Credits

I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Hiroshi Itsuki -- Shinjuku Eki kara (新宿駅から)


When I first came to live in the Tokyo area in the mid-1990s, Shinjuku was separated into the gleaming skyscraper area in West Shinjuku and the raucous and slightly grimy East Shinjuku with all sorts of bars, restaurants, department stores and red-light facilities. But about 10 years ago, South Shinjuku suddenly came alive starting with the Takashimaya Times Square complex, and even since my last visit, I've read that things have further developed in the area. But all things start from that central hub, Shinjuku Station.


And I've got a song about that place and by one of the big guns in enka himself, Hiroshi Itsuki(五木ひろし). In fact, this was his debut as a teenager back in 1965. The thing is, though, that he didn't debut as Hiroshi Itsuki.

To explain, a few nights ago, I wrote an article about singer Shigeo Kusunoki(楠木繁夫)who was known to have 55 stage names. Well, although Itsuki didn't start his long and illustrious career amassing stage names like a stamp collection, he did have a few professional aliases before he finally settled on his most famous name. Born Kazuo Matsuyama(松山数夫)in 1948, he debuted as Masaru Matsuyama(松山まさる)and that debut song was "Shinjuku Eki kara" (From Shinjuku Station).

Written by Tetsuya Furuno(古野哲也)and composed by Gento Uehara(上原げんと), "Shinjuku Eki kara" may start out like a Mood Kayo but since the lyrics talk about a trip from Shinjuku Station back to the ol' hometown in the countryside, it quickly reverts to an enka style. The above video is of an Itsuki performance from 2004 on the cusp of his 40th anniversary in show business where he sang all of his very early songs under those various pre-Itsuki names. I was quite impressed actually. I didn't really expect Itsuki to cover all those tunes since they were not only not under his most established name but it didn't look like any of them became hits before his big breakthrough of "Yokohama Tasogare" (よこはま・たそがれ).


The above is a cover version, by the way. Although the pre-Itsuki output didn't result in any hits, I think any of his tunes back then would be worthy of exploration. For the record, between Masaru Matsuyama and Hiroshi Itsuki, the future superstar also went by the names of Eiichi Ichijo(一条英一)and Ken Mitani(三谷謙).

3 comments:

  1. Hi, J-Canuck.

    I was just commenting on Noelle's article that this site is one of the best finds I had on the web. Thanks so much for writing so many interesting articles on the music from Japan.

    Reading this one on Hiroshi Itsuki reminded me of an interesting story that I read the other day about his early days. It seems that Hiroshi Itsuki was the last iteration after the earlier failures and he was thinking of giving up if he still didn't succeed. The story goes that he was somewhere in Hokkaido promoting his new song, Yokohama Tasogare but early reception was quite cool. Disheartened, he stepped into a soba shop for dinner but had no appetite. The boss of the shop saw him and told him that he recognized who he was, adding praise for his singing. Itsuki was surprised and much encouraged by the man's kind words and indeed from then on, his luck changed for the better and his new song became the long awaited big hit.

    The story continued that Itsuki had always kept the encounter in mind and wanted to personally thank the boss for providing much needed encouragement in his moment of despair. For some reason, he didn't quite manage it for 30 years. A TV station heard of of this, and they arranged a trip for him to go by that shop. Alas, when they got there, they found that the kindly boss had already passed on for years, leaving Itsuki with regret.

    Well, I guess we can all thank the boss for his kind words to a struggling singer and helping to make sure he didn't quit prematurely.

    Cheers
    Francium

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    Replies
    1. Hi, Francium.

      Thanks very much for your kind words to both Noelle and me. I'm always very appreciative of fellow fans chiming in.

      I did hear that "Yokohama Tasogare" was probably Itsuki's final chance to make it as a singer so the way things ended up, it must seem like a fairy tale come true. However I never heard of the story of him visiting that soba shop in Hokkaido so many thanks for that. It just shows the need to never give up if someone wants something badly enough. Of course, it is also nice to get that kind word of encouragement now and then as well.

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  2. Hi J-Canuck and Francium.

    Thanks for that interesting piece of info about Itsuki. Too bad about the soba guy though; I'm pretty sure he'd be through the roof to know Itsuki remembered him after all those years. Just goes to show how a little encouragement can go a really long way.

    Anyway, listening to "Shinjuku Eki kara", I have to say I quite like the Latin Mood Kayo touch in the melody. However, it ain't as catchy as "Yokohama Tasogare".

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