"Tsugaru Heiya" is a prime example of Ikuzo Yoshi's (吉幾三) works, and listening to him sing it in his gruff, abrupt and intense vocal delivery, I didn't think twice about the possibility that he might have written for anyone else but himself. But it turned out that Yoshi had put together "Tsugaru Heiya" for Masao Sen (千昌夫). I'm not complaining though, since the manner in which Sen sings this song is somewhat similar to Yoshi's (or should it be the other way round?), just that his voice is not as gravelly. Both are also able to express this tune's initial mournfulness and much later excitement well.
Anyway, what allowed me to think that "Tsugaru Heiya" has Yoshi written all over it is the lyrics. Don't get me wrong, it's not because he penned it, but it's because of what he wrote; set in the Tsugaru plains of Aomori, it begins to snow, and our protagonist is reluctantly watching his father's lone figure leaving home to go to work (most likely in the city). Though lonely, he patiently waits for coldest season to pass, as that is when Pops is due to return home, hopefully with gifts galore. And by the end of the song, when the snow finally thaws on the mountains, Dad finally returns, much to his joy. A heartfelt set of lyrics that is not difficult to decipher - I was able to understand about 95% of it on the first read... now that's rare! But there are some little bits and pieces I have yet to figure out. The one and only song that I have gained full comprehension in is Hiroshi Mizuhara's (水原弘) "Tasogare no Beguine" (黄昏のビギン).
"Tsugaru Heiya" was released as Sen's 36th single on 25th March 1984, and he sang it once out of his 16 appearances, on the year the song came out. As for Yoshi's version, it was first released as the B-side to his 9th single "Rausu" (羅臼(ラウス)), and then again in 1996, this time as the A-side of his 27th single. The video below features Sabu-Chan's take on "Tsugaru Heiya". I've decided to put his rendition up since I've seen Grandpa enka take on this song a number of times via YouTube and TV, and I must say, he does a fine job with it.
Y'know, as with some of the big fella's songs, I wonder if Yoshi was referring to himself in "Tsugaru Heiya"... I mean, he did come from a little village in that area.