Looking through the 1980 2-disc album for the "Seishun Uta Nenkan"（青春歌年鑑）series, I shouldn't have been that surprised that most of the 30 songs have been covered on the blog. But there it is. However, there was one that I had yet to write about and it was the last track on Disc 1.
Considering that the first 14 tracks on that disc were pop, aidoru and City Pop, to hear this one was a bit of a jarring experience when I first put the CD into the player years ago. "Oyaji no Umi" (Dad's Ocean) is about as enka as you can get. With the chorus relentlessly giving the "Yoi-sho, yoi-sho" and that shakuhachi starting things off, I could virtually smell the sea air and hear the fishing boats head offshore.
Then there was that voice by enka singer Kenkichi Muraki（村木賢吉）. The following observation is no slight against him at all; in fact, I would say that it is a compliment when I say that his voice, which sounds like freshly-harvested rice before the husking and milling (in other words, unpolished), has that character which differentiates him from some of the other more refined kayo singers. In effect, he sounds like a dyed-in-the-wool fisherman who has a good ability to sing. I wouldn't see him on the NHK stage in Tokyo. His natural setting would be on the docks somewhere in the Tohoku where he is originally from.
And that is what "Oyaji no Umi" is all about. Written and composed by Tatsuo Sagi（佐義達雄）, this is a ballad about a fisherman who is plying his hard family trade while remembering his departed father. Often when I hear about these fishing-based enka such as "Kyodai Bune"（兄弟船）, I think the songs were created to emulate a war battle. Not the case here, though. This is more about fishing as fishing; a hard but important industry in Japan with the fishermen diligently going about their duties day by day.
Muraki, according to J-Wiki, had entered work at the Mitsubishi Materials Corporation where he worked in a mine in his hometown of Kazuno, Akita Prefecture before being transferred to the town of Naoshima, Kagawa Prefecture in 1967. It was there he hit it off with future songwriter Sagi who worked at the same company at the time. The two of them worked on a song which came out in 1972 with Muraki temporarily taking on the stage name of Shimando Maki（真木島人）but it didn't particularly sell.
Sagi then made another song for his friend in the same year who apparently had decided to go with his real name this time. This was "Oyaji no Umi", and it was independently produced with just 500 records made. But then, Muraki was once again transferred...this time over to the city of Gotemba, Shizuoka Prefecture in 1973.
Cue ahead to 1978, and in a plot twist that would make Frank Capra happy, "Oyaji no Umi" somehow made its presence known through the cable radio system in Kushiro City, Hokkaido Prefecture. And it caught on fire and within 6 months, all of Japan caught onto it. Philips Records re-released the single in February 1979 after which it did far better in sales, ultimately selling more than 1.4 million records and becoming a huge hit for that year and for the next. It must have been quite a giddy experience for both singer Muraki (who was around 47 years old at the time) and songwriter Sagi. "Oyaji no Umi" won the singer an All-Japan Cable Radio Broadcasting Award for Best New Artist, and Sagi received accolades at the Japan Lyricists' Awards. The song topped off at No. 5 on the Oricon weeklies and ended up as the 17th-ranked single for 1980.
It was in 1979 that Muraki decided to leave Mitsubishi to focus solely on his singing career. Since then, "Oyaji no Umi" has been covered by a number of other enka artists, one of them being, I'm happy to say, the great Kouhei Fukuda（福田こうへい）as shown above. Plus, there is also Aya Shimazu's（島津亜矢）cover below.
The J-Wiki article doesn't mention any other hit songs for Muraki so it's probable that he ended up as a one-hit wonder (as loathe as I am to use that expression) but when that one hit has gotten covered by other enka stars as the ones that I've mentioned, I can't help but feel that Muraki is still reaping his respect. And why not? "Oyaji no Umi" still has that sensation of ship-worn wood and rope-burned gloves.