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.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Momoe Yamaguchi -- Manjuu Shaka (曼珠沙華)

The first time I heard the ballad "Manjuu Shaka" was on a compilation tape, and it was actually by wistful pop singer Ruiko Kurahashi(倉橋ルイ子). And for many years, I had thought it was an original song by her, and it was quite the mystical-sounding ballad. Plus seeing those 4 intimidating kanji that made up the title, I had also assumed that the song was about some sort of spiritual experience out somewhere on the Silk Road, not being able to understand what the title meant at the time.

"Manjuu Shaka" was actually first sung by 70s aidoru legend Momoe Yamaguchi(山口百恵)as a creation by the husband-wife duo of Ryudo Uzaki and Yoko Aki(宇崎竜童・阿木燿子), and as anyone who has read a lot of the Momoe articles on the blog knows, they were responsible for a lot of the hard-driving songs in the singer's second half of her career such as "Playback Part II". The song was the title track for Yamaguchi's 16th album from December 1978, although it was released as a B-side to her later 25th single, "Bi - Silent"(美・サイレント...Beauty/Silent)in March 1979.

The title, I was intrigued to find out, refers to the Red Spider Lily (Lycoris radiata) which was originally from China, Korea and Nepal before it was introduced to Japan and later even to America (thank you Wikipedia). To make a direct quote from that Wiki article: "People believe that since the Red Spider Lily is mostly associated with death that one should never give a bouquet of these flowers." (thanks to Gerald Klingaman from "Plant of the Week: Red Spiderlily") Plus, the bulbs of the flower are very poisonous.

Well, with that sort of reputation, I could only imagine what Aki's lyrics are all about. Love is mentioned a fair bit and the title is repeated regularly. And when you consider that it is the triumvirate of Aki, Uzaki and Yamaguchi, the song probably wasn't a happy-go-lucky ditty. In fact, in keeping with the spider theme, I kept thinking about the Black Widow spider. It looks like Momoe was once again in full tough...and perhaps vengeful...mode.

It was also interesting to compare the music between the Kurahashi and original Yamaguchi versions. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the former anywhere on the Net so you'll just have to go with my description that, as I mentioned earlier, it has that somewhat exotic travel feeling with the synthesizer (and around that time, there was an interest in kayo with a hint of foreign exoticism). Both versions have that wailing electric guitar slicing through the air along with the overall sense of drama, but the original version by Momoe also seems to have that feeling that the story is taking place a few centuries in the past in Japan as if an avenging geisha has just schemed to have a betraying paramour poisoned. I'm not sure whether Momoe had ever starred in a historical drama, but I could imagine her playing that role although considering her age back then, she probably would have been a maiko...just guessing, though.

The album "Manjuu Shaka" peaked at No. 7 while the single "Bi - Silent" with "Manjuu Shaka" as the B-side getting as high as No. 4 on the Oricon weeklies and ending up as the 34th-ranked song of 1979. As a final piece of trivia about the flower itself, it is also known as higanbana.


  1. I thought of mentioning this song when I saw an article on Ayako Fuji earlier, but I figured you'd cover this sooner or later. I suppose thisis as close as you'll get to the vengeful historical character femme fatale.

    I prefer Momoe's version, both for her vocals, which are more severe (reminiscent of the no nonsense performance of Playback Pt 2, and the coda, which has an unearthly feel to it (one Momoe fan on youtube paired it with the opening of Mahogany Morning).

    Whilst looking around for Ayako Fuji's version of this, I found this version by Hiromi Ota, which I'd never heard before. Like Hiromi Iwasaki's version of Cosmos, it takes a completely different direction from the original.

    Interestingly, this was one of 2 b sides during the blue dress section of Momoe's last Budokan concert, which were generally the songs that meant the most to her. This song is awfully famous for a b side, and probably better remembered than the a side.

    1. Hello there.

      I'd have to agree with you that the original Momoe version is the definitive one. I did forget to mention about that eerie somewhat psychodelic coda...perhaps in a way, the protagonist was also heading to her own doom by swallowing a bulb or simply going mad.

      I heard both versions by Fuji and Ota. The former version is how I would envision it sung usually...with that feeling of "Hell hath no fury than a woman scorned". The one by Ota is quite different indeed. It sounds more resigned as if she doesn't want to carry out her vengeance but has no choice.

      I was quite surprised that "Manjuu Shaka" was made into a B-side, especially since the album with that same title had come out several months before. "Bi - Silent" is probably the less famous of the two sides but after hearing that one, I will probably cover that one as well since the lyrics are rather intriguing, to say the least.


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