My visits to Sugamo's Mukashi no Uta no Mise, besides giving me the satisfaction and joy of singing songs I love for the people who love them, are opportunities for me to expand my knowledge in the field of enka and kayokyoku. Many a times had the folks picked songs unfamiliar to me, and while some simply garnered a lukewarm "Eh...", a fraction of them get the immediate green light to be seared into the annals of my mind and to later be checked out via YouTube, and a couple even got articles of their own. Today, I will be giving another such song it's write-up.
I will always associate this song to this memory: It had been easily a couple of hours into the Saturday afternoon session and I had downed my sushi peace offering, a Madeline pastry and some sort of flattened, sweetened tofu thing (I didn't like this one, but finished it for the sake of courtesy). Waiting for my selection to go up the list of songs to be sung, I saw "O-hyakudo Koi-san" up next. It wasn't a title I knew, but the sight of Hiroshi Wada & Mahina Stars (和田弘とマヒナスターズ) beside it gave me a sense of familiarity and a little reassurance. It also gave me the impression that a Hawaiian-themed Mood Kayo, be it depressingly melancholic or whimsically playful, was about to hit the ears of all present. Whatever it was, we were sure to be in good hands as M-chan, the quietest but easily the most popular performer, was behind the mic.
Amidst the rabid cheers for M-chan and excited chatter, what I heard from the karaoke melody of "O-hyakudo Koi-san" and the unassuming uncle's gentle crooning had a different sound unlike my initial speculation. In fact, it had more of an soft enka flavour that agreed with me... even though I could just barely hear the song. So during my own free time, I decided to look up this interesting Mahina Stars number with the intention of listening to it again and to relive that insane afternoon. Hearing it again just made me like it even more.
With this being a song from a Hawaiian MK group, of course the music has to have that cold Western twang of the steel guitar, contrasting the otherwise somewhat traditional Japanese sound it has going for it. And when the vocals come in, both provide a lonely and haunting atmosphere to "Koi-san", though I find it oddly comforting. As for the lyrics, this song is set in Osaka's central business district of Senba (船場), and is about the titular Koi-san making trips to the famous Hozenji shrine to pray.
Considering that the Hozenji Mizukake Fudo is one of the best known deities to pray to for love and lasting marriages (Meoto Zenzai), I have an idea as to what Koi-san wishes for. From my understanding, I think she is absolutely smitten with this childhood sweetheart of hers, and in hopes that they'd be together forever she goes to the little temple to pray for that to happen. Despite the, perhaps, odds of their union, Koi-san refuses to give up on this fellow and religiously visits Mizukake Fudo (a hundred times, hence the title) to increase her chances... ... *Sudden epiphany* What if her beloved was actually set to marry/likes someone else, but Koi-san can't accept this and hopes that the moss-covered deity can intervene someway or somehow? (Cue dramatic gasp)
Well, that aside, this brings me to my favourite part of the song, which is hearing the way the Mahina Stars guys make her plight known through their forlorn manner of singing, which sounds like the woman desperately beseeching the deity for some breakthrough.
"O-hyakudo Koi-san" was released early on in the Mood Kayo group's career in May 1960. It had its words written by Kunizo Kishi (喜志邦三), and the melody composed by Masanobu Tokuchi (渡久地政信), who was renowned for putting together the markedly jollier "Otomi-san" (お富さん) 6 years prior. "Koi-san" seemed to be decently received commercially as I've been seeing that it does get its time in the spotlight during some of the Mahina Stars' medleys, so it wasn't just left as just a memory to avid fans of the group from days of yore and sung on occasion in a dingy little karaoke joint.
P.S. To give you an idea of how M-chan sounded like, I thought his vocals were surprisingly similar to the lead vocalist Satoshi Mihara (三原さと志) - the singer with the deepest vocals and the one who sang first in this song.