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.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Junko Yagami -- Naturally

I really enjoy the cool urban feeling from Junko Yagami's(八神純子) "Naturally". This was her 17th single released in August 1983, and while Yagami was behind the City Pop melody, Keisuke Yamakawa(山川啓介)took care of the lyrics. The song seems to be divided into two parts with Part 1 starting off with this rocky twang and expressing the steamy sultriness of enjoying a hot time in the big city, before the refrain changes the key to a more upbeat and perhaps more idealistic tone of returning to the real world of work and finally finding that Mr. Right. I guess in a phrase, it's kinda like "Disco Queen by night, Office Lady by day".

The song was also the theme for a TV Asahi drama titled "Onna tachi no Kagai Jugyo" (女たちの課外授業....Women's Extracurricular Classes)which may hint at that two-sided life. It is also a track on Yagami's 1983 album, "Full Moon".

The above is a tribute performance by Six "I"s.

TUBE -- Stories

This is one of the first singles by TUBE that had more of a "cool-down" vibe, compared to a lot of their fun-lovin' uptempo releases previously. I first saw it being used as the campaign tune for some commercial (forgot what they were selling) in which a group of young twentysomethings was coming off of a night of painting the town red. And I think "Stories" kinda has that sort of feeling to it....something to be played at the end of a great summer day while everyone is gathered around a nighttime campfire.

Mind you, the band's 10th single was released way after that summer December 1989, to be exact. Written by lead vocal Nobuteru Maeda(前田亘輝) and composed by TUBE guitarist Michiya Haruhata(春畑道哉), it didn't quite score as high as some of their previous material....peaking at No. 21 on Oricon, but as a ballad, it still had that TUBE sound. It was also part of their first TUBE Best album, "TUBEst".

Friday, November 29, 2013

Maho Suzuri -- Motto Shizuka ni (もっと静かに)

I didn't know anything about its link with a TV drama, but I just liked how this song sounded. By luck, I saw the official video for Maho Suzuri's(鈴里真帆) "Motto Shizuka ni" (More Quietly), and enjoyed the arrangement, especially when the melody suddenly changed keys going into the refrain. It was enough for me to head on down and grab the CD single.

Suzuri hails from Miyazaki Prefecture and made her debut in 1994 with "Kanashimi wa Ashita Shiru Tame no Namida"(悲しみは明日を知るための涙...Sadness is the Tears for Knowing About Tomorrow). "Motto Shizuka ni" is her 7th single released in August 1996. Written by Suzuri and composed by Tsunku(つんく) of Sharan-Q (and Morning Musume) fame, the song became her most successful release to date. The drama, by the way, was "Good Luck" (not to be confused with the later Takuya Kimura drama of the same title) on NTV.

Maho Suzuri -- Motto Shizuka ni

Yosui Inoue -- Shonen Jidai (少年時代)

Yosui Inoue's(井上陽水) biggest hit in his 44-year-long career, "Shonen Jidai" (Childhood Days) is also his most heartwarming song. Every time I hear it, the song just brings images of summer days and young boys chasing butterflies in the countryside. If that sounds sappy....well, it is. One can squeeze a couple of litres of the old sentimentalism from the song with Inoue's tender vocals and the strings. And if there's one thing the Japanese love, it's the old days, no matter which generation.

Inoue's drinking buddy, the late manga artist Fujio A. Fujiko(藤子不二雄A), had asked him to create a song at around the same time that Fujiko's 1978 creation of the same name was to be made into a motion picture. He even hummed a part of the melody that he wanted incorporated to help Inoue out, although according to J-Wiki, it was far from an easy task for the singer-songwriter. Strangely enough, the song had been intended to be sung by Yoko Oginome(荻野目洋子) as a B-side to her 1990 single, "Gallery", but with "Shonen Jidai" the movie coming out in the same year and the powers-that-be recognizing the quality of the song, Inoue sang it himself as the theme song for that movie.

At the time of its release in September 1990 though, Inoue's 28th single didn't exactly light up the charts as it stalled around No. 20. However, the following year when "Shonen Jidai" was then used for a Sony Handycam commercial, the song got a big boost, peaking at No. 4. It didn't hurt either when it was also used as the ending theme for a domino-effect segment on a TBS entertainment show called "Gimme a Break". By the end of 1991, it managed to become the 25th-ranked song of the year and continued to hang on to the end of 1992, becoming the 46th-ranked song. It was very much a slow-and-steady progression as "Shonen Jidai" finally hit the million barrier in 1997.

Shinji Kawahara(川原伸司), under one of his pen names as Natsumi Hirai, helped out in the composition, and during recording, fellow singer-songwriter Takao Kisugi(来生たかお) was on the he is in the video just above. And in the years since, "Shonen Jidai" has been covered by everyone from Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美)to Sing Like Talking's Chikuzen Sato(佐藤竹善) to Hikaru Utada(宇多田ヒカル).

The above is Utada's cover.

And this is the trailer for the movie, "Shonen Jidai".

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Nobue Matsubara -- Onna no Defune (おんなの出船)

Get ready to drink down that glass of shochu or ochoko of sake. Enka veteran Nobue Matsubara's (松原のぶえ)debut single of "Onna no Defune" (A Woman's Departing Ship) just makes me wanna head over to that small nomiya in Shinbashi, Tokyo. And it has that famous first line of "Namida, namida, namida, namida..."(涙、涙、涙、涙....Tear, tears, tears, tears)as the song follows that classic enka trope of "Parting is such sweet sorrow". Once again, man and woman must separate as she gets on that ship for most likely the last time.

"Onna no Defune" was written by Takao Yamada(山田孝雄) and composed by Toru Funamura(船村徹), and released in 1979. Although it didn't get into the yearly Oricon rankings, it did earn a Newcomer's Prize for Matsubara who was around 18 years old at the time. The Oita Prefecture native had been first scouted as a junior high school senior and made her way up to Tokyo during her high school years with the intention of becoming a singer. Ten years after making her auspicious debut, she was given the very first Hibari Misora Prize at the Japan Record Awards as the best female enka vocalist. Matsubara would make her debut on NHK's Kohaku Utagassen at the end of 1985, six years after hitting it big with "Onna no Defune", premiering with that very song.

B.B. Queens -- Gingira Paradise (ギンギラパラダイス)

It didn't take the gimmick band B.B. Queens all that long before they came up with a follow-up single to their blockbuster hit, "Odoru Ponpokorin"(おどるポンポコリン). Their 2nd single was "Gingira Paradise" (Sparkling Paradise), a doo-woppy tune released in December 1990 that was used as a campaign song for Victoria, a sports apparel shop that was famous for ski wear...just in time to get those young folk up on the slopes during the Holidays.

The top video is the 2011 version with a bit of a ska beat while the one above is the original. "Gingira Paradise" may not have matched the debut, but it still did quite well, reaching as high as No. 2 on Oricon. And even more importantly, the melody just couldn't let go of my brain when I was teaching in the classroom.

It's not B.B. Queens here but it is a Victoria commercial from that year.

Kahoru Kohiruimaki -- Ryote Ippai no Johnny (両手いっぱいのジョニー)

Going way back into the Kohhy discography with "Ryote Ippai no Johnny" (Hands-Full Johnny), her 2nd single from July 1986. Kahoru Kohiruimaki(小比類巻かほる) started right off the bat with her funky pop style which would characterize her early years up to about the turn of the decade. I first heard this song on her 1988 "So Real" album, and thought it was a tune that already had the singer in full stride instead of her being at just the beginning of her career. I'm not sure if there were ever an official music video for "Ryote Ippai no Johnny" but it probably would have had Kohhy strutting down some Manhattan street with the saxophonist quickly trailing her.

Strangely enough, it was actually used as one of the theme songs for the anime "Gallforce", a series of an all-female force of space soldiers going up against The Paranoids. Since I had only known the song just from Kohhy albums, I never pegged it as being an anime theme since her lyrics talk of a woman trying to pry some attention from the ever-popular Johnny. The happy-go-lucky melody was created by Yoshitaka Takezawa(竹澤好隆).

"Ryote Ippai no Johnny" was also recorded onto her 2nd album, "No Problem" (July 1986) which is notable for Kohhy looking a bit atypical on the front cover. Apparently, she had no problem with it.

SMAP/Noriyuki Makihara -- Sekai ni Hitotsu dake no Hana (世界に一つだけの花)

During the time I was living in Japan, there were a few songs that just seemed to take over the audioscape for the year in which it was released. Namie Amuro's "Can You Celebrate?" was the one for 1997, and then there was this one from (can't believe it's been that long) 2003 by SMAP, "Sekai ni Hitotsu dake no Hana" (A Flower Unlike Any Other In The World). It was being played just about everywhere when I was there, and I think wherever it was played, I wouldn't be surprised if friends in a café, a schoolyard or a karaoke box would suddenly just lock shoulders and sing it all together.

Originally, this was meant as a theme song for a Fuji-TV drama titled "Boku no Ikiru Michi"(僕の生きる道...My Path)starring SMAP member Tsuyoshi Kusanagi as a man who, finding out that he has only a year to live, decides to live what life he has remaining to the fullest. However, like a number of theme songs, "Sekai ni Hitotsu dake no Hana" just grew in reputation and popularity to become its own phenomenon.

And why not? It's one of the biggest feel-good songs celebrating individuality I've ever come across. Dark clouds separate, seas calm down, dogs and cats can live with each other again. Written and composed by singer-songwriter Noriyuki Makihara(槇原敏之)as a means of redemption after getting through a dark time in his life following his arrest for drug possession back in 1999, he related that he couldn't credit himself for the creation of one of his most famous songs. Instead, he said that he got the song as a gift from God.

Released in March 2003 as SMAP's 35th single, it hit No. 1 on the Oricon charts for a total of 7 weeks which included 2 stretches of 3 consecutive weeks at the top spot, and it became the No. 1 song for the entire year. Even for 2004, it was placed at No. 11. It also managed to break the 2-million barrier and is currently the 9th-most successful single in Oricon history. It is also included on the group's 5th BEST album, "SMAP AID" which was released in August 2011.

Although Makihara never released his own version of his masterpiece as an official single, he's been getting his fair share of requests at concerts. He seems to be more than happy to oblige.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Takao Kisugi -- Yume yori Tooku e (夢より遠くへ)

I first heard singer-songwriter Takao Kisugi's(来生たかお) "Yume yori Tooku e" (Farther Than A Dream) when it was used as the campaign song for a Japan Railways commercial during my time in Gunma. I thought the melody fit the mood of going on an adventure quite well, and I'd already become a fan of the songs that he and his sister, Etsuko, created for other singers, along with his own works, so it didn't take long before I decided to go on the search for the CD single.

Released in November 1990 as his 25th single, it was another Kisugi collaboration. I think his ballads are very soothing for the nerves, although "Yume yori Tooku e" is a bit more uptempo in tone. And even though the theme seems to be that of traveling, the song can also apply to a breezy trip through the more uptown areas of Tokyo. And considering that the metropolis at that time was still at the tail end of the Bubble Era, it must have been quite the experience to trip the light fantastic in areas like Aoyama, Ginza and Akasaka. To be honest, for a humble English teacher like me, it still is.

By the way, the CD single also has Kisugi's cover of "Second Love", an early Akina Nakamori(中森明菜) hit, as the coupling song.

Takao Kisugi -- Yume yori Tooku e

Mariko Takahashi -- Farewell (フェアウェル)

(excerpt only - Track 5)

I just heard that Mariko Takahashi(高橋真梨子) will be making a re-appearance on the Kohaku Utagassen next month for the first time since the 80s. It would just be her 2nd appearance as a solo performer, although she actually came on the big show for the very first time as a member of the band Pedro and Capricious back in the 70s.

The NHK site for the Kohaku this year hasn't listed what the musicians on either side of the gender divide will sing, but perhaps Mariko may sing what she sang on the Kohaku back in the 80s, "Momo Iro Toiki"(桃色吐息) or even "For You", one of her most famous ballads. I have my doubts but maybe she could even sing this one, "Farewell", another powerful ballad that shared the same album with "For You", "dear". I first heard it on "Sounds of Japan", and it's quintessentially Mariko from that time: rich orchestral backing with those wonderful vocals as she sings wistfully of another romance lost. Takao and Etsuko Kisugi(来生たかお・来生えつこ)were responsible for the creation.

Whatever her choice is at the Kohaku, I'm very sure that she will bring the house down.

Sayuri Kokusho -- Hoshikuzu no Sniper (星屑の狙撃手)

Usually when the name Sayuri Kokusho(国生さゆり) is mentioned, the old music fans like me will instantly come up with "Valentine Kiss". But I also managed to dig up one other song that has been on one of my ancient audio tapes for over a quarter of a century. Titled "Hoshikuzu no Sniper" (Stardust Sniper), this was the Onyanko Club member's 5th single released in March 1987, and it has a pretty relentless beat...kinda like something from Eurobeat. It's been years since I heard this one, and one of the cute things about it is how Kokusho sings the word "sniper". Just try to imagine her carrying an M40!

Written by Yasushi Akimoto(秋元康) and composed by Tsugutoshi Goto(後藤次利), "Hoshikuzu no Sniper" made it all the way up to No. 2 on the Oricon chart. As for the Kokusho oeuvre, this song and "Valentine Kiss" are the only ones I've known up to now, but according to the lyrics for "Hoshikuzu", it seems like Kokusho was going for a more adult presence (as much as a career as an aidoru would allow, anyways) as she personifies herself as the sniper of love perching herself in position so that she can take that fateful shot. Lyricist Akimoto dramatizes things a bit by using quite a bit of metaphor for the big city such as "galaxy-class skyscrapers", "the desert of a deserted city" and "an asphalt Silk Road". in Tokyo.

It's always nice to hear how some of the veterans sounded way back when since Kokusho has been a fixture on the telly for years and years as an actress and tarento. It's gotten to the point where I've almost forgotten that she was an aidoru.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Warabe -- Medaka no Kyoudai (めだかの兄妹)

I had to laugh when I read the writeup for this song, "Medaka no Kyoudai" (The Killifish Siblings), on J-Wiki. The arranger for what would become the 3rd-ranked hit of 1983 was none other than Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一)of the Yellow Magic Orchestra. Apparently, when the song landed on The Professor's lap, he remarked "I wondered why it ever came over to me?!"

Well, I think he should take a bow for one thing. By all measures, "Medaka no Kyoudai" was a big hit in Japan. Released in December 1982, it would remain a long-running success for all of 1983, peaking at No. 3 on the Oricon weeklies before hitting the same rank for the yearly chart. It was written by Toyohisa Araki(荒木とよひさ) and composed by Takashi Miki(三木たかし), and sung by the variety show-born aidoru trio of Warabe(わらべ).

Warabe consisted of Tomoko Takabe(高部知子), Atsumi Kurasawa(倉沢敦美), and Mami Takahashi(高橋真美) who appeared on the long running TV Asahi program "Kin-chan no Doko Made Yaru no!?" (欽ちゃんのどこまでやるの?!...Kin-chan's How Far Will You Go?!) as the onscreen daughters of the host, Kinichi Hagimoto(萩本欽一). They first appeared in 1982 when the show was given a bit of a face lift halfway through its run (1976-1986).

Cute has always been one of the tools to success in the Japanese music industry, and so it was here with "Medaka no Kyoudai", thanks to the kid-like vocals, the cute-as-all-get-out sway-happy melody and the choreography. Apparently even today, the song is being used at nursery schools all over the country. The lyrics are on the fairy tale level of things with sparrows becoming eagles and penguins, cats becoming lions and tigers, and the titular medaka (killifish) becoming carp and whales, all with the cutesy onomatopoeia. I can imagine My Little Pony and Hello Kitty coming down and sighing contentedly.

P.S. It was back in 1981, when on another Kinichi Hagimoto program, a trio of zany boys came up with a huge hit of their own, "High School Lullaby".

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Shoko Sawada -- Ochiba no Heya (落葉の部屋)

(cover version....a great one!)

Another treasure dug up from the tapes of "Sounds of Japan", Shoko Sawada's(沢田聖子 "Ochiba no Heya" (Room of Fallen Leaves) fits the season although the leaves are pretty much down and decomposing into the ground now in Toronto. Written and composed by Sawada as the B-side to her March 1981 5th single, "Haru"(春...Spring), the then-19-year-old sings "Ochiba no Heya" just as if she were indeed that college student walking along that path in Musashino, Tokyo through the rustling autumn leaves, thinking of meeting that special someone. I can say that it's one of the prettiest songs I have ever heard, and can imagine Sawada in her room overlooking the forest and doing "He loves me, he loves me not" with the petals of a flower.

The Tokyo native debuted as a singer in May 1979 with "Campus Sketch", although her life in entertainment had started over a decade previously when she started as a child actor. She even filmed a TV ad in 1968 for a pharmaceutical company alongside Kiyoshi Atsumi(渥美清), otherwise known as the famed character of Tora-san.

According to both J-Wiki and Wikipedia, perhaps because of her aidoru good looks and the same kanji (albeit with different pronunciation) in her first name, Sawada had been compared to Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子) despite the facts that the latter singer's name was a stage name and that Sawada, who had debuted the year before Seiko-chan, belonged to a different genre altogether.

Akira Inaba -- Natsu ni Arigato (夏にありがとう)

This is another song that I was able to dig up from the proverbial vaults of "Sounds of Japan". As much as I love the hit songs from kayo kyoku and beyond, it's always wonderful when I can come across an unsung gem from the old Canadian Tire tapes.

Folk singer Akira Inaba(因幡晃)wrote and composed this sweet and quiet ballad as one of the tracks on his debut album, "Nanka Ii Wasureta Yo De"(何か言い忘れたようで....I've Forgotten What To Say)which was released in June 1976. "Natsu ni Arigato" may mean "Thanks to Summer" but I think it deserves to be played especially either at sunrise or sunset. With those strings, it can almost be a tribute to the horizon-placed sun. Considering how cold it's gotten here (It was -11 degrees Celsius this morning!), I feel that gratitude to that particular season right now.

Inaba was born in 1954 in Akita Prefecture. In 1975, he won a prize for excellence at the Yamaha Popular Song Contest with "Wakatte Kudasai"(わかって下さい...Please Understand)that would be officially released as his first single early in the following year. To date, he has released 36 singles and 34 albums. Strangely enough, the J-Wiki write-up on the singer also included all of his likes, so to translate from over there: the minyo songs his father sings, his Mom's home cooking, alcohol (although he also likes those tiny yogurt-based Yakult drinks), regional cuisine, going to Hawaii with his family, and diamonds.

As for "Nanka Ii Wasureta Yo De", it cruised right up to No. 2 on the album charts, and became the 10th-ranked album for 1976 and even hung on throughout 1977 to become the 14th-ranked album.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

My Little Lover -- ALICE

This is another one of my favourite songs by the band My Little Lover, "Alice". Released in April 1996 as its 4th single, this was another huge hit on the heels of the success of "Hello, Again". Whereas "Hello, Again" sounded a bit more like a ballad, "Alice" was more uptempo and made even more buoyant thanks to AKKO's voice. The lead vocal for My Little Lover was responsible for the lyrics along with Takeshi Kobayashi(小林武史)who also composed it. It was AKKO's first try at writing lyrics for the band.

Listening to it again once again brought back some of those memories from my early days teaching English in Asakusa. There's nothing like a breezy pop song to jog some of those engrams into a positive state, and I think that's what My Little Lover was all about....just keep the fans and listeners in a happy state. There was just one thing about "Alice" that I'd been wondering about. And it's that little garbled phrase she puts out at the intro. Well, it turns out that it was her saying "Watashi ga mori no naka wo susunde ikuto, tokei wa hantai ni mawatteita" (私が森の中を進んでいくと、時計は反対に回っていた...When I went further into the forest, my wristwatch was going backwards) backwards. I kinda wondered if the band had been thinking about the Alice from "Alice In Wonderland" fame when they created the song.

"Alice" peaked at No. 2 and became the 17th-ranked song for 1996, breaking the million barrier. It is also a track on My Little Lover's 3rd album, "New Adventure" which was released in September 1998. It hit No. 1 on the charts.

Ado Mizumori -- Wai Wai World (ワイワイワールド)

One of the first television programs I caught in my first few hours after arriving with my fellow classmates at the Tokyo Prince Hotel in that torrid July of 1981 was at a nearby eatery. It was just the two other guys and myself and I believe we ended up ordering either gyudon or tendon...whatever it was, there was a goodly amount of rice at the bottom. In any case, up on the tiny telly in the upper corner ledge of the restaurant, Akira Toriyama's(鳥山明) pre-"Dragonball" magnum opus was playing on Fuji-TV, the happily anarchical "Dr. Slump" (1981-1986), starring the cute-if-destructive android, Arale-chan, and the somewhat perverted-if-goodhearted inventor, Senbe Norimaki.

I didn't pay too much attention to the program at the time since I was rather famished and I was enjoying my bottle of coffee milk (perfect for terribly hot-and-humid of the things I truly miss about Japan now that I'm no longer there), but several days later, as we were with our homestay hosts, the college students from Tezukayama in Nara, my own host, Akiko, recommended that I try the manga of "Dr. Slump" since it was so funny and popular at the time. So I ended up getting a couple of issues and sure enough, I did enjoy them. Actually, I enjoyed the original manga more than the anime itself since the drawings seemed even more hilarious in print. I also looked forward to seeing those guest appearances by Clint Eastwood and Leonard Nimoy from time to time.

Then, a year later, when my brother did his graduation trip from the Toronto Japanese Language School to the country, he brought back a couple of handheld video games. One was the classic Nintendo clamshell Donkey Kong, and the other was a Dr. Slump game with built-in wake-up alarm which consisted of a cute little tune. That tune was actually the theme song for "Dr. Slump" the anime, "Wai Wai World" (Yeah Yeah World). Sung by actress/singer/artist Ado Mizumori(水森亜土), the theme had those synth boops and beeps that seemed to be in vogue for a number of anison at the time, and reflected that certain genkiness that the main character had....often to the detriment of friend and foe alike. It was composed by Shunsuke Kikuchi(菊池俊輔) and written by Asuna Kawagishi(河岸亜砂)....I hope I got the readings right on those kanji.

My interest in "Dr. Slump" carried on over the next several years. The very first video tape that we put into the ol' Panasonic VHS in 1983 was a couple of "Dr. Slump" episodes, and then during my 2 years in Gunma, I was able to track down the entire manga series and bring the whole kit-and-caboodle home. Unfortunately, after returning from my latest tour of duty in Japan, my series seems to have disappeared somewhere among the boxes of no-longer-essential stuff in my home.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Masayuki Suzuki -- Chigau, Sou Janai (違う、そうじゃない)

What is that saying?: "Hell hath no fury than a woman scorned"

Looks like the video for Masayuki Suzuki's(鈴木雅之) "Chigau, Sou Janai" (No, That's Not It) illustrated that in the first several seconds (and unfortunately, the video has been removed but the above is a performance version). I think a whole lot of men have been in that situation where roses and chocolate and a dinner out in Akasaka won't be able to solve (or salve) matters.

Martin's 17th single was released in January 1994 and has got a whole lot of oomph to it with those amazing horns, his plaintive pleas for mercy and even a police siren (Red Alert, folks). Written by Kanata Asamizu(朝水彼方) who has also written for another cool R&B singer, Keizo Nakanishi(中西圭三), and composed by Hideya Nakazaki(中崎英也), "Chigau, Sou Janai" is another funky four minutes of fun that has Suzuki trying to make amends for some romantic malfeasance. According to the video, he may have a sliver of hope.

(empty karaoke version)

"Chigau, Sou Janai" peaked at No. 9 on Oricon and is also a track on his 1994 album, "She See Sea". The single itself has the more peaceful "Shibuya de Go-ji"(渋谷で5時) duet with Momoko Kikuchi(菊池桃子) as the coupling song. The two songs make for an interesting 2 sides of a coin.

Anri -- Cotton Kibun (コットン気分)

I thought I would put up Anri's(杏里)"Cotton Kibun" (That Cotton Feeling) since although it follows her ever-sunny image of the American coastline, it's a lot more poppier than her later R&B-accented songs. Released in April 1981 as her 7th single, it also comes across as being somewhat more cheerful when compared to her earlier softer ballads. It was written and composed by Kaoru Ito(伊藤薫), the same songwriter who had come up with the power ballad, "Love Is Over" for Feifei Ouyang back in 1979.

First hearing "Cotton Kibun" on Anri's BEST album, I would also later hear it used as a jingle for a commercial for what else? Facial tissue. I think even for an early 80s Anri song, this is a pretty darn fluffy-and-happy little ditty.

The above is a karaoke version, but below is the original.

Seiko Matsuda -- Kaze Tachinu (風立ちぬ)

Probably out of all of the Japanese songwriters I know, the one whose sound just screams his creator's name the most is Eiichi Ohtaki(大瀧詠一). Whether it's Shinichi Mori's(森進一) "Fuyu no Riviera"(冬のリビエラ) or Hiromi Ota's(太田裕美) "Saraba Siberia Tetsudo"(さらばシベリア鉄道) or the songs that he did for his own epic 1981 album, "A Long Vacation", there is that flavour from musical sources in the 1960s. Phil Spector, someone who Ohtaki greatly respected is in there, and through my ears I can hear some Beatles. With a number of his songs such as "Siberia", I just get this feeling of a guy on a horse riding full-out or looking over his Big Sky homestead with pride; with some others, Ohtaki creates a scene of Richie and Lori Beth out on the porch swing on a warm spring night in the 1950s. In the kayo kyoku world, that's been called The Niagara Sound based on Ohtaki's own label, Niagara, which was created in the mid-70s.

But lest this article ends up as an Ohtaki article, let's move onto Seiko Matsuda's(松田聖子)4th album, "Kaze Tachinu" which came out in October 1981. Now, this wasn't produced on the Niagara label but Ohtaki composed the tracks for the first half of the album while Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆), his old bandmate from Happy End took care of the lyrics for the entire album. With Shigeru Suzuki(鈴木茂) helping out in the second half of the album, it was pretty much a Happy End collaboration for the sake of a singer who would become the biggest aidoru of the early 1980s at least. Not to leave anyone out, Tulip lead singer Kazuo Zaitsu(財津和夫)and Masamichi Sugi(杉真理) also provided melodies.

I bought "Kaze Tachinu" (As The Wind Blows) fairly late in my time in Japan, but just from reading about the pedigree behind the album, I would have felt rather guilty if I hadn't laid out the yen at Ginza Yamano Music. The album not only pops out in my guide on Japanese female aidoru for the 70s to the 90s but it even appears in "Japanese City Pop", although I don't really find the tracks in there to be City Pop in any way. Well, to each his own. In any case, the reviewer in the latter book declared the song "Kaze Tachinu" to be the most nationally recognized title track of any album in the kayo kyoku era. Pretty high praise indeed, and as soon as you hear Seiko's 7th single (October 1981), it's pure Ohtaki. I'd heard the song in the past before I even got the album, and the gorgeous shimmering strings identify the song right away. With her cute-as-a-button vocals matched up with the Niagara Sound, it almost takes "Kaze Tachinu" out of the aidoru genre and into pure pop. Perhaps it's because of the angelic chorus, but I sometimes imagine the singer in some operetta performing this as the showstopper. The single itself hit No. 1 on the Oricon charts and quickly ended up as the 34th-ranked single of the year, winning the Golden Aidoru Prize at the Japan Record Awards.

As for what inspired Ohtaki when it came to the melody, according to J-Wiki, it was this 1962 ballad titled "Venus In Blue Jeans" by American teenage idol Jimmy Clanton.

The opening track is "Fuyu no Yousei"(冬の妖精...Winter Sprite), an appropriately spritely happy-go-lovey musical skip down the lane. If I were to keep holding onto that Seiko-in-an-operetta analogy, "Fuyu no Yousei" would be the opening song in that performance involving the love interests. And there's enough jingle bell in there that it could even be put into the Xmas category.

Track 3 is one of my favourite Seiko songs, period. "Issen Ichi Byo Monogatari"(一千一秒物語...The 1,001-Second Story) falls into that Richie-Lori Beth type of ballad that I mentioned above, especially when it comes to the chorus and the wonderful strings in the bridge. If that couple from "Fuyu no Yousei" were going shopping in that song, this song would have them in the top-down convertible on at Inspiration Point looking at the stars at night (I may be laying down the "Happy Days" comparison rather apologies). The title refers to the girl's plea to the boy not to release her for 1,001 seconds (that would be a little over 16 minutes....yeah, that might work).

 "Ichigo Batake de Tsukamaete"(いちご畑でつかまえて...Grab Me In The Strawberry Field) was one of the weirder Seiko songs that I'd ever heard when I listened to the track on her BEST album. With the Beatle-y guitar (and the title may be another reference) and the bouncy beat, it's also a slightly racy tune lyrically as Seiko dares the guy to come and get a hold of her in that patch and getting that slow kiss on a strawberry (I'll hold back on the quotation marks for that last word). I think what also makes it stand out is that final part where the singer does a tiny scat as if the song belonged in one of those French/Italian comedies that I sometimes encountered on late Saturday nights, and then the fade out which listeners would assume is the end, only for the song to come back for several more seconds.

"Ryusei Night"(流星ナイト...Night of the Comet) is the first song (and my last track for tonight) on Side B and was composed by Kazuo Zaitsu with arrangements by Shigeru Suzuki. Although Ohtaki had nothing to do with it presumably, the song still has that good-time jangly feel.

The second half of the album also contains the more conventionally-sounding but no less appealing  "Shiroi Parasol", her 6th single, that I've already covered.

"Kaze Tachinu" hit No. 1 on the album charts and was the 38th-ranked album of the year, selling a little more than 230,000 copies. I've collected a number of Seiko albums over the years, including "Train" which has all of her best hits composed by Yuming (ユーミン)under her alias of Karuho Kureta. It's interesting comparing those two albums and hearing the different song stylings done by Seiko, but with "Kaze Tachinu", there is something about Ohtaki's influence that put the singer into a different place with that album. I'm not sure about this theory but whereas Yuming fit her songs to fit Seiko, Seiko had to fit herself into The Niagara Sound. And she did well.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Kenjiro Sakiya -- ROOMS

As I was discovering who Kaya Saeki(佐伯伽耶) was and writing about her debut single last night, I also came across this lovely ballad by J-AOR crooner, Kenjiro Sakiya(崎谷健次郎). The two of them share something in common in that both this song and Saeki's "Perfume wo Nokosenai"(パフュームを残せない) were used as the ending themes for Fuji-TV's "Rooms" late-night TV show, and Sakiya can even beat that by the fact that this song's title is that show's title.

Released in May 1994, Sakiya's 16th single has that nighttime downtown sound that has always appealed to me within the big world of J-Pop, so it reminds me of some of the works of folks like Yasuhiro Abe(安部恭弘) and Sing Like Talking. As for Sakiya himself, he hails from Hiroshima Prefecture and debuted as a singer in 1987 with "Omoi Gakenai SITUATION"(思いがけないSITUATION...Unexpected Situation) , although he had started a couple of years earlier as a songwriter for people like Junichi Inagaki(稲垣潤一) and Mariko Takahashi(高橋真梨子). I also just heard one of his other ballads from his debut year, "Mou Ichido Yoru wo Tomete"(もう一度夜を止めて...Stop The Night Once More), and wouldn't mind exploring some more of his stuff further.

In fact, you can take a listen to "Mou Ichido Yoru wo Tomete" right now. I did come across one of Sakiya's albums, "Realism" in "Japanese City Pop", but maybe I will take a search for one of his BEST albums.

Midori Karashima -- Egao wo Sagashite (笑顔を探して)

I may have mentioned on my first article for singer-songwriter Midori Karashima(辛島美登里), "Silent Eve", that it was the only song I really knew by her. Well, I think I was a bit mistaken and ungenerous there. There was actually another song (and considering I have a couple of her albums somewhere in the annals of my collection, I should slap myself and re-listen to them) that I had come across.

And "Egao wo Sagashite" (Find Your Smiling Face) was actually the immediately preceding 8th single to "Silent Eve", her biggest hit. Released in September 1990, it was also one of the theme songs used for the popular judo anime "Yawara" on NTV which I did watch with some regularity. Through this Monday night anime, Karashima joined Mariko Nagai(永井真理子) and Miki Imai(今井美樹) in contributing songs to the show, but unlike the other two, "Egao wo Sagashite" is one of her trademark ballads, characterized by that slightly quavering and clear-as-a-bell voice of hers.

The song managed to get as high as No. 60 on Oricon. By the way, the video below is the ending credits to "Yawara" with the Karashima ending theme.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Kaya Saeki -- Perfume wo Nokosenai/Hitomi de Sasayaite (パフュームを残せない・瞳で囁いて)

I just came across this one purely by accident while I was browsing through YouTube looking for a song by another singer. I'd never heard of Kaya Saeki(佐伯伽耶)but when I heard her debut single "Perfume wo Nokosenai" (Can't Leave Any Perfume), I was quickly hooked. To be honest, I thought that Saeki had done this in the 80s just from how it sounded but it actually came out in October 1994. I've always been a bit of a sucker for Latin/AOR when it came from singers like Keiko Maruyama(丸山圭子)or Ruiko Kurahashi(倉橋ルイ子), and Saeki seems to be into that sort of music.

According to J-Wiki, she was scouted while she was working in a Ginza nightclub as a pianist and entered show business in 1992. As well as entering the music industry, Saeki had a stint as an actress, but both aspects of her time in the geinokai were pretty short apparently. She only released 4 singles (no albums) between late 1994 and 1997 before calling it a day. For "Perfume wo Nokosenai", it was written by Yasushi Akimoto (the AKB 48 maestro) and composed by Chika Ueda (who had also helped on a lot of Miki Imai's songs in the early part of her career). The song certainly has that champagne-at-a-soiree feeling to it. The song was also used as the ending theme for a rather esoteric late-night show on Fuji-TV called "Rooms" that was on during the mid to late 90s. I used to catch it a fair bit before getting my shuteye since I also liked the ending themes such as one by Kaoru Nakahara(中原薫). And I also just came across another "Rooms" ending theme by Kenjiro Sakiya(崎谷健次郎)on YouTube that I quite like and will talk about later.

The coupling song is "Hitomi de Sasayaite" (Whisper With Your Eyes), another swooning nighttime tune to be enjoyed with a bit of that bubbly. It was actually used for a soup pasta commercial, but hey, soup pasta can be made classy, too, with a bit of garnish. The lyrics are also by Akimoto but the melody was created by Masayuki Kishi(岸正之).

The CD single went as high as No. 50 on the Oricon rankings.

Yumi Arai -- Henji wa Iranai (返事はいらない)

This morning on the NHK "News at 9", I saw a couple of interesting things. One was that even the Japanese network was now covering the antics of Rob Ford, the mayor of our city. At this rate, I wonder if he's gonna end up becoming TIME Magazine's "Man of the Year" for all the wrong reasons.

The other interesting thing was seeing the main newscaster interviewing Yumi Matsutoya (nee Arai). I think she's popped up on more interviews in the last couple of decades, but whenever she appears on a show that I can access, I want to be there watching in, especially when she talks about how her hits came about. She said something (and I'm paraphrasing here) that has stuck with me today so far, and that is "I just want to make the everyday special". And I think she has done that over the past 40 years, whether it be to add something to vapour trails, central highways, anniversaries or the end of a rugby season.

So, I wanted to take things all the way back to her very first single, "Henji wa Iranai" (I Don't Need An Answer). Released in July 1972, Yuming(ユーミン) was only 18 years old at the time when she created this debut song about not being able to continue a romance and moving on. It only sold 300 copies (although apparently some reports have been more gracious in stating the number at 800) and perhaps it's not as memorable as a lot of the other big hits that would start arriving soon afterwards, but the melody and her vocals are still unmistakably hers, and they were quite different from the music that was swirling about in the record shops and TV shows from the time.

(Sorry but the video has been taken down)

The above video has Yuming in 1996 in concert performing "Hikoki Gumo"(ひこうき雲) and then "Henji wa Iranai". Yellow Magic Orchestra's drummer, Yukihiro Takahashi(高橋幸宏), is there to help out on drums, and I think he and perhaps members from the band GARO had assisted on the original recording of her debut single. As for the video at the very top, it was too bad that I couldn't import it directly, but the photo of a young Yumi Arai(荒井由実) on the cover of the single was quite poignant considering the very glamourous image she has had for decades through her music videos and elaborate concerts. It just shows a teenager in a Superman T-shirt noticing something indication whatsoever of the stardom that she would achieve in a short while.

The other statement she made in the interview this morning that also stuck out to me was that she considered her biggest rivals to not be the current top singers or the in-vogue musical trends, but the songs that she put out as Yumi Arai. A lot of people consider her career peak to have been in the mid-70s which is quite an albatross to wear around one's neck for a superstar pop singer years later. But for me, like others, I think she still had plenty to offer even when her name changed to Matsutoya(松任谷由実). The songs may have been even more on the pop side but they are no less listenable and they still make the everyday special.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Seri Ishikawa -- Asayake ga Kieru Mae ni (朝焼けが消える前に)

As I mentioned in one of the other articles on Seri Ishikawa(石川セリ), I had bought her BEST album and although I found some of her 80s stuff something that may grow on me over time, there were a few of her earlier hits that I considered quite appealing immediately.

One such track is "Asayake ga Kieru Mae ni" (Before The Morning Sun Fades). I was surprised that it was never an official single. It was actually the 2nd track on her 2nd album, "Tokidoki Watashi wa"(ときどき私は...Sometimes, I...) (January 1976), but I think it would have made for a fine single release. Written and composed by Yumi Arai(荒井由実), it just has that New Music/City Pop feeling infused into it but it also sounds a bit French for some reason. Yuming back then was creating songs that incorporated American pop elements such as the West Coast sound, but I remember one other tune, "Good Luck and Goodbye" from "The 14th Moon" that also has that European nuance.

I think, just like that cool breeze which sometimes accompanies that morning sun, "Asayake ga Kieru Mae ni" had that refreshing sense. I would be rather interested if I could track down some other Yuming-penned works for other singers during that time period.

Chage And Aska -- Sailor Man

"Sailor Man" was the first Chage & Aska song that I'd ever heard via a compilation tape. I was rather intrigued by the title since I was wondering if they were paying homage to Popeye or even to The Village People since the song has that triumphant beat like the latter group's "YMCA" or "In The Navy". But it certainly was a different sound from the other guy groups I'd been hearing such as Checkers and CCB or the Johnny's aidorus.

The song was released in April 1987, and was created by Ryo Aska(飛鳥涼). I guess "Sailor Man" is as fine an example as any when it comes to the Chage & Aska power pop sound. I didn't even need to see a concert to imagine the duo singing this with fists in the air and feet stomping on the ground. Supposedly, on the day that their 18th single was released, all of the media was reporting that Aska had just gotten married. There was no report on whether "Sailor Man" was played at the wedding reception, though.

In any case, the song peaked at No. 13 on Oricon, and was also a track on Chage & Aska's 9th album, "Mr. Asia". That album was released a month after the single came out and went as high as No. 4 on the album charts.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

EPO -- Migawari no Buddy (身代わりのバディー)

"Migawari no Buddy" (Substitute Buddy), written and composed by EPO for her 3rd album, "JOEPO - 1981KHz" in 1981 sums up that EPO sound from those early years: sunny, footloose-and-fancy-free, urban and feminine. It probably would have made for a fine theme song for a light comedy on TV. And if I've gotten the lyrics correct, the song would come across as a plot for such a program: a young lady is looking on surreptitiously with some envy as the target of her affections may or may not be courting someone else.

Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎) provided the arrangements and backing vocals which consist of him and Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)...basically some help from good ol' Sugar Babe. And I think there was perhaps some musical inspiration by The Doobie Brothers as well. Maybe that little "doo, doo, doo" EPO trills is a bit of a shout-out. In any case, according to the liner notes of her first BEST album, "The Best Station JOEPO 1980-1984", the singer considered this song to be her favourite from "JOEPO - 1981 KHz".

Kyoko Koizumi -- Oka wo Koete (丘を越えて)

By the time I got to Gunma in the late 80s, I'd seen Kyoko Koizumi(小泉今日子) more as an actress than as an aidoru due to all those trendy dramas, although she was a regular presence on the Kohaku Utagassen earlier in that decade. So, it was a bit of a surprise when I caught the original video one night. There was Kyon-Kyon walking through some residential streets leading a motley young crew of musicians singing a nice little ambling ska tune.

I had first heard "Oka wo Koete" (Getting Over That Hill) as the campaign song for a Mazda car commercial before I saw the video, and if I remember correctly, the commercial tried to show the particular brand of Mazda as a good one for taking that leisurely ride through the countryside. I think Mazda Marketing picked the right song. Kyon-Kyon takes her voice down from those aidoru heights to a more relaxing register and sings about getting over that hill to finally meet that special someone.

Released in September 1990 as her 31st single, the song was written by Koizumi herself and composed by a couple of members (at the time) from Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, Masayuki Hayashi(林昌幸)and Tatsuyuki Aoki(青木達之). It got as high as No. 10 on the charts. The single is also on the album, "No. 17" which had been released a few months earlier.  I like the video since it and the singer are so down-to-earth. As far as I know, she could've just been walking over to the local conbini for a bento.

Teresa Teng -- Wakare no Yokan (別れの予感)

It's hard to believe it's almost been 20 years since Teresa Teng(テレサ・テン) left this mortal coil prematurely. She was very much part of the process in helping me to enjoy kayo kyoku/J-Pop through venues like my old karaoke haunt of Kuri and the radio show "Sounds of Japan" in the 80s.

Not too long after her passing in 1995, I had already been in Japan for several months when I was doing my usual browsing in the CD shops. I came across a Teresa Teng BEST album which I quickly snatched up since despite enjoying her songs greatly, I'd never gotten an original album by her. Another big reason for getting it was to listen again to her wonderful hits of "Aijin"愛人) and "Tsugunai"つぐない), but there were more that I hadn't heard that made up the latter half of the disc.

And then the very last song on the CD was "Wakare no Yokan" (Parting Omen). Again, this was a song that I hadn't come across before but unlike the other new ones, this one hit me as something special right from the opening exotic notes. Like the two other songs I mentioned, it wasn't quite enka but still somehow had that enka nuance (perhaps simply because Teng was just as comfortable singing enka/not enka...European enka?). There were also a couple of other paradoxes with it. It was created by Toyohisa Araki(荒木とよひさ) and Takashi Miki(三木たかし), and yet it didn't sound solely Japanese; I could've imagined it written and composed and sung in a number of nations in Asia whether it be Taiwan, Vietnam, South Korea, Hong Kong, etc. And despite the names behind the production of "Wakare no Yokan", the arrangement sounds like something that Koji Tamaki(玉置浩二)and Goro Matsui(松井五郎) would've created during the same time.

"Wakare no Yokan" was released in June 1987 as Teng's 18th single. It got as high as No. 16 on the Oricon weeklies and had a long run on the charts with it becoming the 94th-ranked song for 1988.

Perhaps it is because of the title or the fact that it is the final track on that BEST CD or the fact that Teng had already died before I got to even know this particular song, but I have considered "Wakare no Yokan" to be her goodbye song, although I know that she still released a number of singles following this one, including one that came immediately after that I also like titled "Koibito Tachi no Shinwa"(恋人たちの神話....Lovers' Myth). To me, it just has this cheerfully melancholy beat that hints at a final goodbye of sorts but also a celebration of what came before. If this had truly been her last song, it would've made for a fine coda.

Follow-up - Kubota Toshinobu - 「LA・LA・LA LOVE SONG」 - Theme to 『ロングバケーション』/Long Vacation

2012 Released DVD Set Cover - Image courtesy of
Fuji TV's  hugely popular 1996 "Trendy Drama" series 『ロングバケーション』/"Long Vacation" AKA 「ロンバケ」 is perhaps one of the mostly fondly remembered and beloved of the 90s TV romance dramas, ranking alongside 『東京ラブストーリー』/"Tokyo Love Story" (1991) and 『101回目のプロポーズ』/"Hyaku Ikai Me No Propose" (1991).

"Long Vacation" was another hit for prolific screenwriter 北川悦吏子/Kitagawa Eriko following the successes of her earlier works such as 『素顔のままで』/"Sugao No Mama De" (1992) and 『愛していると言ってくれ』/"Aishiteru To Ittekure" (1995). Kitagawa would later go on to write the screenplays for other hit dramas including 『最後の恋』/"Saigo No Koi" (1997) and the landmark 『ビューティフルライフ』/"Beautiful Life" (2000).

Image courtesy of
The drama follows the life of 葉山南/Hayama Minami (her character often joked that her parents named her after the famed Enka singer 三波春夫/Minami Haruo), a country bumpkin from Yoshikawa, Saitama who had won a regional beauty contest in her teens and which led to a short-lived career as a swimsuit model. With her career in a bit of a downturn as she reaches her thirties (she often lost out on modeling assignments to much younger, high school-aged models) she decides to marry her longtime boyfriend Asakura. However when he inexplicably jilts her at the alter on the day of their wedding, a furious Minami (Yamaguchi Tomoko) decides to confront her former lover at the apartment he shared with another roommate, 24 year-old Sena Hidetoshi (Kimura Takuya). However when she goes to the apartment, Sena is unable to tell her where he has gone.  To make matters worse Minami had entrusted Asakura with most of her savings and is unable to pay the rent for her own apartment. With nowhere else to go, she reluctantly asks to move in with Sena (much to his chagrin and protests). Sena and Minami become roommates and thus begins a love/hate relationship between the two.  Their blooming romance is made complicated by the appearance of Minami's estranged younger brother Shinji (Takenouchi Yutaka), a playboy lothario who had recently hooked up with a young runaway, Himura Ryumiko (Ryo) he had met at the Horse Racing tracks and who is hopelessly in love with him.  Sena's life is also in a bit of a rut as he had aspirations of being a concert pianist but with his self-consciousness and lack of confidence in his skills, he had resigned himself to being just a piano teacher at a local kid's music school.  He has always loved his fellow music school graduate Okuzawa Ryoko (Matsu Takako) but was too shy to confess his feelings to her. The title refers to a comment Sena makes to Minami regarding her situation and says that perhaps their recent problems with their careers is a turning point in their lives and is God's way of saying that they should take a break from life and take "a long vacation" in order to find themselves again.

First Kiss - Sena (Kimura Takuya) and Minami (Yamaguchi Tomoko) - Image courtesy of
While "Long Vacation's" charming tale of the "roller coaster" romance between a brash 31 year-old former gravure model and a much younger struggling concert pianist certainly touched the hearts of Japanese audiences, it was its attractive and comely ensemble cast which really caught the most attention of viewers.  

"Long Vacation" was 木村拓哉/Kimura Takuya's (AKA Kimutaku) first leading role in a drama series (he had previously starred in a two minor dramas before "Long Vacation") and his role as the shy and self-conscious musician 瀬名秀俊/Sena Hidetoshi, catapulted the former "Johnny's idol" and SMAP group member into the spotlight, making him not only a household name and heartthrob among teen girls and young women everywhere but would also make him a major breakout drama and film star. He would go on to star in a number of hit dramas thereafter including ラブジェネレーション』/"Love Generation" (1997), 『ビューティフルライフ』/"Beautiful Life" (2000), 『HERO』(2001), and 『GOOD LUCK!!』(2003) among others.  With his dashing and youthful looks, tall slim frame and trademark rebel attitude he would frequently be ranked among the Top 10 of all-time favorite actor lists and would also win numerous other popular social awards such as the Annual "Best Jeanist" award. At age 40, he looks just as youthful as he did in "Long Vacation" and is still a major TV star.  He is currently starring along singer/actress 柴咲コウ/Shibasaki Kou in the "Terminator"-inspired Sci-Fi action/love comedy 『安堂ロイド〜A.I. knows LOVE?〜』(2013).  

Minami (Yamaguchi Tomoko) and Sena (Kimura Takuya) at their favorite ramen hangout
Leggy former model 山口智子/Yamaguchi Tomoko reminds me a lot of current TV drama star 米倉涼子/Yonekura Ryoko as they share a similar type of comical, tough girl on-screen persona.  Yamaguchi first gained fame as a swimsuit model and campaign girl for such companies as Asahi Beer. Later, she branched out to appearing in CMs and was eventually given her big break as an actor when she was selected to be the heroine in NHK's 1988 family drama series 『純ちゃんの応援歌』/"Jun Chan No Oh Enka". From there she appeared in a number of other early 90s family dramas such as 『ダブル・キッチン』/"Double Kitchen" (1993) and スウィート・ホーム』/"Sweet Home" (1994) usally playing young wife roles  Similar to her previous drama series 『29歳のクリスマス』/"Nijyu Kyuusai No Christmas" (1994), Yamaguchi's role in "Long Vacation" was another older character who was at a critical turning point in her career and love life. During the course of filming "Long Vacation", Yamaguchi who at 170 cm (5.8 Ft) and is already tall to begin with asked to wear high heels to increase her height even more so that she would be able to match Kimura's height at 176 cm (5.9 - 5.10 Ft) as she felt it was important to show the two as being equal in height.
Don't Worry - Outside their shared apartment in Tokyo - Image courtesy of
Before "Long Vacation", 竹野内豊/Takenouchi Yutaka was already making a name for himself as a male fashion model (Takenouchi began his modeling career after being encouraged and promoted by his mother and elder sister who both had previous experience in the magazine business). When his modeling career stalled in the early 90s, Takenouchi transitioned into acting and got his big break in the sentimental and tearful, love drama 星の金貨 AKA "Die Sterntaler"/"Heaven's Coins" (1995) portraying Takumi one of 酒井法子/Sakai Noriko's Aya's love interests. His performance as playboy 葉山真二/Hayama Shinji in "Long Vacation", led to him to star in a string of other popular dramas including ビーチボーイズ/"Beach Boys" (1997), 世紀末の詩 AKA "Last Song", 氷の世界/"Kouri No Sekai" (1999) and BOSS (2009). Like Kimutaku, Takenouchi was also quite popular with female audiences and frequently played upon his rough-and-tumble/bad-boy image by sporting facial hair, riding motorcycles and chain smoking cigarettes. He was most recently seen starring along with popular actress 上戸彩/Ueto Aya in the tearful drama 流れ星/"Nagareboshi" (2010) and with former Takarazuka star 天海祐希/Amami Yuki in action/comedy series BOSS 2 (2011).

Sibling Rivalry - Shinji (Takenouchi Yutaka) and Minami (Yamaguchi Tomoko)

松たか子/Matsu Takako is from a prestigious traditional Japanese Buyo (Japanese Theatrical Dance ) family with her father, uncle and elder brother all being famous Kabuki stage actors. Matsu (who took her stage name to honor her family's Buyo House) debuted as an actress at age 16 in 1993 taking parts in Japanese theatre. Her first TV role came a year later when she appeared in the NHK Taiga drama 花の乱/"Hana No Ran". "Long Vacation" was her first major role and her likeable portrayal of 奥沢涼子/Okuzawa Ryoko led not only to other roles in popular drama series such as ひとつ屋根の下2 (1997) but also began her longstanding partnership with fellow castmate Kimutaku. They would play an onscreen couple twice more, first in ラブジェネレーション/"Love Generation" (1997) and later in the hugely popular drama HERO(2001). In subsequent years, Matsu would be voted by fans as one of the most popular drama actresses. An accomplished singer, Matsu would also release several music CD albums and singles.

Part-Time Lovers - Ryoko (Matsu Takako) and Sena (Kimura Takuya)

Model and actress 稲森いずみ/Inamori Izumi has had an interesting upbringing. Born and raised in Kagoshima prefecture, Inamori studied abroad after graduating from high school. At her Aunt's urging, she studied English at a school in Arlington, TX (just outside of Dallas) for a year and a half. After finishing up her ESL courses there, she returned to Japan to pursue her dream of becoming a model. With her alluring looks, tall thin frame and newly acquired English proficiency, she was signed by the prestigious Blooming Agency and did modeling work primarily in the Kagoshima area.  While modeling she was asked to appear in a number of TV variety programs and it was during these appearances that she was approached by talent agents with the famed Burning Productions Talent Agency (who represented other talents/stars such as 小泉今日子/Koizumi Kyoko, 郷ひろみ/Go Hiromi, 小柳ゆき/Koyanagi Miyuki and 藤あや子/Fuji Ayako).  Inamori soon transitioned to acting and had previously appeared with fellow model and castmate Yamaguchi in 『29歳のクリスマス』/"Nijyu Kyuusai No Christmas" (1994). Inamori certainly steals the show in "Long Vacation" as the ditzy but absolutely adorable 小石川桃子/Koshikawa Momoko, best friend of Yamaguchi's Minami character. Her cute and fun role is in stark contrast to some of her later roles in dramas such as ビーチボーイズ/"Beach Boys" (1997) and the live-action movie adaptation of the popular 80s manga CAT'S EYE』(1997) where she portrayed lead heroine Kitsugi Hitomi.

Best Friends - Minami (Yamaguchi Tomoko) and Momoko (Inamori Izumi)

The enigmatic りょう/Ryo (real name 宮田ゆみ子/Miyata Yumiko) has previously worked as a model and appeared in numerous magazine ad campaigns and CMs. "Long Vacation" was her first foray into acting and she does a pretty amiable job portraying 氷室ルミ子/Himuro Rumiko. With her cryptic name and exotic looks, she certainly stood out among the beautiful cast and captured a lot of attention in her role. However, unlike her castmates, Ryo choose to not ride the fame and success that came from "Long Vacation" opting to continue her work in modeling and CMs, not really appearing that many dramas in the subsequent years after. While she did appear in small roles in such films as CASSHERN』(2004) and GOEMON』(2009) she has stayed pretty much low key. Like Matsu, Ryo has also released ventured into music and released a few singles.

Troubled Lovers - Rumiko (Ryo) and Shinji (Takenouchi Yutaka)

As with 東京ラブストーリー』/"Tokyo Love Story", "Long Vacation" certainly benefits from its choice of theme song with the very catchy tune 「LA・LA・LA LOVE SONG」

As J-Canuck mentions in his informative Dec 2012 post for the song, 「LA・LA・LA LOVE SONG」 was a mega-hit for R&B singer/songwriter and "King of J-Soul", 久保田利伸/Kubota Toshinobu, selling 2 million copies and becoming his 1st No. 1 single.  

Kubota grew up in Shizuoka where his family ran a farm that grew and sold fruit. Growing up he was very much into sports especially baseball. All throughout Elementary and Junior High School Kubota played baseball and was on the baseball team for his school. However, during his first year in High School, he was exposed to the music of Stevie Wonder and instantly fell in love with his music. Throughout High School, he continued to expand on that interest by forming a high school band and singing primarily R&B and Soul songs.  After High School, Kubota went to a local University where he studied Economics but also continued his interest in music by joining a friend's band - 「HOTTENTOTS」. After one year, Kubota eventually left the band to try his hand at singing solo and sang at various bars and clubs in Tokyo.  Kubota gained some fame when he entered a local Yamaha sponsored amateur singing contest - the East West '82 and won the award for best Male Vocalist.

Encouraged by this success, Kubota entered the music business after graduating from University and found work as a Music Producer position at Kitty Music. There he helped compose and produce songs for a number of artists.  Some of the songs he wrote for other artists include - Tahara Toshihiko's/田原俊彦 「It's BAD」, Koizumi Kyoko's/小泉今日子 「MOONLIGHT」,  Oginome Yoko's/荻野目洋子LAZY DANCE」 and ANRI's/杏里TIME OUT」.

In the mid 80s Kubota would release his first single 失意のダウンタウン」/"Shitsui No Downtown" (1986), which was a minor hit.  His song non-single 流星のサドル/"Ryusei No Sadoru" (1986) would also become very popular however it would not be until a year later that Kubota would finally find success with the first of a string of hit songs for him -  GODDESS ~新しい女神~/"Goddess - Atashi Megami" (1987).  He would follow up with the singles CRY ON YOUR SMILE (1987) and You Were Mine (1988) which would become hits as well. 

It was during this time period that Kubota would relocate to New York city to further evolve as an artist.  "La La La Love Song" would one of the fruits of his labor in New York.

There have been a number of covers of this great song including version by BoA and SOUL'd OUT, an all English version by Holland Jazz singer Laura Fygi, a version by Korean pop singer Park Yong Ha, a Malaysian version by singer Karen Kong, singer/musician 三浦大知/Miura Daiichi, Rebecca lead singer NOKKO, British singer Stevie Hoang, a concert version by EXILE, Jazz singer Julee Karan and singer 絢香/Ayaka.  My favorite cover however is J-Pop singer BENI's soulful English rendition which I thought was pretty nice.

Finally, an interesting bit of trivia regarding "Long Vacation".  The moving and memorable last scene with Sena and Minami running along the street to the church alter to get married after moving to Boston, Massachusetts (so that Sena can play piano for the World Renowned Boston Symphony) was surprisingly not really filmed in Boston.  The producers filmed in sequence in London, England (on Holland Park Avenue to be specific).  

"Long Vacation" isn't one of my personal favorite dramas from the 90s (I still think "Tokyo Love Story" has this beat) but it certainly has one of the most likeable and beautiful casts and Kubota Toshinobu's "La La La Love Song" stands as one of the all-time best Japanese TV Drama theme songs.

Going To Get Married - Images courtesy of