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.
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.
|One of the lyric sheets on display. This one is of "Nagasaki no|
|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.
|I got my hands on the middle one via Miyada Records.|