Whenever a song were to be firmly wedged into my brain, I realise, more often than not, the song in question would be a pre or post war song. Could be a new discovery or an old favourite, be as it may, the moment I listen/hum along to/think of a ryukoka, it would linger in my head for days. I believe that's what J-Canuck calls an ear worm. I'm not sure why music from that era sticks to me like industrial strength super glue. Probably it's because they're simple and catchy, which explains why a good number of them are still popular over seventy years down the road.
This brings us to what I shall be sharing today: My list of some of my favourite ryukoka at this point in time that were spawned during the 1930s and 1940s. I had initially planned on including stuff from the 50's as well but decided against it after some thought. The reason being, if I did so, the list would inevitably comprise of Hachi, Michi, Muchi and Minami. Now, as much as I like them, I feel that I've been talking about them a lot, and adding the four here would then make the list rather predictable and therefore... boring. That being said, there is one fellow here that, I feel, won't be much of a surprise either.
In this article, I've narrowed my picks down to one song per singer for simplicity's sake, and I'll also be highlighting the lines from each entry that always comes to mind. For the latter, it's not necessarily because I fully understand what the words mean, but mostly because I like how it sounds when sung - strange, but it is what it is.
Well, anyway, let's get to it, shall we? The songs aren't listed in any particular order.
Ichiro Fujiyama -- Tokyo Rhapsody (1936)
Tanoshii miyako koi no miyako (楽しい都 恋の都)
Yume no paradise yo hana no Tokyo (夢の楽園よ 花の東京)
Tanoshii miyako indeed, Mr Fujiyama.
Oh boy, the chorus has been on repeat in my brain for the past few weeks. Out of all the tracks on this list, "Tokyo Rhapsody" (東京ラプソディ) is the most recent addition to my ryukoka favourites. Although I've been a fan of Ichiro Fujiyama's (藤山一郎) other evergreen classic, "Aoi Sanmyaku" (青い山脈) for a much longer period of time, I couldn't get enough of the faster pace and exuberance portrayed in "Tokyo Rhapsody". The video above has the newer version as well as the original. I really enjoy the new take of it for the cool and funky arrangement - just makes the song ten times catchier!
Noboru Kirishima & Hamako Watanabe -- Soshu Yakyoku (1940)
Hana wo ukabe te nagareru mizu no (花をうかべて 流れる水の)
Asu no yukue wa shirane domo (明日のゆくえは 知らねども)
"Soshu Yakyoku" (蘇州夜曲) is a tune that has been covered dozens upon dozens of times in Japanese and Mandarin. I've put down the very first recorded take of it here by Noboru Kirishima and Hamako Watanabe (霧島昇・渡辺はま子), but frankly, I'll always be happy to hear this song sung by just about anybody. While it's definitely the softest entry here, I do enjoy it for its beautiful melody - especially so in ASKA's atmospheric and languid version, which I listen to most - and romantic set of lyrics.
Dick Mine -- Tabi Sugata San'nin Otoko (1939)
Mita ka kiita ka ano tanka (見たか 聞いたか あの啖呵)
Wouldn't be list of pre and immediate post war ryukoka without something from the matatabi (股旅) label. Apparently, that's the proper term used to call songs featuring those wandering ronin. Coming back to the topic, there are a couple of matatabi enka from the late 30's that I'm always listening to - actually, I believe they're the ones that solidified my love for matatabi enka/ryukoka - but the one I tend to pick first is Dick Mine's (ディック・ミネ) "Tabi Sugata San'nin Otoko" (旅姿三人男). It's jaunty music is mainly what draws me to it... but I think that's about it because some of the lyrics still have me scratching my head and trying to figure out how they relate to each other.
Yoshio Tabata -- Genkai Blues (1949)
Arashi fuki maku Genkai koete (嵐吹き巻く 玄海超えて)
Otoko funa nori yuku mich'ya hitotsu (男船乗り 往く道ゃひとつ)
Y'know when I mentioned that there's going to be a predictable artiste featured here? Yup, it's good ol' Batayan. There are also many works by Yoshio Tabata (田端義夫) that I favour but as with the aforementioned self-imposed rule, I can only choose one. So, I chose "Genkai Blues" (玄海ブルース). It was between this or the other matatabi tune I implied earlier, "Otone Tsukiyo" (大利根月夜), and the former was picked as I tend to find myself singing/humming this slightly bluesy madorosu entry more often.
Katsutaro Kouta & Issei Mishima -- Tokyo Ondo (1933)
Haa hana wa Ueno yo (ハア 花は上野よ)
Choito yanagi wa Ginza (チョイト 柳は銀座)
Tsuki wa Sumida no tsuki wa Sumida no yakatabune (月は隅田の 月は隅田の屋形船)
Here we have another entry dedicated to Tokyo, but this one has a Japanese flavour to it rather than Western. The festive bon odori melody and the constant "yoi yoi yoi" of "Tokyo Ondo" (東京音頭) is really quite hypnotic and catchy, latching on to me the moment I heard it at Kiyoshi Hikawa's (氷川きよし) event in Ikebukuro. As with "Soshu Yakyoku", I've put down the original version of "Tokyo Ondo" here by Katsutaro Kouta and Issei Mishima (小唄勝太郎・三島一聲). However, I normally listen to Hikawa's abridged version with it's updated score and five verses instead of the insanely long ten stanzas in the original - I'm fond of the song, yes, but there's only that much of a bon odori song I can take in one sitting before I call it quits.
Haruo Oka -- Akogare no Hawaii Koro (1948)
Hare ta sora soyogu kaze (晴れた空 そよぐ風)
Minato defune no dora no ne tanoshi (港出船の ドラの音愉し)
Wakare tape wo egao dekireba (別れテープを 笑顔で切れば)
Nozomi hatenai haruka na shioji (希望はてない 遥かな潮路)
Ah ah ah akogare no Hawaii koro (あゝ 憧れのハワイ航路)
Coming to the end of the article (thanks for sticking around), the last ryukoka that has been a perennial favourite of mine is Haruo Oka's (岡晴夫) "Akogare no Hawaii Koro" (憧れのハワイ航路). Ah, that was a time when I thought the mannerisms of the likes of Oka when performing were utterly amusing - honestly, I still find it quite funny now.
As you've probably noticed, I've highlighted the entire first stanza of "Akogare no Hawaii Koro" instead of simply a line or two. My reason for this is that firstly, I have it so firmly implanted into my brain that it doesn't take much for me to utter out the whole thing; secondly, this one stanza from the optimistic lyrics, combined with the jolly melody, gave me my first taste of what music was like in post-war Japan when I was still happily listening to just Chage and Aska. It was weird at first, but it was hard not to like it after a few listens.
That's the end of this article. I hope you enjoyed listening to these ancient classics. I might do one on my favourite songs from the 50's and/or 60's sometime, but we'll see how it goes... When I do, I promise I will be objective in my choices and the article won't just be filled with Hachi's works.