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, November 30, 2018

Memorial Hall Visits Part 5: Haruo Minami

Yes, folks, the merry fellow you see hanging from the monkey bars was, indeed, Haruo Minami (三波春夫). He truly had a winning smile.

By the way, from now I will start referring to Minami as Haru-san from time to time as well. It's a fitting nickname I'd heard in a clip before, and I think it'd be more interesting to call him that alternatively than simply just Minami in my writings.

En route to Nagaoka

I had known about Minami's statue park from the time I discovered him, but visiting him wasn't really a concrete item on my list of things to do during my trip. It might seem odd considering what you all know about me by now, but I wasn't completely sure how frequent train service was on the Shin'etsu line running from Nagaoka to his hometown of Tsukayama.

But, of course, I eventually decided that I might as well give it a go as I don't think I'd have many other opportunities to visit Niigata otherwise (Minami or no Minami), so on one of the days in Tokyo, Mom and I took the shinkansen up to Nagaoka to check out Niigata and what of the Shin'etsu line. As it turned out, this local line does stop at Tsukayama moderately frequently - it was meant to be! ...This taught me to not be overly reliant on Wikipedia's train line information - there weren't many English sites with lesser known railway schedules like this, okay?

Anyways, having gone to Aizubange (Hachiro Kasuga's (春日八郎) hometown in Fukushima) and being impressed by being not so rustic as I thought it'd be, I suppose that gave me the not-so-realistic impression that Tsukayama may be more or less the same. Well, when we got there, it turned out to be what I had previously expected of Aizubange. It was very quiet and the facades of buildings had seen better days. However, it looked exactly like the villages featured on Channel News Asia's "Japan Hour" railway episodes, and it felt kind of strange (in a good way, of course) to actually be seeing it for myself.

And with it being Niigata, there were fields upon fields of rice with some plots being dotted by elderly farmers planting their crop. Up to that point, I had never seen how this Asian carb staple was farmed, so it was another first for this city kid. On the flip side, the farmers must be wondering what these two out-of-town folk were doing in a place like that. On another note, Tsukayama seems to be one of the hubs for the sports equipment company, Yonex. The juxtaposition of the occasional large factory blocks in the midst of old houses and rice fields was quite amusing.

Compared to the insane 45 minute hike it took to get to Hachi's museum,the 20 minute or so walk to this park was a breeze. But I would say my reaction upon seeing the one dubbed the National Singer standing on the pedestal was similar to seeing The First Enka Singer: Absolutely surreal.

It was the most realistic statue of a singer I had ever seen; his dimensions, that beaming and welcoming expression, the kimono. It felt incredibly bizarre looking up at it. It looked so real, it almost seemed like if I stared any longer, Minami would look down and say, "Hello"... That said, one of my perennial fears is for statues to animate and come after me, but this is one statue I wish would come to life.

Lyrics and melody of "Chanchiki Okesa" engraved in stone. Beside
is the music player.
Moving on, I have to say that this park was well put together. Besides the life-like statue and a little cherry blossom tree against the mountainous backdrop which forms a picturesque view, there are also a personal history plaque and some music plaques, at which you can play excerpts of 5 of his representative hits: "Chanchiki Okesa" (チャンチキおけさ), "Yuki no Wataridori" (雪の渡り鳥), "Tokyo Gorin Ondo" (東京五輪音頭), "Echiro Bon Uta" (越路盆唄), and "Sekai no Kuni Kara Konnichiwa" (世界の国からこんにちは). I believe the first I played was "Chanchiki Okesa", Haru-san's debut, to mark the occasion. Then I went on to play my favourite, "Yuki no Wataridori", and the rest of what was offered. As the music reverberated in this valley, I did look up at the statue a few times. Sadly, nothing happened.

Going on a tangent for a little bit: This was the first video I heard "Chanchiki Okesa" from. I don't know how but I didn't take notice of that first shot of him in his younger days at the very start of the video. Took me long enough (through the Marubell bromides) to realise how hot - I mean cute - I mean... nice... he looked back then.


Coming back, as for my mother, she has come a long way since hating Minami. I remember she used to want to throw him into the dumpster - mind you, she didn't like Murata either, but dear Muchi only got the trash can. But she did eventually see merit in him through his versatility and crazy song fusions. Now she has done a complete 180. She even has a favourite song by him which she jumped at the chance to play at the park: "Sekai no Kuni Kara Konnichiwa". According to her, there was no better time than then to play this as we, being foreign fans from far off lands, have come to his hometown so it's fitting that he welcome us with none other than this apt ditty... ... Y'know, I like Minami a lot, and I agree with Mom, and this song is so him with how jolly it is, but I can't stand this song of his. It's just so infectiously annoying with the multitude of "Konnichiwas".

Okay, before the "Konnichiwas" burn a hole through my brain, let's continue. We had ekibens and juice bought at Nagaoka station for lunch at a strategically placed gazebo in the park. It was quite a comfortable place to take a break. But just be sure you have no trash to throw besides cans as there is no trash bin. We had to learn the hard way. Nearest proper bin was back at the station 20 minutes away.

Beside the park sat this firefly education center of sorts, which to my surprise, also had a little room that served as a museum space for this Tsukayama-bred talent. It wasn't particularly fancy, which was understandable as the main attraction is the statue park, and I was happy that there was at least a good number of Haru-san's artifacts on display, as well as pictures what seemed to be his entire discography. So I admired stuff like his calligraphy, movie posters (yes, he acted in stuff too), and old photos, all while lugging along a bag of trash.

And looking at his discography, Minami seemed to have sung an Ondo about essentially anything under the sun, from traffic safety to space to dinosaurs. Also, that pose for the cover on the left though... hmm.😕

What got the ball rolling.
Also, how did I NOT notice it from this cover??? I must've been blind.

As for how Minami's typical style came about and how he became the first mainstream male singer to perform in a kimono, it happened that Mrs Yuki Kitazume (Mrs Minami) was the one who had encouraged him to do so. Y'know, one thing I noticed, as far as Haru-san and Hachi are concerned, their wives had a significant role in shaping their musical career. In that sense, I suppose the saying, "Behind every great man is a great woman" comes into play here.

Since he sang the theme to the Osaka World Expo in 1970, there was even a set of commemorative stamps with Minami on them!

I believe this was a gift he received on one of his anniversaries
in showbiz.
At the end of my round around the room, there was a section which featured the thoughts of school kids from that area on Minami, as well as a little trivia quiz to see how much one knows about him. I scored full marks... ... I... uh... don't know if that's good or bad.

That's a nice sketch!

At the end of it all, I was glad to have gone to Tsukayama. There weren't any trinkets I could get, but I did get a stamp in my notebook that included the statue. I also left my mark on the guest book. As we left, admittedly, I couldn't help but look back at the statue one last time.

To round this up, here is "Yuki no Wataridori". This song would be perfect if it were snowing. But then again, Niigata gets a tonne of snow and I don't fancy the idea of trudging through snow drifts for nearly half an hour.

Somehow, Minami, in spite of his refined mannerisms, could pull off a convincing ronin.

Well, that's 2 down, 2 more to go. The remaining ones are literally at opposite ends of the country though. I think the painted pikachu scream meme would fit in this situation.


  1. Hello, Noelle.

    Thanks for another travelogue through Japan. Yes, the young Minami was quite the handsome fellow, wasn't he? Plus, that statue has him in that most famous pose of his: ever friendly and welcoming. No wonder that "Sekai no Kuni Kara Konnichiwa" became the theme song for Expo '70.

    Now that Osaka has gotten the Expo again for 2025, I wouldn't be get too too surprised if "Sekai no Kuni Kara Konnichiwa" were brought back again, if not as the official theme then as one of the beloved tunes from a time long past. Perhaps even a hologram of Minami may pop up as part of the new technology. :)

    1. Hi, J-Canuck.

      Yeshewas. Looking at the hundreds of bromides Marubell-do has to offer of him, he could pull off many looks... Although I would have to say him posing with an unlit cigarette with some loose strands fringe, or a saxophone (I really want to know what was going on in that photo shoot) was kind of pushing it. :)

      I kinda read that "Konnichiwa" will get a redux with Minami's vocaloid for the 2025 occasion. If I recall, an English rendition by Haru-loid was even made! It would be quite something to have it as the main theme, but admittedly, I've never been a fan of vocaloid stuff so even Haru-loid comes across as kind of weird to me. A real life hologram would sit a lot better with me.

    2. Considering my impression of how talent agencies and production companies could have treated their stars more like property rather than clients in the past (and may still do now), poor Minami may not have had much of a choice in getting all gussied up like some young tough.

      It wouldn't surprise me if some company is able to come up with a prototype Minami hologram in 7 years' time to greet folks as they come into the Expo.:)


Feel free to provide any comments (pro or con). Just be civil about it.