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.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Minoru Obata -- Nagasaki no Zabon Uri (長崎のザボン売り)

That skit by The Drifters (ザ・ドリフターズ) in the clip above was one of the first I've watched from the comedy group, and it's also one of my favourites. This sketch has the 5 fellas doing a parody of what normally goes on during NHK's "Nodojiman", and despite some purposely made inaccuracies for laughs and how ridiculously idiotic it got, it was a great introduction to the singing competition for yours truly... although it did made me anticipate the ringing of the bells immediately after the contestants opened their mouths when I actually tuned in to the real deal on TV for the first time last year.

Anyway, since the skit featured "Nodojiman" in post-war Japan, our four contestants, played by Boo Takagi (高木ブー ), Ken Shimura (志村けん), Koji Nakamoto (仲本工事), and Cha Kato (加藤茶) respectively, all "sang" some really, really, old kayokyoku, or should I say, ryukoka. And out of all the 1/10ths of a song I've heard, I took a liking to the one Takagi's character had attempted to sing, "Nagasaki no Zabon Uri" as it had a rather cheerful start and I easily understood those few words he belted out, that being, "Kane ga naru naru" (the bells are ringing), right before his time in the limelight came to an abrupt halt when our pretentious and faux courteous MC and bell-ringer, played by Chosuke Ikariya (いかりや長介), appropriately struck the bell once... ...Now you know why I had the impression that the contestants would only survive about 5 seconds on stage.

Now, on to "Nagasaki no Zabon Uri". It did not occur to me to look for information regarding this song, I suppose it's because I was just satisfied hearing that one line or less from that Drifter's skit. In fact, it was only just this Wednesday when I re-watched the video for the nth time that the curiosity of finding out the original singer of "Nagasaki no Zabon Uri" got to me. I found it rather quickly after copying and pasting the Japanese characters for "Nagasaki" and "no" in the YouTube search bar, and I immediately recognized the name of the original singer as I skimmed through the results. He was Minoru Obata (小畑実). I got to know this native of North Korea via a medley of ryukoka that featured Batayan and Dick Mine - the number of times I hit repeat on that video is astronomical - and he seemed like a rather jolly fellow with his face beaming and all as he warbled in a very nasally voice.

Obata had that same merry manner as he sung "Nagasaki no Zabon Uri", an upbeat and jaunty tune about selling pomelo fruits (that's what a "Zabon" is) at the Nagasaki harbor. The music, composed by Obata's mentor, Yoshi Eguchi (江口夜詩), just makes you envision a bustling market scene with people moving in all directions with various goods, including pomelos, on a breezy, clear day. No sadness here! Not even in the lyrics that were written by Miyuki Ishimoto (石本美由起). Well, "Nagasaki no Zabon Uri" is a post-war song (released in 1948) after all, so I guess its meant to lift the dampened spirits of the folks.

Here's some background information on Obata. Born in North Korea as Gang Yeong Cheol (강영철) in 1923, he decided to move to Japan, together with tenor singer Genjiro Nagata (永田絃次郎) when he was sixteen, where he enrolled into the Japan Music School (日本音楽学校). He became one of Eguchi's students after graduating in 1941, and debuted the same year in February with "成吉思汗" (translates to Genghis Khan). He had participated in the Kohaku 3 times, first in 1953, then 1954, and finally in 1957.

If you're wondering how a pomelo looks like, it's in the picture below. I see them here (Singapore) occasionally at some super marts, but they spike in popularity during the Mid-Autumn festival as they are eaten with the moon cakes. The clear, pulpy flesh is bittersweet, some times more bitter than sweet, and I don't really fancy it, though I don't mind them in this dessert (originating from Hong Kong) called "Mango Pomelo Sago"... Actually I may find myself picking the pomelo out of the mango puree and grimacing whenever I bite into a bitter pulp...



  1. Hi, Noelle.

    Thanks for the description of the pomelo. I've tasted my share of tropical fruits such as mango and even the dreaded durian but never had a chance to try out the pomelo although I had heard of the fruit before. I think it may be possible to get it at some very special markets here in Toronto and probably at some high prices.

    "Nagasaki no Zabon" definitely has that postwar flavor to it, and Obata does his very best at cheering the masses up with his singing.

    I was quite the huge Drifters fan along with my brother. We were always looking forward to seeing what kind of bawdy hilarity Ken Shimura would unleash on the audience.

    1. Hi J-Canuck.

      I see you've had a taste of the durian. Where did you try it, and how did you find it? Personally, it's one of my favourite fruits, although I do know of its global infamy due to its taste and smell that can make the uninitiated run for the hills. Both the durian and mango are very common here in Singapore. You will always see them at wet markets and super marts with varying degrees of taste and freshness.

      As for The Drifters, I love watching their skits. I enjoy those that have Chosuke Ikariya being harassed by the other 4 members or the episode's guest singer, or those with Cha Kato and Ken Shimura at their idiotic best.

    2. Hello, Noelle.

      I had durian back in Japan. I wouldn't place it as one of my favourites (peaches and apples rank as my Top 2) but the rumours surrounding it seem to make it far worse than it actually is. It has quite a lush flavour actually.

      Seeing Chosuke getting frustrated time and time again by his mates was the highlight. I have to admire the time and effort placed in the construction of the sets. Probably my favourite parts were the Hige Dance (Cha and Ken in those mustaches and tuxes dancing away to an R&B beat) and the choir time especially whenever Ken comes out in his ballerina-with-swan-head outfit.

    3. Hi J-Canuck.

      Wow, I'm truly surprised that you don't seem to mind durian. Good for you. :) And I must say that the tricks Ken and Cha perform during the Hige dance are indeed entertaining to watch.

    4. Yeah, durian isn't too a way, it kinda reminds me of an alternate universe version of the pears we have here.

    5. Alternate universe version of pears alright! I've never thought of a durian being anywhere close to a pear, but they both are at the opposite ends of the "fruit spectrum"; pears being crunchy, smooth and easy on the nostrils, whereas the durian is spiky, pungent and its flesh is... well, soft and pasty, for want of a better word.


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