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, March 18, 2015

The Works of Yu Aku (阿久悠)Part 1

When I started the "Creator" category" for "Kayo Kyoku Plus", I knew that I would eventually have to tackle the universe of Yu Aku(阿久悠)one of these days. When I did the first article of the category for prolific composer Kyohei Tsutsumi(筒美京平), I thought to myself that his profile would be quite an undertaking. Well, you can imagine how I feel about the most prolific lyricist in Japanese popular music history. The man wrote 5,000 tunes over a career that spanned over 40 years! And that is just one of his records (the achievement, not the vinyl disc).

To make things more difficult for me is that, as I've mentioned throughout certain articles in the blog, I've been more on the composer side of things than on the lyricist side. I never really paid all that much to the words of kayo kyoku since my understanding of the language at that time was not all that great. However, I figure that if I have this blog, I will have to make some sort of tribute, as inadequate as it will ultimately come out, since there is not a whole lot out there in English about the legendary Yu Aku. The above is a video showcasing a few of those thousands of songs that he wrote.

At the very least, I should give some background on the man himself. Aku was born Hiroyuki Fukada(深田公之)in 1937 on Awaji Island, a part of Hyogo Prefecture. After graduating from Meiji University's Department of Literature in the early 1960s, Fukada joined Senkousha(宣弘社), a large advertising company, as a copywriter, a broadcast writer and a staffer helping in the production of commercials. Leaving Senkousha in 1966, he continued to work as a writer for music programs and started writing his own songs.

I'm not sure when Fukada took on his pen name of Yu Aku, but the derivation apparently came from a pair of kanji which read "akuyuu"(悪友)or "bad companion". Not sure if that was a reflection on his personal life...hopefully not.

According to J-Wiki, Aku's first song to be released was a B-side, "Monkey Dance", of The Spiders' debut single in May 1965, "Furi Furi"(フリフリ...Shake It). But it wouldn't be until November 1967 that his career as a lyricist really got off the ground when his "Asa Made Matenai"(朝まで待てない...Can't Wait Til Morning)made it as an A-side of the debut single for another Group Sounds band "The Mops". A groovy (can't believe I said that in the 21st century) psychedelic piece, the lyrics go into how much a guy needs to see that girl again despite trying to forget about her:

Akirame suteta hazu na no ni                    
Koi wa nemuri wo wasure saseru              
Yami ni mukatte, o-mae no na wo yobu    
Ima sugu aitai, asa made matenai             

Although I tried to give up
The passion makes me forget about sleeping
I face the darkness and call out your name
I wanna see you now, can't wait til morning

I couldn't imagine that Aku actually wrote a song that sounded like something that would be played at Woodstock, but that was one of the main points about the lyricist. He wrote for virtually every genre that existed in Japanese pop music: enka, Mood Kayo, anime, folk, aidoru, novelty name it. And he wrote for everyone from Sayuri Ishikawa to Sheena & The Rokkets.

As I write this, I'm still not sure about my approach. But basically what I think I'm gonna do is to take care of Aku in two parts. Part 1 will be on the big hits that I've enjoyed which have already been profiled here. I figure you, the readers, can just as easily go to the Labels section to the right and click "Yu Aku" to get a measure of the man's work but I also think that perhaps it would be nice to have a capsule form of some of those successes. Part 2 will be on the stuff that we can all discover together....namely the tunes that I don't know well or at all.

As I said, there's not much that I could find about Aku in English aside from a brief article on the English Wikipedia. I really wanted to know about how he had approached his songwriting. One thing that I did glean from an article about Sheena & The Rokkets is that he didn't always write about the happy-go-lucky stuff and that "...his lyrics are far removed from the bland “love and friendship” and “follow your dreams” platitudes of most contemporary J-pop."

Perhaps that may have been true, but Aku's words were then cloaked in very cheerful and uplifting melodies. One example was one of his masterpieces with Tsutsumi, "Mata Au Hi Made"(また逢う日まで)from 1971 for the late Kiyohiko Ozaki(尾崎紀世彦). With that fanfare-like intro and exhorting vocals by Ozaki, I had assumed that the song was about a couple of buddies having a great time and then calling it a day until the next time. Ah, but in actuality, things were more bittersweet, lyrically speaking:

Mata au hi made mata aeru toki made                    
Wakare no sono wake wa hanashitakunai                
Naze ka samishii dake                                              
Naze ka munashii dake                                             
Tagai ni kizu tsuki subete wo nakusu kara               

Until that day, until that time we meet again
I don't want to talk about why we broke up
Cause it's just sad
Cause it's just futile
We'll hurt each other and lose everything

Well, I gotta say that Ozaki was quite a bit more nice and succinct about romantic breakups than Dr. Phil.  "Mata Au Hi Made" received Song of the Year plaudits at The Japan Record Awards that year, the first of five that would be credited to Aku...still an unbroken record.

1977 was a banner year for Aku. In the Oricon Top 100, 16 of his songs were right in there with Pink Lady at No. 1 for "Wanted" and at No. 95, Yukiko Shimizu's(清水由貴子)"Hotaru Zaka"(ほたる阪...Firefly Slope). But then, in December of that year came another Aku-Pink Lady collaboration which became the touchstone song for me whenever I think of Mie and Kei, "UFO". To be honest, when I hear Aku's name, Pink Lady will always be my response in that association game. It just seemed that anything he wrote turned to gold with these ladies. This was the 4th Song of the Year for the lyricist.

Of course, with "UFO", it will be about Pink Lady's physical dynamism and the choreography. But Aku put in his own indictment of men in general:

Shinjirarenai koto bakari aru no                               
Moshi kashitara moshi kashitara, so na no kashira   
Sore demo ii wa, chika goro sukoshi                          
Chikyuu no otoko ni akita tokoro yo                           

There are nothing but unbelievable things
I wonder if...if it's true
That's all right, if they're a little close by
I'm fed up with Earth men

Man, things must have been pretty dire if Mie and Kei were willing to head off with E.T. and Yoda.

In that same 1977 Oricon Top 100, there was No. 19, Sayuri Ishikawa's(石川さゆり)classic "Tsugaru Kaikyo Fuyu Geshiki"(津軽海峡・冬景色)by Aku and composer Takashi Miki(三木たかし). It is a melancholy enka ballad about a woman heading up north via the Tsugaru Strait to Hokkaido after an end to a romance. Although it doesn't happen all the time, when I've gone through a bad incident, I have sometimes tended to focus a lot more on my surroundings as I head home or out somewhere...perhaps as a defensive tactic. Perhaps I might focus on the traffic or on that couple bickering some distance away. Perhaps that was Aku's approach to the lyrics as Ishikawa sang about that lone and lonely trip from Ueno Station to Aomori Station to the ferry:

Ueno hatsu no yakko ressha orita kara                      
Aomori eki wa yuki no naka                                      
Kita e kaeru hito no mure wa dare mo mukuchi de   
Umi nari dake wo kiiteiru                                           
Watashi mo hitori renraku zen ni nori                        
Kogoe souna kamome mitsume naiteimashita           
Aaa...tsugaru kaikyo fuyu geshiki                              

Getting off the overnight train from Ueno
Aomori Station is in the middle of snow
The crowds of people heading north don't say anything
I only hear the sounds of the sea
I also get on the connecting ship alone
Seeing the freezing seagulls, I cried
Aah...the Tsugaru Strait in winter

One other thing about Aku's songwriting according to what I read in the J-Wiki article comes from a quote he left: "An impressive story is a long one, not short. A 3-minute song has the same impact as a 2-hour movie." Those two sentences may sound contradictory but they came from his experience not only from songwriting but probably also from his time as a copywriter....trying to size up the situation and the singer and then come up with those killer verses.  He wanted to squeeze an entire story into those 3 minutes' worth of verses. There was quite a bit of drama in "Tsugaru Kaikyo", and maybe some time in the last few decades, perhaps a dramatization was actually done of the song.

Not to keep everything in the 70s, there was another fine Aku creation in the 80s as well. Namely, the very karaoke-friendly enka/Mood Kayo tune of "Izakaya"(居酒屋)from 1982. Considering the lyrics, Aku may have been channeling a lot of those movie flirtation scenes in the izakaya between a man and a woman:

M:Moshimo kirai denakattara nanka ippai nonde kure       
W:So ne, daburu no baabon wo enryo shinai de itadaku wa               
M:Namae kiku hodo yabo janai mashite mi no uebanashi nado                 
W:So yo, tama tama izakaya de yoko ni suwatta dake da mono              
M:If you don't mind, have a drink with me
W:All right, I'll be more than happy to have a double bourbon on you
M:I'm not so much of a boor to ask for your name, let alone your life story
W:That's right. You're just somebody who sat beside me from time to time

A lot of teasing here and there at the bar but did something come out of this? Aku would have been the one to ask. However, Hiroshi Itsuki and Nana Kinomi(五木ひろし・木の実ナナ)pulled this one with the charm of any two thespians with good chemistry.

Obviously, not knowing anything about Yu Aku when I was a kid, the first Aku songs that I heard were probably by Pink Lady. Having said that, the first non-Pink Lady Aku song I heard was most likely the one that had me racing from my junior high school at the speed of a wave motion engine back home to watch one of the first anime that I've ever seen.

Yep, the iconic 1974 theme for "Uchuu Senkan Yamato"(宇宙戦艦ヤマト)was given its heroic words by Aku as well. I remember when I was doing the prep work to write the blog article for one of anime's beloved programs popping my eyes when I saw it was indeed him who wrote up the song that started with "Farewell, Earth...". I've got that urge to salute even now.

Saraba, chikyuu yo                                           
Tabi datsu fune wa                                           
Uchuu senkan Yamato                                     
Uchuu no kanata, Isukandaru e                      
Unmei seoi  ima tobi tatsu                                
Kanarazu koko e, kaette kuru to                      
Te wo furu hito ni egao de kotae e                   
Ginga wo hanare Isukandaru e                        
Harubaru nozomu                                             
Uchuu senkan Yamato                                      

Farewell, Earth
The ship beginning a voyage is
Space cruiser Yamato
Beyond space to Iscandar
We're now off carrying the burden of destiny
When we surely come home
We'll answer with a smile to the waving people.
Leaving the galaxy to Iscandar
With a faint gleam of hope
Space cruiser Yamato

The above translation is, by the way, a mix between my efforts and a translation from Many thanks to the site. Those lyrics pretty much summarize the story of the good ol' Yamato and her brave crew. Now, mind you, the first version of the song I heard in Canada was the one for the US dubbed version, "Star Blazers", but the same message was basically there. Still, after all these years, it's something to hear the original Japanese version.  I just wonder what Aku could have done for "Star Trek".

Again, this isn't anywhere near a full analysis of Yu Aku...more just about some of the music that I've listened to for years that he had a hand in. And I still have Part 2 to consider as well. As for his approach to coming up with the lyrics for his 5000 songs, I'm sure that he wasn't the only one to be bittersweet or relay some particular vignette, but somehow, he just had that ability to couch those words to partially send a good chunk of those songs into kayo timelessness.


  1. Hi J-Canuck.

    Wow. The Yu Aku. I've checked out his J-Wiki page from time to time, and I still marvel at his repertoire and achievements every time I do so. It's incredible that he's also able to pen lyrics for almost every genre out there, even those at opposite ends of the spectrum e.g. Enka and Aidoru.

    I know Aku best for contributing to songs sung by the glamorous Julie (Kenji Sawada) and the hugely popular Pink Lady, and of course, Ozaki's "Mata au hi made" - one of the first Kayokyoku I had enjoyed years ago, way before discovering Enka, surprisingly. It was really catchy and it sounded like such a cheerful song, but now that I know part of its lyrics, it seems like quite a sad song. I still like it though.

    However, I had no idea he wrote "Izakaya" as well! That was an interesting find. The type of casual bantering between the two really is movie romantic scene material. Y'know, the couple act all casual at first and not bother about going into details, but as the night wears on, they become more comfortable with each other... and well, you know where that's going. Itsuki and Nana do make that work and give the song a sensual feel to it.

    I look forward to part 2 of this. I'd like to see what other songs I've been missing by this legendary lyricist. Oh, Aku also wrote the lyrics for this Cool Five hit called "Koi uta" (恋唄), you can check that out if you don't already know it.

    Hmm, that quote Aku left is interesting. I can't see the implied meaning (if any in the first place) behind the first sentence, but the next one resonates with me better. My interpretation of this is that a good song is able to condense a good, well-written long story into something that would fit nicely into 3 minutes or so without losing the main idea. A summary of the story, I suppose. Or probably the song's lyrics paint you a picture of a particular scenario, and then from there you're able to see the entire story, like of what went down, what may happen next, that way you're able to see the entire plot of the story within a short period of time... Oh boy, there it is again. I really hope I made sense because that there is what happens when I try to explain complicated things. Oh well, I tried.

    1. Hi, Noelle.

      Thanks for going over the article and leaving your comment. I'm also looking forward to getting Part 2 done (although it may not be done until the weekend since I got dumped with a lot of translation work today). There have been a lot of surprises when it comes to what exactly Aku has contributed. The theme song to "Yamato" was one of them and certainly his lyrics for that psychedelic song that I mentioned at the top was another.

      "Izakaya" was one of my go-to songs (if there was a female friend willing to sing with me) at karaoke. It's just really smooth to sing which I think Aku was always trying to achieve. I think, in a way, he was partially responsible for how successful the Japanese pastime became.

      As for that quote he left to posterity, I'm not quite sure myself. Perhaps he was intimating that there has to be a lot of detail in any good story? Really don't know. I'm still looking for some more kernels of truth as to how Aku approached his lyrics.

      I'll have to take a look at "Koi Uta", but you also have to check out one of his last creations. It was done around 2000, but it's actually an Xmas song involving Hiroshi Itsuki, Takao Horiuchi and members of Morning Musume titled "Ai no Merry Xmas":

  2. Oh, I had seen this collaboration between Horiuchi and Itsuki before - didn't know there were the Morning Musume girls there as well - but I had never got myself to listen to it or look at the song's title. I only knew that the two fellas had done a duet.

    I'm listening to it just as I'm writing this. It's actually a pretty nice Christmas song, and I'm surprised that I didn't mind the addition of the MM members.

    1. Heck, I'M surprised! I didn't think you would get anywhere near Hello Project! :)

    2. Yeah, well..., under normal circumstances I wouldn't. But the drawing power of a song with one of the greatest Enka singers (that I happen to like) and 1/3 of Alice in it is too strong. Plus, the girls sounded normal (thankfully)... not singing in those high pitched/overly girly voices. So this one's an exception. A very rare exception.

    3. Plus, when you have Yu Aku taking care of the lyrics...I think the ladies decided to look at things differently here. And if I'm not mistaken, Yuko Nakazawa was in the recording and she was the enka representative for the group.

  3. There's an Enka representative... in an Aidoru group? How does that work? I mean, I've heard of Enka-Aidoru groups like Kanjani 8, but I've not heard of a representative for Enka in a regular Aidoru group.

    1. Well, she wasn't exactly the official rep, but alongside her MM work, she did release some enka songs on her own.

  4. Thanks very much for the informative discussion of Yu Aku. I sang Tsugaru Kaikou no Fuyu-geshiki at the karaoke tonight. A towering classic... Too bad I butchered it. Keep up the good work.

    1. Hello, Tom, and thanks very much for your comments. I've also done my fair share of butchering some of the kayo kyoku classics myself. I think the only one that I've been totally comfortable has been my No. 18, "Yukiguni".


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