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, November 30, 2016

Keiko Fuji -- Kasuba no Onna (カスバの女)

Even though enka is not my thing, since I listened to Sanae Jounouchi’s (城之内早苗) “Ajisaibashi”, but also began researching Oricon’s singles charts from the 80s, the genre became more tolerable to my ears. That’s probably why I ended listening to Keijo Fuji’s (藤圭子) debut album “Shinjuku no Onna / ‘Enka no Hoshi’ Fuji Keiko no Subete” (新宿の女/“演歌の星藤圭子のすべて), originally released in March 1970.

At first, based on my limited knowledge, Keiko Fuji was solely the mother of famous J-Pop singer Hikaru Utada (宇多田ヒカル). However, I soon discovered she was a very famous enka singer in the 70s as well, so – as I’ve been a little bit more open to enka recently – I decided to check her debut album to see what it sounded like.

To my surprise, the majority of the songs are a little bit far from the enka I’m used to when watching NHK’s year-end extravaganza Kouhaku Uta Gassen (NHK紅白歌合戦). Keiko’s songs are more akin to Showa Era Kayo Kyoku – with all the influences ranging from Jazz, Blues and other Western genres – than to the epic and more Japanese-like enka songs.

One song from the album that quickly caught my attention was “Kasuba no Onna”, a cover of a song originally released in 1955 by Eto Kunieda (エト邦枝). What I liked the most in Keiko’s version was the Mood Kayo sound that made me travel in time to Japan’s post-war period. Something in the melancholic arrangement, coupled with Keiko’s draggy yet emotional performance, made me fall in love with this number.

In the end, even though it was not quite the enka album I was expecting, I liked its overall Showa Era sound a lot. Unfortunately, Keiko retired from the music scene after a decade of success in the industry. Recently, in 2013, she died after commiting suicide.

To finish, here’s Eto Kunieda – the original singer – performing “Kasuba no Onna” with all the elegance and class of a veteran in 1976, 21 years after her original recording.

Lyrics for “Kasuba no Onna” were written by Hisawo Ootaka (大高ひさを), while music was composed by Akira Kugayama (久我山明). Keiko’s “Shinjuku no Onna...” album reached #1 on the Oricon charts, staying in the top position for more than 20 weeks (21 or 22 weeks, depending on the source).



  1. Hi, Marcos.

    I think Noelle and I will turn you into an enka enthusiast in the next few years! :)

    Yup, when I was growing up, I really didn't appreciate the genre until a lot later in life. Now that nostalgia has gotten into my system, I'm a lot more accepting of enka and Mood Kayo.

    I would say Fuji is much more into the Mood Kayo area than straight enka. Her environment seems to be in the dimly-lit alleys of Shinjuku where all of the drinking takes place. What helps her stand out are those jaded and ragged vocals.

    1. Hi, J-Canuck.

      I can't say I'll be an enthusiast, but I will probably not reject the genre as I usually did many years ago.

      I've been listening to Sanae Jounouchi's debut album "Fuyu Shibai" for over a month now, and unlike "Ajisaibashi", which is a light take on the genre, the album is a very nice collection of enka songs with compelling melodies and clever arrangements. Other than that, I'm a big fan of Takashi Hosokawa's version of "Naniwa Bushi da yo, Jinsei wa", and even like a little bit of Ryuko Mizuta as well (I started with her cover of "Yopparachatta" that Noelle highlighted earlier this year, but I soon started listening to her enka songs as well).

      As for Keiko, I agree that her songs are more along Mood Kayo than enka.The thing is, every place I read about her, commented how great of an enka singer she was, so I started listening to her album truly awaiting for enka. Honestly speaking, I liked even more that the album was along the lines of Mood Kayo. It even reminded how I wanted to buy one of Akina Nakamori's cover albums that were centered in Mood Kayo. It's called "Mood Kayou ~Utahime Showa Meikyoku Shuu~" (released in 2009), and I think you'd like very much. Unfortunately, it's already sold out.

    2. Hi, Marcos.

      I just heard that Ryuko Mizuta cover of "Imitation Gold" and although her vocals are slightly less smoky than Momoe's, she still had the style down pat. Those first lyrics had me reminded of the singer herself.

      Keiko Fuji was quite the standout. I could say that her songs were equivalent to some of those American cryin' country songs but that wouldn't be quite accurate. There was always a certain Fujiesque tone struck by the lyrics and her vocals which gave the image of an unhappy and resigned woman deep in the heart of the Shinjuku drinking scene.

      I actually purchased a couple of Akina albums over the past couple of weeks but neither of them are part of the "Utahime" series. However now that you mention it, I may pick one of the discs up to hear her interpretation of some of the old kayo.

  2. Hi Marcos.

    Good, good, let the enka/Mood Kayo flow through you... Ha ha.

    Wow, I never expected an article on Fuji from you - the write-up on Sanae Jounouchi stunned me at first but then again, she was a former aidoru. On the other hand, Keiko Fuji, though the mother of Hikaru Utada, was nowhere near aidoru herself and is probably considered the queen of the heavy, angsty type of Mood Kayo.

    But surprise aside, I'm glad you're beginning to listen to Mood Kayo and enka more, even if you aren't going to be a big fan of the genres. Fuji is a good start, and I do believe because of that you would have gotten used to/started to like MK that will still take me a while to swallow - e.g. "Kasuba no Onna".

    1. Hi, Noelle.

      "Angsty"...that's a good adjective to describe Fuji. I guess if there were a grunge sub-genre in Mood Kayo, she would have been at the forefront. :)


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