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.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Memorial Hall Visits Part 4: Hachiro Kasuga

At the end of the very first article I wrote about Hachiro Kasuga (春日八郎) on KKP 4 years ago, I featured this silly picture on google images of whom I thought to be quite a moderately stoic performer doing the "maru" sign. I was intrigued, and as the years followed I hoped to find it - possibly through a record or a video. And then in late April this year, I saw the grinning Hachi, and many, many other variations of him I'd never thought I would have the pleasure to see, face to face.

As mentioned in Part 2 of my Sugamo karaoke romp, there were some outstanding matters I wanted to take care of in Japan. Out of the those on my list, going to Kasuga's museum stood at number one, for reasons explained my recent articles on him, and also for fear that it might close before I got the chance to visit it - I got worried after seeing Yujiro Ishihara's (石原裕次郎) close down in 2017. It was also the first item crossed on my list as Mom and I visited it on our second day during this two week trip.

View from Nanukamachi, a town along the Tadami line we
explored before heading to Aizubange.

Hachi came from a little town in Fukushima called Aizubange, which sits towards the western end of the prefecture and not too far away from the neighbouring Niigata (another destination on this list on my to-do list). To get there (if you're coming from Tokyo), one has to take the shinkansen to Koriyama city, then take the local Banetsu line inland through farm country to the samurai town that is Aizuwakamatsu (where we stayed for 3 nights), AND THEN take the one-man operated train through more paddy fields on the Tadami line to finally reach your destination. I'd never train-ed so much in my life. However, the views of rolling rice plantations backed by snow-capped mountains, little hamlets, and occasion sakura trees in bloom were a rare sight and a feast for the eyes for a city kid.

To Aizubange

 As per usual, my anticipation was at a all time high but overcompensated with an overly aloof demeanor as we sat on the virtually empty train to Aizubange. Playing with a mischievous Abyssinian Eagle Owl in an owl cafe at the quaint town of Nanukamachi earlier did little to satiate the excitement. This old lady kicking her feet up on the train seats was an amusing sight, however.

When at last at Aizubange's decent station that's more than just a lonely platform unlike some others, I was greeted by Hachi's statue outside, and that cool facade cracked. It's not the best statue of a singer I've seen, but it ain't the worst either. Beside the bronze memorial of him, you can listen to the first stanza of his debut "Akai Lamp no Shuressha" (赤いランプの終列車).

Contrary to my belief, the First Enka Singer's hometown was not as empty and quiet and old as I'd thought a place like that in the boonies would be. In fact, it was quite bustling and there were lots of children running around. But, of course, many still stared at us funny for being the only two foreigners there.

The train ride was only half of the journey. The other, if you were like us with no car, was by foot. Half an hour (at the minimum) by foot. I was very glad that it was a clear and windy day. I can't imagine trudging through these farm roads, albeit nicely paved, in the rain. Still, it was pretty arduous, and the rice field scene riddled with brand new tractor showrooms and the occasion sign pointing in the museum's direction got tedious after about 15 minutes. This train and hiking experience was reminiscent of the "Local Sen" (Local Train Line) series on the Japanese travelogue on Channel News Asia, "Japan Hour", wherein a pair of celebrities try to find attractions at towns along local lines around Japan.

Around 45 minutes later and after loops of a line "Inaka no michi wa tsuzuku mono" from Hibari Misora's (美空ひばり) song "Hanagasa Dochu" (花笠道中) going around in my head for the nth time and Mom trailing some distance behind me, I reached the museum. I know it sounds dramatic, but I almost wanted to run towards it when I was near.

Couldn't get the full tree, so here's part of the
"Wakare no Ippon Sugi" sugi.

I saw the huge cedar standing tall amongst the shrubs and other trees in the park that housed the "Wakare no Ippon Sugi" (別れの一本杉) plaque. And every time someone steps near this plaque, the iconic enka starts playing and has the deep melancholic notes of acoustic guitar reverberating throughout the countryside. Just as I was about to reach the tree, I heard my mother exclaiming over something, and almost immediately after, a huge tour bus emerged from nowhere and pulled into the building's nearly empty parking lot. By golly, I didn't know local tour groups stopped by Hachi's memorial hall! There I was thinking that we'd be the only ones there! I was shook.

Unfortunately, the plaque's lyrics weren't painted in, so they were
hardly visible in the afternoon sun.

I made my way to the plaque to get a good look at the plaque and a good listen to the song before the swarm of elderly came. It didn't take long for them to realise that I knew Hachi and one of his hits, and as much as I wanted to go into the museum ASAP, I was stuck outside for a while and subjected to the usual muddled interview of what a Singaporean was doing in a place like this. At least I got to train my Japanese listening skills.

Anyway, on to the actual attraction. The building wasn't huge but it was well put together and spacious. From what I had seen from older pictures of the museum, its orientation and presentation of the items had changed for the better. The first section you'd see upon entering contains the singer's brief history on a plaque, his personal artifacts, his well-loved instruments, awards, song sheets, fan magazines, and photos of him with his family and other celebrities, among other miscellaneous things.


As expected, Michiya Mihashi (三橋美智也) was in quite a number of shots with Hachi - both were in the same record company after all. Others big names he was with included the legendary Masao Koga (古賀政男), Misora, Minoru Obata (小畑実) and Ichiro Wakahara (若原一郎 ).

One of the lyric sheets on display. This one is of "Nagasaki no
Hito" (長崎の女).

Here we have Kasuga with his wife Keiko Watabe, who played a big role in kick-starting his career - basically, without her, there'd be no "Akai Lamp no Shuressha" or Hachi... Thank you, Mrs Watabe - and 3 of their 4 daughters. The eldest, seen on the right above, Nobuyo Watabe (if I'm not wrong), served as her father's manager in his later days. 

According to the curator, Ms Watabe was to visit the museum later in May... I missed a chance to meet the person who would be as close as I can ever get to meeting Hachi himself - all the more so because she looks very much like him - by a few weeks. I AM ANGERY. Well, the curator said she'd mention our visit to Ms Watabe when she visits, and I did put my name down in the guest book, so I suppose I have that. Can't have the cake and eat it too, even though I wish I could. >:(

Anyway, those booklets in this picture here were his fan club magazines, "Mikasa". The cover that had him next to Mrs Watabe at the lower left corner had a smaller picture of him sitting in a corner showering. Considering that his fan base was predominantly women in his younger days, that's fan service if I've ever seen it. Speaking of fan service, there was also Hachi in swim trunks spear fishing (?) at the top left corner, and sitting atop his trusty piano was an extra candid photo of him in an undershirt and boxers. 

Well, OK then.

When he received the purple ribbon (circa 1989) - one of the honors
 for someone who had contributed a great deal to the arts in Japan.
With Yuriko Futaba, Muchi, Batayan, Michi, Peggy Hayama.
Needless to say, I love this picture.

The wall adjacent to all that featured more interesting photos (like the one at the top of this article), concert and movie posters, and records.

Apparently Hachi could walk on stilts. It baffles me as to how one can balance on such sticks.

There were the Sannin no Kai posters up on display too! It's like getting a 3 in 1 in this museum! I know this wasn't Yuzo Kayama's (加山雄三) museum, but "Shiawase dana....

I got my hands on the middle one via Miyada Records.

Sitting square in the middle of the museum was its merchandise shop which sold both Hachi merchandise, as well as local knick-knacks and food. Next to that was the karaoke section with a little TV playing original karaoke videos of a good number of the enka singer's works. Anyone can go up to have a go at their favourites; "Otomi-san" (お富さん) was the go-to choice for everyone. 

I didn't exactly have any intention to sing, and at the same time was rather self-conscious, so I initially declined when first offered to pick up the mic. However, when the tour group left and we were the only ones left, I decided, "Why not? Since I'm at the place, I might as well do so." I took this opportunity to try out some of Kasuga's songs I had always wanted to attempt, like "Nigate Nandayo" (苦手なんだよ), "An' Tokya Doshaburi" (あん時ゃどしゃ降り), and of course, "Akai Lamp no Shuressha". 

When it came to "Akai...", much to my surprise and slight horror, another full group of local tourists came in just as it started - the human traffic coming in and out of this place was far more than expected. Oh, the pressure was intense, but I think I pulled it off pretty well. When I saw the happiness etched on to the faces of these old folks and hearing them sing along with me... I don't really know how to describe how I felt at that moment. It differed greatly from my Sugamo stints - it was more emotional here than the simple highs of pride and unbridled joy I got in Tokyo. 

For me to sing the debut song of one of the key foundations in enka in his very museum; to have relayed it to his fans who saw him as their youth and get their seal of approval; to show that old enka like this is far from being forgotten... I guess I felt... very, very honored to be in that position. It was truly an incredible feeling that I'd never felt so strongly until then.

Well, moving on, I couldn't leave the place without any merchandise (it'd be a crime if I did), so I got a surprisingly modern-looking T-shirt with a caricature of Kasuga on it, as well as a couple of key chains, including one that had his autograph. What impressed me was that the items were all very well-stocked despite being in such a far flung area. I suppose with all the tour groups coming for a look-see, it has to be. In fact, the moment we arrived, so had the new stock! Take that, Takashi Hosokawa (細川たかし)! ... ... I'm sorry, Hosokawa... I mean, you've got senbei with your name on it...? 😌 

When all was said and done, it was near closing time. Having heard of our trek all the way out into the countryside, the curator took pity on us and decided to give us a quick ride back to the station before the scheduled train arrived. Earlier, I talked about the segment on the show "Japan Hour", well, hitching a ride from kind locals was what always happened in most episodes, so we did indeed have the full "Japan Hour Local-sen Experience" all in one day. I am eternally grateful for this lady for saving us the hassle of calling for a cab and for shortening our journey back to the station by 40 minutes.

Compared to the other museums I had been to thus far, Hachi's definitely felt the most surreal and dreamlike to me. Perhaps it was the combination of being in such an environment I had only seen on TV, standing in the memorial hall of a singer I'm absolutely crazy about, and that intense karaoke bit with his fans. I remember that after the immediate euphoria of entering the building and snapping photos, I actually had to take a breather to actively remind myself that I wasn't dreaming.

Needless to say, after all the travelling the day before and the amount of activity done on this museum pilgrimage, I felt like a piece of tofu on the following day. But it was all worth it.


  1. Hi Noelle.

    Thanks for the latest in your anecdotes of traveling in Japan. You're right about the trains; Japan is definitely a nation of them. My anime buddy is a logistical master when it comes to scheduling rides on them so that he can get to the most remote areas.

    It was good that you could get to Kasuga's memorial hall. I know how much of a fan you are of him. Not surprised that the tour groups took so much of a keen interest in you. The older people are always so delighted when they find out that foreign tourists have such an interest in the kayo. I wouldn't be surprised if you may be asked to give a few words to the local newspaper or radio show next time. :)

    If I'm not mistaken, the only singer's memorial hall that I've ever visited was the John Lennon Museum in Saitama City (long since closed) but I've yet to visit one for a Japanese singer. Given the opportunity, I would like to drop by the one for Yujiro Ishihara.

    As for Kasuga's usually stoic demeanor, I wonder if his manager or the big boss of his managing company told him to keep the expression of a passport photo whenever performing (aside from the requisite shy and humble grin when taking applause). I've heard that all of the members of pop group Anzen Chitai were ordered not to crack a smile at all in their early days just to add to the coolness factor. It worked for a while. However, I've realized that the boys from Hokkaido were actually a group of happy-go-lucky goofballs.

    1. Good morning, J-Canuck.

      After this train-filled experience, I think I can consider myself a bit more than a Ginza Metro Line extraordinaire when it comes to planning train itineraries... A notebook was a very helpful tool, especially with all the different train timings that could drive one insane.

      As for the old folks, it's always fun to see their startled reactions, and it was flattering to become the temporary secondary attraction to Hachi's plaque. But I think the most rewarding aspects from such encounters are finally meeting other fans I can never find at home, and having such interactions serve as my bridge to the locals - my language standard is still "meh", so the next best method of communication is through enka. However, I feel that being a youngster trying to sing these classics in front of the veterans does put considerable pressure on me to live up to their expectations.

      Anyway, Saitama must have had many John Lennon fans, otherwise I don't see why a museum of a BRITISH singer is in the middle of JAPAN. As for Yujiro's, sorry J-Canuck, you're a little too late for that. It closed last year. Here's to hoping that the Ishihara Gundan will reopen it somewhere else (more accessible).

      I wouldn't be surprised if the likes of Hachi were made to look serious. With singers having to be good role models and all, I suppose goofing off ain't part of the agenda. It's either that or a serious face gives off a... sexier appeal and hence sells better? I don't know, probably in Anzen Chitai's case it did, but as for the showa era enka singers... ... Whatever it is, Hachi definitely looked better when he gave a natural smile rather than an awkward plastic one.

    2. Hi, Noelle.

      Yes, a lot of people had their eyebrows mightily raised when they first heard of the world's only John Lennon museum being set up in suburban Saitama. I gather that it was just the convenience of the location more than anything else.

      Ahh, yes. That's right, I think you did mention that. Well, perhaps there might be some sort of tribute hall for a kayo singer next time I'm in Tokyo.

      I take it that a serious face is probably the preferred one for performers since it may give off the feeling of competence or dedication to their craft...and for the younger folk, coolness. The smiley ones are probably the comedians.

    3. Hello, J-Canuck.

      In the way of kayo singer memorial halls in Tokyo, there's actually Hibari Misora's house-museum in Meguro (I think). Otherwise there's Masao Koga's on the outskirts of Shibuya. That's all I know for now.

      I suppose you're also right with the singers back then wanting to give off the air of competence, although there were some exceptions like Haruo Minami and Minoru Obata. Now, however, it seems like everyone's trying to out-smile each other. How times have changed.

    4. Hi, Noelle.

      Things are indeed evolving with enka/Mood Kayo to a certain extent, and of course, that's good. In the case of Minami, I think his smile was essential to his persona. He always appeared to me as a benevolent deity coming down to sing for us whenever he flashed that smile and opened his arms wide.

      I will have to see about visiting Misora and Koga's museums next time I'm in town. Thanks!


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