"Kayo Concert"（歌謡コンサート）got pretty sentimental tonight with their "seishun"（青春...salad days）theme. One of the guests was the amiable Kosetsu Minami（南こうせつ）who performed "Aka Chochin" (Red Lantern), a hit from his time with the folk band Kaguyahime（かぐや姫）. In fact, the song is seen as an example of Yojouhan Folk（四畳半フォーク...4.5-Tatami Folk）, sad folk songs that talk about the lifestyle of the poor starving college student.
Strangely enough, I first heard the song on an episode of one of Ken Shimura's comedy shows in which he and a female guest star were portraying a poverty-stricken couple in an apartment so ramshackle that if there were even a Shindo 1 earthquake, the building would shift from side to side...which of course it did in the skit, and so the single bowl of rice would be sliding from one side of the table to the other as husband and wife would be using those precious few seconds to shovel as much rice into their mouths before the bowl started moving again.
But that was the thing about "Aka Chochin". Minami and his colleague in Kaguyahime, Makoto Kitajo（喜多條忠）put in all the tropes of spartan living back in the early 70s; everything from the naked light bulb to illuminate that 4.5-tatami mat room to munching on cabbage for sustenance most of the time to appreciating all that oden from the yatai (food stand) or shop with the titular aka chochin hanging in front. However, the lyrics by Kitajo weren't just about the hard-luck life; they were also about the melancholy story of the breakup of that couple who had once shared that tiny room. Perhaps they have gone onto separate and hopefully more successful lives but that period of life together will always mean something to at least one of them.
Kosetsu and Kitajo were also responsible for what was most likely the most famous example of Yojouhan Folk, "Kandagawa"（神田川）from the previous year. Unlike that classic, though, "Aka Chochin" has a bit more of a gallop to it as if the memories from the episode were not to be mourned too much but accepted as a wistful part of life.
The ballad was Kaguyahime's 6th single from January 1974. It peaked at No. 4 on Oricon and became the 32nd-ranked song of the year, selling about 700,000 records. The song even gained further publicity when a movie was made from it under the same title in that same year starring actress Kumiko Akiyoshi.