Credits

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.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Akiko Wada -- Saa Boken da (さあ冒険だ)


Since I've gotten into that nostalgic "Ponkikies"(ポンキッキーズ)mood thanks to writing about "Kimi to Boku"(キミとボク)in the last several minutes, I found another catchy song from the Fuji-TV kids' show. The songs used for the program were not only used in the music segments but also for the intros and outros. One particular song that resonated with me at the end of an episode was "Saa Boken da" (Hey, It's An Adventure) since the video involved scenes from the 1902 French movie "A Trip to the Moon".

This was sung by veteran soul singer Akiko Wada(和田アキ子)as her 59th single from September 1995. At first, I hadn't been able to recognize that it was the relatively tall and tough Wada since she approached it vocally with a lighter touch, and certainly it was a different sort of melody for her. In fact, I was downright impressed by the names involved in the making of "Saa Boken da". Chisato Moritaka(森高千里)and Shigesato Itoi(糸井重里)wrote the lyrics while Tatsuya Ishii(石井竜也)of Kome Kome Club(米米CLUB)took care of the music with the band arranging the whole thing.


"Saa Boken da" has that fun and carefree spirit of a road trip whether by car or motorcycle, and it looks like it was filtered through The Beatles with that harmonica in there. However, that melody also seems to be following a pattern similar to that old musical song "Ol' Man River". And just like that standard, "Saa Boken da" keeps rolling along to the next destination.


Another Akiko...Akiko Yano(矢野顕子)...gave her own soulful R&B version on the song. It's done in that unique Yano way.


LanLan Suzuki -- Kimi to Boku (キミとボク)


This particular article takes me back quite nicely. Not to the 70s or 80s, mind you, but to the 90s. A bit recent to be sure but those were the early days of my time in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture. I got to know my immediate neighbourhood in this bedroom community along with the larger Tokyo area, and within the area of pop culture, I started becoming acquainted with a new group of musicians and tarento on TV.


One such person I got to know is in the above video. Born as Tomoko Suzuki(鈴木智子)of Tokyo, her stage name is LanLan Suzuki(鈴木蘭々). With her complexion and those rather large eyes, I had assumed that the lass was half-Japanese but such was not the case. During the 1990s, she was popping up on TV in ads and shows because of those looks and her adorably goofy personality.


One of the first things that I saw her in was the Fuji-TV kids program "Ponkikies"(ポンキッキーズ)on weekday mornings during which she was paired with future superstar Namie Amuro(安室奈美恵)as a pair of cute bunny figures known collectively as Sister Rabbits to perform just-as-cute songs. Mind you, the above video had the duo doing a fair bit of cosplay. Amuro had the vocal chops but so did LanLan.


Music was one of the attractions of "Ponkikies" (which is why I've added the show as a Label category on the right), and LanLan Suzuki contributed her own song close to the end of her tenure on the show titled "Kimi to Boku" (You and Me) as the 9th of her 10th singles which was released in May 1998.

Written and composed by EPO, this is a nice and light bossa nova ideal for the kiddies with the singalong part inside. I remember seeing LanLan perform this a number of times during the music segments of "Ponkikies" and listening to it again after so many years has given me that nice natsukashii glow. Her delivery with that slight warble reminds me of a mellower Kohmi Hirose(広瀬香美).


Going into this century, I didn't see her nearly as much as before so I did wonder whether she had retired from showbiz but from what I've read on her J-Wiki bio is that she has still been acting on stage and in TV dramas, although her music career ended in 2001.

Incidentally, I thought Ms. Suzuki's stage name had been spelled as "RanRan" and the article about her on Wikipedia has it spelled that way. However since the lady herself has titled her blog as "LanLan", I will go with that.

(cover version by vocalist
Asami Suzuki...probably no relation)

Maki Watase -- Pearl Monde Kiss (パールモンド・Kiss)



Now, this is quite the find. As I read on a Japanese site, it wouldn't be surprising if there were quite a few folks who would be surprised on finding out the identity of this late 1980s aidoru. I had mentioned years ago when I wrote about rock band Lindberg's big hit "Ima Sugu Kiss Me"(今すぐkiss me)that I hadn't known anything about pixieish vocal Maki Watase's(渡瀬麻紀)brief aidoru past.

Well, here she is. Instead of the spiky-haired lady wearing those somewhat New Wave-y outfits, Watase had worn those cute aidoru-friendly dresses and sported a hairdo reminiscent of Akina Nakamori's(中森明菜)early days. To be honest, I had seen photos of her such as the one above in various magazines such as "Myojo" to advertise a talent management company so my knowledge of how she looked back at the beginning was already there. Apparently, she was inspired enough by Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子)that she decided to enter show business.

However, I hadn't known how she sounded until the last couple of days. Her debut was "Pearl Monde Kiss" which I think is how it would be romanized. It did help a little that the catchphrase attributed to her at the time was "Shinjuu no you na onna no ko"(真珠のような女の子...A girl like a pearl).

(starts at 2:12)

"Pearl Monde Kiss" was released in June 1987 and it was written and composed by Kyoko Matsumiya(松宮恭子). A not-too-bad peppy tune with a plethora of squeaky synths, it's interesting to see Watase bopping around making those typical aidoru moves with her hands and arms. She definitely wouldn't have looked out of place on any of those variety shows with musical segments.

I don't know how her debut single did or how her aidoru age went but sometime in 1988, she got acquainted with Tatsuya Hirakawa(平川達也)who was one of the backup musicians during that time. Hirakawa in turn introduced her to his buddies Tomohisa Kawazoe(川添智久)and Masanori Koyanagi(小柳昌法)and they all created Lindberg with their debut in 1989.

Apparently no albums came out of her time as an aidoru with only 3 singles marking her time as a teenybopper singer. However, her first album as a solo pop singer was released in September 1995, "message d'amour" which had a markedly more mature sound when compared to those early days. By that point, her name was slightly changed to 渡瀬マキ.


Off-Course -- Natsu no Owari (夏の終わり)


Let's see...I spent a good hunk of time trying to figure out what was wrong with the replacement cable box for the TV this morning and then a small construction team ended up fixing something right beside our condo with power tools without letting me know. I don't really meditate but I was making the words "calm blue ocean" a mantra for the past few hours. Needed a bit of stress relief.


Cooler temperatures have helped. Also, coming across this old chestnut by Kazumasa Oda's(小田和正)old band, Off-Course(オフコース), has also assisted immeasurably. Technically speaking, "Natsu no Owari" (The End of Summer) might be late by about a week but things are still transitioning here meteorologically so it's perfectly fine by me. And hearing Oda, who wrote/composed/sang this track from the band's 6th album, "Fairway", is very soothing as usual.

Another example of the band's tendency to wax romantically on old times. "Natsu no Owari" is chicken soup or chamomile tea for the J-Pop soul as Oda reminisces on an old flame. This might be just the ballad to sing on a guitar around a camp fire. "Fairway", by the way, was released in October 1978 and broke the Top 10 by peaking at No. 8.

The power tools have died down for now and the television in my room which was actually down for several weeks is finally back up. But to be honest, the idiot box wasn't missed too much by me although it's nice to have it running again. I found I could focus a lot more on the professional (translation) and the leisurely (this blog).

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Yujiro Ishihara -- Akai Hankachi (赤いハンカチ)


Not sure how that folded piece of fabric is used in your part of the world or if it even exists in your country, but here in North America, the good old handkerchief seems to merely have two uses if it is even used at all anymore: showing or blowing. However in Japan, the hanky is still a fairly essential piece of the wardrobe all the way from childhood into adulthood. I amassed a good number of handkerchiefs during my time there since I definitely needed them during the summers to mop my brow. And when it came to visits to public washrooms in the early years of my stay, they also came in handy after washing up (nowadays a lot of the places have those Dyson hand dryers); and believe me, the majority of those JR and Tokyo subway stations often made people forget that Japan is seen as one of the cleanest nations on Earth.



Earlier today, I wrote an article involving a Hiromi Ohta(太田裕美)song, and of course, she is famous for that sunny and cheerful breakthrough hit, "Momen no Handkerchief"(木綿のハンカチーフ)in 1975. So, ironically enough, I'm going for another song involving that pocket square but this one is more somber. And it's called "Akai Hankachi" (Red Handkerchief), a Yujiro Ishihara(石原裕次郎)song from 1962. It became such a hit that the powers-that-be decided to expand it into a movie a couple of years later which seemed to have been the custom with hit songs in Japan in the middle of the 20th century.

The movie is described as follows from a 2008 press release of the Monthly Classics Series presented by The Japan Society in New York City:

Red Handkerchief defines Nikkatsu’s "mood action" aesthetic. In the film, Ishihara plays Mikami, a detective trying to crack a big drug case that goes awry when he fatally shoots the witness. After four years in exile, Mikami returns to Yokohama to determine the truth about the unsolved case and his shady ex-partner, who is now married to the woman he loves. Series curator Mark Shilling notes, "In the ultimate Nikkatsu ‘mood action’ movie, the passionate reunions between Ishihara and Asaoka in Ishihara’s seedy hotel room have a ripe romanticism, soaked in noir atmospherics, that makes comparisons with Casablanca not absurd." Nikkatsu studio star Joe Shishido (A Colt is My Passport, Branded to Kill) hailed Red Handkerchief as "the best Nikkatsu Action movie."

Looking at the first 4 minutes of the movie as shown in the above video, it certainly starts off with a hard-boiled simmer as punches are quickly thrown in a dark abandoned part of town. Incidentally, the tec partner of Ishihara's Mikami is played by Hideaki Nitani(二谷英明), another actor who along with Ishihara would become bosses in their own separate TV cop shows in the 1970s. Maybe some of the head honchos in the television industry remembered those two from "Akai Hankachi" and "promoted" them to squad chiefs. Moving on, from seeing that opening and some of the scenes in the other imported videos below, Shilling may have been onto something when he made that comparison to the legendary "Casablanca" which happens to be one of my favourite old movies.



It was interesting seeing The Big Man crooning the song as above through the bar-packed streets (reminded me of the mock-up of 1960s Tokyo at Yokohama's Ramen Museum). Remembering Ishihara as the tall and lean young tough who drummed up a storm in the 1950s and then as the burly seen-it-all father figure in his cop shows of the 1970s, he looked like he was in transition above. He wasn't nearly as gangly in the 1960s and there was a bit more grizzle about him. Plus, his singing style with "Akai Hankachi" had me reminiscing about his later years as the inveterate Mood Kayo singer with a bar surrounding him and a tumbler of Old Parr in his hand.



The full recorded version of "Akai Hankachi" sounds a bit more enka than the Latin-infused version that starts the movie and the performance by Ishihara when he strolls the streets. Written by Shiro Hagiwara(荻原四朗)and composed by Kenroku Uehara(上原兼六), the original version's arrangement has me thinking more of a traveling ronin in the Edo Era rather than an intrepid detective in postwar Japan, aside from the trombone. Hagiwara's lyrics also take things into a more rustic setting as Ishihara sings about a man perhaps looking from afar at his former belle dabbing her tears with that red handkerchief (perhaps his) under an acacia tree, probably lamenting that he will never meet her again.


After hearing this ballad by Ishihara, I could have used a stiff belt myself.

Hiromi Ohta/Hitomi Ishikawa -- Ku-gatsu no Ame (九月の雨)


We haven't gotten too much rain this month but today was the day for a goodly amount of precipitation in the Toronto area. Not a bad thing at all considering how dry it was during the summer months, and it's always nice to see the lawn pop up in a brilliant green the day after.


So for my daily contribution to "Kayo Kyoku Plus", let's go with the appropriate "Ku-gatsu no Ame" (September Rain) by 70s aidoru Hiromi Ohta(太田裕美). According to J-Wiki, her 9th single from September 1977 (good golly, 39 years ago!) was her 3rd big hit following the very sunny "Momen no Handkerchief"(木綿のハンカチーフ)in 1975 and "Akai High Heel"(赤いハイヒール)a year later.

As with those previous two hits, "Ku-gatsu no Ame" was created for Ohta by the prolific Takashi Matsumoto and Kyohei Tsutsumi(松本隆・筒美京平). With Tsutsumi's mix of kayo and a dash of disco in there along with the singer's vocals, the overall effect reminded me of the early sounds of another Hiromi....Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美), and not surprisingly, Tsutsumi was also creating hits for Ms. Iwasaki at the time. As for Matsumoto, his lyrics relate the tale of a young woman in the back of one of Tokyo's reliable taxis driving through the rain as she wonders about her boyfriend probably canoodling with another woman. Not sure if the cabbie should inquire about this one.


Considering the urban milieu covered in "Ku-gatsu no Ame" and that nice fat bass thrumming away there, I could probably say that the song can belong in the City Pop genre. Although the video above is of a much older Ohta revisiting her 1977 hit, I read in the J-Wiki article that the song was her ticket to a 2nd appearance on the Kohaku Utagassen and during her performance, the Candies, Momoe Yamaguchi(山口百恵), Hatsumi Shibata (しばたはつみ) and Junko Sakurada(桜田淳子)acted as her back dancers twirling the umbrellas. I wouldn't mind seeing that scene someday on YouTube (and actually Anonymous did track it down below!).



As I said, the song was Ohta's 3rd big hit and it would turn out to be her final Top 10 song, peaking at No. 7. It was also the 40th-ranked single for 1977 and was a track on her 6th album from July 1977, "Coquettish"(こけてぃっしゅ).

Those big 3 hits for Ohta, especially her first one "Momen no Handkerchief", may be the songs that she will always be remembered for. However for me, that part of my heart reserved for the singer contains the really summery "Minami Kaze"(南風), the first song that I had ever heard from her on "Sounds of Japan". It may only have gone as high as No. 22 on Oricon but it is my sentimental favourite.


In 1978, aidoru Hitomi Ishikawa(石川ひとみ)made her debut and during that first year, she did a peppier cover of "Ku-gatsu no Ame" that until the 21st century had only been available on an audiotape titled "Kurumiwari Ningyo/Migimuke Migi=Watashi wa Hi-to-mi="(くるみ割り人形・右向け右 =わたしはひ・と・み=...The Nutcracker/Right-Turning Right=My Hi-to-mi=)released in that year in September. Then in 2002, it was included on a BEST compilation CD of her music, "78-86 Bokura no Best, Ishikawa Hitomi CD-BOX"(78-86ぼくらのベスト 石川ひとみCD-BOX...78-86 Our Best, Hitomi Ishikawa CD-BOX).

Now for a very City Pop song that is called "September Rain", check out Makoto Matsushita(松下誠).

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Chisato Moritaka -- Let's GO!


The impression that I've been getting from Chisato Moritaka(森高千里)after her chart-topping techno aidoru phase from the late 1980s going into the next decade is that she took on a slightly more down-to-earth Beatles-y sound. But I think she also wanted to achieve a summery stop-and-smell-the-roses tone in her songs as the 1990s passed by. "Watashi no Natsu"(私の夏)and "La-La-Sunshine" were two examples of the more laid back Chisato who seemed to want to now play on the sands of Shonan rather than among the towers of Tokyo.


Another later example was her 29th single "Let's GO!" from February 1997. During a time when the club pop sounds from Tetsuya Komuro(小室哲哉)and his folks were in the ascendant, it was nice to hear Moritaka, who had once brought her own form of boppy technopop years earlier, bring something more relaxing. I first heard "Let's GO!" on a series of  Lawson's convenience store commercials which starred her and YMO's Haruomi Hosono(細野晴臣)along with actor Masanobu Takashima(高嶋政伸), and there was just something that clicked between that soft and wistful song and the appeal of hitting the conbini for that wonderful karaage bento. Considering that the weeks leading up to the release of the song were in the winter months, it added that further incentive to me at least to head out for some warm (or warmed over) goodies from Lawson.


I was fortunate to live in a neighbourhood which was chock-full of convenience stores, and the local Lawson was the closest one to my apartment in Ichikawa. It was virtually a minute away just around the corner. The above video apparently has a few aidoru, perhaps members from Morning Musume(モーニング娘。)since Sayumi Michishige(道重さゆみ), the former leader of not only the Musume but of Hello Project in general, is in there. I just found out that she was the member with the longest-serving tenure in the group at 11 years and 10 months. Geez, she's 27 years old as of this writing...they grow so fast! Anyways, they are apparently going through on-the-job training. Well, it's kinda nice that Musume alumni have something to fall upon.


Getting back to the song, Chisato took care of the lyrics while Hiromasa Ijichi(伊秩弘将), who had helped out on a number of songs for Misato Watanabe(渡辺美里)and SPEED, composed "Let's GO!". It peaked at No. 19 and was included on her 12th album "Peachberry" from July 1997. In a Pavlovian sense, every time I hear the tune, I get this saliva-filled craving for bento with either karaage or hambaagu.


Shigeru Matsuzaki -- WONDERFUL MOMENT




Rather like all those supporting actors on the original "Star Trek" such as George Takei (Sulu) and the late James Doohan (Scotty), singer Shigeru Matsuzaki(松崎しげる)will probably end his days always being known for just that one song despite having released 44 singles to date since his debut in 1970. That would be the heart-on-your-sleeve ballad "Ai no Memory"(愛のメモリー)from 1977. Plus there is that perpetual tan of his and his appearances on all of those variety programs and commercials (in voice as well as in person).

However, Matsuzaki has also done his fair share of acting over the decades including this zany detective show on TBS from 1979-1982 called "Uwasa no Keiji Tomi to Matsu"(噂の刑事トミーとマツ...The Famous Detectives Tomi and Matsu). From what little I've seen of the show, the singer played the somewhat grumpy Detective Susumu Matsuyama who has to partner up with the faint-hearted Officer Tomio Okano to take care of cases that improbably get solved despite all of the comical stumbles that the team experiences.


The ending theme of the show turned out to be Matsuzaki's 21st single from September 1979, "WONDERFUL MOMENT" which is also a love song of sorts. However unlike the heartrending "Ai no Memory" with its touch of Latin, this ballad is as mellow and tropical as a trip down to Margueritaville. Perhaps it is where Matsuzaki's tec wanted to flee to after every case with his dopey partner. The singer's crooning style in this case reminds me of rocker Eiichi Yazawa(矢沢永吉)when he is at his most tenderhearted.

Yoshiko Miura(三浦徳子), who took care of a lot of those early Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子)tunes among her huge list of creations, wrote the lyrics while Juichi Sase(佐瀬寿一)composed the song. Sase, incidentally, was the same composer behind the hugely successful and legendary Oricon hit, "Oyoge! Taiyaki-kun"(およげ!たいやきくん)a few years earlier.


The above link heads to the ending credits for "Uwasa no Keiji Tomi to Matsu" which succinctly shows what the show is all about.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Hideaki Tokunaga -- Saigo no Iiwake (最後の言い訳)


Welcome back to "Kayo Kyoku Plus", Hideaki! It's been a good long while!

Starting off with a bit of an aside, as I've mentioned in a lot of my articles, in the late 1980s, my old friends from university and I used to hit this karaoke spot called Kuri in the tony Yorkville area at the end of the week for several hours of drinking and singing. Well, once I graduated from U of T, I had those 2 years in Gunma Prefecture on the JET Programme after which I came back for 3 years in T.O. for study. Joining up with my old university club for a second round, this next generation of members had a whole lot more working-holiday visa students so the karaoke routine was further perpetuated.

But it looks like Kuri went the way of the dodo during my time away so our small group ended up a little more downtown at a place called Sushi Bistro (also gone) on Queen West. There was the main restaurant on the first floor while on the second, there was a karaoke bar and then some private rooms acting as karaoke boxes. Thinking back on those nights there in the early 1990s, those rooms were fairly grotty compared to the sleek chambers of a typical Shidax or Big Echo karaoke complex but as long as we had the drinks and an operating karaoke facility in Toronto, we were all quite happy.


Anyways, one of our members in the 90s group had this one song that he enjoyed singing a lot any time we were at Sushi Bistro, and it was one of those tunes that I had completely forgotten about until very recently. It happened to be "Saigo no Iiwake" (The Last Excuse) by Hideaki Tokunaga(徳永英明), his 6th single from October 1988.

Written by Keiko Aso(麻生圭子)and composed by Tokunaga himself, "Saigo no Iiwake" is one gutwrenchingly sad ballad, especially when delivered by this singer with the high tones and the puppy dog face. Starting with this slow piano melody which sounds a bit like Pachelbel's "Canon", the whole song has this tone of a requiem to a lost relationship either by death or one big screw-up by the guy (considering the title, it's probably the latter). Tokunaga's music has these echoes of reminiscing about the good times anchored firmly in the sadness of the present, and when he goes into the refrain especially at the end, he absolutely embraces his inner anguish with that feeling of "WHAT WAS I THINKING?!" It probably had his many fans sobbing into their handkerchiefs and ready to run to his management, begging for his location to console him.


According to J-Wiki, Tokunaga had woven the melody to fit Aso's lyrics and in doing so, he started weeping. "Saigo no Iiwake" went as high as No. 4 on Oricon and took the very last spot in the 1988 Top 100. A year later, it was ranked at No. 69. The song is also a track on his 5th album, "Realize" from May 1989 which peaked at No. 2 on the weekly charts.


Shidax is quite the emporium for karaoke. Their branches look like a mix between a Disney facility and a Las Vegas hotel, and not surprisingly, I think they are the most expensive karaoke chain in Japan. But I gotta say that their food is pretty darn top-notch...at the same level of an izakaya. So it's too bad I heard that a number of their branches are going to be closed down gradually due to an economic shortfall.

Eri Fukatsu -- Yokohama Joke (YOKOHAMAジョーク)


Just by chance, I was able to encounter this video of a few figures who have become even more famous in Japan recently. The footage comes from about 25 years ago with the first several seconds being that of then-broadcaster Yuriko Koike(小池百合子)who I used to see in passing while I was channel surfing. She was the first host of TV Tokyo's "World Business Satellite" nighttime business news program.

And then following that, there is a scene from Beat Takeshi's old Sunday afternoon variety show "Super Jockey" with the comedian/director sitting as part of a panel while this cute and slim announcer chattily handled hosting duties. Her name is Renho(蓮舫)and I may have caught a glimpse of her now and then, and considering from my recent viewings of her on TV, I just went "Wow! Was that really her 25 years ago?"


Now for those folks who have been keeping up with the politics in Japan, Koike is now the first female governor of Tokyo (as well as a former Minister of Defense and Minister of the Environment) while Renho Murata has just become the new leader of the Democratic Party, the official Opposition Party against the ruling Liberal Democratic Party led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.


Considering that both Koike started her stint at "World Business Satellite" and that Renho began her career as a Clarion Girl in 1988, I decided to see if I could find someone who also made his or her singing debut in that particular year. Well, there were of course a number of young folks who climbed onto the stage and into the spotlight then but the one name that caught my eye was Eri Fukatsu(深津絵里)who is now a well-regarded award-winning actress.

She not only debuted as an actress in 1988 but she also started her short career as an aidoru with the release of her first single "Yokohama Joke" in October. A fairly loud song about a young lady venting about the guy she likes being with another lass, it does sound very 80s with those crashing metallic synths and drums. Looking at the video and the 15-year-old Fukatsu, though, I just kinda wondered whether she was musing "Ahhh....I guess I gotta pay my dues first, don't I?"

"Yokohama Joke" was written by Ayuko Ishikawa(石川あゆ子)and composed by Taro Kamon鹿紋太郎...not too sure about the pronunciation of that last name), and it later showed up as a track on her debut album "Applause"(アプローズ)which was released in February 1990. Strangely enough, Fukatsu also "debuted" again on the very same day as the release of "Yokohama Joke" under the name of Rie Takahara(高原里絵)with "Marionette Blue"(マリオネット・ブルー).


The above is the trailer for a recent Fukatsu flick "Kishibe no Tabi"(岸辺の旅...Journey to the Shore)which came out in 2015.

Amazon.co.jp

Monday, September 26, 2016

Tatsuro Yamashita -- CHEER UP! THE SUMMER


One of the commenters tipped me off on Tatsuro Yamashita's(山下達郎)latest, "CHEER UP! THE SUMMER" which was officially released in the last couple of weeks. This is his 49th single, and though it's not a groundbreaking tune, it's a groundaffirming song of sorts since this is a Tats tune that is reminiscent of those good ol' days when the singer-songwriter was coming up with those summery City Pop songs from the late 70s and early 80s (although those drums are almost on a techno level of boom). The last time I heard something this Tats-worthy was when Junk Fujiyama came up with "Hoshikuzu no Pipeline"(星屑のパイプライン).

So far, it's gotten as high as No. 8 on Oricon so another Top 10 hit for the maestro, and it has been used as the theme song for a Fuji-TV drama, "Eigyo Bucho Kira Natsuko"(営業部長 吉良奈津子...Sales Chief, Natsuko Kira). Yamashita was of course responsible for both words and music, and supposedly his lyrics were inspired by the attempts to cheer up the captain of a high school baseball team after losing a big game which would explain the official music video (shortened here).

At this point, I don't see a full version of the song but no doubt it will pop up sooner or later. Besides, it's good to see Yamashita still coming up with the happy summery songs after so many years.


Rina Endo -- The Shark Song


Another anime season is wrapping up. I met up with my anime buddy for another all-day session yesterday in which we saw the finales for some of the mellower entries of the summer such as "Amanchu!" (truly the most laid-back anime I've seen in nearly 5 years), "Kono Bijutsu-bu ni wa Mondai ga aru!", and this one "Amaama to Inazuma"(甘々と稲妻...Sweetness & Lightning)about the Inuzuka family and their increasing interest in cooking.


I've already written about the opening and ending themes but I felt rather compelled due to the earworm burrowing through my head to also talk about one other song from "Amaama to Inazuma" that isn't an official theme and only had several seconds of airtime in Episode 7 when cute little 5-year-old Tsumugi decided to go out on her own (without Dad's permission) shopping trip. Tsumugi, as played by 10-year-old child actress Rina Endo(遠藤璃菜), sang this little tune which I will dub "The Shark Song" that was probably taught to her by her father or late mother so that she would stick to a straight line while walking on the street away from traffic (stay on the straight line or be eaten by the land sharks!).

Not sure who came up with the earworm although I suspect that it is the music producer for the show, composer Nobuko Toda(戸田信子). I found out that she was also responsible for the music for the "Metal Gear" games. In any case, "The Shark Song" is so cute that even a pack of Great Whites would go into a squeeing frenzy.


Heck, even Godzilla got into the act! It's too bad, though, that the exact scene from Episode 7 was taken out.


"Amaama to Inazuma" was truly a slice-of-life anime. In fact, it finished its run (and I don't think there will be a sequel) so quietly and without any sort of hard conclusion that I thought there would be one more episode. Instead, we all just left them enjoying their okonomiyaki dinner, although the above video has Tsumugi enjoying hamburg steak.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Seikima II -- EL-DO-RA-DO


When I got to Japan in 1989, one of the big signs that Japanese music was indeed diversifying appeared in the form of bands like By-Sexual and X who put on the cosmetics as well as the rock and punk. And then there was the heavy metal outfit known as Seikima II(聖飢魔II)led by Demon Kogure(デーモン小暮), now known as Demon Kakka(デーモン閣下). The first time I saw this fellow show up on Japanese TV, I just went "Well, there goes the neighbourhood!" He looked like a kabuki actor from space. And since I was no fan of metal, I basically just saw him and his bandmates looking quite fearsome although they sounded quite amiable in conversations on shows like "Music Station".

The Wikipedia description of Seikima II goes as follows:

According to the band, Seikima-II is a group of Akuma (悪魔, "demons") from the futuristic hyper-evolved dimension Makai (魔界, "demon world") that preach a religion called Akumakyo in order to propagate Satan through the use of heavy metal music. Each member is a demon of a different hierarchical class, with His Excellency Demon Kakka being leader of the Akuma and His Majesty Damian Hamada being the "Crown Prince of Hell". In accordance to the prophecy and after completing their world conquest, the band disbanded at the end of the century on December 31, 1999 at 23:59:59.

Well, you gotta admit, these guys have spunk and imagination (although invitations to perform in the Bible Belt in the US were probably not forthcoming)! Demon Kogure, being the only constant in the band since its formation in 1982, has kept the otherworldly tale going ever since then. The band may have disbanded briefly at the end of the century they've come back time and time again.


Oh, how I wished YouTube had the full interview here. Back in the early 1990s, CNN devoted an entire week to cover the various aspects of Japan, and the one big highlight was seeing Demon Kogure actually show up on "Larry King Live!" First off, I didn't even know that Japanese demons could speak English that well, and he was quite personable although at points, he seemed rather bewildered at Larry's line of questioning. However, the most hilarious part of the interview was at the end when the famous interviewer allowed His Excellency Demon to pass the coverage off to the anchorperson in Atlanta, and he did it with aplomb! The anchor was most amused.

And then since my return to Japan in 1994, he also appeared as the spokesdemon for a short-lived English conversation school called TOZA which had perhaps been set up as a direct rival to my old unit NOVA before various financial difficulties brought TOZA down rather dramatically (one day, students and teachers were locked out of their schools without notice). NOVA would face the same fate several years later, but by that point, I had long moved on to other schools.


But after all these years of seeing him on commercials and TV programs (music and variety), I've come to the conclusion that Demon Kakka is a pretty nice fellow as demons go. It's almost like Casper The Friendly Ghost with him being Kakka The Amiable Demon. Heck, I saw him several weeks ago helping out broadcasters on NHK give the sports news.

Not being a fan of theirs, I just went with anything that caught my fancy and I saw the above video on YouTube with the then-Demon Kogure's visage glaring at me. The song was their 3rd single released in March 1987...or in the band's year of B.D. 12...called "EL-DO-RA-DO" (although the song had first been known on their 3rd album from November 1986 "From Hell With Love"), and I was actually quite impressed at how melodic it was. I had been expecting a cacophony of screams and guitar wails and smashing drumbeats but it wasn't too hard on the ears at all. Kogure can take credit for words and music.


Plus I gotta say that His Excellency Demon has a pretty good voice. I gather that Hell offers some decent vocal training. Watching the whole band perform the song in the video above, I rather liken Seikima II to KISS with a (bleeding) tongue-in-cheek sense of humour. That one guitarist even looked a bit like drummer Peter Criss in terms of his makeup.

The current lineup for Seikima II is Kogure/Kakka, Raiden Yuzawa(雷電湯澤), Xenon Ishikawa(ゼノン石川), Luke Takamura(ルーク篁), and Jail O'Hashi(ジェイル大橋).


And for your "Awwwwww...." moment for the day, here are His Excellency Demon and a baby tiger.

You can check out Seikima II's Wikipedia page for more details including the history behind their name.

Hitomi Shimatani -- Papillon (パピヨン)


This is more like it. After a scorcher of a summer, autumn has come in nice and cool. Woke up to a much cooler and more comfortable 9 degrees Celsius (which would put Tokyoites in winter mode). I could actually take my 45-minute walk and not arrive home looking like 100 kilograms worth of damp rags.


One of the big television events around the New Year is, of course, NHK's Kohaku Utagassen(紅白歌合戦). A long time ago, this was the only game in town on December 31st while families were busy cooking up stuff for the Holidays. But then, the next day on New Year's Day, Fuji-TV had its big do with "Shinshun Kakushigei Taikai"(新春かくし芸大会....The New Year's Hidden Talent Competition)in which a ton of geinojin amass on one stage to show off talents that they had to master within the last couple of months of the previous year. In the 1991 edition of the show, singer/actress/tarento Akiko Wada(和田アキ子)pulled off something when she and some dancers did an identical version of the dance sequence from Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation". Yes, the Akiko Wada and the Janet Jackson.


About a decade later, there was another tribute of sorts to Janet Jackson in the form of a cover version of her "Doesn't Really Matter" by Hitomi Shimatani(島谷ひとみ)called "Papillon" released in February 2001. Unlike the video for Jackson's hit, the video for "Papillon" is a much more straightforward performance by Shimatani dancing along with four fellows. Chinfa Kan(康珍化)provided the Japanese lyrics for the original song from May 2000 created by Jackson, Terry Lewis and James Harris III.

At the time, I'd had no idea who Shimatani was although she cut quite a nice figure in the video and some good vocals with her version of "Doesn't Really Matter". I didn't realize that this was her 3rd single after debuting a couple of years earlier as a potential enka singer with "Osaka no Onna"(大阪の女...Osaka Woman). That didn't quite work out for her so she and her staff decided to go onto the pop route, and the shift in direction was more successful with "Papillon" hitting No. 14 on Oricon. It also became the title track on her debut album which came out later in June 2001. That managed to peak at No. 7 on the charts.


Here is the Janet Jackson original for comparison's sake. I remember seeing the video and remarking that it was nice to see her back in fine form. Apparently, the setting was based on Japanese culture and well, that building where future Janet was living looked awfully like the Tokyo Immigration Bureau in Shinagawa. I often went there to take care of visa and passport matters, and I think it is possibly one of the most hospitable facilities as far as immigration centers in the world go. Mind you, I can't talk about the chambers up near the top where folks who overstay their visas end up.

Rie Nakahara -- Disco Lady (ディスコ・レディー)


Being way too young to enter the discos when Disco was king in the 1970s, my time for cutting up a rug (that expression probably aged me a few more decades) was in the late 1980s when my university buddies and I hit places like the Diamond, the Copa and even the highest disco on the planet at the time, Sparkles, up in the CN Tower. Now that last dance floor was truly a closet pretending to be a disco emporium.


Urban Japan was also not unaware of the disco boom, it seems. I knew about all of those huge dance clubs from the 1990s such as Julianas and Velfarre in Tokyo but wasn't quite sure about how discos were like back in the 1970s. I've heard about those emporiums in Roppongi like the Lexington Queen but perhaps a lot of the dance clubs may have been fairly tiny.

In any case, this is "Disco Lady" by Rie Nakahara(中原理恵). Released in August 1978, this was her 2nd single following her debut of "Tokyo Lullaby"(東京ららばい)which is the one song that most folks remember her for. The song does have some of that disco beat in there but I'm kinda wondering if it's more in line with some of the uptempo kayo of the time from the two Hiromis...Go and Iwasaki(郷ひろみ・岩崎宏美). As with "Tokyo Lullaby", Takashi Matsumoto and Kyohei Tsutsumi(松本隆・筒美京平)were responsible for words and music respectively.

Mina Aoe -- Shinjuku Saturday Night (新宿サタデー・ナイト)



Happy weekend! Well, I'm still a few hours shy of the actual evening but it's still Saturday, so I've decided to put in a bit of Mood Kayo via the smoky vocals of the late Mina Aoe(青江三奈). Her 13th single "Shinjuku Saturday Night" from December 1968 is another one of her geographically-based songs topped off with a small bit of her scatting. Kaori Mizumori(水森かおり)may be the current Queen of Regional Songs but I think Aoe may have worn the tiara some decades ago.

(karaoke version)

Written by Takao Saeki(佐伯孝夫)and composed by Yoichi Suzuki(鈴木庸一), "Shinjuku Saturday Night" is that bittersweet ballad of lovers meeting up in the titular happening place to be in Tokyo only for one of them having to inevitably head back up to his hometown in Nagano Prefecture after the tryst. But the way the song sounds, it seems as if the parting is just temporary. It might be too bad that the night is over but the fellow will probably be back next week or the week after. That trumpet and the rest of the orchestra are just having too cheerful a time.



I may have already told you once on the blog but Shinjuku is basically split up into three parts now: the new commercial area of South Shinjuku centered around that new JR station annex and the nearly 2-decade-old Takashimaya Times Square, the hotel district of West Shinjuku and the oldest area of bars, restaurants and red-light facilities in East Shinjuku. Back at the time when "Shinjuku Saturday Night" was released, perhaps East Shinjuku with Golden Gai and Kabukicho was indeed the place to be, but it's hard to imagine the time when the district was devoid of those skyscrapers and hotels in West Shinjuku. Incidentally, the funky song playing in the above video of Shinjuku of the 1970s is Junko Yagami's(八神純子)"Omoide no Screen"(思い出のスクリーン).

Shinjuku was sometimes the place that my friends and I would head to for a movie and dinner. I could get pretty much anything I wanted for food there....from Kumamoto ramen to Italian fare, although the branches of McDonalds in the area were probably the establishments that got most of my yen. Well, hey, I was a jobbing English teacher...going to a ryotei was simply not within my budget.


Friday, September 23, 2016

Mondo Grosso -- Family


Earlier this afternoon, I was writing about Toshiki Kadomatsu(角松敏生)weaving his City Pop magic for Anri(杏里)and her 1983 album "Timely!!", but the day before, I had come across this song on YouTube which took me back to my good old days of R&B back in the late 70s and early 80s. And it was produced by another artist who also wove some fine magic for various other artists.

This was "Family" by 90s musician-producer Mondo Grosso (aka Shinichi Ozawa/大沢伸一). Released in 1995 as a single, it also came out as a track in his album "Born Free" which came out in the same year. Listening to it, I couldn't help but shimmy a bit since the arrangement had me thinking about Stevie Wonder. Great horns and funky/mellow keyboards. It's just so nice and cool. It's no wonder that there were some wonderful tunes later on by songbirds such as Bird and BoA.


"Family" is a cover of the 1980 original by jazz flutist/saxophonist Hubert Laws with his sister Debra Laws providing those happy and velvety vocals. Now I'd be interested in hearing some more from the Laws' family. But I have to ask who the vocalist was in the Mondo Grosso cover. Was it Debra again or someone new? Inquiring minds want to know.


Anri -- Timely!!


Well, after hearing the album a couple of more times in recent days and then listening to the individual tracks on YouTube, I finally decided to write about the entire album known as "Timely!!", Anri's(杏里)6th album from December 1983, after having already written about a few of its other tracks over the years, such as "Windy Summer" and my recent "Remember Summer Days" which was added onto a remastered version of the album.

City Pop maestro (and all you Vaporwave/Future Funk fans out there, track him down and kiss his ring!) Toshiki Kadomatsu(角松敏生)produced "Timely!!". In "Japanese City Pop", Kadomatsu had given full kudos and recommendations to the album "Awakenings" by the late Hiroshi Sato(佐藤博)as one of the quintessential City Pop albums of the decade. However, I think he shouldn't sell himself short here since I think this particular project by him and Anri also deserves to stand along "Awakenings" in terms of the genre. Despite its release date near Xmas, the title "Timely!!" seems quite worthy as a happy reminder of the summer that passed and the one to come.


(full album)

Kadomatsu took care of all of Track 3 (7:15), "Stay By Me", another uptempo beach-friendly classic, notable for the punch of Masaki Matsubara's guitar and the horns. If there is one thing that was great about Kadomatsu in those early 80s, he did like a good and tight brass section which was arranged here by Jun Sato.

Anri was responsible for the words and music for Track 4 (10:53) "A Hope From Sad Street". There is some interesting dreamy synthesizer work by Keishi Urata to go along with that fresh morning feeling as the heroine starts to come out of her post-breakup funk and stride back into the life of the city with that coffee and cinnamon bun. Kadomatsu was on guitar here.


The relaxing and reassuring "You Are Not Alone" was most likely the last song on Side A of the original LP. Written by Chinfa Kan(康珍化)and composed by Tetsuji Hayashi(林哲司), I'm starting to get the feeling that Hayashi loved that flugelhorn back then in his ballads. Anri's vocals soar nicely here alongside Matsubara's guitar solo at the end. A very nice sunset song.

Intermission


Grammar aside, "Shyness Boy" is the one song out of the album that really stands out for me. For a tune about falling in love with that bashful guy, Kadomatsu's creation has got a lot of soaring brass oomph, those bright Anri vocals, and even a tribute to the Doobie Brothers in the arrangement. And it also sounds as if it just incorporates a lot of daytime and nighttime feelings into its short 3-minute-and-change time.


The final track on the original LP "Good Night For You" (before the addition of "Remember Summer Days" in the remastered edition) is a wonderful way to finish up the album. Starting off with a gospel blues piano riff, it goes off into a dreamy direction as Anri gets everyone to turn off the lights and turn down the bed after a worthy day (or album). Some nice guitar work here too by Tsunehide Matsuki. The chorus consisting of Kadomatsu (words and music), Yurie Kokubu and Yoshihiko Kadomatsu (a relative?) sends everyone gently off into that good night.

I still have a couple of more songs on the tracks left before considering "Timely!!" complete but I'll leave those as a follow-up. Anyways, the album is one of my personal City Pop favourites. Plus, it did hit No. 1 on Oricon and what I didn't get on J-Wiki was that it was also the 10th-ranked album of 1984, according to entamedata. Listening to this one, I can remind myself of how wonderful those Anri-Kadomatsu collaborations were back in the day.

Then again, with a very pretty young lady from Kanagawa Prefecture with a fine voice, some great album photography and splendid songs by one of the City Pop princes, how could it lose? :)


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Miyuki Imori -- Hitomi no Chikai (瞳の誓い)


Ahhhh....Miyuki Imori(井森美幸). She has been one of the chatty and cheerful tarento mainstays on Japanese TV for years and years. Of course, she's also appeared on tons of commercials and I remember her especially for her work for Mondamin Mouthwash. Incidentally, she hails from the prefecture where I had resided over a quarter-century ago, Gunma Prefecture, although she was born (1968) and raised in the southwestern part of the province while I was assigned up north in the Japanese Alps. Apparently her hometown of Shimonita is famous for its green onions.


If she has a best friend on TV, it would be former aidoru Ikue Sakakibara(榊原郁恵)since I always saw them together in some cooking segment on one of the morning wide shows, and I believe they were fellow panelists on the monomane specials.

In 1984, she entered the 9th Annual Horipro Tarento Scout Caravan by Hori Productions, one of the big talent agencies, and won the Grand Prix over 120,000 other hopefuls including actress Honami Suzuki(鈴木保奈美)of "Tokyo Love Story".


Then in April 1985, Imori made her official debut as an aidoru with "Hitomi no Chikai" which has been translated as "Promise On Your Eyes" in the music video above and as "Swear By My Eye" in the Wiki article for the lass. Although written and composed by the big duo of Chinfa Kan and Tetsuji Hayashi(康珍化・林哲司), it is pretty much a run-of-the-mill aidoru tune that isn't horrible but will probably disappear from my memories within several minutes (mind you, they were responsible for a big hit for another singer). Then again, the vast majority of songs ever sung by the huge throng of 80s aidoru would be classified similarly. Still, "Hitomi no Chikai" did OK on the charts, peaking at No. 32, and winning her the Excellent Newcomer Emerald Award at the Megalopolis Song Festival. She released another 5 singles up to 1989 along with one original album and two BEST compilations many years later.

(Sorry but the video has been taken down.)

Here is Imori performing her debut song on an episode of "Utaban" (うたばん) with hosts Takaaki Ishibashi and Nakai-kun looking humourously bemused. I'm surprised that the former fellow didn't just attack her as he usually would. Looking at her swaying and bouncing around like that, I think that seemed to have been the default "choreography" for an 80s aidoru since I've seen many a teenybopper girl from the earlier years do those movements.


And speaking about "choreography" (I'm retaining my quotation mark rights for a reason here), Imori is also notorious for a dance number she did in her audition at that Horipro Tarento Scout Caravan in 1984. It has apparently gained legendary status and like those annoying parents who pull out the video or photographs of their daughter (much to her horror) doing something embarrassing in her early years, Imori's fellow tarento like to pull out that footage occasionally to get her screaming and to educate/remind viewers. I've seen the audition many times now on TV and she kinda looks like Barney the Dinosaur on Red Bull.


However, showing that she's a good sport with a sense of humour, she didn't resist too much at being dragged onto the floor and performing that very same dance years later.


With her debut in 1985, her contemporaries are Minako Honda(本田美奈子), Miho Nakayama(中山美穂), Yui Asaka(浅香唯), Yuki Saito(斉藤由貴), Yoko Minamino(南野陽子) and the Onyanko Club(おニャン子クラブ)among others. And according to her profile on the Horipro website, one of her talents is ripping magazines. Well, I gather after being razzed about her dance video all these decades, she has probably gotten quite good at it.

Orquesta De La Luz -- Salsa ni Kokyo wa nai (サルサに国境はない)


I just saw on the NHK Morning News within the last 15 minutes that Prime Minister Abe has quietly made his first trip to Cuba. He's already met Fidel and Raul Castro, and I'm going to assume that he and his staff will be trying to bring Japanese-Cuban relations closer through some signed agreements.

However, there was already a much earlier cultural attempt through the formation of the fantastic salsa band Orquesta De La Luz all the way back in 1984 with singer NORA. So I've decided to bring in a bit of Latin flavor tonight in commemoration of this historic visit and showcase a 1991 song that was released by the band "Salsa ni Kokyo wa nai" (Salsa No Tiene Frontera) or "Salsa Without Borders" in English.

Written and composed by NORA, "Salsa ni Kokyo wa nai", the lyrics that are flashing on the screen in the video above seem to be telling about the story of the band itself and how people needn't be locked into just one country's music. Totally agree with that and I got a blog to illustrate that. Man, I love those sharp horns!

I'm not going to pretend that I know the intricacies of salsa music and perhaps NORA would admonish me that the music of Orquesta De La Luz doesn't need to be a think piece. It's supposed to be a platform to have tons of fun...preferably on the dance floor. One other reason that I put up the band tonight is that it's been well over 4 years (basically since the start of "Kayo Kyoku Plus") that I first wrote up about the band through their amazing cover of "Watashi wa Piano"(私はピアノ)as originally sung by Mizue Takada(高田みづえ)and the songwriter behind it, Keisuke Kuwata(桑田佳祐)of Southern All Stars. Definitely they were due for another article and this time, it's one of their own songs.

Their 2nd album was given the same title in 1991 and went Platinum, but a couple of years later, Orquesta De La Luz was able to sing the title track at the Kohaku Utagassen. 1993 was indeed a banner year for the band as their latest album at that time "La Aventura" was nominated for a Grammy Award and they were even awarded with the United Nations Peace Medal.



Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Yuuichi Nakamura -- Grizzly-san no G☆ROCK (グリズリーさんのG☆ROCK)


Some of the funnier scenes during the yearlong run of "Shirokuma Cafe" (しろくまカフェ) in 2012-2013 involved Grizzly, Shirokuma's bestie (or should I say beastie), since he easily became flustered or frustrated with the antics of his old friend and some of the other patrons at the Shirokuma Cafe. I'm not sure if it had also been the case in the original manga but in the anime, Grizzly started out as a recurring role but near the end of the series, it seems as if he got promoted to co-star. All the better for all of us.

Yuuichi Nakamura(中村悠一)was the one who played the gruff (but with a heart of gold) bruin owner of his own bar, and since getting to know the seiyuu for the first time from that role, I've seen him play the romantically clueless Nozaki-kun in "Gekkan Shojo Nozaki-kun"(月刊少女野崎くん)in 2014, the sullen Hazuki from "Natsuyuki Rendezvous"(夏雪ランデブー)which aired in the same year as "Shirokuma Cafe", and currently the kindly widowed father in the foodie fave "Amaama to Inazuma"(甘々と稲妻)during this summer. However, he never got to sing any of the theme songs for those anime although I do have him represented on the blog as one of the Matsuno sextuplets singing the earworm "Six Same Faces" for "Osomatsu-san"(おそ松さん).

However, Nakamura got his time behind the recording mike at the end of a few episodes of "Shirokuma Cafe" in character as Grizzly with "Grizzly-san no G☆ROCK" (Grizzly's G☆ROCK) which was written and composed (as all of the ending themes have been) by Saki(紗希). Grizzly has always been the passionate buddy in the group with his hair-trigger temper and his cries of "Enjo, enjo!"(炎上、炎上!...Burn it up, burn it up!), and he brings a lot of that energy to his own ending theme which was the second in the series. It's done like an old 50s or 60s rock n' roll tune that any of those old pompadour-sporting and hip-twisting teens in Harajuku of the late 70s and early 80s would have gyrated to. I'm not sure if his pride would allow it but Grizzly could set up his own sock hop at BAR THE GRIZZLY. Speaking of which, Grizzly even has his own instrumental theme as heard below...perfect with that glass of I.W. Harper.



Tohoku Shinkansen -- Summer Touches You


Yup, summer is indeed coming to an end for another year, and though I'm not sure how the season was where most of you are, outside of Toronto and Japan, it was definitely a scorcher here in T.O. And I'm saying this as a fellow who lived 17 summers in the Tokyo area where I used to swim not walk through the atmosphere. To be honest, I'm not a huge summer fan in terms of the humidity so I'm quite glad that fall weather may finally look kindly upon us in a few days' time.


So perhaps it is appropriate that before summer officially goes out like a lion, I throw in one more summery song...or at least something with the word "summer" in the title. And here I have Tohoku Shinkansen's(東北新幹線)"Summer Touches You" from their lone 1982 album "Thru Traffic".

A few weeks ago, I encountered my first song by this duo consisting of guitarist Hiroshi Narumi(鳴海寛)and songwriter Etsuko Yamakawa(山川恵津子)from the same album, the oh-so-comfy "Tsuki ni Yorisotte"(月に寄りそって). Well, "Thru Traffic" starts off with "Summer Touches You", a mid-tempo number created and sung by Narumi that has a great City Pop intro and some nice George Benson-style canoodling on the guitar. The fellow on the Japanese-language music blog "Music Avenue" keyed me in on the Benson comparison, and he remarked that as soon as he had heard those first few measures of "Summer Touches You", he was assured that "Thru Traffic" was going to be one solid album.

I actually looked for the album at my usual sources of Tower Records and CD Japan in the hopes of purchasing it but unfortunately it's not there anymore. There were a few copies of it at Amazon but the cheapest one in the lot started from the 7000-8000 yen range which is way too rich for my blood. At this rate, I can only hope that one of the readers of "Kayo Kyoku Plus" is a Tower or CDJ procurement employee who could somehow aim to get a few of those CD versions back on sale for "Thru Traffic". Pretty please.

Let's all look forward to autumn!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Taro Shoji/Mika Shinno/Kiyoshi Hikawa -- Tabigasa Dochu (旅笠道中)


Even before the Japanese started getting that reputation of traveling in group tours while armed with cameras back in the 1970s and 1980s, they did and still love to travel even within the country, it seems, at least according to the enka genre. There is a large legacy of regional enka paying tribute to a certain city, prefecture, river or other geographical feature but ballads of traveling for the pure heck of it have also abounded, often with history in mind involving nomads during the feudal era of Japan.

One hit song with that them in mind was released in 1935 titled "Tabigasa Dochu" (Traveling Hat Journey) as originally sung by Taro Shoji(東海林太郎). I read Noelle's write up of his "Meigetsu Akagiyama"(名月赤城山)and the description of the late singer which was confirmed when I actually saw ancient footage of him on a TV show singing "Tabigasa Dochu" on tonight's "Uta Kon"(うたコン). With those round glasses and tailcoat that Noelle described, along with that very earnest delivery, Shoji reminded me of a dusty university professor who had literally spent years in a classroom but was going to make the most of his 15 minutes on the stage.


Regrettably, I couldn't find any footage of Shoji singing "Tabigasa Dochu" but here are a couple of far more contemporary enka singers to fill in. One is Mika Shinno(神野美伽)who hails from Osaka and debuted back in 1984. I've seen her often on "Uta Kon" and its predecessor program "Kayo Concert"(歌謡コンサート)so I was surprised that she hadn't been covered by either Noelle or me. She has also appeared on the Kohaku Utagassen twice in her career, in 1987 and 2003.

Going back to the song itself, "Tabigasa Dochu" was written by Masato Fujita(藤田まさと)and composed by Nosho Ohmura(大村能章), and it's a jaunty song of vagabonds who go where the wind takes them while they live on the fringes of society. They don't mind the journey but they also hope someday to settle down. However, Ohmura's melody as arranged for Shinno's performance above seems to carve out a certain pride in this trek of itinerants which alternates between a romantic sweep during the sung portions while the intro, bridge and outro contain a certain manly staccato which may represent the proud don't-hold-me-back steps of the travelers.


The other singer is the Prince of Enka himself, Kiyoshi Hikawa(氷川きよし). I found the arrangement for his take on "Tabigasa Dochu" as being a lot softer and more wistful although Hikawa puts in a good amount of brio for his performance.


Well, whaddaya know? I did find a video with Shoji's original take via this old 78 rpm. In contrast to those earnest performances by him on stage, his recorded version of "Tabigasa Dochu" sounds quite serene. Plus, I can make out an interesting plucky guitar in the background there...or is it a Japanese instrument?


Finally, you can take a look at this empty karaoke version of the song since the movie here can give some illustration to the lyrics.