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.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Haruo Minami/Aya Shimazu/Keisuke Yamauchi -- Tawaraboshi Genba (俵星玄蕃)

Ever since encountering "Jan Naito Jan" (ジャン・ナイト・じゃん), I have always been marveling about how incredible Haruo Minami's (三波春夫) rapping ability was. However, I discovered that in the genre he's known for, rokyoku, there's rapid-fire narration, and I found that out through listening to "Tawaraboshi Genba" in its entirety. The veteran's delivery of this lengthy bit was incredibly fast yet articulate, and so that made me realise, in a sense he was technically rapping even before he decided to deviate a little from enka, and "Jan Naito Jan" was probably a piece of cake for him compared to his iconic hit decades before.

Here's "Jan Naito Jan" for reference.

To give some background info on "Tawaraboshi Genba" or "Genroku Mei Sofu Tawaraboshi Genba (元禄名槍譜 俵星玄蕃): It isn't your typical kayo-rokyoku. It falls under the category of Chouhen Kayo-Rokyoku (長編歌謡浪曲... long kayo-rokyoku). Creating this sub-genre was Minami himself who sought to revive this narrative style of singing that seemed to be dying by the end of WWII. A rokyoku song is usually quite a long one, and from what I've tried to watch (not very much, really) it can be rather draggy/boring. So, what Minami did was to condense a rokyoku story into a (comparatively) short and sweet package combined with enka-yo to make it more appealing to audiences that can be easily bored (like me). The narrative that was shortened here is Chushingura (忠臣蔵... The Treasury of Loyal Retainers), which refers to fictional tale that revolves around the Forty-seven Ronin's plot to avenge their master's death - the real historical event is called the Ako Incident. Minami had penned this rendition under his pen name Touji Kitamura (北村桃児).

60's Minami... don't get to see that all that often, now that I think of it.

Anyway, due to its length "Tawaraboshi Genba" isn't a tune I listen to all that much - also because my Minami compilation album doesn't have it. But recently I have developed a lot more appreciation for this kayo-rokyoku. The music, brought to you by renowned showa era composer, Yoshiji Nagatsu (長津義司), sounded like three different enka melded into one. It starts off noble - a little like "Yawara" (), then dips into something like a slightly jauntier version of "Otone Mujou" (大利根無情), after which the score picks up to become something akin to a crazier, faster paced "Ippon Doko no Uta" (いっぽんどっこの唄), before finally ending on that grand note it began with. 

We also have Minami's delivery - by far my favourite part of "Tawaraboshi Genba" - which was as much of a roller coaster ride as the accompanying melody. As in "Otone Mujou", the fun comes when the expressions of the rokyoku master change fluidly like the face-changing characters in Chinese operas. One moment he's his usual beaming self that welcomes all with his chirpy vocals, the next his eyes have a murderous glint and he's screaming like a mad man and ruffling that neatly gelled back hair. Of course, there's also that intense "rapping" session - kinda sounds like chanting - I mentioned at the start of the article, so on a whole, "Tawaraboshi Genba" turned out to be more entertaining to me that what I had originally assumed.

"Tawaraboshi Genba" was released a number of times, most notably in April 1964 (original release) and in October 1992, the latter of which was actually a self cover rap mix with... an easy-going reggae version of "Sekai no Kuni kara Konnichiwa" (世界の国からこんにちは). Minami had sung the original twice on the Kohaku, the first being during his 7th appearance in 1964 and the second during his 31st and last appearance in 1999. Since it is a long song of about almost 9 minutes (about two/three normal enka songs long), most of the rokyoku portion was cut out when it was sung on TV due to time constraints.

A number of enka performers have attempted this kayo-rokyoku, and the ones I tend to see a lot are those by Aya Shimazu (島津亜矢) and Keisuke Yamauchi (山内惠介). Both are respectable but I have to say that Shimazu manages to convey the high intensity of "Tawaraboshi Genba" better than Yamauchi does.

That's one apt pic of Minami right there!


  1. Hello, Noelle.

    I saw that top video in its entirety. If the audience had been a European one instead of the usual staid Japanese one, Minami would have been getting flowers tossed on the stage. Truly a virtuoso performance! Of course, I didn't understand too much of what was being sung but I got the impression of a story beginning and ending with a nobleman in a castle while the middle had him in the raucous town below. That rapping was almost on the level of speaking in tongues; perhaps some of the hip-hop artists would have been bowing in respect. :)

    1. Hi J-Canuck.

      Yeah, pretty sure Minami would've gotten a stage full of flowers with a riveting performance like that. I wonder if he had performed the full version of "Tawaraboshi Genba" on his last Kohaku appearance a couple of years before he passed on - doing so would need much stamina, I presume, and it'd be amazing if the seventy-plus year-old him in not a particularly great state of health could pull it off.

  2. Wow, this is such captivating and masterful performance by Haruo Minami. Love it! Thanks, Noelle, for featuring this.

    My Japanese is virtually nonexistent, but knowing the story of the 47 Ronin, I feel that his deliverance of the song captures the spirit of the tale of the brave samurai so perfectly, one can feel the bravery, honor and loyalty of the men through his singing and expressions. As you mentioned, his narration was just incredible, so crisp yet rapid and powerful. Yep, he really nailed it! I found myself clapping along with the audience after this part :)

    The versions by the two young singers were not bad, especially Aya Shimazu's with her powerful voice. But they don't even come close to the maestro himself. Well, in this case, they certainly don't make 'em as they used to!


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