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.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The First -- Larry Chan

In July, I got an email from J-Canuck, asking all Kayo Kyoku+ contributors if we can write about "Our First" - an account of how we get into Japanese music in the first place.  I thought it's a fantastic idea and so I made a promise.  Now that I got some time, I'm going to share "My First" with all of you.


Interesting enough, I didn't regularly listen to Japanese music till around 2010 when I started learning Japanese.  For a long stretch starting from my college years in the 90s till 2010, I listened to ZERO Japanese music.  Yes, that's right, NIL.

So, I decide to write The First and a follow-up article, Second Chance, in which I would share my recent (is 7 years too long to qualify as recent?) foray into Japanese music.

First Japanese Song Ever Heard

Honestly, I forgot.  But it HAS TO BE A SONG FROM AN ANIME SERIES.

When I was 4 or 5, every Sunday morning from 8 to 11, there's 3 hours of non-stop cartoon on TV.  Weekday 4-6pm was kids time and Japanese anime were all over TV.  There were occasionally American cartoons (e.g. Popeye the Sailor) but we all thought they're boring.  None of my friends wanted to talk about them.  We only talked about Japanese anime.  On the school bus, we would be singing those anime theme songs, in Japanese, because in that era TV stations in Hong Kong didn't ask local singers to cover like they do now (Well, Jade TV in Hong Kong started to ask local singers to cover starting in late 70s, if my memory serves correctly).

Drawing from my memory, it's EXTREMELY likely that the first Japanese song I ever heard was this one:

It was the theme song of Mazinger Z (マジンガーZ), an extremely popular Japanese anime in Hong Kong when I was small.  I forgot what the story was about now.  Of course, I never understood what I was singing on that school bus.

First Non-Anime Japanese Song (and First Kouhaku)

This I remember clearly.  It's Judy Ongg's (翁倩玉) Miserarete (魅せられて).  J-Canuck wrote an article about it in 2012 (sorry J-Canuck, I borrowed your YouTube link below).

On December 31, 1979, my Mom and Dad said that Ongg's going to appear in Kouhaku (紅白).  It was a big thing because Ongg's Chinese.  My Mom also said Ongg's going to wear a costume that would turn herself into a peacock.  I thought a person turning into a peacock would be pretty cool and so I watched Kouhaku with my parents.  It was also my first ever Kouhaku.

The song made a pretty strong impression, especially the paragraph "Wind is blowing from the Aegean...." (I didn't realize it was English and I thought it was Japanese at that time).   Ever since I listened to it for the first time in 1979, I would still remember the melody in all these years.  And whenever I describe who's Judy Ongg to my friends, I would hum that melody.

Okay, Okay, The Real First

First, some background.

I was 11.  A fresh school year had just started.  Hin-Chung Mak, my friend who sat in front of me, had something new in his wallet.  It was a photo of a young girl.  I asked him who that girl was.  He took the photo out of his wallet and showed me.  There's a name printed on the photo - 松田聖子 (Matsuda Seiko).  Not knowing who she was, I asked Mak why he liked her.  He told me that she's cute, and he liked her songs.  For some reason, I was not interested in anything Japanese at that time.  So we went back to talk about a popular local manga called 龍虎門 (Oriental Heroes).

A few years later, there's new name from Japan - 中森明菜 (Nakamori Akina).  Because the character 菜 means vegetable in Chinese, we're always joking about her name.  Not only that, but because 菜 in Cantonese slang also means one's girlfriend (similar to tea as in "my cup of tea" in English), we made even more jokes.  Still I never heard a single song from Seiko or Akina.

Summer 1984, I was spending a week at my cousin's house.  I was staring at his bookshelf.  There were cassette tapes - rows and rows of them.  Michael Jackson's Thriller & Beat It.  Here Comes the Rain Again from Eurythmics.  Cindy Lauper's Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.  Kenny Loggins' Footloose.  I duped every one of them into my TDK 90 minute tape that I brought with me!

I still remember that I didn't want to buy music because I thought it's a waste of money.  Pop songs, by definition, would fade in a few years when nobody listens to them anymore.  So why waste the money, I thought.

Then, my eyes suddenly caught something, Nakamori Akina's "Best Akina Memoir" was sitting right in the middle of all these Western pop music.  My first reaction was, "dear cousin, like my classmates, you also found this 'vegetable' attractive, don't you?"  In fact, I found Akina pretty cute at that time, but never thought I would buy her music, or even listen to her music because I was so absorbed by Alan Tam (譚詠麟) and other Hong Kong singers at that time.  But since I had a whole week, I might as well check her out, I thought.

And so I did.  Kinku (禁区) was the first song but I was not impressed.  I found Akina's voice too "rough", like Hong Kong singer Anita Mui (梅艷芳).  Then came the 2nd song, Twilight - Yuugure Tayori (トワイライト-夕暮れ便り-).  The piano intro immediately grasped my attention.  Then I heard a completely different female voice.

こめかみには 夕陽のうず
てりかえす海 太陽にそまる
日傘の下 目を細めて
あおいだ景色 あなたにも見せたい

She sounded like an angel to me.  Can this be the same Akina I just heard in Kinku?  Are they really the same person?  How did she do that?  I was amazed and puzzled at the same time by this "double personality".  So I listened more.  The 3rd song did not make any impression on me.  The 4th song, its piano intro mesmerized me again, it's Your Portrait (あなたのポトレート).  Same voice as the 2nd song, but definitely different from Kinku.  It almost felt comical because in my mind it could not be the same person.  It had to be a trick, I thought.  A little bit later, Shoujo A (少女A).  Yeah, I recognized the name of this song.  I saw it on entertainment news that it was banned for broadcasting in Japan.  I never listened to it till that point.  So this is the song, I thought!  Same voice as Kinku, but definitely a different voice than Twilight and Your Portrait.  Slow Motion  (スローモーション) - yes, my angel returns.  I have to say that at that time I loved the ballads much more than the others because they sounded similar to those Alan Tam songs that I loved.

I didn't have enough space to dup all the songs in Memoir.  Somehow, I was very indifferent about Second Love (セカンドラブ) and I never even considered it.  I decided I want Kinku, Twilight, Your Portrait, Ruri Iro no Yoru e (瑠璃色の夜へ), Shoujo A, Slow Motion, and 1/2 no Shinwa (1/2の神話).  I only had around 4-5 minutes left and I had to decide which song to include last.   After listening to the tape again and again, I finally settled for Ginga Densetsu (銀河伝説)!

I still had that tape with me till last year, when I finally said goodbye to it while I was doing this Marie Kondo exercise.  Too bad I didn't take a picture of this tape.

So, technically speaking, my first is not really a single song, but rather Nakamori Akina herself.

First Japanese MV

This, I also remember clearly.  It was this video (I hope it can escape from the YouTube police).

The most impressive scene was the last one, when she boards the train, then the train door closes, and Tamaki Koji watches the train leave the station.

Where did I watch it?  It was on a music show on Jade TV in Hong Kong.  Must be 1984 or 1985.  MV started to become popular and Jade TV decided to produce a music show dedicated to MV.  Like a radio show that allows people to call in and ask the DJ to play their song, you could call in to this TV music show and ask the VJ to play the MV of your choice.  Somebody called in and asked for Tamaki Koji's (玉置浩二) Love Premonition (恋の予感), and that's the first Japanese MV I watched.

Last Words

As I mentioned at the beginning, I didn't regularly listen to Japanese music, even though it has become quite popular in Hong Kong when I was in middle school.  After I came here to the US, I didn't listen at all.  It's not until 2010 that I really picked it up.

For that story, you have to wait till I write the follow up article, Second Chance.

Hopefully, I'll be able to write within the next 2 weeks, when I'm visiting my parents in Canada, and catching up with J-Canuck :)

(to be continued...)


  1. Hi, Larry and thanks very much for your First!

    I remember Mazinger Z because it was one of the robots featured in Marvel Comics' "Shogun Warriors" comic series. Unfortunately, we here in Toronto never got the original anime although the "Force Five" series was broadcast (Getter Robo G, Danguard Ace, Starzinger, Grandizer and Gaiking).

    Loved your Akina story. I guess we have a nickname for her now...the Veggie! Hopefully, she never reads this blog....

    Yes, as I delved deeper into Akina's discography, I was surprised to find out how high her voice had been in the beginning since I got to know her first through her albums "D404ME" and "Bitter and Sweet". She just seemed to drop an octave or two within just a couple of years.

    I did not know about the ban on "Shojo A" but I guess I'm not that surprised. However, I then wonder whether the same happened to a number of Momoe Yamaguchi's songs early in her career. BTW, what was the first Akina album you purchased?

    So, I guess you beat me to the Kohaku by a couple of years then. I would love to see some of the 1970s shows in their entirety. I wonder whether NHK will ever put them out on DVD (Blu-Ray is too much to dream for).

    Being able to see those Anzen Chitai videos was a big thing for me when I did view them for the first time later in the 1980s. And indeed, "Koi no Yokan" was one of them. Quite the atmosphere that the band set out.

    Looking forward to the sequel and also to your visit again in a couple of weeks. Let me know which restaurant you want to try out this time!

    1. J-Canuck, it's always my pleasure.

      I always thought it's very hard to watch Japanese anime in North America in the past. There's simply not enough audience. There're a series that I was watching on and off in Hong Kong but didn't get the chance to finish, and I've always wanted to watch it. This is one of them:新竹取物語_1000年女王 and it's called the Queen of Thousand Years.

      Shoujo A was banned because the Japanese government thought it would provoke more teenage crimes, or so I've heard. Newspapers do not report the real names of the criminals and just use A, B, C etc. That's where the letter A comes from. Has nothing to do with Momoe.

      And yes, I'll talk about the first Japanese album I purchased in my sequel :)

      Looking forward to seeing you in Toronto.


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