First off, I did catch that tsunami alert on NHK which went on 4 hours earlier today. The earthquake which had preceded it was moderate but nothing like the 2011 temblor at a Shindo 5 minus, but that tsunami warning immediately had everyone on edge. When I saw that large red-and-white banner on the screen literally screaming 「にげて」(flee!), that definitely held my attention and concern for a good long while. I am hoping that the only damage to the Pacific coast was just to everyone's wits.
Continuing on, last week during the Kyoto-themed episode of "Uta Kon" (うたコン), I heard a rather unusual song on the show called "Shamisen Boogie-Woogie". In recent years, there have been some attempts at melding genres such as rock with traditional Japanese music. Little did I know that the mixing and matching had been occurring as far back as the immediate postwar era.
So it was in 1949, when this song combined some nice old enka with something jazzy and had it performed by Ichimaru（市丸）, a singer as well as a professional geisha. Born in 1906 as Matsue Goto（後藤まつゑ）in Matsumoto City, Nagano Prefecture, she left home in her mid-teens to work at a geisha house and gradually went up through the ranks to become a geisha but also did extra training to improve her singing skills. In 1931, the Victor Recording Company took notice and signed her up so that she could record 3 songs to start her career that year.
Following World War II, Ichimaru, who already had recorded numerous songs to her credit, took an interest in American culture and especially one of America's greatest exports to the world, jazz. From this admiration was born the hit "Shamisen Boogie-Woogie", this rather eclectic mix of shamisen and swing. Written by Takao Saeki（佐伯孝夫）and composed by Ryoichi Hattori（服部良一）, I think "Shamisen Boogie-Woogie" could have the progenitor for a number of Hibari Misora's（美空ひばり）uptempo songs (she was just a kid when this song was released) and maybe even the whole dodonpa music fad a number of years later.
And here I was thinking that New Music and City Pop were the original Japanese music genres to meld Western melodies with Japanese lyrics. Well, perhaps I'm being a bit overly generous with that assessment. "Shamisen Boogie-Woogie" still sounds mostly like a tune that I would hear at a summer festival in Japan but still, it does have that melodic feeling of a glass of shochu spiked with a few hits of scotch.
Strangely enough, Ichimaru hasn't been the only geisha-singer that I have written about in the last few weeks.