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, October 9, 2017

J-Canuck's Favourite Mood Kayo (ムード歌謡)

Reading Noelle's list of her favourite songs from the 1930s and 1940s, I decided it was time to talk about my likes in the shibui genre of Mood Kayo. Originally, I had been musing about getting a large list together of both enka and Mood Kayo but having done this blog for some years now, I've come to the realization that although both genres might occupy the same general watering hole with overlapping topics, so to speak, they are different customers in my estimation. Enka is about the old traditional Japan with the traditional instruments, often out in the more scenic countryside areas. Mood Kayo is more about kayo of the urban areas, specifically the bars and nightclubs, accompanied by Western instruments giving hints of jazz or Latin. Having just said that, perhaps this genre was the City Pop of the immediate postwar period even before City Pop.

In any case, let me begin. And considering the number of Mood Kayo that is already on display here, I have plenty of favourites but I had to winnow things down to a number I could count on both hands.

1. Yujiro Ishihara -- Brandy Glass (1977)

Yup, Noelle pegged it. This is the one I would begin with to discuss any Mood Kayo. At the time I first discovered this croon-worthy ballad by The Tough Guy back in 1981, I had assumed that it was a jazzier version of enka. And speaking of firsts, I would say that this was one of the very first Mood Kayo that I listened to and liked. Listening to Ishihara's dulcet tones and the dramatic arrangement (piano flourish, sharp trumpet, operatic lady), I always think of the Ginza or Akasaka districts in Tokyo and the late great Ishihara swirling around a tumbler of that titular brandy while inhaling an expensive cigarette and inhabiting his favourite place in his favourite nightclub.

2. Frank Nagai and Kazuko Matsuo -- Tokyo Nightclub (1959)

Of course, if I'm talking about nightclubs, I have to make that smooth-as-brandy segue into "Tokyo Nightclub". One of the true classic kayo duets, I was listening to this long before I even got interested in Japanese music, thanks to Dad's stereo. Although the nightclubs were all the post-dinner thing during the really profitable times of Economic Miracle Japan, I always wondered how regular folks saw nightclubs during the time that this song first hit it big. Was it seen and heard as this fantasy place that only the well-to-do movers and shakers could enter? If so, then those staged settings of fancy nightclubs and that Latin sound definitely helped in creating the illusion.

3. Takashi Hosokawa -- Kita Sakaba (1982)

Like "Brandy Glass" above, "Kita Sakaba" was one of the first Mood Kayo that I ever came across and took on the familiar trope of drinking. Unlike Ishihara's classic, though, Hosokawa's trademark tune was quite light on its feet. I always imagine a slightly tipsy Hosokawa and friends doing some major barhopping in northern Japan where each of the establishments are small affairs with plenty of carousing and imbibing. No time for introspection into the tumbler here; just knock back those glasses of beer or shochu and exhale mightily and satisfactorily before moving onto the next place. You can link onto the title above for my article and also here to get contributor Francium's take on "Kita Sakaba".

4. Hiroshi Itsuki -- Yokohama Tasogare (1971)

Also one of the first Mood Kayo that I got to know shortly after my awakening to Japanese pop music, I first listened to the empty karaoke version of Itsuki's most famous song for a number of months before I was finally able to hear the full-throated take. I hadn't been aware of how old "Yokohama Tasogare" was or even what one of Japan's largest cities was like but I knew that I was listening to something cool and urban and it did get my interest up in actually visiting Yokohama. I'm happy to say that I've been there a number of times now.

5. Teresa Teng -- Tsugunai (1984)

I knew that I had to include a Teresa Teng number into this list as much as I had to include a Yujiro Ishihara ballad, but the tough thing was that when it came to the late Ms. Teng's discography, it was actually hard to pick which one of her Mood Kayo songs would be the appropriate one. However, I ultimately decided to go with the one ballad that always got me in the heart, and that would be "Tsugunai". It definitely fulfills the Mood Kayo condition in that it does evoke a certain mood of nostalgia and romance but it's something that goes far beyond the bars and clubs of Tokyo; I hinted in the original article that there was something of the European enka about it. Well, when I listen to "Tsugunai", there is always that feeling of the Riviera and perhaps a drinking establishment there that might even be too pricey for most Japanese executives under President to enter.

6. Hiroshi Uchiyamada and The Cool Five -- Nagasaki wa Kyou mo Ame Datta (1969)

To wrap up my list of favourite Mood Kayo, of course, I also had to find a representative of the vocal groups. And this time, there was no dawdling on my choice. When it comes to Mood Kayo groups, the first one that comes to mind is The Cool Five with the stolid Kiyoshi Maekawa as the lead vocal. That saxophone, the mellow melody and of course the harmony by The Cool Five themselves make it all worthwhile. This would be the ideal ballad to take a walk along Nagasaki Bay at night, although I could do without the rain. Heck, this would be a great song to hear while strolling along any harbour at night.

As I said, there are many more songs that I would have liked to have placed here but I would have simply gotten more mired in the decision-making. Let's just say that these 6 are for me the cream of a bountiful crop.


  1. That was quite an apt description of enka and Mood Kayo. On that note, I realise that the enka seems to be more focused on the grassroots/blue collar audience who are rougher around the edges (considering the manly, traditional side of the genre) and would gather at izakayas for sake. Whereas MK focuses more on the white collar crowd who'd appear at bars for a slug of brandy. As you said, places like Ginza or Akasaka come to mind whenever a MK comes on... although I think it was more of Hawaii for Yujiro there in that "Brandy Glass" video.

    Anyway, I was quite surprised to see "Kita Sakaba" on your list. I've always considered it an enka tune and not so much of an MK one, perhaps it's because of its jaunty melody. Well, but nice to see some familiar faces too.

    1. Hi, Noelle.

      Good point on the difference between enka and Mood Kayo. Generally, I do see MK as being a predecessor of sorts to City Pop since any figures in such songs are at least hinted as being urban white-collar workers.

      Gonna have to think about that enka list in the next several days as well.

  2. Hi, J-Canuck.

    Thanks for making a distinction between enka and mood kayo. I've been trying to understand the difference between the two but haven't been able to find out much. So far what I've read usually include mood kayo just as a sub genre of enka. While they seem similar enough, there are different feels to them and I think your description hits the spot.

    So it looks like we have some similarity in our taste in mood kayo :)

    No. 3 (obviously) , 5 & 6 in your list will make mine, although my list will be irregardless of genre since I'm not at all a sophisticated listener. No. 1 and 2 are new to me, but the smooth baritones of Yujiro Ishihara and Frank Nagano sound great. As for no. 4, my go to Itsuki song is Yozora but his breakout song has a nice vibe too.

    I'm really glad to see Teresa Teng included in your list. I've known her more as an extremely popular and revered singer of Mandarin ballads since I was a kid, but have never really appreciated her songs until lately (it's the age thing again, I guess). Her singing is an awesome balance of sweet gentleness and nuanced strength, and the Tsugunai is a lovely illustration of this.

    1. Hi, Francium!

      Yeah, "Kita Sakaba" will always have a warm place in my heart. It's actually my second-string choice for karaoke behind Ikuzo Yoshi's "Yukiguni".

      As for the Tough Guy and Frank, since I can't really drink the hard stuff, their songs are the ones I imbibe through the ears...aural alcohol, you might say. :)

      Teresa Teng is also a favourite from years back. In terms of enka and Mood Kayo, she always hit a certain level of class. I still miss her.


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