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.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Yumi Arai -- Cobalt Hour


Yumi Arai (荒井由実)had tracks on her first two albums, "Hikoki Gumo"(ひこうき雲)and "Misslim" that are still sung today, but it was her third album, "Cobalt Hour" that has been treated as her breakthrough release. Mark Schilling, wrote in "The Encyclopedia of Japanese Pop Culture"that "critics praised it as fusing the essence of contemporary American and European pop music, with echoes of American sixties pop, into an integrated whole that was unmistakably Arai." And I think  record buyers certainly agreed; the album became the 2nd-highest LP of the year in terms of sales.

Released in June 1975, "Cobalt Hour" included "Sotsugyou Shashin"(卒業写真...Graduation Photo) which has already been posted onto the blog, and the above song. The title may not be familiar to you: "Rouge no Dengon" (ルージュの伝言....A Message in Rouge), but for anyone who has ever seen the Studio Ghibli classic "Kiki's Delivery Service", you heard it right at the beginning when Kiki takes off on her odyssey of self-discovery. Although on its initial release as a single in early 1975, it only went up as high as 45 on Oricon, Hayao Miyazaki's decision to include it in the movie in 1989 pushed up its popularity. Schilling's comment about the album having echoes of American sixties pop particularly applies to this song since it does sound like something Connie Francis would've sung. It was said that Yuming had an eye and ear about future pop trends...a few years later, a lot of Japanese pop music would be picking up melodies along those lines by groups such as The Chanels and solo artists as Eiichi Otaki(大瀧詠一)。

The irony about having "Rouge no Dengon" placed into a movie as breezy and innocuous as "Kiki's Delivery Service" lies in the lyrics: a wife who knows her hubby is cheating on her is heading off on a train to tell all to her mother-in-law. The message in rouge refers to the lipstick message she gleefully left on the bathroom mirror for her husband to read about her intentions. Instead of the "woe is me" theme that such a plot could have in an enka song, Yuming plays it like a comedy of revenge....calling Sandra Bullock and Meg Ryan. Perhaps Meg could play the older and more embittered Kiki in the live-action version.

BTW, the chorus backing Yuming is an all-star group which includes Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎), Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子) (the two vocals of Sugar Babe) and singing legend Minako Yoshida(吉田美奈子)。

(karaoke version)

Another track is "Nani mo Kikanaide" (何も聞かないで...Don't Ask Me Anything) which also happened to be the B-side of the single release of "Rouge no Dengon". The song might actually be the more serious subplot for the latter song, since the lyrics are told from the other woman's point of view telling the guy not to ask her anything about where's she from or what's she done...just enjoy the moment while it lasts....until Mom and wife get their hands on him. The tune has a more adult bluesy vibe.

But when listening to this classic album, you'll know that this is neither enka nor aidoru. And it's not even folk...which was a prevailing musical trend in Japan at the time.

I've got a follow-up on the album.


  1. I just got into her songs lately and this album is definitely my favourite one so far! Do you have any songs/album recommendations of the same genre like Yuri's songs?

    1. Hello, Betty, and thanks for your comments. I can recommend some early Taeko Ohnuki such as her "Grey Skies" album from 1976 :

      Also, there is Mayumi Itsuwa's "Shojo" from 1972. She would later go into more French pop-sounding songs by the end of the decade but in the early 1970s, her material was pretty similar to that of Yuming.


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