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, December 3, 2015

Shinichi Mori/Sayuri Ishikawa/Keiko Fuji -- Kita no Hotaru (北の螢)

There were a couple of kayo tropes I picked up from "Kita no Hotaru" (Fireflies of the North) when I heard it once again on the most recent episode of "Kayo Concert"(歌謡コンサート)the other day. One is that old-style Japanese songwriters do like their flying animals. There have been a multitude of titles featuring various birds (the more migratory the better) to represent the protagonist's wish to either escape his/her current fate or to send a message of love/regret to a former paramour. Insects are another example, and one of the better-loved ones have been fireflies. A summer fixture, the bio-luminescent firefly has been part and parcel of a family's memories or a catalyst for potential romance (especially when it comes to anime) in Japan. In my town of Tsukiyono back in my JET days, there was an annual firefly festival which took place around the local Bullet Train station.

"Kita no Hotaru" is once again one of those songs whose intro I can recognize immediately because of how the horns glide into original singer Shinichi Mori's(森進一)vocals. Released in August 1984 (perfect timing for fireflies), it was written by legendary Yu Aku(阿久悠)and composed by Takashi Miki(三木たかし), and speaking about vocals, this leads me into the second trope. I think all enka singers have had to show their fair share of anguish in their performances to reflect crushing regret/melancholy/defiance. Mori is one of the enka singers who I think is one of the aces of anguish. And with "Kita no Hotaru", I believe he is taking on the woman's role as he pleads with the insect of choice to relay feelings of regret over to an old flame. He may not have tears in his eyes but there's no doubt that he's singing from an unhappy place.

The ballad managed to peak at No. 22 on Oricon, but it also won a Gold Prize at the Japan Record Awards and a Grand Prize at the Japan Lyricist Awards. Sasuga, Aku-sensei!

(Sorry, the Ishikawa version has been taken down.)

Speaking about aces of anguish, Sayuri Ishikawa(石川さゆり)and the late Keiko Fuji(藤圭子)provided their own cover versions of "Kita no Hotaru". Both of their versions carry that albatross of regret but I could also detect a certain layer of "How dare you?!" anger/resentment in there.


  1. Hi there J-Canuck.

    While watching Mori perform that night, I was wondering why "Kita no Hotaru" sounded so familiar, especially those dramatic strings at the start. And then I remembered hearing it first via one of Korokke's spoofs where he hatched from a large egg and hopped around as a "Mori-saurus" to this song. It was quite amusing. You can check it out in the link; "Kita no Hotaru" is at the 1:55 mark.

    Thanks for the explaination about why enka lyricists love to incorporate flying creatures into their songs. I had been wondering about that for a while, and eventually I simply thought that the birds - especially the sea gulls for sea-related enka or enka with a port for a setting - just happened to be there. Never thought that they had a deeper meaning.

    As for enka singers having to express anguish and sadness through their vocals, I too think that's a necessary trait, plus I feel that their facial expressions need to fit the song too e.g. if the song is sad, they shouldn't be grinning from ear to ear. A good 80% of enka have melancholic topics, so being able to deliver the right mood for such a song is important. Can you imagine the fella singing "Wakare no Ippon Sugi" or, well, "Kita no Hotaru" in the same manner as "Kita Sakaba" with a wide grin on his face? I'd probably want to take a fan to hit his head!

    Well, on to "Kita no Hotaru". I find that Mori's delivery was a combination of forlorn and anguish, whereas Ishikawa was more of forlorn. Fuji had a knack for being able to convey anguish, so it was no different for "Kita no Hotaru".

    1. Hello, Noelle.

      I just saw green Mori-saurus and I just thought "Oh, that Korokke...". The fun thing about him is that he not only does the impression but also extrapolates it into even crazier forms.

      As for the bird analogy that pops up a lot...I noticed that because of writing on the blog. I just saw many bird references through the various titles over the decades.

      I think the songwriters or vocal coaches really work hard with the singers to wrench out the emotions through voice and facial expression. There is almost something kabuki or Butoh about their training. Perhaps there is a connection. I certainly could not imagine "Kita no Hotaru" or "Sake yo" being sung in a major key; it would be almost like parodying the song.


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