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, December 2, 2015

Jero -- Umi Yuki (海雪)

Upon entering the world of enka, besides your usual Itsuki, Hikawa and Sabu-Chan, I kept seeing word of Jero (ジェロ), also known as "The first African-American enka singer". That in itself was interesting - to know that enka has become so international - but what was really amusing was the fact that he's known for appearing on stage in more casual attire with cap askew and sneakers rather than a proper suit or kimono. Of course, his record company wasn't too thrilled on that idea initially and would rather him dressed more appropriately (by enka standards), but he managed to convince them that it (what you see now) fits his persona better. Seeing Jero like that in his hip-hop, ghetto-esque get-up makes one assume that he's a typical rapper, but his smooth and fruity vocals as he croons kayo classics puts him in the same league as a number of the more straight-laced enka balladeers.

Last night, Jero made an appearance on "Kayo Concert", this time dressed slightly more formally save for his trademark sneakers. The theme for this week was winter, so naturally he sang his debut hit, "Umi Yuki". I had heard it a while back, but it never fully registered in my mind until now, and boy is it one cool song with its funky beat and the roar of the electric guitar. It's not so much of enka as it is R&B, and in the MV above you get to see Jero with two other fellows doing a hip-hop dance routine to it. Not surprisingly, Ryudo Uzaki (宇崎竜童) was the one responsible for creating this rock-tinged fusion. The lyrics were done by Yasushi Akimoto (秋元康), and they are definitely on the enka side as they seem to talk about love lost.

Born as Jerome Charles White, Jr. in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Jero had an interest in enka since he was young due to his grandmother's influence (she hailed from Japan) and studied Japanese while in high school and college. When he moved to Japan, he had been working as an English teacher and a computer engineer. It was only until he had promised his grandmother that he would perform on the Kohaku did he veer on to the path of becoming an enka singer. Eventually he was discovered after getting through on "Nodojiman" and winning a karaoke competition, and a few years later in 2008, he debuted with "Umi Yuki", which was very well received. It peaked at 4th place on the Oricon charts and had stayed at 1st place on the enka charts for 12 consecutive weeks, and it is a certified Platinum record. This allowed Jero to bag the "Best Newcomer" award at the 50th Japan Record Awards, and the song managed to be the overall winner at the 41st Japan Lyricist Awards. With that many accolades under his belt in just that one year, Jero earned a spot on the Kohaku, as he had promised grandma. Unfortunately, she wasn't able to catch his performance as she had passed away 3 years before. Quite sad, really, but I bet she would have been immensely proud.


  1. Hello, Noelle.

    When I first saw the video for "Umi Yuki", I thought "Well, this could be the first hip-hop/enka song in Japanese history". And at the time, I was just trying to imagine a hit enka singer straight from Pittsburgh, but he was able to slip into the role very smoothly. Even my mother was impressed by the fellow and she's hoping that he will come up with another big hit sometime soon.

    1. Well, I kinda thought that "Umi Yuki" was the first hip-hop and enka fusion, but then I just remembered that George Yamamoto and Noritake Kinashi had released "ROMAN" in the mid-90's, which is quite hippity-hop for an enka tune - more on the enka side than "Umi Yuki", I feel.

      I know this may sound like a rather strange thing to ask and I hope you don't mind (if you do then it's alright), but... who are your parents' favourite enka singers...? It just crossed my mind after you said that your mom doesn't mind Jero, and you've mentioned about some of their preferences from time to time e.g. Kouhei Fukuda, so I'm quite curious to know who else is on their list.

    2. No problems at all on your question. Well, my parents are pretty demanding on singers' abilities and variety of songs. They are definitely unimpressed by Aki Yashiro and anyone who seems to sing the same sort of song every time. Oh, and I think Kiyoko Suizenji is also a thumbs-down to them. In fact, Cheetah came here for a concert last month. When I asked them if they were planning to see her, they immediately said "No way!"

      I think they are partial to singers who have that minyo background so Kouhei Fukuda is definitely someone they like. I believe they also respect Yoshimi Tendo and perhaps Hiroshi Itsuki to a certain extent.

      If I may also ask then, I know that your mother has no love for Sabu-chan but is there an enka singer that is one of her favourites?

    3. Thanks for sharing about your parents' preferences. :) For my mom's preferences, she's a fan of Hibari Misora and Takashi Hosokawa, but only likes songs that aren't too enka-y e.g. she loves Hibari's "Ai San San", but turns off when something like "Yawara" comes on. She doesn't seem to mind Kiyoshi Maekawa and Ikuzo Yoshi because of their comedy streak, and Yoshimi Tendo too if I'm not wrong. Surprisingly, the Yon'nin Shu and Yoshio Tabata have gained her approval... just in appearance, not their singing.

      As for those she disapproves of (besides ol'Kitajima), Kiyoshi Hikawa (she says he's a vain pot) and Hiroshi Itsuki, but she seems to be seeing them in a better light now. However, the fact that I'm considering to buy Itsuki's calendar still brings a frown to her face. Keisuke Yamauchi is on this list as well (I'm not a fan of him either), and Aki Yashiro. I think her list of disapprovals runs a lot longer than this.

      About Hosokawa, do your parents like him too? He's got a history in minyo and was mentored by a great minyo practitioner.

    4. Hello, Noelle.

      Although I've enjoyed the gamut of "traditional Japanese music" in the last number of years, I can agree with your mother in that my particular favourites would be less in the very enka area and more in the Mood Kayo genre.

      My parents seem to be OK with Kiyoshi Hikawa (I wonder if it would be too sacrilegious to call him the Justin Bieber of enka? ha ha) although sometimes I wonder if he does admire himself in the mirror a bit too much.

      Hosokawa also passes muster with my parents. As you said, he was mentored by a minyo master so that would gain him their approval.


Feel free to provide any comments (pro or con). Just be civil about it.