from A. Shino
Happy Friday, folks! When I made my way to Hokkaido on a short vacation several years ago, I noticed during our landing at Shin-Chitose Airport all of those huge trees speeding past us, and it felt like I was back in Canada again. Perhaps the residents living in Japan's northernmost prefecture are the one section of the demographic that doesn't get all starry-eyed about The Great White North.
I've mentioned about my Hokkaido vacation a few times over the years throughout the blog and to reiterate, I only spent 3 days in the Sapporo area. However since then, coming back to Toronto, some of my translation work has involved articles on Hokkaido tourism. And it seems like one of the highlights out in the countryside is this one lone tree out in the district of Biei, northeast of Sapporo.
And this poplar is called the Ken & Mary tree. The poplar got popular (I really needed to write that!) in the early 1970s since it was used in one of a series of commercials hawking the Nissan Skyline which starred a couple, presumably from America, named Ken & Mary who were traveling through the Japanese archipelago. I'm not sure whether the tree was the only natural feature that had viewers gaining a sudden wanderlust but then it not only stood out literally but also in a pop cultural sense. Mind you, I cannot answer whether there was an entire fleet of Skylines racing toward the Ken & Mary tree after the airing of the ad.
What musically adorned the commercial also helped it out immeasurably apparently. "Ken & Mary ~ Ai to Kaze no yo ni" (Just Like Love & The Wind) was this comfortable folky tune by the duo Buzz (バズ), and it just happened to be their debut single from November 1972. Now the other reason that I bring this song up now, aside from my personal Hokkaido connection is that the night before, is that I had written about Musukko Club's（息っ子クラブ）"Boku-tachi no Season"（僕達のSEASON）. And the composer for that particular aidoru tune was Masakazu Togo（東郷昌和）who happens to be one-half of Buzz along with his partner Hiroshi Koide（小出博志）.
Listening to Togo and Koide sing "Ken & Mary", I got some Simon & Garfunkel vibes. And usually with a Simon & Garfunkel song, it's time to relax in my armchair with a calming cup of tea. "Ken & Mary" has a nice comfy effect on me.
If you can excuse another groaner aside from the poplar gag above, Buzz generated some buzz because of their debut single. It became a hit although it didn't get into the Top 10, peaking at No. 19. But it did sell 330,000 records. Hiromitsu Yamanaka（山中弘光）and Nobuyuki Takahashi（高橋信之）provided the lyrics with the latter also composing the song.
Both Koide and Togo have had prior experience with bands before Buzz came along. Koide started up the band Indian Apple during his time at Tokai University before he and the aforementioned Takahashi launched another band, Stage Fright. As for Togo, he created a band with his junior high school classmate called Buddha's Narcissy. That classmate's name was Yukihiro Takahashi（高橋幸宏）. Yep, it's the same Yukihiro Takahashi who would go on to be part of Yellow Magic Orchestra, and he just happens to be Nobuyuki's younger brother.
It was probably through the Takahashis' fraternal connection that Koide and Togo met. The elder Takahashi produced Buzz and since he also had a hand in the commercial world, he became in charge of coming up with the song for the Nissan Skyline. The rest was history.
Buzz would continue on throughout the 1970s and even provided backup singing for folks such as Yumi Matsutoya（松任谷由実）and Seiko Matsuda（松田聖子）into the 1980s. However, the band initially called it a day in 1982 before getting back together from 2007.
Many years later, actor-singer Masaharu Fukuyama（福山雅治）would perform a cover of "Ken & Mary" for his 2002 album "The Golden Oldies". His rendition would bring even more depth thanks to his richer voice.
To finish, here are some more of the commercials for The Ballad of Ken & Mary. I don't think I would ever make a trip up to Biei specifically to see that tree but if I ever decided to make a tour of Hokkaido, I wouldn't mind a look-see.