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.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

aiko -- Ashita (あした)/ Kyoko Fukada -- Saigo no Kajitsu (最後の果実)

Happy Sunday to you all! I don't know what it's like in your neck of the woods but it's gorgeous out there today in Toronto. I think we've hit 20 degrees Celsius which is absolutely the trigger for folks to hit the lake on their sailboards or invade the bars which are probably now on al fresco mode.

Oof! I guess it's been close to 3 years since I put up an article on singer-songwriter aiko's music. "Boyfriend" is her most recognizable single to me, and frankly whenever I've heard her various songs over the years, I just waved them off as being rather similar in nature. Well, since I started the blog, I've gained some feelings that I ought to give various singers, especially in the 1990s, a second chance as it were.

So again I was surprised to hear her debut single from July 1998, "Ashita" (Tomorrow) since it was a song that I have heard in the past but not by her. Actually I think I most likely heard the tune on episodes of that Saturday night karaoke variety show "Yoru mo Hippare"(夜もヒッパレ)but never made the connection that it was an aiko song.

"Ashita" is quite distinctive in that it doesn't sound like the usual aiko song. One reason is that according to J-Wiki, it is the only single in her discography that hadn't been composed by aiko. Instead, the melody was made by Minoru Komorita(小森田実)although aiko did write the lyrics. Speaking of that melody, it sounds like a 1990s Tetsuya Komuro(小室哲哉)concoction as if the pixie-ish singer-songwriter started her career under the TK umbrella along with Namie Amuro(安室奈美恵)and Tomomi Kahala(華原朋美). There's quite a bit of heavy synthesizer in there. Furthermore, there's also something about aiko's voice that was more kittenish in "Ashita" instead of my usual impression of tomboyishness with her later songs.

The song also has the distinction that out of all of her 36 singles released as of this writing, it is one of only three singles that didn't break into the Top 10. It actually only got as high as No. 89 on Oricon in its first release. However it was given a re-release later in March 2007 and zipped up to No. 16. Its first album appearance was on her major debut album "Chiisana Marui Koujitsu"(小さな丸い好日...A Small Round Pleasant Day)which was released in April 1999. It went Gold and peaked at No. 24.

An interesting progression in the plot here is that a little less than a year after aiko's debut, actress Kyoko Fukada(深田恭子)had her own debut as a singer with "Saigo no Kajitsu" (The Final Fruit) in May 1999. It was basically a remake of "Ashita" with a few tweaks here and there by Komorita and new lyrics provided by Chihiro Kurosu(黒須チヒロ). It's also interesting to note that aiko helped out here with backup vocals.

There was even more of a technopop feel to it, delving closer to trance by the sounds of it. Perhaps it did approach closer to Komuro territory but I couldn't help but feel from the arrangement that this could have been a song performed by another 1990s highlight band, Every Little Thing, thanks to Fukada's high-pitched voice. "Saigo no Kajitsu" peaked at No. 48 and was also placed on her 2nd album "moon" from March 2000.

Mieko Nishijima -- So yo, SMILE AGAIN (そうよSMILE AGAIN)

Yes, still up at 1:05 am. Like I said in my last article, I did have that birthday party but what I didn't mention was that I had two cups of some rich and delicious coffee there. Therefore, it would seem that sleep may become more of an option than an obligation.

And just like in that Yujiro Ishihara(石原裕次郎)piece, I've come across another melancholy song about romance that is a bit of a throwback when considering the time of release and the type of music involved.

Mieko Nishijima(西島三重子)has been one of those underrated singers that wouldn't pop up immediately for even Japanese music lovers searching for some wonderful music. However I was lucky enough to have discovered her through "Sounds of Japan" back in the early 1980s when I heard her lovely "Hoshi Meguri"(星めぐり). From that 1977 song that has become a template of sorts for me, I came to see Nishijima as a singer of warm and fuzzy ballads arranged in a New Music style.

So, it was with some surprise once more that I found out that her "So yo, SMILE AGAIN" (Yes, Smile Again) was a track on her album "Shadow". I checked three sources to find out that the LP (!) was released in 1994 instead of the late 1970s or early 1980s that I had assumed was the time of release. I mean, 1994 was the time of the Komuro boom and Dreams Come True. But this particular final track by Nishijima with lyrics by Tadashi Hirano(平野肇)sounds so much like a tune from yesteryear. It doesn't sound like the traditional kayo but it has an atmosphere that could take listeners to an unknown past time occupied by lots of music halls.

I think it's those strings that do it and then the jazzy clarinet at the end. Plus, there's Nishijima's voicing of a woman begging for the love of her life to return to give that smile one more time, although the feeling is that it will be a wish unlikely to be fulfilled ever again. In a certain frame of mind, those tear ducts might get a work out. Still, it's nice to hear another one of her ballads again.

Yujiro Ishihara -- Omokage no Hito (おもかげの女)

Writing this article past midnight Sunday morning since I was out for most of the day helping an old friend celebrate his half-century of life. Plus of course, I did have that latest "Doctor Who" episode to catch (liked the premise but the ending was a little too pat...kinda like some of the old "Star Trek: The Next Generation" eps).

Because I am writing this in the wee hours on a weekend, I thought maybe a nice Mood Kayo was in order. One of the things I enjoy about going to a party is not only meeting up with old friends and making new ones but also watching the overall flow of things as the party continues. Basically I enjoy seeing the different talking groups form in different corners of the home and then morph over the course of the party. Of course, the food is great as well!

It would be rather nice if I could apply this ability to a typical nomiya or cuddly old bar somewhere in Tokyo. While nursing that sake or beer, I could surreptitiously observe the various goings-on at the counter and the tables...the company section carousing over beers or shochu in one corner while a couple are flirting over drinks just a metre down the counter.

Strangely enough, I could imagine the ghost of The Tough Guy, Yujiro Ishihara(石原裕次郎), coming down to one of those thousands of watering holes in the megalopolis to monitor what the mortals are up to. As usual, he's got another crooning song up his sleeve, his 1985 "Omokage no Hito" (Traces of a Woman).

I was surprised that the ballad was actually made in 1985 since listening to the arrangement took my memories back to the 1970s when he was crooning such classics as "Brandy Glass"(ブランデーグラス). There were those sibilant plucks of the guitar along with the haunting chorus in the background...and of course, the comforting tones of Ishihara himself during those final decades.

(empty karaoke version)

Written by Norihiko Sugi(杉紀彦)and composed by Yukihiko Ito(伊藤雪彦), The Tough Guy is showing his more tender side in relating the hero's melancholy over losing his love. It almost sounds as if he didn't lose her to death but other sad circumstances such as work. She could be that Ginza hostess who has gone onto another client at another table in that swanky nightclub while her former love is looking forlornly from afar.

One of the things I've wondered when it comes to enka or Mood Kayo tunes is the reading of the kanji for woman, which is officially onna(女). Often, though, titles carrying that same kanji have had it read as hito(人), or person. There is even the furigana above the kanji to ensure that listeners and karaoke singers know that it is to be read as hito. I'm not sure what this de-genderizing has been about all these decades but is it some method to put some thematic distance between the man and the woman? Unfortunately, I simply don't know.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Makoto Matsushita -- Love Was Really Gone

Back to a Friday night. Sports bars are usually packed for the event of the evening in any case but tonight it's Game 5 between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Washington Capitals in the first round of the NHL playoffs, so in this city, IT'S A REALLY REALLY BIG DEAL (sorry, if I sounded like a certain American president).

Anyways, it's the end of the work week so perhaps it's time for a bit of smooth 80s City Pop and I've got none other than Makoto Matsushita(松下誠)to help ease those tired ear muscles. This is "Love Was Really Gone", another track from his 1981 solo debut album "First Light" that I've already talked about. In fact, the album was one of the first City Pop releases I wrote about in the blog.

For City Pop/J-AOR fans, "First Light" is a really really big deal because of all the smooth and classy tracks. And with "Love Was Really Gone", which Matsushita composed and wrote, this is a tune that I would probably hear on a nice summery balcony by the lake while sipping slowly something stronger back instead of a brewski in a sports bar. I especially love that opening when the singer-musician starts singing and the overall rhythm with the bass. It works even better than a slap-on of Ben Gay!

Arisa Mizuki -- Eden no Toshi (エデンの都市)

(Yup, I realize Arisa's sharing with Atsuko Asano
but I'm not complaining.)

Seeing Marcos V's article on what he has been listening to in the early part of 2017 and reading about singer/actress Arisa Mizuki(観月ありさ), I remarked that after her impressive debut with "Densetsu no Shojo"(伝説の少女), I had listened to one of her later singles, "Too Shy Shy Boy!" and came to the conclusion that I probably wouldn't be picking up any more CD singles by her.

As an aside before the main event, I wanted to mention that I believe I had seen one of her commercials just before she debuted as a singer around the turn of the decade. It wasn't the one above but I think it was for Shiseido in which a teenaged Mizuki basically stared/glared at the camera for the entire time without mentioning a word. My impression was "Ohhhhhkay....I am going to take a step sudden moves...". Rather intense look, she had.

Anyways, getting back onto topic, I listened to Marcos' Arisa entry on that article, "Kimi ga Suki Dakara"(君が好きだから), and actually found it quite nice. The Yuming (ユーミン) touch helped. So, I felt that perhaps with the passage of time along with the accompanying nostalgia, it was time to give the singer's discography another look-see.

Therefore, I chose her 2nd single right after "Densetsu no Shojo", "Eden no Toshi" (City of Eden), from August 1991. Surprisingly, it's a nice and light cheery tune. It probably won't ever get into the Top 10 of my own favourite songs but it's pleasant enough.

(empty karaoke version)

Written and composed by Ami Ozaki(尾崎亜美), part of the reason that I went off to purchase "Densetsu no Shojo" was that Mizuki seemed to channel its songwriter's delivery. With "Eden no Toshi", she seemed to channel that ability even more for the composer of the song, Kaori Okui(奥居香), namely the lead vocalist for the band Princess Princess (プリンセス・プリンセス). The band itself could have easily covered this song at one of their own gigs and it would have sounded right at home. Shun Taguchi(田口俊)took care of the lyrics.

Selling 180,000 copies, "Eden no Toshi" soared all the way to No. 5 on the charts and even sneaked onto the Top 100 of 1991, ending up at No. 91. The song is also in her debut album, "ARISA" from December 1991 which peaked at No. 8.

Rumiko Koyanagi - Yukiakari No Machi(雪あかりの町)

I was in Ueno on a rainy night around a month ago, and stopped by a good record store underneath the train tracks, the name of which is escaping me.
When I visit Japan and go to record shops, one of my favorite things to do is pick a handful of 45s from the ¥100 box that I've never heard of before. One of the singles I found picked that night was Rumiko Koyanagi's (小柳ルミ子) Yukiakari no Machi (雪あかりの町) . When a shop has no turntable available, I most certainly judge records by their cover, and usually get good results. I suppose good music and good aesthetics go hand in hand. I liked the snowy  scenery in the photograph, Im a sucker for snow or cold weather in general.

 Anyway, when I finally got home and was able to drop the needle on, I was pleasantly surprised that the music exceeded my expectations. To my western ears, the sleigh bells at the beginning of the track cant help but make me think of Christmas music, which isn't a bad thing.
The music here is stylistically pretty standard early 70s kayo/enka stuff but stands out to me among others of the era.
Today's been probably one of the hottest days of the year so far here in Texas, 
So as I listen I'm dreaming of colder, less sweaty climes... a nice snowy Onsen town. A 雪あかりの町。

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Yukiko Okada -- All Songs Request

A little over 4 years ago, contributor JTM provided a detailed description of his BEST album for the late Yukiko Okada(岡田有希子), "The Premium Best", along with his own insights into the aidoru herself. I don't think I can add anything more to his comments except to say that Okada was a prime example of a singer who had the fine backup of some big songwriters behind her such as Mariya Takeuchi(竹内まりや), Tetsuya Komuro(小室哲哉), and Chinfa Kan(康珍化). But in her case, she was also blessed with a pretty talented voice in my estimation. I noticed that the common colour theme with the videos that were put up in JTM's article was pink, and that is the right colour for her. She just came across as cute, fresh and all cherry blossoms.

This is the first time in the history of "Kayo Kyoku Plus" that one singer has gotten two BEST album articles. JTM briefly mentioned about this compilation that I got during Xmas last year, "All Songs Request". It was released in May 2002 and my friend wondered aloud how a certain song didn't get onto this one CD. Well, I read in the J-Wiki bio that "All Songs Request" was a fan-based creation in that Pony Canyon had invited folks to tell them their favourite Yukko songs on their website during the period of March 2002 and the top 17 vote-getters got in.

And here they are:

1. Sayonara Natsu Yasumi (さよなら・夏休み)
2. Little Princess (リトル・プリンセス)
3. Akogare (憧れ)
4. Sonnet (ソネット)
5. First Date (ファースト・デイト)
6. Dreaming Girl
7. Futari Dake no Ceremony (二人だけのセレモニー)
8. Anata wo Wasureru Mahou ga Areba (あなたを忘れる魔法があれば)
9. Sweet Planet
10. Lonesome Season (ロンサム・シーズン)
11. Mizuiro Princess (水色プリンセス)
12. Summer Beach
13. Love Fair
14. Kuchibiru Network (くちびるNetwork)
15. Koi no Etude (恋のエチュード)
16. Hana no Image (花のイマージュ)
17. Believe In You

Track 5 happens to be Okada's debut single from April 1984, "First Date". This was a short and sweet introduction to the charms of Yukko via the songwriting talents of Mariya Takeuchi. Melodically speaking, Takeuchi manages to relate the story of the high and low emotions racing through a high school student due to her upcoming first date with the popular guy in class at a movie his invitation. She doesn't seem to feel worthy of his attention although as for the singer herself, I'm sure she had a lot of the male fans swooning.

"First Date" was used as a campaign song for a Glico Dairy Products commercial. It did OK on the charts by peaking at No. 20. The song was also placed in her debut album, "Cinderella" (シンデレラ) which was released in September 1984. Basically, I think the Takeuchi/Okada ventures were very successful.

Track 8 is another romantic entry by Yukko titled "Anata wo Wasureru Mahou ga Areba" (If Only There Were A Spell To Forget About You). This probably had a lot of fans, male and female, either nodding sagely or sighing while lying in bed since Chinfa Kan's lyrics have the aidoru singing about loving that guy from afar but just never getting the right time and place to express her feelings. Masataka Matsutoya(松任谷正隆)created the interesting melody which starts off slowly but then goes off into heroic heights which perhaps adds a different nuance to the lyrics.

"Anata wo Wasureru Mahou ga Areba" was not a single but a track on her 2nd album "Fairy" from March 1985.

What was also a track on "Fairy" and "All Songs Request" was "Futari Dake no Ceremony" (A Ceremony Just For Two), a mid-tempo celebratory melody about a young couple commemorating their graduation by themselves at some place whether it be at a restaurant or on the top of a hill with a picnic basket. Jun Natsume(夏目純)took care of the lyrics while Ami Ozaki(尾崎亜美)made the music which swung between some synth-based ceremonial notes and the happy-go-lucky melody for the celebrating duo.

This was Okada's 4th single from January 1985 and it became her most successful release until "Kuchibiru Network" by hitting No. 4 on Oricon and becoming the 85th-ranked song of the year. What I also read from J-Wiki is that the original single version hadn't been put onto CD until "All Songs Request".

As soon as I heard "Sweet Planet", I knew this had to be a Tetsuya Komuro concoction, and sure enough it was. I mean, this was probably a tune that Misato Watanabe(渡辺美里), another Komuro client back in the 1980s, could have sung. Yoshiko Miura(三浦徳子)wrote the lyrics about a girl who seems to be getting herself back on her feet after finishing a relationship. Komuro's music pretty much telegraphed the lass jumping back on the road to heartbreak recovery. "Sweet Planet" was the first track on her 3rd album "Juugatsu Ningyo"(十月の人魚...October Mermaid).

My final entry here is "Koi no Etude" (Etude of Love), which was the B-side to Yukko's 8th and final single "Kuchibiru Network" from January 1986. It was the other song that hadn't ever been put onto CD until this compilation, and it makes for a nice counterpoint to the happy aidoru-esque "Kuchibiru Network". Tetsuro Kashibuchi(かしぶち哲郎)was the lyricist who had the singer going through a whole range of emotions when it comes to her current beau and his past. Hiromoto Tobizawa(飛澤宏元)came up with this technopoppy piece of exotica that makes "Koi no Etude" sound like as if it had been set in some European mansion party hosted by Falco.

I don't know how "All Songs Request" did on the charts but this particular BEST compilation worked for me in that I was able to get to hear some of the songs that probably wouldn't have gotten onto a regular BEST album since I've often found that what Oricon likes and what the fans like don't always coincide. As of this date, it's been over 30 years since Okada's untimely passing and considering how wonderfully she sang as an aidoru that could have out-aidoru'ed even Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子), the songs that she has left us seem even more precious now and make me wonder what other tunes she could have made past 1986.

Takeo Fujishima -- Tsuki no Hozenji Yokocho (月の法善寺横町)

A number of weeks ago at work, I had the chance to meet the founder of Marutama Ramen. To be frank, I have no idea what his name is and simply know him as Oyakata (親方). I found it extremely unnerving to have him seemingly scrutinizing my one-month's-worth-of-experience actions at first - I sort of dreaded having to be the one to serve him a large plate of Katsu Curry. And then he was notified of my love for enka. Turns out Oyakata's a fan of the genre too, with Sayuri Ishikawa (石川さゆり) and Aki Yashiro (八代亜紀) as his favourites - he looked more like a Ikuzo Yoshi (吉幾三) fan, though. With a well-delivered excerpt of "Nagasaki wa Kyo mo Ame datta" by him (because I like Mae-Kiyo), a karaoke invite when I make it to Japan (to study... eventually), and those cool-guy shades (really cool), I got to say that he's a pretty easy-going fellow. That's not to say I won't be on edge when he appears at random again, but maybe a little less than before.

Anyway, oyakata is a title I once thought only referred to the master of a group of ronin. In actual fact, it can mean (according to chief, master, or supervisor, can be used in multiple contexts, such as being the founder or owner of a restaurant. That brings me to the topic of this article, "Tsuki no Hozenji Yokocho".

For the longest time, I assumed that this Takeo Fujishima (藤島桓夫) hit may have something to do with a warrior from Hozenji Yokocho setting out on a journey of his own, even though the premise sounds a little odd. That's due in part to my former assumption of the meaning of oyakata since it's mentioned a couple of times throughout "Tsuki no Hozenji Yokocho", as well as the music, composed by Keio Iida (飯田景応). The dramatic strings, sharp twang of the electric guitar, and shrill notes from the flute gives the song an overall foreboding and intense atmosphere that I generally associate to a number of ronin enka. However, with the knowledge that oyakata could be used in the latter sense, finding out what a "Houchou" (包丁... Kitchen knife) is, and paying attention to the song's introduction by announcers in videos, I was able to connect the dots. Our main character isn't a masterless samurai, but a chef.

"Tsuki no Hozenji Yokocho" was written by Tetsu Tonimura (十二村哲), and it has Fujishima narrating in his distinctive vocals the story about a young chef keen on honing his skills after taking on an apprenticeship at what may be a renowned restaurant, Fujiyoshi - I think the oyakata mentioned should be that of this joint. In doing so, he has to leave behind his heartbroken lover, Koi-san, until his training is done and when he can set up his own business. Throughout the lyrics, there are some instances of the Kansai dialect, such as when the honorific "-han" is used at times instead of the usual "-san", and "Wate" instead of "Watashi".

The destination of interest here is none other than the often-sung-about Hozenji temple, nestled in the little Osakan alley, and the temple's most notable inhabitant, Mizukake Fudo. This is where Mr. Chef met and fell for the lovely Koi-san whilst beseeching the moss-covered deity for culinary expertise. According to this travel guide, it is believed that the moss-covered deity, made mossy by having water splashed on to it constantly by worshipers, can bring fortune to businesses and everlasting love, the latter most likely being prayed for by the couple to ensure they stay together despite Mr. Chef's commitments.

Looks like Koi-san ain't gonna settle for sukiyaki, Mr. Chef.

"Tsuki no Hozenji Yokocho" was released in 1960, there isn't much information on its success on the J-Wiki but I'm sure it was most definitely a hit, if a performance on the 11th Kohaku and being  a mainstay on current day music shows, especially Osaka specials, are anything to go by. The tune is covered by many, but I've decided to put up Kiyoshi Hikawa's (氷川きよし) rendition from on a Shin Nippon no Uta episode. Mr. Chef and Koi-san's love story is brought to life by Hiroshi Miyama (三山ひろし) and Midori Oka (丘みどり) respectively, with Hikawa in the narrator's role. While done for the sake of comedy, I find how Miyama fumbles at his lines an accurate representation of me when I tried it for myself - the satisfaction of finally uttering the whole sh-bang within the given time frame without stumbling also included. Makes me wonder if Fujishima ever got tongue-tied at the spoken parts.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Tavito Nanao x Yakenohara -- Rollin' Rollin'

My genre of choice has been City Pop from the late 1970s and early 1980s but I've also liked urban contemporary stuff from the 90s onwards. I've also noticed that going into the 21st century, the night side of Japanese pop has taken on a certain cool groove.

Now, I'm not a big fan of hip-hop or rap on either side of the Pacific but I do like the slow groove of "Rollin' Rollin'" by Kochi Prefecture-born singer-songwriter Tavito Nanao(七尾旅人). Although his Wikipedia bio states that his genres are "alternative rock, electronic, experimental, punk", I only sense a bit of one of those genres and none from the others with his 7th single from September 2009. To me, it's some nice mellow contemporary R&B as he collaborates with rapper-DJ Yakenohara (やけのはら). It's all so not-in-your-face.

As much as I like the official music video with some nice shots of driving through the big city, I have to say that I really like this version of "Rollin' Rollin'". As Yakenohara intones throughout the song, it's got that old-fashioned urban soul. The song peaked at No. 46 on Oricon.

Peggy Hayama -- Que Sera Sera (ケ・セラ・セラ)

I caught "Uta Kon" (うたコン) on NHK for the first time in a couple of weeks since last week I had to put out a fire in terms of my work. The theme for the episode was songs of spring. However, I was surprised to hear the news right off the bat from the hosts that singer and tarento Peggy Hayama(ペギー葉山)passed away at the age of 83 last week on April 12th due to pneumonia.

Just late last month, I had put up my first article on her on "Kayo Kyoku Plus", "Gakusei Jidai"(学生時代)which was released in 1964. But she had actually been singing since 1952, and as was the case with other singers during those days, she sang a mix of kayo and covers of English-language songs.

One of the latter was the cover of what is arguably Doris Day's theme song "Que Sera Sera".  The original, which was created by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans and then recorded by Day in 1956 for the Alfred Hitchcock movie "The Man Who Knew Too Much", was also given its Japanese version by Takashi Otowa(音羽たかし)for Hayama to sing.

"Que Sera Sera" became another hit for Hayama who then sang it on the 7th Kohaku Utagassen in 1956, her 3rd appearance on the program.

Being somewhat of a sentimental softie deep inside, I chose "Que Sera Sera" for tonight since the song was one of the first I remember as a toddler. I distinctly remember seeing the opening credits for "The Doris Day Show" (1968-1973) on TV which featured the song as the theme. And my mother actually bought me a record of Doris Day songs for children.

Just to finish off, I discovered something rather interesting about Takashi Otowa. The name was actually a pseudonym of sorts used by directors at King Records whenever they translated a song into Japanese. However, unlike Hollywood directors who would use the name Alan Smithee to disown a movie they made but under duress, there was no intent of protest with the use of Takashi Otowa.

According to J-Wiki, the managing director for King Records, Go Makino(牧野剛), was one of the staffers who took on the Otowa name to provide the Japanese words for Hayama's "Que Sera Sera".

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

COSMOS -- Midnight Shuffle

If it hasn't already been done so, the following song should be adopted and molded into one of those Vaporwave/Japanese Future Funk videos that folks like Artzie Music have been creating. I'm pretty sure there would be fans who would swoon.

During one of my browsings on YouTube recently, I came across the keyboard trio of COSMOS, a band that was brought together by the Yamaha Music Foundation and had its debut in 1981 through the soundtrack for the movie adaptation of the novel "Hyouryuu"(漂流...Drifting).

In November 1982, COSMOS released their album "Bourbon Suite" with one of the tracks being "Midnight Shuffle", a nice little nighttime boogie. The three core members of the band are leader Yumiko Tanaka(田中裕美子), Keiko Doi(土居慶子)and Roman Kaieda(海江田ろまん)but they've had musical assistance by artists such as trumpeter Ichiro Nitta(新田一郎)and guitarists Masaki Matsubara(松原正樹)and Fujimal Yoshino(芳野藤丸). Also, there were other members of COSMOS including Michiru Oshima(大島ミチル)who has gone onto bigger fame with her compositions for video games, TV shows, movies and anime. For that last category, I am watching one of her projects right now, "Little Witch Academia".

A few years later, Doi did her own side gig under KEIKO PROJECT and created the 1985 album "Compositions" which included a cover of "Midnight Shuffle" with some added lyrics and guitars. Perhaps by that time, she was already going by the name Keiko Matsui(松居慶子).

"Midnight Shuffle" and Doi have reinforced those good memories of the urban contemporary side of synths and horns that I've known through artists such as Toshiki Kadomatsu(角松敏生), T-Square and Casiopea.

Here is COSMOS in action with "Spiral Dream". Not sure but I think they are performing on "Let's Go Young".


Saw Takuya Kimura(木村拓哉)on TV Japan for the first time since SMAP broke up late last year. He looked rather...beefy. But I gather that no longer dancing all that often on stage or on TV may mean an extra storage of calories.

After hearing all those hits by the former residents of the Johnny's Entertainment mountaintop over so many years, it was shocking to say the least that SMAP actually had a theme song of sorts. Plus it had the simple title of "SMAP".

Written by Hiromi Mori(森浩美)and composed by Seikou Nagaoka(長岡成貢), this Eurobeat-tinged musical dynamo was released in 1988 as a commercial song for Morinaga Milk Industry as you can see above when the group was a sextet and not the quintet. Ah, they looked so young back then.

Actually, their first official single, "Can't Stop!! -LOVING-" didn't come out until 1991, but "SMAP" was included as part of the "SMAP Medley" portion on the single. It peaked at No. 2 on Oricon. The song also got its album release several years later on their remix album "BOO" from November 1995 (peaked at No. 5 and went Platinum). Geez, I'm trying to wrap my mind about the fact that "SMAP" was actually born nearly 3 decades ago.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Michiya Mihashi -- Akai Yuuhi no Furusato (赤い夕陽の故郷)/ Hachiro Kasuga -- Umineko no Naku Hatoba (海猫の啼く波止場)

Well, out of the 45"s grab bag today, I got a 2-for-1 deal. To explain, I found this relatively thick single record that had two different and legendary kayo singers and their songs with the only thing in common being their release year which was 1958. So I said, why not cover them both in the same article?

On one side is Michiya Mihashi's(三橋美智也)"Akai Yuuhi no Furusato" (Home of the Red Setting Sun) which begins and ends with the singer bellowing "Oi!" as the beckoning call of the ol' hometown. Pure and clear as the waters of that countryside hamlet, Mihashi's voice calls out for the working stiffs in Tokyo to come back and spend some happy times again.

The deep twang of the guitar and the occasional appearance of the marimba joining the traditional strings had me thinking that this ode to the heartland would have been performed in some city nightclub trying to get the customers dreaming of home once again. Perhaps it could have been thought as being somewhat counter-intuitive since folks heading back to the countryside would have meant fewer patrons in those dancing-and-drinking lounges but hey, I'm betting even the proprietors wanted to head back home once in a while.

"Akai Yuuhi no Furusato" was written by Hiroshi Yokoi(横井弘)and composed by Tadaharu Nakano(中野忠晴). Imagine coming back home at sunset to a welcoming family with the bath and a good hot meal all ready for you.

The flip side has Hachiro Kasuga's(春日八郎)"Umineko no Naku Hatoba" (The Wharf of the Black-Tailed Gulls). This one was written by Ryo Yano(矢野亮)and composed by Isao Hayashi(林伊佐緒)(although for some reason, J-Wiki has Yokoi writing this one...a definite error since my 45" has Yano as the lyricist).

Given my relative lack of knowledge in the enka/Mood Kayo genres, I had been having my problems distinguishing the voices of Mihashi and Kasuga. Well, thanks to discovering this record, I no longer have to worry. Whereas Mihashi has those pearly higher tones, Kasuga has a slightly more garrulous and lower delivery. As for "Umineko no Naku Hatoba", Kasuga's ballad kinda wavers into the Mood Kayo territory as the singer talks and croons about ending up falling in love with that special woman on the wharf. But is the hero happy about it? Being a Mood Kayo, not necessarily. With the horns and especially that mournful saxophone, the palooka is probably at some bar near the titular wharf filled with alcohol and a lot of complicated emotions about what to do since being in love with the sea was far simpler than actually going head-over-heels with a lady. Ah, that is life.

My respects for the owner of this old player and the 78" version of the song. In a way, I guess the song does sound like something from an even earlier decade.

Asako Toki -- Watashi no Koi to Tokyo (私の恋と東京)

Daimon in Tokyo
Lovely day out there. A nice happy Easter to you, especially to all you government types who unlike a lot of other people have another day off today. No worries...I won't be giving out sensitive information to those who resent.

I just came across this one today and found it lovely and perfectly reflective of the sunny weather and warmer temperatures out there in the GTA. "Watashi no Koi to Tokyo" (My Love and Tokyo) is by the lovely Asako Toki(土岐麻子)from her 2013 album "Heartbreakin'".

Composer Senri Oe(大江千里), who's been more of a jazz musician in recent years, and lyricist Toki created this seeming combination of slow 60s swing and bossa nova about a couple of folks who aren't sure when to broach the topic of taking their relationship to the next level. It almost sounds like a breezy Hollywood romance from that particular decade with Audrey, Rock or Doris. And as someone pointed out at YouTube, it's a great song to read by...or blog by.

Houko Kuwashima -- Watashirashiku (私らしく)

As I mentioned in my last anime article, I didn't particularly hear any instant anison earworms for the spring 2017 season among the various themes when I visited my anime buddy's house earlier today. However, there was the usual anison hour there and I did get to hear something that was really quite pleasant.

I never saw the 90s anime "Kido Senkan Nadesico"(機動戦艦ナデシコ...Martian Successor Nadesico)although I have heard the title many times before. Plus I have to admit that each time I heard it, I was strangely reminded of snacks like Ritz Crackers.

The ending theme for the anime was something that I did hear for the first time this afternoon. "Watashirashiku" (Being Myself) was sung by Houko Kuwashima(桑島法子)who also had a starring seiyuu role in the series as Yurika Misumaru, and it was released as part of the single which also featured the opening theme "YOU GET TO BURNING" by Yumi Matsuzawa(松澤由美)from October 1996.

With all of the hard rock and cutesy aidoru-like anison that I've heard, "Watashirashiku" can be placed in that nice place of solid pop. I made the past observation that a number of anison sounded as if they had been created 5~10 years before the actual anime, and I think "Watashirashiku" can also be thought of in the same vein, although perhaps the arrangement can be considered to be 90s.

The single broke the Top 10 by peaking at No. 9 and for Kuwashima, this was her debut single. Speaking of Kuwashima, the name did sound familiar to me so I looked her up on J-Wiki and discovered that several years later, she portrayed the latest incarnation of Yuki Mori on "Uchuu Senkan Yamato 2199"(宇宙戦艦ヤマト2199...Space Battleship Yamato 2199)in 2013.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

(K)NoW_NAME -- Freesia

And another anime season has begun. However, it was nice that I could see the surprisingly dramatic finale for "Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon"(小林さんちのメイドラゴン)and the continuation of "Little Witch Academia"(リトルウィッチアカデミア)to help make the transition. From my friend's choices for the spring session, it looks like there is a bit more seriousness and/or action involved in the new batch.

One of the new anime that I caught today was "Sakura Quest"(サクラクエスト)which I had assumed was some sort of action-adventure-fantasy. But it is actually a much more down-to-earth comedy-drama. In fact, it is the third in the P.A. Works' series of anime featuring young women and their jobs. The first one was the 2011 "Hanasaku Iroha"(花咲くいろは)for which my buddy admitted that he was somewhat disappointed by. However, the sophomore entry was "Shirobako" which both he and I did watch a few years ago and enjoyed very much. Considering the looks of the characters on the two series, I can say that they probably take place in the same universe.

I saw the first couple of episodes of "Sakura Quest" and kinda saw it as an animated version of a typical live-action J-drama in which a down-on-her-luck young woman, Yoshino, desperately grabs what she thinks is just a one-day gig out in the down-on-its-luck village of Manoyama as the village "queen" only to find out that the job is for one year much to her dismay. Not surprisingly, it looks like the rest of the series will have Yoshino and her group of comrades-in-arms help each other and Manoyama get back on their feet.

Unlike last season, the new batch of opening and ending themes hasn't really caught my ear right from the get-go. However, the ending theme for "Sakura Quest" by the musical collective of (K)NoW_NAME, "Freesia" isn't too bad.

(extended repeat only)

I say "collective" instead of "band" for (K)NoW_NAME since some of the members have their own entries on J-Wiki but the entire group itself doesn't. The singer for the group is identified as (K)NoW_NAME:Ayaka Tachibana with (K)NoW_NAME:Genki Mizuno providing the lyrics and (K)NoW_NAME:R・O・N taking care of the music and arrangement. It's a nice pop/rock song of inspiration.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Anri/Ami Ozaki -- Chichuukai Dream (地中海ドリーム)

It's been several months since I put up an Anri(杏里)article and with spring chugging ahead (despite a cold rain and a high temperature of only 15 degrees C), I think it's time to bring some of her brightness back.

Despite all those wonderful songs Anri brought in during her Toshiki Kadomatsu(角松敏生)period in the early 1980s and then going full American R&B in the latter part of the decade, I also like going back to her debut era in the late 1970s. Yep, it's kinda hard to believe that she started in the decade of Pink Lady and Momoe Yamaguchi(山口百恵), isn't it?

Well, there is her 2nd single which followed her legacy debut release "Olivia wo Kikinagara"(オリビアを聴きながら), "Chichuukai Dream" (Mediterranean Sea Dream) from April 1979. Compared to the introspective ballad of "Olivia wo Kikinagara", "Chichuukai Dream" was this wholly upbeat tune that starts off almost like a Disney fantasy tune before it dives right into a cheery pop song with a bit of Resort Pop feeling. That's not too surprising since the setting of the song seems to be on the island of Corsica.

Ami Ozaki(尾崎亜美), the same singer-songwriter who provided Anri with "Olivia", wrote and composed this travel tune fit for a teen on her first trip abroad and perhaps finding a bit of romance along the way. Incidentally, the arrangement for "Chichuukai" was done by Shigeru Suzuki(鈴木茂). The above video meshes Anri's original rather seamlessly with Ozaki's cover version on her 1983 "Points" album.

As for the original version, it didn't make all that much of a splash, just peaking at No. 86 on the Oricon weeklies. But as we all Anri fans know, bigger and better things were ahead for her. The song also appeared on her 2nd album "Feelin'" which was released in June 1979. It peaked at No. 71.

Isako Washio -- Tekkotsu Musume (鉄骨娘)

I wasn't ever a frequent user of those vitamin drinks such as Yunker, Oronamin C and Regain but once in a while when I was feeling especially fatigued, I would give in and buy one of them at the konbini to down at night or when I woke up in the morning. I never totally bought into the message that these drinks would power me up into a super working stiff but, hey, they didn't taste too bad.

From one of my students, I learned about the Japanese employee's way of getting rid of a cold fast. On getting home, the employee should take an especially hot shower then drink down a couple of bottles of the stronger (read: more expensive) vitamin drinks (how about the 3000-yen Yunker?) and then wrap himself/herself in some thick blankets and go to sleep. The effect would be that the cold would sweat itself out (my student didn't tell me about the effect on the blankets, mind you). I don't think I ever tried that particular remedy out.

In any case, those vitamin drinks had regular commercials pumped out to promote their health-remedying abilities. Of course, there was the one for Regain whose song "Yuuki no Shirushi"(勇気のしるし)became so famous that even CNN featured it.

That was back during my JET days. However, Regain wouldn't be alone in the catchy commercial jingles. There was one other song that made the rounds for several months to a year or so. Young actress Isako Washio(鷲尾いさ子)became quite the talk of the town when she was starred as the titular Tekkotsu Musume (Iron and Calcium Girl) and sang a catchy tune with the same title promoting the benefits of the drink Tekkotsu Inryo(鉄骨飲料).

And compared to the military march that the Regain jingle was, "Tekkotsu Musume" was a mix of an old kayo boogie of the type that Shizuko Kasagi(笠置シヅ子)sang back in the 1950s and a Busby Berkeley dance performance according to the series of commercials featuring Washio. In fact, a full music video was even made (look at how genki the ladies are!). Tokyo Banana Boys(東京バナナボーイズ)were responsible for creating the tune.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Ego-Wrappin' -- Calling Me

Pulled out this double-CD for the first time in a while since it's been a while since I've written about jazzy Ego-Wrappin'. I went with CD 2 this time which is labeled as the setsuna (セツナ...heartrending, although I will go with balladry) disc since I was well versed with the duo's active fare like the wild "Psychoanalysis".

The last track on the CD was "Calling Me" which, according to J-Wiki, is Ego-Wrappin's very first release as an indies band. It was released as a mini-album of 5 songs including the title track in 1996. I first got to hear the group with "Psychoanalysis" and with some of their later releases, my image of vocalist Yoshie Nakano(中納良恵)and guitarist Masaki Mori(森雅樹)was as a pair leading some major bohemian rockabilly jazz.

"Calling Me" is interesting since it's a more refined pop-jazz piece, perhaps along the lines of Swingout Sister. I don't know what else Nakano and Mori whipped up on that album but it would be fun to peruse to hear what they came up with their early sound. My usual images of them smash-banging in a sweaty nightclub deep in the laneways of Shibuya or its Osakan equivalent have been replaced with them performing in a place higher up at some hotel bar.

(from 1:03)

That saxophone and piano provide a fine dreamy atmosphere to go along with Nakano's creamy vocals. It's a jazz lullaby to send everyone home happily. Don't drink and drive!

Crush Gals -- Honoo no Seisho (炎の聖書)

There was a time in the late 1970s into the early 1980s (yup, when I was first getting into pop music in general) when my brother and I were into watching wrestling on TV on Saturday afternoons. Folks like The Iron Sheik, Rowdy Roddy Piper and Sgt. Slaughter were regular over-the-top figures who came into our home on a regular basis. And with "Hockey Night in Canada" on CBC later that night, Saturdays were pretty darn sports-heavy in my household.

Now I did know that the sports scene in Japan was also quite active with baseball and sumo, but I hadn't known that wrestling was big there, too. I also learned later that this included women's wrestling. Somehow, through one of those rental tapes from Nippon Video all those years ago, I also discovered that a number of these female wrestlers entered the aidoru field and even sang in front of their rapturous audience after a well-fought battle in the ring. Only in Japan!

The only female wrestlers that I can remember are Dump Matsumoto (ダンプ松本) and the Crush Gals (クラッシュギャルズ). It was the latter tag team that I recall doing all that singing. I never found out what they were singing but I think it was probably their debut single "Honoo no Seisho" (Bible of Passion).

The Crush Gals were Chigusa Nagayo(長与千種)from Nagasaki Prefecture and Lioness Asuka (ライオネス飛鳥) from Tokyo, The two of them had already been wrestling for a few years when Nagayo was thinking about packing it in due to some friction with the other wrestlers and other reasons but decided that if she were going to retire, she might as well do it with some fun. So in 1984, she was paired up with Asuka, who was going some similar turmoil, and the Crush Gals were born as aidoru wrestlers. As such, "Honoo no Seisho" was released in August 1984.

Listening to "Honoo no Seisho", I just went "not too bad at all". Written by Yukinojo Mori(森雪之丞)and composed by Tsugutoshi Goto(後藤次利), the song comes off as a pretty smooth tune that wouldn't sound out of place as a theme song for a dynamic anime. It's even got a nice sheen with those strings in there. Plus, Nagayo and Asuka can hold their own behind the mike.

The Crush Gals became the darlings of pop culture at the time and while smacking heads in the ring, they were able to release 7 more singles and 7 albums.

Marcos V.’s Early 2017 Special Selection

Rio de Janeiro, October 2016

Hello, folks. Out of nowhere, I decided to write about some of the songs I discovered recently. There’s no particular theme or order in this list, so it’s nothing more than a collection of random J-Pop songs, old or new, that I’ve been listening to in the past couple of months.

CHAGE and ASKA -- Boku wa Kono Me de Uso wo Tsuku (僕はこの瞳で嘘をつく)

First, a hit from famous duo CHAGE and ASKA: “Boku wa Kono Me de Uso wo Tsuku”, which was released back in November 1991. Even though I’m not a fan of the duo (sorry, Noelle), I couldn’t resist ASKA’s powerful vocals coupled with this funky rock arrangement. Also, I can see how the duo became a hit in the Japanese early 90s landscape, when artistry was becoming more valued rather than all the overproduced aidoru of the 80s. I still prefer the glossy 80s, but this particular song by CHAGE and ASKA caught me off guard. It’s really good!


Generally speaking, I don’t really care for Avex’s groups, with the exception of TOKYO GIRLS’ STYLE (東京女子流), but Fairies’ (フェアリーズ) “BLING BLING MY LOVE”, from September 2014, is a super catchy and modern dance tune that makes me want to sing and dance (THAT CHORUS IS AMAZING!!!). Other than that, I’m aware it shares some similarities with Ke$ha’s hit “Tik Tok”, but both songs are fine… and I’d rather listen to Fairies than Ke$ha because I’m a J-Pop supporter (funny thing is that I saw Ke$ha live at Rock in Rio 2011, because Jamiroquai was going to enter the stage right after her show. I remember how my friends were not very receptive towards her songs, so I ended up dancing and jumping with some 13, 14 years old girls who were next to me. I was 21 years old back then, by the way).

Seiko Matsuda -- Seychelles no Yuuhi (セイシェルの夕陽)

Seiko Matsuda’s (松田聖子) 80s singles are hyper famous aidoru-pop classics, but some of her album cuts are great as well. That’s basically why I decided to dive through her enormous discography a little bit to discover some gems… and “Utopia’s” (ユートピア) “Seychelles no Yuuhi” is one song that could have been a single alongside “Komugi Iro no Mermaid” (小麦色のマーメイド), for example. In an interesting side note, Seiko-chan stated “Seychelles no Yuuhi” is a song she truly loves from the “Utopia” album (which, by the way, was released in June 1983), and that’s why she includes it in several concerts. As for the song itself, I could listen to it in a relaxed beach coast (I can even imagine some water sounds mixed in the arrangement). It’s that sort of Japanese 80s song that makes the listener feel this way.

Fuyumi Sakamoto -- Asia no Kaizoku (アジアの海賊)

Released in January 2009, this song is truly at home in Fuyumi Sakamoto’s (坂本冬美) discography. It reminds me of the risks she took trying to mix enka with other music genres when her “magnum opus” hit “Yozakura Oshichi” (夜桜お七) was released back in 1994. In fact, even though nothing could come out as epic-sounding as the aforementioned hit, I think “Asia no Kaizoku” is strong enough to cause a good impression. The hook is simple and very straightforward, but the gorgeous Japanese-styled arrangement and Sakamoto’s vocal delivery are enough to make me pay attention.

Monari Wakita -- Boy Friend

From enka straight to cheesy synthpop that could have come out of PWL in the late 80s: that’s the essence of this list. Ex-Especia member Monari Wakita (脇田もなり) debuted with a safe City Pop song last year, but now it’s time for some sugary pop with “Boy Friend”, which was aptly released back in February 2017. In the end, aside from the over-the-top 80s synths and simple structure, there’s a very bright chorus and an even brighter Monari Wakita acting extremely cute and adorable while trying to make every life form on Earth forget that the video is as cheap as possible. It works for me, so it's fine!

PASSPO -- PlayGround

PASSPO is an aidoru group focused in recording pop-rock songs while maintaining a strange flight attendant gimmick. I’m not a fan of their music, aside from a couple of singles released back in 2012, but new promotional song “PlayGround”, which was released in February 2017, is a very good piece of funk-rock that doesn’t make me ashamed of headbanging a little bit while on the bus. As for the video, the zombie theme is warned out these days, so I don’t know why they’ve chosen to do it, but the music makes up for all the crappy acting.

Yumeko Kitaoka -- Mou Ichido Aetara (もういちど逢えたら)

And here we are with “Mou Ichido Aetara”, a very tender song from the late 80s in the voice of Yumeko Kitaoka (北岡夢子). That’s another song that makes me feel nostalgic… probably because it sounds a little bit sad, especially in the chorus. Released in June 1989, it also represents a period when aidoru music’s popularity was decling. So, at the time, mostly strong names were able to sell, and new aidoru had a hard time maintaining a career. It’s a pity, since “Mou ichido Aetara” is a pretty solid forgotten gem.

Yuki Maeda -- Tokyo Kirigirisu (東京きりぎりす)

Just like Sanae Jonouchi (城之内早苗) back in the Onyanko Club (おニャン子クラブ) days, and even Misaki Iwasa (岩佐美咲) in AKB48’s recent boom, Yuki Maeda (前田有紀) was one of Hello! Project’s solo enka singers during the agency’s heydays (First Generation member Yuko Nakazawa [中澤裕子] was H!P’s prime enka singer, but I like Yuki Maeda more). A talented and beautiful young woman in the early 00s, she initially recorded light enka songs, which I appreciate a lot since I’m not the biggest fan of the more over the top vocals in enka. Released in July 2003, the catchy “Tokyo Kirigirisu”, for example, just shows how restrained her music was back then, even if the melody and arrangement are evocative of Showa Era pop music. Instead of going deep in the enka style after some years in the industry, maybe she could have established herself as a mature ballad singer. Unfortunately, she probably decided to stick with her initial plans and success never arrived.

Golbies (from TPD) -- JUST LIKE MAGIC (ジャスト・ライク・マジック)

Ok, “JUST LIKE MAGIC” is that type of straightforward, repetitive and mechanic Eurobeat song that was being mass-produced during the late 80s/early 90s in Japan, but I like the epic main synth hook, the raw aidoru vocals, and also the catchy chorus (which is a must in Eurobeat songs, since they don’t have much to offer anyway). It was released in May 1990 by Golbies (ゴルビーズ), a subunit from the aidoru group Tokyo Performance Doll (東京パフォーマンスドール). Apparently, Ryoko Shinohara (篠原涼子) was a member of this subunit during her stay in TPD.

Arisa Mizuki -- Kimi ga Suki Dakara (君が好きだから)

To finish, we have “Kimi ga Suki Dakara”, a song composed by songstress Yumi Matsutoya (松任谷由実) for early 90s aidoru Arisa Mizuki (観月ありさ), which was released as a single back in August 1993. Even though it wasn’t a big hit like “Densetsu no Shoujo” (伝説の少女), “TOO SHY SHY BOY” or “Happy wake up!”, and is often overshadowed by them, this song offers some simple yet beautiful piano hook right from the beginning. Other than that, I agree it’s a grower, and maybe not an instant favorite, but there’s a melancholy in the song that makes me want to listen to it several times.