of go-to Karaoke songs in Cantonese and English but not for Japanese. I need to discover that through singing but I have not yet had the chance.

    1. Hi, Larry.

      If I'm not mistaken, there should be a karaoke place near your parents' place. It's called Studio Lounge on Yonge between Finch and North York Centre (

      As for "Natsu no Owari no Harmony", the song was originally keyed a bit high but the karaoke version was brought down a key or two so my friend and I could handle it. I'd probably say that "Yukiguni" and "Kita Sakaba" are ideal for those starting out in enka karaoke. Although I never sang it all that much, Hiroshi Itsuki's "Yokohama Tasogare" is also quite good.

      Yep, let me know when you're in town next time. We can try the place out. Perhaps nikala can also join us.


Feel free to provide any comments (pro or con). Just be civil about it.