Asakusa is quite the fine shitamachi neighbourhood. I had the pleasure of working there for 2 years when I was teaching at the local NOVA branch just across from Asakusa Station over a KFC and around the corner from a McDonalds (guess what I usually ate most of the time). And when I stayed at the Toyoko Inn in the area during my 2014 trip back to Tokyo, I was reminded how very convenient it is in terms of pretty much everything from food to shopping to transportation. Plus, it does have all those festivals including the Sumida River Fireworks Festival on the final Saturday of July.
This article will be talking about the 1959 enka song "Asakusa Shimai" (The Asakusa Sisters) as sung by Komadori Shimai（こまどり姉妹）, a twin sister act from Hokkaido featuring Eiko and Yoko Namiki（並木栄子・並木葉子）. Born in 1938, they grew up in poverty and early in their lives, they began their careers as street musicians. In 1951, their family moved down south to Tokyo where they lived in cheap accommodations in the San'ya area right next to Asakusa. And there they continued to stroll the entertainment districts as musicians with their shamisen.
Several years later in 1959, they were scouted after which the Namiki Sisters took on the stage name of the Komadori Shimai (Japanese Robin Sisters) and debuted with "Asakusa Shimai". Initially, the song was to have been another song known as "Shamisen Shimai"（三味線姉妹）but to illustrate the sisters' lives in the Asakusa area, "Asakusa Shimai" was chosen. "Shamisen Shimai" would become their 2nd single which came out the following month.
Written by Miyuki Ishimoto（石本美由紀）and composed by Minoru Endo（遠藤実）for release as their debut in October 1959, "Asakusa Shimai" is a somewhat sad tale of the two sisters toiling away in the neighbourhood as entertainers in the hopes that someday they will see their mother again. I wouldn't be surprised if quite a few tears were shed by folks in the audience whenever they performed that particular ballad.
The rags to riches story did come to the sisters fairly quickly after that. In 1961, Komadori Shimai received their first invitation to the Kohaku Utagassen after which they appeared 6 more times in a row up to 1967. In addition, they not only appeared quite a few times in movies, they also had their own TV show for a year on NTV from 1962 to 1963. Pretty heady stuff for the sisters, I gather, since they were still in their early 20s at the time. Of course, their singing career also flourished with most of their output being heard during the 1960s, although there was a small renaissance from the mid-1980s into the 1990s. Their latest song was released in March 2014, their first release in 18 years. The sisters even still pop up on shows such as "Uta Kon"（うたコン）from time to time.
Note about that video just above...it looks like Yoko on the right there may have changed her stage name back to her original name of Toshiko（敏子）.
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