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.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Works of Masao Koga (古賀政男) Part 2: The Post War Era

Continuing on my Masao Koga (古賀政男) tribute, Part 2 here will be focusing more on his works after WWII, specifically those from the 1950's and 1960's. If you haven't read Part 1 yet, you can do so in the link here.

After some research, I realised that while the great songwriter had made a name for himself by the 50's and 60's, he had fewer hits as compared to the previous couple of decades, which I guess was inevitable with the changes in musical preferences. But still, some of the successes he had during this period of time were probably his greatest.

Before we start, I would also like to mention that Koga, like many other respected songwriters, had many students, a good number of whom are popular enka-yo artistes like the flamboyant Sachiko Kobayashi (小林幸子) and Kenichi Mikawa (美川憲一), the leader of the Mood Kayo group Tokyo Romantica Masayoshi Tsuruoka (鶴岡雅義), and Eisaku Ohkawa (大川栄策) who was his last apprentice. Antonio Koga (アントニオ古賀) and Takeharu Yamamoto (山本丈晴) were also under Koga's wing but were more well-known for being a guitarist and composer respectively.

Dang, this song is so cool.

Anyway, let's begin with the songs by the Queen of Kayo herself, Hibari Misora (美空ひばり). From what I've been reading, Koga began providing the rising star that was Misora with melodies in 1950 like "Musume Sendo-san" (娘船頭さん), but it was only in the mid-60's when their collaborations were very, very warmly received. One was the extremely melancholic piece "Kanashii Sake" (悲しい酒) from 1966 which I liken to Koga's own "Kage Shitai te" (影を慕いて). The other was "Yawara" () from two years before and it definitely sits better with me - I deem it as the manliest song sung by a woman at the time. The score of "Yawara" is powerful and grand, which brings to mind a strong character that'll emerge victorious, and that was probably what Koga had in mind when he created it, especially since it was used to represent Judo in the '64 Tokyo Olympics. This became Madame Misora's biggest hit in her repertoire and, if I'm not wrong, was also Koga's most successful composition - I recall seeing a plaque of "Yawara" regarding this feat displayed in the Koga Masao Museum of Music (古賀政男音楽博物館).

Since we're on the topic of the Tokyo Olympics, I will now touch on the composer's other evergreen contribution to the sporting event, "Tokyo Gorin Ondo" (東京五輪音頭).  Released in 1963, this festive bon odori-inspired tune was to be used as the '64 Olympic's theme song, and Koga himself had actually made it with the intent of having minyo star Michiya Mihashi (三橋美智也) sing it as Michi was known for this sort of tunes. But, as we all know by now, Haruo Minami's (三波春夫) take sold the best and it essentially became the de facto version of it. I'm not too surprised by this as Minami's vocals match the joy and exuberance in the music better than Michi's, plus there was also Minami's warm and welcoming persona. "Tokyo Gorin Ondo" will even be used in the upcoming 2020 Olympics - it got a face lift with the inclusion of other genres besides enka going along to the same melody.

Following the trend of happy, feel-good stuff from the mustachioed composer, here is "Seishun Cycling" (青春サイクリング) by Kazuya Kosaka (小阪一也) from 1957, an ode to the joys of cycling and one's adolescence. It's got a joyous composition with the shrill wind instruments and light strings and crashing cymbals, which as I had mentioned in Part 1, I've come to associate with Koga's other style of songwriting. But, of course, he created many other stuff outside of those two styles, like "Yawara" and another tune you will see in a bit.

Now, we shall move on to something a little more severe. Coming from 1958, here is Hideo Murata's debut song, "Muhomatsu no Issho" (無法松の一生) with its B-side "Dokyo Senryo" (度胸千両) included. For "Muhomatsu no Issho", there's no denying that it was written by the man himself. It was based in rokyoku for Muchi's background and intense to match Matsugoro's (A.K.A. Muhomatsu) violent tendencies, but that creepy sounding mandolin and rhythmic beat are a clear sign that this is a Koga Melody through and through. Besides "Muhomatsu no Issho", Muchi also released his version of another quintessential Koga Melody, "Jinsei Gekijo" (人生劇場), in 1959.

"Rindo Toge" (りんどう峠) was the song I was referring to earlier - I wouldn't have known Koga composed it if I didn't see his name. "Rindo Toge" was one of Chiyoko Shimakura's (島倉千代子) early hits from 1955 and the first of quite a few collaborations with Koga - "Towa ni Kotaezu" (永遠に答えず), and "Nippon Yoitoko" (日本よいとこ) with Muchi, Kikue Hanamura (花村菊江), Midori Satsuki (五月みどり), and Yuriko Okada (岡田ゆり子) are some examples of that. With its premises being about a girl seeing her sister sent off to get married, the score sounds mostly traditional and folksy, as with songs of a similar topic, but I find that there is a modern pop edge to it as well - probably that was what threw me for a loop as Koga's music, the pop kind, tend to sound... old-fashioned, for want of a better word. It also gave Shimakura opportunities to let her clear and fluttering vocals shine.

To end off, I think it'd be good to include something by his last student. I'm not sure when Ohkawa became Koga's student, but in February 1969, he made his debut in the entertainment world with the jaunty "Mennai Chidori" (目ン無い千鳥), which was originally a duet sung by Noboru Kirishima and Miss Colombia (霧島昇 . ミス・コロムビア) in 1940.

After 47 years of being in the music business, creating over 5000 songs, and making his mark on Japanese music history, Koga passed away on 25th July 1978. He was posthumously awarded the People's Honour Award on 4th August in the same year. Other honours he recieved included were the Medal with Purple Ribbon and 3rd Class Orders of the Sacred Treasure.

Two museums were built in his honour, the first being the Koga Masao Memorial Hall (古賀政男記念館) in his hometown of Ohkawa, Fukuoka, built in 1982. And the other is the aforementioned Museum of Music in the Yoyogi-Uehara district, Tokyo, built in 1997 alongside the JASRAC building. It was built there as that very location was where his house used to be. This museum has a  section dedicated to various accomplished composers and singers, and another dedicated to Koga himself - that bit's designed to incorporate parts of his old home... It was an interesting experience to see how he lived and where he worked then.

Well, although Koga's works come from the days of yore and that he'd be over a century old if he were still around, I respect him a great deal for being able to come up with stuff that are, thankfully, still being remembered today. And despite this Creator article being rather tough on the planning, I have to say I enjoyed writing it and talking about how he made those hits and how I was able to recognize his style. I hope you guys enjoy the articles and gained a better appreciation for Koga's music too.

Happy 113th Birthday, Mr Koga.

... Yeah, I made a mistake in Part 1. My math is terrible, OK?


  1. Hi, Noelle.

    The definite impression that I've gotten about Koga's work all those decades is that he had his singers wear their emotions on their collective sleeves. I realize that's often the case with enka and Mood Kayo but it was even more enhanced with his creations, it seems like. Some good variety in his choice of students.

    I remember Yoyogi-Uehara as the neighbourhood where I taught one student for some weeks. She was the daughter of one of Japan's most famous (notorious?) entertainment reporters. I didn't know that JASRAC HQ was in the area. I may have to go there next time to see how much I would have to pay in royalties to keep the music going on the blog. :)

    1. Hi, J-Canuck (from a week ago). The new Pokémon game has sucked me into its world and I'm now only slowly coming back to real life.

      Koga's works do indeed feel more emotive, especially the sad ones. Perhaps it's because he imbued his own emotions into each piece. For the museum, you should definitely check it out. It was on the expensive side but there's quite a lot on display and has a creative layout.

      Oh boy, I can just imagine the amount of royalties, considering how many articles are on here. But I think JASRAC should thank you for sharing Japanese music to an international audience! :)

    2. Hi, Noelle.

      Good to see you back from Pokemon. Hopefully, you haven't started to uncontrollably shout "Pikachu!" :)

      Ahh...if JASRAC could find it in its heart to thank me. Heck, I've bought albums thanks to what I've seen on YouTube alone. And I'm sure others have as well.

    3. Hey there. From the last time I heard myself, no, I (thankfully) haven't uttered a "Pikachu!". The Pikachus have not taken over!

      Also, I'm one of those "others" who have bought albums because of stuff I've watched on YouTube, case in point, Hikawa's "Ginga ~ Hoshizora no Akiko". I can't, however, bring myself to get all the different versions of singles (ranging from A-F) he comes up with no matter how much it's being promoted - gotta draw the line somewhere.


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