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.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Noelle's List of Enka-ragement Songs

I feel like I haven't done a pun/play on words in my articles for a while, so I'm making up for it by... putting it in this article's title! It's "Enka" plus "Encouragement" to give you "Enka-ragement"... *Jazz hands*

OK, nonsense aside, a common question I'm being posed with whenever I were to tell people I like enka is, "Why?!" This inquiry is as simple as it gets but it tends to have me stumped and unable to give a proper answer besides, "I don't know", as I never really gave it much thought. Lately though, I have been raking the inner depths of my mind to figure out why I strangely enjoy this genre of music after being told that there is definitely a reason for it. I mean, definitely more to just seeing geriatrics warble tunes far older than me in a (sometimes) strange manner, right? Well, at this point I have come up with a couple of answers:

1. Enka is usually depressing in terms of its story line. It often has the character in question drinking his or her liver to death and sounding like they're gonna start rolling on the ground in figurative agony (maybe physical agony too?). While I cannot readily associate to such situations, I feel like I can somewhat relate to the angst being delivered when I hit rough patches. Lines like "Watashi baka yo ne, obaka-san yo ne" (from "Kokoro Nokori") and "Iya desu ne, baka desu ne" (from "Miren Gokoro") do sound amusing, but can be quite relevant at times...

2. The genre can also have its lighter side. I've come to realise that there are tunes that have the protagonist persevering through tough times or striving to achieve their dreams - the road may be bumpy, but there's always that light at the end of the tunnel. Then there are also the melodies that get me pumped up. Such enka do give me that extra nudge I need when I face some uncertainties - feels better than wallowing in a pit of despair.

With that being said, and as my title and short prologue have implied, I have decided to a list on the enka I rely on for a little encouragement. So far, five songs have been picked out of many such "Enka-ragement" songs I listen to and they aren't listed in a particular order. Judging from a few of my previous articles, I think you may be able to guess what one of them would be.

Let's get to it, shall we?

Yoshimi Tendo (天童よしみ) -- Tonbori Ninjo (道頓堀人情)

To begin, here is Tendo's hit featuring that feisty Osakan spirit. What I enjoy about it is that it starts off as your typical self-loathing enka, but soon the character determines to not let the incident overcome her.  The unwillingness to give up despite hitting a wall is highlighted when Tendo growls out "Maketara akan" with gusto. One's got to move on with life eventually and no use wallowing in despair. Oh, and I just learnt that the title of the song is "Tonbori Ninjo" rather than "Dotonbori Ninjo" as I had initially thought.

Kiyoshi Hikawa (氷川きよし) -- Genkai Funauta (玄海船歌)

Gritty, sea-faring enka are usually quite apt for encouragement. They mostly focus on the trials of working on the high sea and having to bite the bullet to bring a substantial haul back to shore. What made me choose Hikawa's boisterous "Genkai Funauta" out of the others I know is the line "Naku na makeru na yowane wo hakuna" which, if I'm not wrong, means something on the line of "Don't cry, don't lose, don't complain". Definitely an effective line to slap me back into my senses when I'm beginning to retreat back into my shell when doing work.

Ikuzo Yoshi (吉幾三) -- Kadode (門出)

Well, this entry and the next one on this list are more of a combination of both my reasons for liking enka rather than just one of them. Yoshi's "Kadode" is pretty bleak as our main guy finds his life a drag due to the struggles he faces, but he steels himself to rise above them. This one's similar to "Tonbori Ninjo", but I tend to pick "Kadode" more often due to the stronger melody. I am still unable to find Yoshi's version so I've put up Kouhei Fukuda's take on it instead, however, I prefer Yoshi's gravelly and intense delivery that feels more... real... for want of a better word. Plus the "Yoisho!!" that's roared in the original is quite the morale booster.

Hachiro Kasuga (春日八郎) -- Nigate Nandayo (苦手なんだよ)

Just the title, "Nigate Nandayo" (It's Tough/Difficult), was enough to have me going back to it when I'm not having the best of days. No, it's not because I'm feeling homesick like the guy Hachi sings about. It's because of its consolatory aspect towards the end of the song. The customers of a bar assure the weeping protagonist, a singer, that it's alright for him to get emotional as they too feel the same way. I guess it makes me feel better that there are people on the same boat as I am, and that there's nothing wrong in feeling down from time to time.

Hideo Murata (村田英雄) -- Osho (王将)

Pretty sure you saw this one coming - it's my ultimate o-enka (応援歌). "Osho" is about one oozing with confidence over his shogi skills and Muchi's image while performing reflects this. Combined with the regal melody that makes one feel like they can conquer anything (perhaps just me?), "Osho" instills a decent amount of courage and fighting spirit in me when I need it.

Well, that's the end of this list. I may consider doing a list of enka that focus more on my first reason for liking the genre sometime, but it's not a concrete idea as of yet. If you'd like to, do share any songs you listen to for some encouragement.


  1. Hi, Noelle.

    Ah, I see that I'm no longer the only one with the punning ability. I used to spew out a whole ton of those at work in's a miracle that I still live.

    Fine list for your enka-ragement songs. Enka has always seemed to provide the support for the phrase "Misery loves company". What better way to go through the blues than having drinks with supportive people or enduring hardships on a hard ship.

    Out of the list you've chosen, I think my favourite would be "Osho" since it is sung by the grand Murata, a person who looked like he had gone through his fair share of pain and come out of it a much wiser man. He also looked like that Dad only a few would dare to cross.

  2. Hi, Noelle.

    Love your pun :)

    For me enka = 演歌 and mostly = 怨歌 (complain/moan). As you said, enka usually has a pretty depressing storyline. Even for those with a catchy and upbeat melody, the lyrics are more often than not about someone drinking to drown his sorrows or about how life is a long sob story. So your idea is pretty neat and refreshing to me, and it's nice to hear the "enka-ragement" songs from your compilation.

    Of these, I like the Kadode for it's strong steady rhythm with the drums in the background. I can imagine that Ikuzo Yoshi's voice will add that extra bit of oomph to the song. And naturally I also like the Osho since I like Hideo Murata.

    For my pick of songs, one that came to mind is not enka, but pop. It's Jupiter by Ayaka Hirahara. I've read the review of the song by J Canuck over here too.

    I first heard the song when I was watching the 2004 Kohaku not too long ago (oops, am exposing how out of touch I really am) and thought it was really clever to use Holst's Jupiter as the tune, for this piece of music is certainly one of the most beautiful ever written! Reading J Canuck's article about how it was Ayaka's own idea made me think even more highly of her beyond her dulcet tones. What a clever girl!

    As an aside, the same music had also been used years ago in Britain for the famous patriotic song "I Vow to Thee, My Country", for which Holst himself adapted the music to the words from a poem. It's one of those songs that will always touch the heart and inspire one to step forward and be counted.

    Back to the Japanese version of the song, here is a video of Ayaka singing her song, aptly accompanied by an orchestra

    With such grand soaring music coupled with her beautiful voice, listening to it sure serves to lift one's spirits.

    1. Hi, J-Canuck and Francium.

      Thanks for the comments.

      J-Canuck: I do love coming up with and reading puns, the worse the better. And so, like you, I'm surprised I'm still alive... ... Hur hur, hardships on a hardship.

      Speaking of Murata, he actually did endure some hardships on his way to the top, so your description is spot on. Just for "Osho" to come into existance, he had to, bluntly speaking, beg the established Yaso Saijo to write him a song worthy of being a hit. It took him many visits and gifts to Saijo on a regular basis until the lyricist finally relented, and the rest was history.

      Francium: "怨歌" seems to encompass the genre better than "演歌".

      I have come across "Jupiter" before, if I'm not wrong. Hirahara is a fairly regular guest on Uta Kon/Kayo Concert and I recall she sang it at least once. Checking out the link you added, "Jupiter" is a lot more rousing than I remembered, and I can see why you said that it can lift one's spirits. It's an interesting piece, so I shall check out J-Canuck's article to read up more on it.

      Going off topic, I went to watch Takashi Hosokawa's performance of "Shimokita Ryoka" (apparently, the "uta" is read as "ka" in the title) on the Kohaku. Dang, the taiko does give the song an extra kick! Plus, it was quite amazing to see the girl striking the taikos twice her size.

    2. Hello, Noelle and Francium.

      I was never that big of a classical music fan but I do like Holst, especially with "Mars" and "Jupiter". In fact, I ended up getting a CD back in Japan of "The Planets".

      Enka is definitely the "cry-in-your-beer" genre of Japanese music. I think perhaps for that reason, there have been a number of detractors but I'm still quite happily reassured that there have also been quite a lot of fans still for the music.


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