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.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Larry's Thoughts on Kouhaku 2014 (紅白歌合戦 2014)

I finally got the chance to watch the whole 4+ hours of Kouhaku 2014 (紅白歌合戦).  I just want to jot down some of my thoughts before I forget.

First, the hosts.  Arashi (嵐) has been there for the past 5 years and they looked relaxed.  On the other hand, Yuriko Yoshitaka (吉高由里子) at times appeared nervous and at times appeared too excited.  Also, she didn't appear to be comfortable.  Many of her gestures seemed forced and unnatural.

Personally, I love ballads and I don't like rock.  So, I didn't enjoy most of the songs and that's just my taste. However, I noticed that there're a lot more boys' and girls' groups now.  I got a feeling that they're trying to copy Korea.  When some of these groups (AKB48, HKT48, SKE48 etc., you know what I'm talking about) performed, I got a feeling that they're not singing live, although I have no proof at all.  I just felt like the singing was pre-recorded.  There was also too much Katakana and English, both in song titles and lyrics, to my taste.  If you were to ask me, I would not think it's a good thing.  I'm a conservative guy, somebody got to defend the Japanese tradition here :)

To my surprise, I enjoyed all the Enka performances.  Honestly, I think those were among the best performances of the night.  I was mostly impressed by Shinichi Mori's (森進一) Toshiue no Hito (年上の女) and Hiroshi Itsuki's (五木ひろし) Yokohama Tasogare (よこはま・たそがれ).  I like those 2 songs.  And I got a feeling that I may start listening to more enka.  Noelle-san, you may get new company soon :)

Chris Hart was great.  So did May J.  I just met with my Japanese teacher today and we talked about Kouhaku.  He said when he listened to Chris Hart, his voice invoked his feeling towards his home country Japan.

I was looking forward to Ikimonogakari (いきものがかり) but I was disappointed because I don't like the song.  I first discovered them when I was watching them perform Yell at Kouhaku 2009.  I am afraid the days when Kiyoe Yoshioka (吉岡聖恵) would wear a T-shirt on stage have past and would never return.

I'm glad Ayaka (絢香) made a comeback.  She got a powerful voice that is similar to Hikari Utada (宇多田ヒカリ) in my opinion.

Sayaka Kanda (神田沙也加) was a complete surprise.  As most of you already knew, she's the daughter of Seiko Matsuda (松田聖子).  I thought she's into acting and I didn't know that she's a singer as well.  And I didn't know that she can sing musicals.  I enjoyed her duet with Idina Menzel fully.  Seiko-san must be very proud of her daughter, as she's seen crying when she's watching her daughter's performance.

It was Hiroko Yakushimaru's (薬師丸ひろ子) first Kouhaku.  It's probably not her best performance of Yumi's (松任谷由実/呉田軽穂) Woman "W no Higeki" yori (Woman ”Wの悲劇”より).  However, considering that Hiroko is already 50, I think it's a good performance.

It's the first time I learned of Akihiro Miwa (美輪明弘).  I actually mistaken him to be a her.  He's 79!  I think he got a great operatic voice but I didn't enjoy his performance at all.  I think it becomes too repetitive and boring if you use vibrato in every line you sing.

It felt great to see Akina Nakamori (中森明菜) perform in Kouhaku.  Being her fan, I was glad to see her healthy again.  However, her voice during the interview (well, it's not really an interview; she's just thanking people) appeared quite weak and I wonder if she has fully recovered.  If not, she must have made quite an effort to record the new song.  I like her new song as I always think Akina is fit for this kind of Latino beat.  However, I wonder if this will be enough for her to make a comeback.  Also, I was wondering if she's singing live either.

Seiko Matsuda (松田聖子) appeared last and that means they're honoring her for her contribution to Japanese music.  Of all the songs, I don't know why she chose Anata ni Aitakute ~Missing You~ (あなたに逢いたくて〜Missing You〜), which was released way past her idol years.  Yes, she wrote the song and the lyrics but I don't think it best represents her because she'll always be remembered as an idol.  It'd be much more interesting to see her perform her idol songs.  In any case, I don't think she performed well either.  Her singing didn't appear to be following the music and she sounded out of pace.

All in all, watching Kouhaku 2014 made me feel like Japanese music is on the decline.  However, I think enka and Sayaka Kanda were my big discoveries in this year's Kouhaku.


  1. Sayaka Kanda played Cosette in the late 00s Japanese production of Les Miserables. She was part of a special last "original staging" production of Les Mis, playing that role. This reviewer thought she was upstaged by those of the original 87 cast who reprised their roles though, including one that J-Canuck is familiar with. I wonder if Yume Yaburete qualifies for Kayo Plus.

    1. Thanks. I didn't know she appeared in Les Miserables. But I would say Yume Yaburete is not Kayo Kyoku.

  2. Hey, Larry. Glad you put up this entry...lots of meat to talk about. I think as we discussed in person, my interest in the Kohaku has waned somewhat over the's no longer must-see viewing. Basically my period of peak interest was in the 80s.

    Perhaps I think the reasons that I'm not nearly as enthused about the event as I once was match with the ones that you have given. I'm not particularly a huge fan of the "Alphabet" groups either (realizing that my love for Japanese popular music centres around the 70s and 80s) and I'm getting the impression that Perfume is starting to wear out its welcome on the Kohaku.

    As for the seeming NHK policy to have the lead actress of either its morning serial or jidai geki be the Red Captain, I guess it really depends on who the choice is. But for the last couple of years, it has looked like the Red Captain was a little over her head. Mind you, to be suddenly thrust onto the stage to co-emcee one of the premier TV events of the year with not a whole lot of prep time is extremely intimidating. However, witnessing the time-to-time missteps, I did wonder whether it wouldn't be a bad thing to have announcer Yumiko Udo be Red Captain for the next one. But most likely, it will be Mao Inoue.

    Being the middle-aged geezer I am, I did enjoy the enka performances by folks like Hiroshi Itsuki, Sayuri Ishikawa and Kouhei Fukuda. 30 years ago, I probably would've surprised myself if I had said such a thing back then. If you're getting into enka, Larry, come and join us! :)

    Agreed on both Hiroko and Akina. I may have mentioned this in one of the articles, but I was listening to the former while eating breakfast so I wasn't looking at the TV directly but she seemed rather did Akina when she was talking. But I had expected that Akina was not going to be all that strong in her speaking voice. Still, it was great to see her back and hope that she will be resuming her career this year.

    Hearing the audience gasp when it was announced that Southern All Stars was next on the performance list right then and there was a true surprise...and this was on a show that hasn't been known for throwing surprises all that often. I actually enjoyed that moment.

    The thing about the Kohaku is that it was once the only game in town when it came to New Year's Eve activities which would explain the huge ratings it used to get. I read that this year's edition actually dropped in the ratings compared to the year before despite appearances by some of the vets and that SAS performance. Going forward, I don't envy the producers' task at hand...although a lot of people still head home and start getting the house prepped for New Year's Day, there are a lot more things to do outside and alternative programming on TV which has gradually leached viewers away from a show that has just reached 65 years. Will the producers have to continue to pull rabbits out of their hat to even retain the viewers they have while at the same time trying to keep the same basic structure that has been in place for decades? Perhaps one idea might be to shorten the length of the show back to what it once was.

    Still, I'm talking from the view of a fellow who's been watching or at least keeping one eye on the screen for some years, so some jading is probably inevitable in my case. For some of those who have just started watching the Kohaku, the epic feeling will probably be raging inside. :)

    1. I too am puzzled by the policy of host selection. A good actor may not be a talented host and vice versa. I think they're asking too much because being a good host is not easy and it's not the same as acting.

      Regarding alternatives. My Japanese teacher told me yesterday that there's a Music Station New Year Eve show. He said that's much better. Do you know any details?

    2. I don't know about a New Year's Eve show but there is supposed to be a general Winter 2-hour special every January.

  3. Hi Larry,

    Nice to see your views on the Kohaku. I've also shared my views on the show, a little on Koji Taira's "Bus Stop" and the "full version", or at least the Enka version on my own blog, you can check it out here:

    About that part where the groups sounding like they weren't actually singing... I have to agree with that, it sounded to... polished, I suppose to be one of a live performance. Even my brother commented on that.

    I too felt that Yakushimaru and Matsuda didn't do a good job during their performances, it's either that or I had set my hopes a little too high. I'm going to be blunt here in saying that Akihiro Miwa freaked me out... he/she looked and sounded like something you wouldn't want to bump into in the middle of the night!

    The thing that came as a surprise when reading this article was that Seiko Matsuda's daughter was on as well! I had no idea they were related.

    The Enka performances were good, both young and old put on a good show. Nice to know that you enjoyed Mori's and Itsuki's performances... and your company on the genre is welcomed! As a start, I recommend Takashi Hosokawa's "Kita sakaba".

    1. Noelle, I read your posts. Thanks for all the extra. The Dame yo part is funny. In the 2020 Olympics, I think we'll definitely see Fukuda again for Tokyo Gorin Ondo. I'm also sure they're going to have another Olympic song. I would be surprised if they make that enka. I hope they do. It'll be true to the tradition.

  4. Hey, Larry, Noelle and J-Canuck.

    I'm a little late to this party, but I also watched Kouhaku.

    About the "Alphabet" groups, they rarely sing live on TV, and that includes Kouhaku. People say they sing live during their live concerts, but I can't confirm this information. What I know is that they're, in general, bad singers. I don't know if you guys watched the FNS special... there, they sang live.

    Other acts that are not fond of singing live on TV are Perfume, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and Arashi, so their singing voices were all pre-recorded as well. Accoding to fans, Arashi sing live in their concerts as well, but the DVD is always released with pre-recorded vocals to "enhance" their singing abilities. Same can be said about Perfume, which is a group that sang a lot of songs live during their last DOME TOUR. However, just like in Arashi's case, the DVD was released with pre-recorded vocals.

    About Kouhaku in general, I consider myself a new viwer, as I've watched only four or five editions, but I confess that I'm getting tired of it year after year. The enka performances are very entertaining for me, even though I'm not a true fan of the genre, but the pop acts chosen to perform are, in most case, very boring (I can't stand things such as Sekai no Owari or Golden Bomber. The latter, for example, sang "Memeshikute" for the third time in a row at Kouhaku, if I'm not mistaken).

    Back to the Alphabet groups, I can listen to AKB48 and their lovely "Kokoro no Placard" (although tame, it was really their best song of 2014), but I don't see why they have to take all of the "sister groups" to Kouhaku. It's more of the same! That is also applied to Johnny's groups, as a good portion of them are really boring. I could do with SMAP (which is almost a Japanese institution) and Arashi (I even like them), but we also have to "welcome" Sexy Zone and other groups that I don't care to remember the name.

    About the oldies, it was great to see Akina back. I think she'll never be the good old strong Akina we knew (I don't know if she still smokes a lot, but her vocal power really declined because of that), but it's nice to see her working on new things. As for Seiko, well, I also expected an aidoru hits medley, but she opted for that boring ballad (and didn't quite succeed).

    About Music Station, I know they do an year end special, but it's always around Christmas, and not on New Year's Eve. If you guys don't like the pop acts that much, I think it's not a good option (no Kayo Kyoku or Enka singer is invited at all). They also had Babymetal this year (honestly, one of the few Japanese acts that were important abroad in 2014 was Babymetal. I even think the girls should have been invited to Kouhaku as well).

    1. I listened to AKB48 on their YouTube channel and some. I like "Sakura no Ki ni Narou" and "Shonichi". There're some other early songs that I think were quite nice. But it gets boring pretty fast, for me at least. I agree that there's no reason having all their sister groups appearing in Kouhaku since they're the same.

      I think the problem is "the same". When music becomes homogeneous, it stops growing. And that's why I think enka stands out because they're different and they have variety. Of course, these enka songs have also been tested by time. I think I may still enjoy Hiroshi Itsuki in 20 years, but I cannot say the same for these new groups. It's like art. Great art can stand the test of time.

  5. There's a fairly scathing article on the Kohaku Utagassen at The Japan Times.


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