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.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Sharam Q -- Ramen Daisuki Koike-san no Uta (ラーメン大好き小池さんの唄)

When I returned to Toronto in late 2011, the ramen restaurant boom had just blasted off from the launch pad. And over the next number of years, new places serving one of Japan's gaishoku staples started to pop up like mushrooms and then multiple branches of those new places which includes a few this year. I've happily indulged in my ramen hobby with buddies to the point that any regret that I can no longer get a hearty bowl of the stuff in the source country really doesn't exist anymore. But let me say that I will still get at least two bowls of the stuff into my stomach when I visit Tokyo again.

It has also gotten to the point that I can no longer imagine a time when I was not able to get a bowl of the noodles. Before Toronto became Ramen Central in the 2010s, basically all we had was either Cup O' Noodles and, as you can see above, Sapporo Ichiban (although there was a nascent attempt at a ramen shop back in the 1980s called Yokohama which didn't last too long). But despite the plethora of ramen shops in the GTA, in the name of total disclosure, I still partake in the instant stuff occasionally for lunch. Yup, I do ingest all of the MSG and chemicals unrepentantly.

All that appetizing ramen talk is to help introduce a song by Osaka-based Sharam-Q(シャ乱Q). "Ramen Daisuki Koike-san no Uta" (The Song of Ramen-Loving Mr. Koike) was the first track in the band's debut album from September 1992, "Sakuretsu! Henachoko Punch"(炸裂!へなちょこパンチ...Explosion! Greenhorn Punch).

Now, my knowledge of Sharam-Q and its flamboyant leader, Tsunku(つんく), first started filtering in when I landed back in Japan in late 1994, so I'd had no idea that the band had existed since 1988. And in fact, my knowledge of their ramen entry bubbled in when Tsunku and company had actually released an updated version of this song, "Shin Ramen Daisuki Koike-san no Uta"(新・ラーメン大好き小池さんの唄...The New Song of Ramen-Loving Mr. Koike)as their 19th single in March 2000. It peaked at No. 23 on Oricon.

But I haven't come across this new version on YouTube as of yet, so let's go with the original flavour, so to speak. In all honesty, "Ramen Daisuki Koike-san no Uta" in either of its incarnations has never particularly spoken to me..."Zurui Onna"(ズルイ女)is still the big Sharam-Q winner for me, but it's interesting to watch that ancient music video above to see the band looking unlike their glam rock presence when I first got to know them, and making like urban rock-funksters. Plus, I gotta say that I don't think I ever heard a funk song paying tribute to ramen.

According to the J-Wiki write-up on "Ramen", Koike-san was actually a character who made appearances in a couple of manga that I knew "Obake no Q-Taro"(オバケのQ太郎...Q-Taro The Ghost)and "Doraemon"(ドラえもん)by the late artist Fujio Fujiko(藤子二不雄), and indeed the fellow did love his home-cooked ramen.

Tsunku took care of the lyrics while the whole band came up with the melody which partially pays homage to the ending theme of the old anime "Himitsu no Akko-chan"(ひみつのアッコちゃん...The Secrets of Akko-chan), the go-go-boot-kicking "Suki Suki Song"(すきすきソング...The Love Love Song) by Hisashi Inoue, Morihisa Yamamoto and Asei Kobayashi(井上ひさし・山元護久・小林亜星).

Kobushi Factory(こぶしファクトリー...Magnolia Factory)is a Hello Project group that Marcos V. has already spoken about, and it turns out that their first major single was "Dosukoi! kenkyo ni daitan / Ramen daisuki koizumi-san no uta / Nen ni wa nen (Nen-iri Ver.)"(ドスコイ!ケンキョにダイタン/ラーメン大好き小泉さんの唄/念には念(念入りVer.)...Dosukoi! Humble but Bold/A song of ramen loving girl Ms.Koizumi/Be Double Sure (with ”NEN” Ver.))from September 2015, which as you can see, includes their own version of the Sharam-Q song (aside from the changing of the character's name from Koike to Koizumi. The Factory is one of Tsunku's aidoru groups under the Hello Project banner and "Ramen Daisuki Koizumi-san no Uta" kept plenty of funk. The single peaked at No. 3.

The reason for the name change was that it was the theme song for the Fuji-TV late Saturday-night drama "Ramen Daisuki Koizumi-san no Uta" based on the manga by Naru Narumi(鳴見なる)about a teenage ramen super fan.

Yup, I put rice in my ramen.
Don't get uppity with me!

Daisuke Inoue -- Ai Senshi(哀戦士)

Happy Monday! Well, I'm a bit early to be presenting this since the official introduction of the now-completed Unicorn Gundam isn't for another 6 days but I will either be teaching my student or hanging out with my anime buddy on what will be Sunday September 24 so I've decided to jump the gun(dam) on this article.

Speaking of my friend, I asked him a couple of weeks ago what his favourite theme from the massive "Gundam" franchise was. It didn't take him too long to respond "Ai Senshi" performed by Daisuke Inoue(井上大輔). Now, of course, not being a die-hard fan of the Gundam robots or their shows or their theme songs, I hadn't really seen the kanji titles for the themes. Therefore I naturally assumed that "Ai Senshi" meant "Warriors of Love" along the lines of that subtitle for the current new "Uchuusenkan Yamato"(宇宙戦艦ヤマト)series.

My friend quickly shook his head and remarked "Just the opposite". I have seen the title and I realize that the translation is actually "Soldiers of Sorrow". The song, by the way, was the theme song for the 2nd Gundam movie that came out in 1981, "Kido Senshi Gundam II"(機動戦士ガンダムII).

"Ai Senshi" has that somewhat schizoid kayo temperament with a pretty upbeat melody by Inoue that is reminiscent of another singer-songwriter, Motoharu Sano(佐野元春), and in a way, it kinda reminds me of a very mellow early Bruce Springsteen. However the lyrics by Rin Iogi(井荻麟) are about as depressing and anti-war as one can get, the message being that countless human lives are being thrown away in the useless pursuit of war.

After all these years, it is just now that I have discovered that Daisuke Inoue was really Tadao Inoue (井上忠夫...his real name), one of the members of the Group Sounds band Jackey Yoshikawa and His Blue Comets(ジャッキー吉川とブルー・コメッツ). He was the one who created their most famous song, "Blue Chateau"(ブルー・シャトウ), probably inspired by the Lake Louise Hotel in Banff, Alberta, Canada, and as I mentioned in the article for that evergreen GS classic, he was the one who whipped himself over its creation since he felt that it was to blame for the downfall of the Group Sounds genre. I also said that he was being way too hard on himself.

But I don't think he carried that albatross around his neck for long since he composed a lot of different songs since taking on his stage name of Daisuke Inoue. Of course, there were his "Gundam" contributions but he also came up with some doo-wop creations, songs for both male and female aidoru, and a jingle for the world's most famous soft drink. I figure that he should be worth a Creator article in the not-too-distant future.

Sadly, it was reported in the May 31 2000 edition of the newspaper Nikkan Sports that Inoue had committed suicide in his own home at the age of 58.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Bernard Fowler and Ryuichi Sakamoto -- G.T.

I've got quite a few albums by the amazing Yellow Magic Orchestra but I'm beginning to feel that I ought to also invest in a number of Ryuichi Sakamoto's(坂本龍一)albums as well. His 1978 "Sen no Knife"(千のナイフ...Thousand Knives)is one prospect but another is his 1986 "Mirai-ha Yaro"(未来派野郎...Futurista).

One reason is that it includes a track that I've already covered titled "Ballet Mecanique" that has a couple of more incarnations that will be explained if you go to the article. The other reason is that I recently discovered another snazzy and catchy number called "G.T.".

I figure that Sakamoto who composed "G.T." had some reason to title this song thusly but I haven't found out yet. But then again, there was an earlier YMO hit known as "U.T." back in 1981 and the Spielberg blockbuster "E.T." came out in 1982 so I guess The Professor must have had some sort of grand plan with the second letter "T".

But getting back on the road again, like YMO's "U.T.", "G.T" is another propulsive affair helped along by singer Bernard Fowler (who also sang "Ballet Mecanique"). There is even more of a feeling of a racing car warping around the big city whereas "U.T." always sounded as if the super car were in stealth mode. The "G.T." car is more than happy to show off its colours and sound off its skids. Plus, it's more than likely, it's leading the cops on a merry chase.

The live version on Sakamoto's "Media Bahn Live" is even more kakkoii. Along with Sakamoto coming up with the music, Akiko Yano(矢野顕子)provided the original Japanese lyrics which apparently got translated into the English used here by media personality Peter Barakan(ピーター・バラカン). But just getting out of the rebel car theme for just a sentence or two, looking at those lyrics, I got the impression that all involved were thinking far bigger ideas such a huge space race around the solar system. And being a "Doctor Who" fan, I couldn't help but feel that there was some foretelling in the words about how Earth's favourite Time Lord and future companions would interact decades later.

"G.T." came out as a single in March 1986 for Sakamoto while "Mirai-ha Yaro" peaked at No. 5. Come to think of it, perhaps I will put "Media Bahn Live" onto the wish list as well.

Finishing up with Barakan, one show that he's been associated with is "Begin Japanology" on NHK-BS which had its run between 2003 and 2013. He's also helped YMO in the past as well through the song "Mass" in their album "BGM".

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu -- PONPONPON

This was a Maid Cafe in Odaiba that would look ideal
for Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. However, I was informed
that the place has since gone the way of the dodo.

Marcos V. was the one behind all of the Kyary Pamyu Pamyu(きゃりーぱみゅぱみゅ)articles so far. However, I came across one myself which I'd like to bring into the "Kayo Kyoku Plus" fold, and it's her debut single. So I guess I can say that here is a KPP for KKP (how does a one-handed clap sound?).

Strangely enough, for all of the stunned reaction to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu's first entry into music "PONPONPON" and its music video, I didn't particularly leave my room blinking my eyes at warp speed as if I were suffering a Pokemon attack. And perhaps that was because I was rather accustomed to all of the weird Japanese street fashion trends that had come and gone in areas such as Shibuya and Harajuku in Tokyo. Yep, as I was walking through those areas for fun or on my way to work, I've seen quite a bit: loose socks, visual kei, gyaru fashion, yamamba. goth-loli. And about a couple of years or so before I left Japan for good, there was some sort of fashion thing sprouting from Shibuya which involved young women dressed up as if they were Marie Antoinette with their layers of blond hair atop their pates.

In any case, "PONPONPON" and its video were fine but I wasn't particularly stunned at this then-new aspect of Japanese pop culture that possibly had folks in the West going "WTF?!" Released in July 2011, the song was written and composed by songwriter-producer Yasutaka Nakata(中田ヤスタカ), the same fellow behind the Perfume phenomenon.

Not sure how "PONPONPON" did on Oricon but it did hit No. 6 on the Japan Billboard Top Airplay list and No. 9 on Japan Top 100 (Billboard), and a new Japanese star was born.

Whenever I hear about Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, who I started hearing about after returning to Canada, I remember that insight that Marcos once stated a few years ago. To paraphrase, a few decades back, Japanese pop music (or a segment of it) was about reaching out to the West but in these times, it's been about the West coming to Japan. And I think KPP is one example of this. The above video, by the way, was uploaded by someone by the name of Momoko and it depicts a flash mob performance of the song in the nation of Mauritius.

Trivia of the day is that the lass has a full version of her name: Caroline Charonplop Kyary Pamyu Pamyu(きゃろらいんちゃろんぷろっぷきゃりーぱみゅぱみゅ)! Will wonders never cease?

Michiya Mihashi -- O-Saraba Tokyo (おさらば東京)

Huh, Michi was quite cute back then too.

As I had said on my other tributes to my grandfather, I've always wondered what his reaction to me liking enka would be. Well, after getting to know his personality better through Mom, I'd figure it'd go something like this if I were to show him some performance of an enka/kayo singer I like:

Me: I like this song. What do you think?
Grandpa: *Stares at video for a while, then at me, then at the video again* Why do you like this sort of music/such old singers?
Me: Why not...? 

It'd probably end about there for me, but then he would proceed to give my mom an ear-full. Yeah, Grandpa wasn't hot about Japanese music or its singers, to put it lightly. However, I think my weapon of choice against the unamused reactions and tutting would be to bust out "O-Saraba Tokyo", and then I'd be gloating over the fact that the original version of one of his favourites was actually by one of my favourites, Michiya Mihashi (三橋美智也). He's eyes might probably be rolling so hard they'd roll out of the house... but I think from there he'd warm up to the idea of me listening to good ol' Japanese oldies.

Moving on, "O-Saraba Tokyo" was something I'd least expect to be Grandpa's favourite. While I did mention that he enjoyed one of Hibari Misora's (美空ひばり) works, somehow it did not strike me that he'd be a fan of anything from the Yonin Shu. Perhaps it's because I always had the impression that their songs are quintessentially Japanese and so I just assumed that the likelihood of Chinese covers would be much lower. Turns out I was wrong the whole time and it's actually the complete opposite.

Mandarin cover.

As J-Canuck mentioned in his article for the song, this jolly sounding tune was one of Michi's many big hits and was incredibly popular in the titular city. Apparently, its popularity had extended out overseas as well, judging by the number of Chinese renditions made. The one version in particular that Gramps adored was this Mandarin cover titled "Liang Xiang Yi" (兩相依... Two Together... or something like that) done by Taiwanese singer Yao Surong (姚蘇蓉), and its lyrics are not as sad as "O-Saraba Tokyo" (if I'm not wrong) - seems more like the character is simply missing a loved one rather than mourning over him/her. Well, personally, I still prefer the original. To be honest, I am being somewhat biased here - because Michi - but at the same time I'm not used to listening to Chinese music, especially covers of Japanese songs which I mostly find sounding strange.

I'm not sure if this Michi Best album has "O-Saraba Tokyo" in the track list, but I think it serves as a good visual representation of my face in that scenario I mentioned at the start of the article.

Sumiko Yamagata -- Kumorizora (曇り空)

Long time, no see Sumiko Yamagata(やまがたすみこ). Welcome back to the blog! I was kinda looking for something City Pop and thought that I could find an entry in Yamagata's discography since she had her period of urban contemporary starting from the late 1970s.

However, I ended up making a detour when I found this interesting and lovely song by her. It's titled "Kumorizora" (Overcast Sky) and was a track on her 5th album "Orgel"(オルゴール...Music Box)from August 1975. Before Yamagata made that right turn into New Music/City Pop, she had been known as a young folk singer. But I think there is more of a drama in this song that was composed by her and written by Tadashi Akai赤井正...I hope that's how the name is pronounced)so that the arrangement takes things into a more New Music area. Perhaps, there are other tracks in "Orgel" that may have been slowly convincing her that she could make a crossing between genres.

In any case, the lyrics by Akai have a woman silently pining for someone she's fallen for under that titular overcast sky and exhorting him to notice her, especially since there is a hint that he may have just broken up with someone else and is mourning that loss. I do love that guitar, that piano and Yamagata's voice here.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Koichi Aoki -- Genki de ne, Sayonara (元気でね、左様なら。)

Getting back home after dinner with my friends tonight, I flicked on Turner Movie Classics where I caught the last 45 minutes of the classic musical "The Band Wagon" (1953) with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. Of course, there were some of the wonderful routines involving "Dancing In The Dark" and especially "That's Entertainment".  And now I know from where the music video for Art of Noise's "Peter Gunn" was inspired along with Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal".

Anyways, after the movie ended, I was left wondering about some of the kayo that had come out in that same year of 1953. There are four previous songs from that year listed on the blog and I found out another one titled "Genki de ne, Sayonara" (Take Care, Goodbye) by enka singer Koichi Aoki(青木光一).

Aoki is already represented by a song that has become an enka standard, "Kaki no Kizaka no Ie"(柿の木坂の家)which was released in 1957. However, it was with "Genki de ne, Sayonara" that the singer from Saga Prefecture got his first big break. And unlike the slightly sorrowful "Kaki no Kizaka no Ie", "Genki de ne, Sayonara" sounds more cheerful despite the theme of parting-is-such-sweet-sorrow.

Released in March 1953, the lyrics were by Toshio Nomura(野村俊夫)with the music provided by Minoru Mikai(三界稔).  The other interesting thing about the song is in the title; I don't think I had ever seen the word "sayonara" written in kanji before.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Yuko Ohtaki -- Mr. Private Eye

In my first article on singer Yuko Ohtaki(大滝裕子), I mentioned that I had never heard of her before I discovered that she sang the coolest jingle for a yogurt drink. Well, that is still true, her name hadn't been known to me but I have heard her before.

Actually, when my anime buddy was kind enough to give me a copy of some of his large collection of anison some years back, it included "City Hunter OAS Volume 1". Included in it was "Mr. Private Eye" which was sung by Ohtaki. To me, it doesn't have a City Pop feeling but it does remind me in parts of some of the music that was playing about in the West during the late 1980s, especially when it came to those teenage movies starring Molly Ringwald (maybe it's The Psychedelic Furs).

Regardless, "Mr. Private Eye" is pretty darn cheerful, and Ohtaki delivers it as if she were a very grateful client to the man of "City Hunter", Ryo Saeba, which would probably arouse him to no end (is that a 100t hammer I see coming up there?).

Anyways, the song was created by Linda Hennrick and Ryoichi Kuniyoshi(国吉良一). I'm not absolutely certain when "City Hunter OAS Volume 1" came out but I think it was 1989. It has also been placed on a remastered version of Ohtaki's 1980 debut album "Million Kiss"(ミリオン・キス)which was released in 2010 according to J-Wiki (although the year may be wrong since there is an entry on Japanese music blog "Music Avenue" about that remastered album and it's dated 2008) as a CD. Those extra tracks include some more City Pop and her contributions to "City Hunter" and even the detective series "Abunai Deka"(あぶない刑事...Dangerous Detectives).

Goro Noguchi -- Amai Seikatsu (甘い生活)

The Eno-Den

Almost a couple of weeks ago, I think, "Uta Kon"(うたコン)had Goro Noguchi(野口五郎)on for what I think NHK said was his very first appearance on the music-variety show in its current incarnation. And he made the most of his time by performing his most successful hit.

That would be "Amai Seikatsu", his 14th single from October 1974. Now, at first glance, I would have translated that title into "A Sweet Life" but reading Michio Yamagami's(山上路夫)lyrics, it is much more accurate to have it mean "A Naive Life". Noguchi sings about a guy trying to pick up the pieces after a relationship goes down the tubes. The impression is that there is a huge hole in his apartment where his mate used to be.

Now that I remember, I realize that Noguchi showed up during that tribute show to composer Kyohei Tsutsumi(筒美京平)who indeed came up with the melancholy melody. And man, looking up at that video above, the 70s aidoru really had his supporters. I wouldn't have blamed him if he had suddenly stopped singing to chastise the screamers.

Listening to "Amai Seikatsu", I'm starting to glean some insight about why there were so many sad songs in the kayo period. Fans just seemed to love getting all sympathetic for a heartthrob singer crooning about a lost romance. But then again, that was true in Western music wasn't it?

Anyways, the song hit No. 1 on Oricon and came close to hitting the million barrier in sales; according to J-Wiki, it was about 950,000 records sold. "Amai Seikatsu" also won composer Tsutsumi a prize at the Japan Record Awards that year, and earned Noguchi his 3rd appearance at the Kohaku Utagassen which apparently cemented his position as one of the Shin-Gosanke(新御三家...The New Big Three)along with fellow singers Hiromi Go(郷ひろみ)and Hideki Saijo(西城秀樹). In fact, his appearance at the Kohaku marked the first time that all three aidoru made their presence known at the NHK special. By the end of the year, the song was the 70th-ranked single of 1974 and even grew higher a year later by ranking in at No. 34.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Takeshi Kaga -- Ja-nay (じゃない)

I was well into that 3-year period in Toronto between the JET Programme and my really long stay in Japan. A couple of friends were kind enough to send me video tapes of Japanese TV during that time, and one of them actually sent me a tape filled with this new Fuji-TV variety show (debuted in 1993) which knocked the socks off me. It was this crazy program which took the concept of the cooking show and elevated it into gladiator spectacle. And it was hosted by this foppish force-of-nature who presided over the epic proceedings like a benevolent cuisine-obsessed king. Plus, I was stunned to hear most of the background music consisted of the larger-than-life soundtrack from "Backdraft", a score that I liked so much that I bought the CD (still wonder how much Fuji-TV had to pay for the rights to feature that music).

For the first little while, I was fairly obsessed with the original "Ryori no Tetsujin"(料理の鉄人...Iron Chef)which I continued to watch even into my time in Japan since it was on late night on Fridays. But then the inevitable familiarity-breeds-contempt curse of the formula set in and I gradually weaned myself from the show, even not watching the entirety of the final episode in 1999.

Takeshi Kaga(鹿賀丈史)played was the grand chairman of the cooking academy and he had the perfect voice and the saturnine looks to pull the whole hammy thing off. He's been an actor since he was a kid (born in 1950) but he also took some time to record a few singles.

Now, it's time for a personal tangent. In my early years of my life in Chiba Prefecture, there was "Ryori no Tetsujin" on Fridays for me to enjoy, and if I'd had a regular job in the Japanese corporate world, I would also have been heralding the start of my weekend. However, I was a NOVA English teacher which meant that regular Saturday/Sunday weekends were as preciously coveted as water in a desert. In that time, my "weekends" consisted of Mondays and Tuesdays, and so my mornings off then and even during the mornings before my afternoon/evening shifts consisted of me leisurely having breakfast and watching another Fuji-TV show, the kiddy program "Ponkikies"(ポンキッキーズ).

So, why watch a show like that instead of the morning wide programs featuring adult news on the other channels, you may ask? Well, part of it was that "Ponkikies" had some pretty darn catchy tunes (which is why I have the Ponkikies category in the Labels). And one of them was done by Chairman Kaga himself.

With kids' tunes, I think they have to be earworms by nature and although it took me a long while to find out that it was Kaga who sang this one, "Ja-nay", this song hooked me hook, line and sinker right from the get-go. Launching with a rapid-fire torrent of 「じゃない、じゃない、じゃない」like a clickety-clack train, Kaga loopily goes into some nutty lyrics that were probably chosen more for their onomatopoeic pleasure than for any particular story although my theory is that they revolve around some over-caffeinated kid and his will to live life large and not listen to the grown-ups. Plus, "Ja-nay" has this really simple but contagious melody that brings to mind a combination of something country-western and The Beatles' "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" with the same sense of whimsy.

Released in August 1996, I have to admit that "Ja-nay" was one of the tunes that I looked forward to on "Ponkikies", and someone on the production staff had the brain wave to even make it into a quick calisthenics regimen. It could get not only the kids but even some of the adults moving about (didn't quite get me to stand up and move...was too busy flexing my arm to eat my breakfast danish).

"Ja-nay" was written by veteran lyricist Yoshiko Miura(三浦徳子)and composed by Makoto Mitsui(三井誠)who had come up with an evergreen J-Xmas tune a couple of years earlier. The song peaked at No. 38.

Yoshiko Hanzaki -- Ashita e Mukau Hito (明日へ向かう人)

I was surprised that the above video got up so quickly but this was the piece that I was watching last night on NHK's morning show (time difference, remember). I had never heard of singer-songwriter Yoshiko Hanzaki(半崎美子)before and when she was introduced as the "Shopping Mall Utahime" (Shopping Mall Diva), I was not particularly impressed.

From what I read on her J-Wiki file, the Hokkaido native had debuted back in 2007 and released a smattering of singles and albums over the past decade with her first major album coming out just earlier this year in March. Plus, she's held a number of concerts. Still, I'm not sure whether she has become a household name.

But during the NHK feature, it was discovered that she has become famous in Taiwan for performing in various shopping malls. And there was one moving ballad that seems to have become especially popular. "Ashita e Mukau Hito" (The One That Heads To Tomorrow). It was originally released as the title track of one of her albums back in March 2015.

The song is about being able to move forward in life despite the various obstacles and tragedies that inevitably populate life's path, and in the NHK segment, a couple of families have turned to "Ashita e Mukau Hito" for solace while mourning the loss of children.

I will be honest on seeing the original music video that I had to grab a tissue. The animation is cute and simple but speaks volumes about the power of friendship. The original album only got as high as No. 120 on Oricon but I am hoping that having folks in Japan discover this song for the first time will bring some more fame to Hanzaki. Perhaps hope beyond hope but wouldn't it be nice if she were even invited to the Kohaku Utagassen in a few months?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Ringo Shiina -- Juudam(ジユーダム)

Wednesday nights at the household are often tuned to NHK's "Gatten!"(ガッテン!)show which has rakugo comedian Shinosuke Tatekawa(立川志の輔)overseeing a trio of guest tarento and assisted by announcer Fumie Ono(小野文惠). "Gatten!" focuses on health-related issues such as the classic katakori (stiff shoulders), the latest trends in so-called superfoods and various exercises.

In early 2016, "Gatten" decided to undergo an overhaul (it has been on since 1995) with a new set, no Mami Yamase(山瀬まみ)as permanent panelist, and even a snazzy theme song. And it's been a theme song that I've been searching for on YouTube but for whatever reason, the original "Juudam" by Ringo Shiina(椎名林檎)has yet to be put up on the site although the cover versions are present.

The knowledge of "Juudam" doesn't seem to exist on the English-language sites pertaining to Shiina although it has been acknowledged on J-Wiki as a digital download-only single associated with "Gatten!". I've been hearing it weekly for almost 18 months now and I enjoy the playful jazz aspect of it although for the life of me I have no idea what the title means. Still, Shiina sings about having a good happy life with friends so it's well placed with the purpose of the show. Incidentally, neither of the versions I have here are the full versions.

Here is one cover version by MAYA.

The First – Kita Sakaba (Francium)

Many thanks to J-Canuck for extending an invitation to me to contribute to this series of articles on the special first songs that brought us into the fascinating world of music from Japan. I enjoyed very much all the posts on the topic. My experience is a little different, for me it was a distinctive moment with one particular song.

Kita Sakaba was probably one of the more popular songs from Japan in the eighties. It has already been reviewed on this site and also mentioned in a number of other articles I’ve seen here. I don’t think I need to say much about the song itself since it is one of those ubiquitous kind of song, and most would have heard the original or the numerous covers whether in Japanese or other languages. Rather, I would like to share my little story about the very first time I heard this song almost thirty five years ago (!) and how it created a lasting impression on me.

 I can’t quite recall the actual year when it started, but back home in Singapore all those years ago, the Kohaku Uta Gassen was shown on our local TV, not live, but as an edited show lasting around two hours, a few weeks after the actual New Year’s Eve broadcast in Japan. Due to the language factor, Japanese drama or songs  were traditionally not found much on our mainstream entertainment channels, so the telecast of the Kohaku was quite a novelty.

Around the start of the eighties ( if my memory serves),  there was this “invasion” by Japanese artists on our local entertainment scene. Japanese TV drama started to be shown during prime time and became very popular.  I remember Momoe Yamaguchi’s  Akai Giwaku took the audience by storm, and how my classmates and I were gripped by the tragic love story between the leukemia stricken Sachiko (Momoe’s character) and her love interest (I can’t remember his name) played by her regular co-star and later real life husband Tomakazu Miura. Looking back, the story line was rather cliché but back then that TV series was really popular and kept audience like me and my friends enthralled. As an aside,  and this probably sounds strange, I always thought of Momoe as an actress and not so much a singer, since my first exposure to her was on TV. On the music scene, singers like Hideki Saijo, Hiromi Iwasaki, Kenji Sawada, and later on, aidoru like Seiko, Matchy, Toshi  (I can never tell these two boys apart) and Akina, were featured regularly in the entertainment news section of newspapers and magazines. They became increasing well known, with many young fans idolizing them.

With the popularity of Japanese songs and drama, it was not surprising that the annual Kohaku made its way to Singapore. To make it easier for the local audience, there was Mandarin commentary dubbed over the dialogues, while still retaining the spotlight on the singing in Japanese. While I could not understand a word of the songs being sung,  I remember dutifully sitting through the whole show or at least most of it. There was something quite fascinating about watching all these singers belting out their best song, dressed in their finery, in a friendly  “boy team” vs “girl team” type of competition. The show usually started with the younger ones, always good looking and full of bouncy energy, dancing and singing some catchy number, albeit sometimes not quite pitch perfect. As the evening progressed, the line up turned to more mature singers, often clad in splendid kimonos, who were usually more solemn and even on the verge of tears, their songs soaring with powerful and emotive voices (back then I had no idea what is enka, or the other genres of Japanese kayo, and to be honest, I still don’t). It was all very interesting, very new and curious to me. Yet, I couldn’t say that there was any particular singer or song that I really liked. Until a particular moment at  the 1982 Kohaku, that is.

Unfortunately I can’t remember very much of that year’s Kohaku as a whole, I think I might have spaced out a bit during the show, since it was shown at night. Luckily for me, I was watching the later segment of it. This was usually the time when the heavyweights appeared and things got serious. But instead of some stern looking singer appearing, there was this cheery music sounding, or to borrow a term used by J-Canuck, which I think describes the song perfectly, a jaunty tune came on TV rather unexpectedly.  Out on stage came this guy dressed in a white tux, looking all charming and smart, who started singing in a pristine yet warm voice. The song title appeared on screen 北酒场(Kita Sakaba), followed by the singer’s name in Chinese, 细川贵志(细川たかし Takashi Hosokawa). Not that the song title or singer’s name meant anything to me at that time, even though the Chinese forms are the same as in Kanji, as I had never heard of either the song nor the singer. But within moments of hearing him sing in his melodious voice,  I was going like “who is this?!”, “what is he singing about??”.

Here was finally (in my young school girl mind) someone who checked all the right boxes, someone could really sing and looked pretty darn cute too! I know it is very hard to associate the veteran enka singer with anything like cute in that sense, but back in the day, he was quite a handsome, good looking chap compared to the other male enka singers (in my eyes anyway).  In an instant, I was captivated, both by the singer and the song too, which sounded so happy and delightful. I had no idea what the lyrics meant, which was just as well, since the words were not quite suited for a pre-teen anyway, but the whole song and the delivery of it was so bright and brimming with cheerfulness that was positively infectious.

The performance was over in a couple of minutes but it resonated within me long after the show ended that night. I remember trying really hard to make sure I memorized the name and the song title correctly . Back in the day with no internet or social media, it was not quite as easy as googling for the name to find out who someone was and where to buy his records. Besides, even if I knew where to get it, I didn’t have any money to buy anything. But I think I did manage to find out more, possibly through some local newspaper article that actually featured him (a rarity since I don’t reckon he was the “in” type of singer)  and at least got to know his name for sure. I also remember summoning up the courage to ask some relatives who mentioned that they had recordings of the Kohaku to borrow the tapes and was made to solemnly promise that I would take good care of their prized possession. It was a good thing that I didn’t spoil the video tape by constantly rewinding to a particular part of the show!

With my very limited means, the only other thing I could do was eagerly look out for this singer in the subsequent years’ Kohaku. I remember being touched watching a visibly emotional Hosokawa graced the finale in the next year’s show, as well as the following year’s rather hilarious but endearing moment when he forgot the lyrics right at the beginning of Naniwa Bushi Dayo Jinseiwa. Alas, my memory of him and the Kohaku stopped there, because I don’t recall watching the subsequent years of the show, whether it was because they stopped screening it on TV, or I was just distracted by other things that came my way, I am not sure. Nevertheless, that first time watching Takashi Hosokawa sing his famous Kita Sakaba had always remained a fond memory within me.

I’m really glad to be able to find a video of this particular performance on youku which allows me to relive this special moment

Watching this I was once again impressed by the joy that permeated the performance. There was such a happy atmosphere and a nice feel of camaraderie with the guys from the white team singing and dancing to the song, and even the ladies from the rival team were also clapping and singing along. It was much later that I found out that this song won the grand prize at the Japan Record Awards, just earlier the same evening as the Kohaku. I guess there was indeed very good reason for the jubilant mood  as that was his moment of triumph, after a slump in his career just the year before when Hosokawa was hospitalized for a long time due to a serious injury sustained during filming and he was staring at the possibility of a pre-mature end to his singing career which started so brilliantly just a few years ago.

Another video that I came across was at the  Japan Record Awards itself, when Hosokawa was receiving the grand prize for Kita Sakaba. In contrast to the happy Kohaku performance just hours later, here it was all tears and emotion as he sang the song that brought his career back on track again.

In the ensuing years, sad to say I did not listen to many Japanese songs. The good thing though is that I have recently picked up from where I left off. I guess I’m now at the age when one gets rather nostalgic and sentimental about the good old days, and it was one of those moments when I suddenly remembered about this singer whom I was so fond of so long ago, and then proceeded to find out all I could about what happened to him through the years. The difference now is obviously with the web and all the content that is available, it was not hard at all to catch up even though the gap was more than thirty years. This was actually also how I found this excellent site, when I stumbled upon Noelle’s article on her visit to the Hosokawa museum in Hokkaido.

I have been sort of binge watching all the videos on youtube and other channels that I could find. Along the way I rediscovered some of the other singers that I have hazy memories of and found new ones to admire too. I also looked around to see where I could buy Hosokawa’s songs, but could only find a few on ITunes and none on Spotify, which resulted in me getting my first CDs in years. I ordered the box set of his fortieth anniversary commemorative CDs from Amazon Japan and it only took four days to reach me here in the States. I’ve saved the songs into the music library on my phone so I can bring it everywhere with me. After missing out for so many years, this one’s not getting away from me any time soon.

Compared to my first experience over thirty years ago, it is indeed so much easier now to get access to things that were not so readily available then, and I am truly  grateful for all the advancements in technology that have such a big impact in not just how we listen to music, but in all aspects of our lives. Nevertheless, in my nostalgic mood, I sometimes reminisce on the old times. Perhaps it is through rose-tinted glasses of the good old days especially now that I am so far away from home, but moments like my first view of that jubilant performance of the Kita Sakaba all those years ago will always be something special for me, like a little touch of magic that I will always remember with great fondness.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Ruiko Kurahashi -- je t'aime/Itsuka Happiness (いつかHappiness)

The French "Je t'aime" seems to be one of those popular expressions that used to find itself in a handful of Japanese pop songs and even some of the titles way back when. It is rather ironic that for a people who don't (didn't?) express affection too openly, the ardent l'amour did make its way into kayo lyrics.

One example that is well known to me since I'm a big fan of the singer is "je t'aime" by Ruiko Kurahashi(倉橋ルイ子). Released as her 7th single in October 1984, the song may have all of its title in small letters but the way song comes out, it really seems to pour out all of the desperation of love and heartbreak like an avalanche. Going through the lyrics, I saw a lot of the tropes for the unhappiness involved in romance such as the dried and crumply leaves of autumn, the mark on the finger where a ring used to be, fog and even that new woman on the old flame's arm.

"je t'aime" isn't one of my favourite Ruiko songs partially due to the arrangement with a strangely dated synthesizer and because I usually like Kurahashi in a more languid style. But the song still pops up in my brain occasionally when her name comes up. It was written and composed by singer-songwriter Kuniko Fukushima(福島邦子).

The other song by her that I wanted to put up is "Itsuka Happiness" (Happiness Someday). This is one that I do like very much since it is in that languid style that I always associate with her. I've been hoping to find a YouTube video featuring this one all these years since I started the blog but I will go with the excerpt found at Apple. I'm not exactly sure when the song first appeared although it wasn't an official single. The first time I heard and fell in love with it was through its existence on a compilation tape that I got at Wah Yueh in Chinatown but it's also on the CD that is featured at Apple, her "NEW BEST NOW" disc from 1987.

Written by Kei Murayama and Junichi Kosugi(村山恵・こすぎじゅんいち)and composed by singer Yukio Sasaki(佐々木幸男), I'd always assumed that "Itsuka Happiness" was about that leisurely Sunday morning brunch at home. It just sounded really relaxing. However, the lyrics really talk about a lass waiting for that phone call in a foggy Tokyo one morning from her beau so that she can tell how she feels about him. Well, it's not exactly the same scenario but perhaps she could still be eating a bagel and lox. In any case, this is more my type of Ruiko.

Mayumi Itsuwa -- Rakujitsu no Tehma (落日のテーマ)

From Ueno Park

According to today's weather report, the sun will be setting here in Toronto at 7:34 pm which means in about 5 minutes as I start writing this article. Yep, the days are getting shorter once more.

So I have found a very appropriate song. And it has been a while since I put up a Mayumi Itsuwa(五輪真弓)ballad so allow me to kill two birds with one stone. As much as I love Itsuwa's French-sounding music starting from the late 1970s, I think her early material starting from the early 1970s is also wonderful.

I've mentioned before that Itsuwa was once labeled the Japanese Carole King when she first launched her career, and I think her song "Rakujitsu no Tehma" (The Theme of Sunsets) kinda reflects that opinion. There is something quite leisurely and "Tapestry"-like about this Itsuwa-created ballad that wasn't an official part of her discography in terms of her singles or albums. It was actually created by the singer-songwriter as the theme song for an NHK drama titled "Bokutachi no Shippai"(僕たちの失敗...Our Failures)in 1974.

From what I read about the story on this Japanese blog, the drama had something to do with the struggles with a young couple in terms of arranged marriages and romance. Basically, it didn't end too happily with the pair breaking apart in the end. So I gather that would explain the melancholy nature of "Rakujitsu no Tehma". Still, it's a lovely early Itsuwa-esque entry. With all of the contemporary J-Pop out there now, it's nice to hear something this soft and resonant, and yep, it does fit that sunset theme. Speaking of which, the sun has been setting now for 7 minutes.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Miyu Tomita & Mariya Ise -- Deep In Abyss/Tabi no Hidarite, Saihate no Migite(旅の左手、最果ての右手)

Mentioning in my last article about the big feature in yesterday's anime-and-food session, "Kimi no Na wa"(君の名は。), I also have to state that the latest Sunday get-together also had a dollop of darkness. We've been watching the interesting shows  "Made in Abyss"(メイドインアビス)and "Centaur no Nayami"(セントールの悩み...A Centaur's Life), and yesterday's episodes were really bordering on charcoal-black. The latter had one episode which barely had the regular characters showing up, instead giving a history lesson on that universe's version of the Holocaust.

Before that, I saw episodes 9 and 10 of "Made in Abyss", and if it hadn't been for the fact that I had already found out online synopses about some of the horrors that main characters and travelers Riko and Reg endure, I think I would have gone into a fetal position with the events of the latter episode. Good golly, they're just kids! I will not put up any YouTube videos of the scene in question can look it up yourself (and reactions of viewers), but suffice it to say that the happy-go-lucky flavour of the series has gone very sour. Heck, even my friend warned me beforehand and he had never done that before.

Miyu Tomita(富田美憂)and Mariya Ise(伊瀬茉莉也)who play Riko and Reg respectively also perform both the opening and ending themes for "Made in Abyss". Tomita I have already become acquainted with for her performance of "Gabriel Dropkick"(ガヴリールドロップキック)from the comedy "Gabriel Dropout"(ガヴリールドロップアウト), but Ise is someone who has been in the anime industry for over a decade, including even a stint as a Precure warrior. And I think she has done some narration work for NHK.

The opening theme is "Deep In Abyss", a dramatic song foretelling the adventure to come as the explorers delve deep into that huge hole that is the basis of their civilization. It's written by hotaru and composed by KanadeYUK and Masahiro "Godspeed" Aoki.

After Episode 10, I wouldn't blame viewers if they begged for the ending credits and theme since they are so cheerful. Once again, Tomita and Ise handle singing duties for "Tabi no Hidarite, Saihate no Migite" (Left Hand of the Journey, Right Hand of the Furthest Ends). With that child-like melody, you would think that the kids are going off on a picnic with nothing more dangerous than a wayward ant (instead of a multi-mouthed hedgehog). Yukari Hashimoto(橋本由香利)wrote and composed this one.

Well, let's see how much more Eli Roth "Made in Abyss" gets. But at least, there were the hilarious episodes from "Mahoujin Guru Guru"(魔法陣グルグル)to enjoy later on.

After Episode 10, I wanted this koala
to reassure me.

RADWIMPS -- Sparkle (スパークル)

Last year, there was quite the kerfuffle over this anime motion picture which bust open viewing records in Japan and gained a lot of popularity worldwide. Of course, I'm talking about "Kimi no Na wa"(君の名は。....Your Name)by Makoto Shinkai(新海誠).

To be honest, I hadn't wanted to watch it. I was never all that big a fan of Hayao Miyazaki(宮崎駿)flicks with the exception of "Majo no Takkyubin"(魔女の宅急便...Kiki's Delivery Service)and when I heard about "Kimi no Na wa", I automatically assumed it was going to be too heavy with supremely long and languid scenes and over-the-top acting. Plus, the fact that it involved high school kids with all of the hormones and emotions racing at warp speed didn't help matters. Finally, watching the rock band RADWIMPS perform a song from "Kimi no Na wa" on the Kohaku Utagassen last year, "Zenzenzense"(前前前世...Past Past Past Lives), as if it were the last time they were going to be allowed to play anywhere had me deciding "Uh....nope, I'll pass".

Well, cue ahead several months later into 2017. My anime buddy told me that he purchased "Kimi no Na wa" on Blu-Ray so he played it for the afternoon feature at his place. And for the first five to ten minutes, I kinda felt like one of the judges on those reality show contests having to go through the not-so-great participants in the preliminaries. But then the story of the comet came in along with Taki and Mitsuha coming to grips with their situations, and I then went "Oh...OK, not too bad at all".

By the ending credits, I was surprisingly pleased with the overall result although I didn't think it was any timeless classic. Of course, seeing those scenes of Shinjuku and Roppongi lovingly rendered onto the screen had me getting that urge to get back to my old stomping grounds. The particular elements of the plot with the time travel, body-swapping and hating growing up in a hick town are things that I've seen a number of times, but in "Kimi no Na wa", they were brought together pretty well. Plus, I have learned to ask my waiter/waitress at any izakaya in Tokyo where my sake really comes from.

As I said, "Zenzenzense" wasn't my cup of tea but there were a couple of songs at the end by RADWIMPS that I enjoyed. One of them, "Sparkle", I thought was especially fitting for the climax of the movie. Considering the suspense and drama involved in the scenes at that point, it seems like "Sparkle" was the reassuring presence that said the protagonists were doing the right thing after all and that things would be OK...despite Shinkai's predilection for unhappy endings. Vocalist and guitarist Yojiro Noda(野田洋次郎)wrote and composed the song.

The song was part of the soundtrack album for "Kimi no Na wa" which came out in August 2016. Not surprisingly, it went all the way up to No. 1 on the Oricon weeklies and ended up becoming the 6th-ranked album of the year as it went Double Platinum.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The First -- Noelle Tham

I was trying to figure out how to go about doing my "The First" article for a while now. I wasn't sure whether to talk about my roots in J-pop or my transition to enka, but eventually I decided to combine both as I do touch on both genres on KKP. This'll be a long one, so get comfy and please bear with me.

The J-Pop Roots:

For me, everything began with Chage and Aska. As a young kid (probably around 10 years old), my parents used to play some of the pop duo's songs when we went on road trips to the neighbouring Malaysia. With rolling fields passing by as we headed to Cameron Highlands on one trip, the track that resonated with me the most was none other than "On Your Mark". I had no idea who they were or what they were saying, but the mellow rock melody and chorus had me not wanting the song to end. However, after that road trip I never got the chance to hear those C&A songs again, for some reason. Probably because it didn't occur to me that I could personally take the CD of downloaded tracks and search for the song using Dad's old laptop.

Anyway, it wasn't until a year or two later when I managed to get my hands on an MP4 player (prize from a Reader's Digest issue... I still have no idea how I became the winner) did I finally reconnect to that fateful song, which opened the gateway to the rest of C&A's discography. Being a little older and more aware of things, I also decided to sample the other songs in that CD and grew to enjoy every single one of them - the eight tracks ranged from "On Your Mark" to "Hitori Zaki" (ひとり咲き). Then I gained access to YouTube in the years that followed which allowed me to finally see the guys behind the music and broaden my C&A horizons. I distinctly remember listening to "Heart" during my one hour computer curfew, and having "if" playing in the background while I wrestled the keyboard's arrow keys to keep my character from squashing himself in online motorcycle games. Ah, good memories.

Throughout secondary school (grade 7 to 10), it was literally nothing but C&A (especially Aska). Having gotten some compilations from HMV in Singapore (when it was still around) and reprints of their original albums in Japan as well as online, I became quite well-versed in their works. Unfortunately, Aska got into trouble (2013) and went out of commission for a few years.

As terrible as it was, there was a silver lining. It had me venturing out into the works of other J-pop acts as an alternative. The most notable group I clung on to in the aftermath was Anzen Chitai (安全地帯), whom Mom mentioned and recommended occasionally. Considering how devastated I felt when Aska was indicted and the hell the GCE 'O' levels put me through, my introduction to the band via "Kanashimi ni Sayonara" (悲しみにさよなら) helped to ease the pain considerably. Southern All Stars followed soon after with "Manatsu no Kaijutsu" (真夏の果実).

Despite being a good distraction, I lost most of my interest in them quite quickly as I found Koji Tamaki (玉置浩二) to be too bohemian and Keisuke Kuwata (桑田佳祐) too zany. None of the other 90's J-pop acts I came across in 90's hit medleys really resonated with me either - their hits were good, but I wasn't enamored by the singers - and I felt like I was simply waiting on Aska to make a comeback.

Then I discovered Korokke (コロッケ), the monomane artiste, who opened the gateway to a whole "new" genre.

The Transition (with Korokke's help):

I encountered Korokke around the same time as Tamaki and Kei-chan. I recall looking for impressions of singers I recognize, which then led me to Korokke's shenanigans. What I loved about his impressions were that they could be on point, inaccurate to some degree but hilarious, or a mix of both. Now, I had no idea whom many of the targets were at the time but multiple viewings of Korokke's warped faces and exaggerated deliveries were enough to make me do some investigating. As it turned out, they were enka singers.

Needless to say, I had little idea of what enka was, besides the fact that it's old music sung by the old and grey. I'd typically avoid it at all costs, but because of my burning curiosity and slow gravitation to the fragments of the strange sounding songs Korokke sang, I went ahead to listen to some of them, one being Hiroshi Itsuki's (五木ひろし) "Yokohama Tasogare" (よこはま・たそがれ).

With its distinctive, snake charmer (as I usually call it) music and Itsuki's mellow vibrato-filled vocals, it made for a very different listening experience - it wasn't something I've heard or seen before, but it was thoroughly refreshing and amusing. From there, I began trying out a little more enka that were easy on the ears, all while marveling at the kooky characters who sang them, like Ikuzo Yoshi (吉幾三), Aki Yashiro (八代亜紀), Takashi Hosokawa (細川たかし), and Masao Sen (千昌夫). But just like what I mentioned above, it wasn't enough to sustain my interest in the genre, and so I set it aside while I explored more of 90's J-pop until I decided to look up another of Korokke's targets.

Mood Kayo's Uramachi

Brows furrowed so often it left five obvious wrinkles on his forehead, standing so straight and still he earned the nickname of "Pillar Man" from Mom, yup, it's Kiyoshi Maekawa (前川清), or as I like to call him, Mae-Kiyo. Korokke doesn't do impressions of him as much as, say, Itsuki, but it was amusing enough for me to look into. Also, Mae-Kiyo was one of the last few fellows from the monomane tarento's list I had yet to check out at the time.

Oddly enough, I got drawn to him fairly quickly the moment "Soshite Kobe" (そして、神戸) hit my ears. Besides looking rather spiffy, there was just something hypnotizing about hearing his intense baritone droning on to the equally as intense and dramatic strings. And the fact that he could stand so still despite bellowing out the last line of the song was fascinating... Yeah, he became my long sough-after muse soon after.

My fascination in Mae-Kiyo and subsequently his group, The Cool Five, reignited my enthusiasm for enka and allowed me to learn about its sister genre, Mood Kayo. Current day me is more aware of what is considered an enka song and what is considered a Mood Kayo song, but considering how often the lines between the genres are blurred, the kayo green horn that was me three years ago couldn't really tell the difference and simply saw Mood Kayo as the more listenable version of enka, where singers have deeper, smoother vocals and the melodies were easier on the ears (not always, though).

Enka's Hanamichi 

Coming to the tail-end of my journey into Japanese music (for now) is how I got myself into what I affectionately call "Hardcore Enka", which I wouldn't normally recommend to a first time enka listener for fear they'd run for the hills. Under this label I include the extremely melancholic or minyo-infused stuff, and singers with an overall shriller, more enka-y delivery. I had a hard time stomaching this brand of enka, especially when a ton of it descended on me via "Kayo Concert". I vividly recall uncomfortably sitting through Kouhei Fukuda's (福田こうへい) performances during one of my first viewing of the music show where he sang "Wakare no Ippon Sugi" (別れの一本杉) and later "Toge Goe" (峠越え). I was only a couple of months into my enka phase so that felt like a killer.

That was also around the time when I started visiting KKP often to look up information on the stuff I had watched from "Kayo Concert" as J-Canuck would do a write up on a song or two from the show. And that was when I came across the fierce figure that was Hideo Murata (村田英雄) via his "Jinsei Gekijo" (人生劇場) article. "Jinsei Gekijo" did sound kind of cool in both its music and title but again, just like the Fukuda experience, that was rather intense.

Anyway, with Murata becoming a familiar name, it was only a matter of time when I discovered "Osho" (王将). Now, that was something I could swallow with its elegant and powerful strings that complemented Murata's forceful growling. While searching around YouTube for more clips of this hit, I stumbled upon this video (it got removed, but I found all three parts) which had Murata and "Osho", as well as two other fellows I wasn't really aware of.

Muchi appeared first, but he sang "Aishu Ressha" (哀愁列車) instead. The first mystery fellow, the stone-faced Michiya Mihashi (三橋美智也), came after to sing "Akai Lamp no Shuressha" (赤いランプの終列車). Finally, mystery guy no.2, Hachiro Kasuga (春日八郎), made a grand entrance fit for "Osho" (at long last). Couldn't say I was a fan of his higher-pitched warbling but he literally stood out for standing a head over the other two and having those bushy brows.

As you'd expect, I didn't like the two melancholic train songs by Michi and Hachi a whole lot at first, them being "Hardcore Enka" and all, but as time went by, I kept visiting the same video again and again. Maybe it was because of their rhythmic beat and haunting score that had a knack for getting stuck in my head. I did look up their individual performances after the songs grew on me, which only led to me liking more of the heavy or minyo stuff from them. And so, constantly exposing myself (willingly) to the singing styles of these three enka veterans and the musical stylings of the type of enka common back in the days of yore built up my tolerance and made me more accepting of this big part of the genre. I even grew to like it a lot and find solace in it, as you can probably tell from the articles I wrote. Okay, the really, really depressing ones still do take time for me to warm up to.

Since they were an integral part of me getting used to enka, the San'nin no Kai, plus Haruo Minami (三波春夫) in later days, also became some of my favourite singers. Yup... Muse no.4 is one of them... I think it's pretty obvious by now which one it is. Believe me, I was as perturbed when I made that revelation as you probably are now... or probably not (anymore). NO, I'm quite certain it's not because of the unruly brows. Probably his vocal gymnastics. Hmm, or that grin. Or both...

... ...

ANYWAY, that about wraps up my "The First" article. That was a long one, but I hope you enjoyed reading about my taste in Japanese music changing from J-Pop to predominantly enka. Thanks for sticking through!