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, April 3, 2017

Shonen Knife -- Top of the World

Yup, I've had a blog on popular Japanese music for over 5 years but I had never brought in Shonen Knife(少年ナイフ). How dare you, J! OK, mea culpa here...however in all honesty, the most famous Japanese band that was not really all that famous in Japan wasn't all that high on my list when compared to folks like Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子)and Anzen Chitai(安全地帯).

Over the years I did hear about the original lineup of Naoko Yamano(山野直子), Michie Nakatani(中谷美智枝)and Atsuko Yamano(山野敦子)and their brand of grungy rock and pop since the band was getting accolades from all sorts of rock bands including Nirvana. But did the media in Japan ever cover the ladies? For the most part, nada. Then many years into my stay in Ichikawa, I saw a commercial on TV which featured a slo-mo video of a bullet going through and destroying an apple while a Shonen Knife tune was playing in the background.

And this was the song, a cover of the Carpenters' "Top of the World" which was a track for an alternative rock band tribute to the legendary 60s/70s American pop duo, "If I Were A Carpenter" in 1994. I was rather musing about this situation since Karen and Richard Carpenter seem to be so beloved in Japan that they probably would have gotten onto the fast track to Japanese citizenship that only some foreign-born sumo wrestlers ride if they had asked. The Carpenters are more popular there than they are in their native America. So to imagine Shonen Knife tackling one of the Carpenters' hits, perhaps the Yamanos and Nakatani may have been going fairly nuts at the possibilities.

The album "If I Were A Carpenter" managed to peak at No. 70 on US Billboard while in Japan, it got as high as No. 95 on Oricon. If anyone can recommend any of Shonen Knife's original songs to me, that would be great. I will let Wikipedia provide all the information about the band.

And for comparison's sake, here is the original version that was always popping up on the radio when I was growing up.


  1. I'd wondered why the SK hole in the blog but since I've got 10+ Shonen Knife CDs I never worried too much .... I'd much rather discover what I don't know ! After YMO in college SK was my next intro to Japanese pop music, closely followed by Blue Hearts and Sunnychar. Japanese do seem to do the powerpop "girl(s) with guitar(s)" genre very well - (my current listening fave is Polkadot Stingray). But why the Carpenters? I know Candies covered a bunch of their songs, but that was pretty much contemporary - any idea why they were so popular ? I found SK to be a combination of almost too cute but crossed with a roughness comprised of equal parts amateur and punk ( punkdoru ? ). As time went on (after say 2000), it seemed they became less identifiable as Japanese until they sang. Not a complaint, only an observation.

    1. Hello, T-cat.

      Ah, perhaps I should let you try writing some of the Shonen Knife articles then. :) I'm definitely no expert on the band but they definitely made some inroads beyond their borders. Perhaps the punkdoru tag is quite appropriate to them...maybe a cousin to Babymetal?

      As for the Carpenters' enduring popularity in Japan, the only pet theory I can come up with is...schmaltz. I've mentioned in past articles that the Japanese love for nostalgia, sentimentality and whimsy is far higher than in Canada and America, at least, and I think the Carpenters fit those labels. My visits to karaoke boxes with friends and students often involved at least one rendition of a Carpenters song.


Feel free to provide any comments (pro or con). Just be civil about it.