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 8, 2016

Yutaka Yamakawa -- Hakodate Honsen (函館本線)

Now that I've gotten myself Yutaka Yamakawa's (山川豊) 2015 compilation album (one from my online CD haul) I've come to realise that the enka crooner's vocals have two sides to it - nasally and strange, but can be deep and resonant. For the longest time I tend to notice just the former especially whenever I were to see him on TV, which I can't say I'm very fond of. It's only after getting the album and listening to the tracks when I got to hear the latter, and subsequently surprisingly good combinations of both. To me, where I found the fruity side of his voice shone the brightest was, ironically, in "Hakodate Honsen".

Ah, "Hakodate Honsen"... It feels like this song and I have finally come to amicable terms. Almost three years of constant enka and countless appearances of Yamakawa performing his debut on the NHK stage, but all it took was a purchase of a CD to make me like "Hakodate Honsen" (a lot). While I wasn't particularly thrilled when I played the track upon receiving my order, what managed to grab my attention and made me come back for more was Yamakawa's rumbling delivery that felt different from what I'd hear on "Uta Kon" or "BS (Shin) Nippon no Uta" nowadays. Being most likely the original take on the song his voice was all the aforementioned resonant side, and that I find strangely warm and comfortable to listen. At the same time, it gives an extra layer of melancholy to a song that already has a heavy atmosphere.

Those are some thick eyebrows.

With a positive point to look forward to in "Hakodate Honsen", I then turned my attention to the melody. Composed by Yoshiaki Komada (駒田良昭), the slow and rhythmic beat with the drone of what may be some kind of horn makes it sound very somber, but the shrill strings makes it a little more exciting and gives it a slightly dramatic edge. As for the lyrics, brought to you by Eiji Takino (たきのえいじ), they have Yamakawa singing in the perspective of a sad woman who had left her lover to return to Hokkaido via the Hakodate Main Line, or Hakodate Honsen. The scene is set as the train heads towards the Ishikari Plains, and our protagonist is gazing at the rolling fields and despairing about having to leave that fellow.

"Hakodate Honsen" was released on 5th February 1981, and while there's no record of how well it sold, it managed to shoot Yamakawa to stardom and won him the "Best Newcomer Award" at the 23rd Japan Record Awards in that year. However, he only sang it once during his 10th appearance on the 54th Kohaku, 22 years after it came out. I really hope Yamakawa gets to sing "Hakodate Honsen" on TV again soon, even though Yamakawa would be singing it in that strange voice he's been using in the recent decade - nope, my past self would never have thought I'd ever say that.

Man, that was a tough and annoying writer's block. Don't think I've worked on one article for more than two weeks!


  1. Hello, Noelle.

    Yeah, that was one mighty unibrow that Yamakawa once sported way back when. I'm kinda wondering when it decided to undergo mitosis. :)

    All the tropes of enka in there...the woman who goes on a pilgrimage into the countryside to recover from a romantic breakup, and that trip into the northern regions. It's kinda weird that enka characters like to head out north instead of south, but I guess places like Okinawa were probably seen as warm and sunny, and therefore happier. No offense to any of those folks in Hokkaido who might be reading this. :)

  2. It took a while, but I do believe Yamakawa's eyebrows began to undergo mitosis by the 90's. :)

    Man, I can't imagine a melancholic enka being set in somewhere like Okinawa. It's too laid back and sunny and warm, and the character would probably be relaxing by the beach with a cocktail in hand rather than at a bar crying into hot sake. To emphasize the character's gloomy mood, rain or snow falling by the tonne combined with chilly temperatures is the best, and Hokkaido/Aomori fits the bill - also, no offence, guys.


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