Wednesday, September 13, 2017
The First – Kita Sakaba (Francium)
Many thanks to J-Canuck for extending an invitation to me to contribute to this series of articles on the special first songs that brought us into the fascinating world of music from Japan. I enjoyed very much all the posts on the topic. My experience is a little different, for me it was a distinctive moment with one particular song.
Kita Sakaba was probably one of the more popular songs from Japan in the eighties. It has already been reviewed on this site and also mentioned in a number of other articles I’ve seen here. I don’t think I need to say much about the song itself since it is one of those ubiquitous kind of song, and most would have heard the original or the numerous covers whether in Japanese or other languages. Rather, I would like to share my little story about the very first time I heard this song almost thirty five years ago (!) and how it created a lasting impression on me.
I can’t quite recall the actual year when it started, but back home in Singapore all those years ago, the Kohaku Uta Gassen was shown on our local TV, not live, but as an edited show lasting around two hours, a few weeks after the actual New Year’s Eve broadcast in Japan. Due to the language factor, Japanese drama or songs were traditionally not found much on our mainstream entertainment channels, so the telecast of the Kohaku was quite a novelty.
Around the start of the eighties ( if my memory serves), there was this “invasion” by Japanese artists on our local entertainment scene. Japanese TV drama started to be shown during prime time and became very popular. I remember Momoe Yamaguchi’s Akai Giwaku took the audience by storm, and how my classmates and I were gripped by the tragic love story between the leukemia stricken Sachiko (Momoe’s character) and her love interest (I can’t remember his name) played by her regular co-star and later real life husband Tomakazu Miura. Looking back, the story line was rather cliché but back then that TV series was really popular and kept audience like me and my friends enthralled. As an aside, and this probably sounds strange, I always thought of Momoe as an actress and not so much a singer, since my first exposure to her was on TV. On the music scene, singers like Hideki Saijo, Hiromi Iwasaki, Kenji Sawada, and later on, aidoru like Seiko, Matchy, Toshi (I can never tell these two boys apart) and Akina, were featured regularly in the entertainment news section of newspapers and magazines. They became increasing well known, with many young fans idolizing them.
With the popularity of Japanese songs and drama, it was not surprising that the annual Kohaku made its way to Singapore. To make it easier for the local audience, there was Mandarin commentary dubbed over the dialogues, while still retaining the spotlight on the singing in Japanese. While I could not understand a word of the songs being sung, I remember dutifully sitting through the whole show or at least most of it. There was something quite fascinating about watching all these singers belting out their best song, dressed in their finery, in a friendly “boy team” vs “girl team” type of competition. The show usually started with the younger ones, always good looking and full of bouncy energy, dancing and singing some catchy number, albeit sometimes not quite pitch perfect. As the evening progressed, the line up turned to more mature singers, often clad in splendid kimonos, who were usually more solemn and even on the verge of tears, their songs soaring with powerful and emotive voices (back then I had no idea what is enka, or the other genres of Japanese kayo, and to be honest, I still don’t). It was all very interesting, very new and curious to me. Yet, I couldn’t say that there was any particular singer or song that I really liked. Until a particular moment at the 1982 Kohaku, that is.
Unfortunately I can’t remember very much of that year’s Kohaku as a whole, I think I might have spaced out a bit during the show, since it was shown at night. Luckily for me, I was watching the later segment of it. This was usually the time when the heavyweights appeared and things got serious. But instead of some stern looking singer appearing, there was this cheery music sounding, or to borrow a term used by J-Canuck, which I think describes the song perfectly, a jaunty tune came on TV rather unexpectedly. Out on stage came this guy dressed in a white tux, looking all charming and smart, who started singing in a pristine yet warm voice. The song title appeared on screen 北酒场(Kita Sakaba), followed by the singer’s name in Chinese, 细川贵志(细川たかし Takashi Hosokawa). Not that the song title or singer’s name meant anything to me at that time, even though the Chinese forms are the same as in Kanji, as I had never heard of either the song nor the singer. But within moments of hearing him sing in his melodious voice, I was going like “who is this?!”, “what is he singing about??”.
Here was finally (in my young school girl mind) someone who checked all the right boxes, someone could really sing and looked pretty darn cute too! I know it is very hard to associate the veteran enka singer with anything like cute in that sense, but back in the day, he was quite a handsome, good looking chap compared to the other male enka singers (in my eyes anyway). In an instant, I was captivated, both by the singer and the song too, which sounded so happy and delightful. I had no idea what the lyrics meant, which was just as well, since the words were not quite suited for a pre-teen anyway, but the whole song and the delivery of it was so bright and brimming with cheerfulness that was positively infectious.
The performance was over in a couple of minutes but it resonated within me long after the show ended that night. I remember trying really hard to make sure I memorized the name and the song title correctly . Back in the day with no internet or social media, it was not quite as easy as googling for the name to find out who someone was and where to buy his records. Besides, even if I knew where to get it, I didn’t have any money to buy anything. But I think I did manage to find out more, possibly through some local newspaper article that actually featured him (a rarity since I don’t reckon he was the “in” type of singer) and at least got to know his name for sure. I also remember summoning up the courage to ask some relatives who mentioned that they had recordings of the Kohaku to borrow the tapes and was made to solemnly promise that I would take good care of their prized possession. It was a good thing that I didn’t spoil the video tape by constantly rewinding to a particular part of the show!
With my very limited means, the only other thing I could do was eagerly look out for this singer in the subsequent years’ Kohaku. I remember being touched watching a visibly emotional Hosokawa graced the finale in the next year’s show, as well as the following year’s rather hilarious but endearing moment when he forgot the lyrics right at the beginning of Naniwa Bushi Dayo Jinseiwa. Alas, my memory of him and the Kohaku stopped there, because I don’t recall watching the subsequent years of the show, whether it was because they stopped screening it on TV, or I was just distracted by other things that came my way, I am not sure. Nevertheless, that first time watching Takashi Hosokawa sing his famous Kita Sakaba had always remained a fond memory within me.
I’m really glad to be able to find a video of this particular performance on youku which allows me to relive this special moment
Watching this I was once again impressed by the joy that permeated the performance. There was such a happy atmosphere and a nice feel of camaraderie with the guys from the white team singing and dancing to the song, and even the ladies from the rival team were also clapping and singing along. It was much later that I found out that this song won the grand prize at the , just earlier the same evening as the Kohaku. I guess there was indeed very good reason for the jubilant mood as that was his moment of triumph, after a slump in his career just the year before when Hosokawa was hospitalized for a long time due to a serious injury sustained during filming and he was staring at the possibility of a pre-mature end to his singing career which started so brilliantly just a few years ago.
Another video that I came across was at the Japan Record Awards itself, when Hosokawa was receiving the grand prize for Kita Sakaba. In contrast to the happy Kohaku performance just hours later, here it was all tears and emotion as he sang the song that brought his career back on track again.
In the ensuing years, sad to say I did not listen to many Japanese songs. The good thing though is that I have recently picked up from where I left off. I guess I’m now at the age when one gets rather nostalgic and sentimental about the good old days, and it was one of those moments when I suddenly remembered about this singer whom I was so fond of so long ago, and then proceeded to find out all I could about what happened to him through the years. The difference now is obviously with the web and all the content that is available, it was not hard at all to catch up even though the gap was more than thirty years. This was actually also how I found this excellent site, when I stumbled upon Noelle’s article on her visit to the Hosokawa museum in Hokkaido.
I have been sort of binge watching all the videos on youtube and other channels that I could find. Along the way I rediscovered some of the other singers that I have hazy memories of and found new ones to admire too. I also looked around to see where I could buy Hosokawa’s songs, but could only find a few on ITunes and none on Spotify, which resulted in me getting my first CDs in years. I ordered the box set of his fortieth anniversary commemorative CDs from Amazon Japan and it only took four days to reach me here in the States. I’ve saved the songs into the music library on my phone so I can bring it everywhere with me. After missing out for so many years, this one’s not getting away from me any time soon.
Compared to my first experience over thirty years ago, it is indeed so much easier now to get access to things that were not so readily available then, and I am truly grateful for all the advancements in technology that have such a big impact in not just how we listen to music, but in all aspects of our lives. Nevertheless, in my nostalgic mood, I sometimes reminisce on the old times. Perhaps it is through rose-tinted glasses of the good old days especially now that I am so far away from home, but moments like my first view of that jubilant performance of the Kita Sakaba all those years ago will always be something special for me, like a little touch of magic that I will always remember with great fondness.