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.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Minoru Obata & Ryoko Fujiwara -- Kantaro Tsukiyo Uta (勘太郎月夜唄)

Last week I was watching Monday's installment of this show called "Shunkan Gotouchi!" (旬感☆ゴトーチ!) on NHK. To put it very bluntly, this travelogue is a 25 minute promo for towns in Japan and offers 3 things one can do there. It may sound like I'm slamming the show, but it's really useful when you're keen on learning about the new places in the country. Anyway, the place of interest that Monday was, wouldn't you know it, Sugamo's Jizodori!

Besides the usual red underwear, Showa era vibe, temple in the middle of the street and an attempt at luring young people there via strawberry shaved ice (an alleged 30 strawberries were harmed in the making), the natsumelo karaoke joint I frequent was even introduced, albeit for about half a minute. It was great to see it on TV, but what made my jaw drop was when the show featured the locals. They were glossing over oldies striking poses and waving at the camera when a familiar face popped up. It went by really quickly, but I was sure one of the little old ladies bundled up in winter wear was none other than Grandma K, whom I had the pleasure of knowing last year! I was very glad (and relieved) that she's still going strong. This appearance of Grandma K brought back fond memories, as well as my resolve to master sing her favourite song, Minoru Obata's (小畑実) "Kantaro Tsukiyo Uta", when I revisit Old People Harajuku.

I was no stranger to this matatabi hit of Obata's for I had listened to a fraction of it ad nauseum when I found this ryukoka medley with Yoshio Tabata's (田端義夫) "Otone Tsukiyo" (大利根月夜) and Dick Mine's (ディック・ミネ) "Tabi Sugata San'nin Otoko" (旅姿三人男). However, it was only when meeting Grandma K a few years after did I actually tune in to the full version of the song. Now it is stuck to my brain with a ton of industrial strength super glue like the other two.

"Kantaro Tsukiyo Uta" revolves around the titular ronin from Ina, Nagano. From what I gather from this blog article I found online (it's in Japanese), Kantaro of Ina was an actual figure in history. I didn't know about this till I looked him up, but that didn't stop me from loving this musical ode to the warrior. Along with the happy-go-lucky Obata with that constant ear-to-ear grin is the equally as happy-go-lucky, easy-going score. I can just imagine Kantaro leisurely strolling through the susuki by one of the many rivers in Ina, living a life of chivalry and freedom. The Kantaro craze doesn't just end at Obata's song though; there seemed to be multiple movies about his adventures, like this one called "Inabushi Jingi" (伊那節仁義) from 1943 with "Kantaro Tsukiyo Uta" as its theme song. There's also a commemorative plaque and a Kantaro festival being celebrated Ina city.

"Kantaro Tsukiyo Uta" was created by the renowned lyricist Takao Saeki (佐伯孝夫) and composer Yasuo Shimizu (清水保雄) in 1943. And actually, this song was a duet between Obata and Ryoko Fujiwara (藤原亮子) - this pairing collaborated on a few other occasions. However, in the later years "Kantaro Tsukiyo Uta" became only associated with Obata, as you can see in many live performances. It seems like the duet can only be heard in original recordings of the song, like the one in the video above.

The Jizodori temple, Kogan-ji.
Also home to the giant Sugamon butt, apparently.
Touch it and ye shall receive luck one's love life - I think.

P.S. Y'know, I kind of wonder if I've bitten off more than I can chew with "Kantaro Tsukiyo Uta". Sure, it's a fun little tune, and I've been honing my vocal ability with professional help over the past six months, but, by golly, the vocal gymnastic work on this one is absolutely brutal! Ah, well. I'm pretty sure Grandma K's not going to mind some screw-ups here and there.


  1. Hi, Noelle.

    Next time you're in Sugamo with your karaoke mates, you should mention that you caught the TV episode. They'll go nuts and then get all embarrassed and turn as red as the underwear. :)

    As for "Kantaro Tsukiyo Uta", the song matches well with the character and his adventures. I can imagine him and any companions singing it often enough while on the various trails.

    1. Hello, J-Canuck.

      Yeah, I think the Sugamo folks would flip when they find that they're internationally famous now thanks to this episode, haha! Can't wait to tell them!


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