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.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Masayuki Suzuki/Yoshiyuki Osawa -- Private Hotel (プライベートホテル)

Not sure if I ever mentioned it anywhere in the articles for "Kayo Kyoku Plus", but I have to say in all honesty that the Tokyo Prince Hotel right by Tokyo Tower is the Ground Zero for what would drive me for the rest of my life up to now. Now I did state in my early articles that my Japanese Language School graduation trip back in the summer of 1981 was the life-changing experience that had me learning about and gradually living in Japan for a good chunk of my half-century on Earth. Well, for the first five days of our stay in the country, the Prince was our amiable host. Of course, my classmates and I stayed in other accommodations such as the Chisan Hotel in Nagoya, a Kyoto hotel and three days with homestay families in Nara among other lodgings, but for me, the Prince was it. So much so that I ended up making a pilgrimage there one more time during my last visit to the country last October.

My personal prologue was for the purposes of introducing another cool Masayuki Suzuki(鈴木雅之)tune, "Private Hotel". Released as Martin's 9th single in June 1990, it was written by Hideki Ando(安藤秀樹)and composed by J-funkster/songwriter Yoshiyuki Osawa(大沢誉志幸). Some years previously, Osawa had come up with Suzuki's debut single, the haunting "Glass Goshi ni Kieta Natsu"(ガラス越しに消えた夏). And like that ballad, I was initially lukewarm to "Private Hotel" since Suzuki had so many other great tunes that I loved, but this has grown on me over the years as well. 

As is often the case with songs that have the word "hotel" in their titles, "Private Hotel" relates the adventure of a man having that fling with a woman who may or may not be his wife...keeping things as sub-rosa as possible. The song definitely hints that the accommodations in question is probably not some Motel Six out in the boonies but some nice upscale hotel in the big city...perhaps something like the Tokyo Prince or perhaps one of the major hotels up in West Shinjuku. Osawa also put in a goodly amount of funk; Martin doesn't really dance up a storm in his live performances but I could imagine Osawa putting on a show if he did do a cover of it.

Well, what do you know? I managed to find Osawa doing a cover of the song. Although he isn't exactly dancing around, his version is quite interesting done in that reggae style

"Private Hotel" did rather modestly as it only went as high as No. 60 on the charts. It was also a track on the singer's 4th album, "mood" which peaked at No. 12 on the Oricon album charts.

For a number of years now, the Tokyo Prince has been more of a "faded glory" hotel compared to the time that I visited in 1981. When I went to visit the place last October, it was celebrating an anniversary of sorts and there were plenty of photos of many high-level dignitaries such as the late British Prime Minister and Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, and former US President Jimmy Carter coming to the hotel. And I believe (not 100% sure) that Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子)had held her (first) wedding reception at the Prince along with a number of sumo wrestlers and other celebs.

The lobby of the Prince seems to have stayed in stasis for the past few decades. It looks just like it did back in the summer of 1981 when a very bewildered group of Japanese-Canadian kids trundled in. I know that a new wing in the form of a tower has been built for the Tokyo Prince, but against a lot of other opinions, I still like the old place. And in fact, I rather regretted that I couldn't actually stay at least one night at the hotel before I left Japan in 2011 (the hotel is still packed to the gills in may not have the cachet it once did, but it's still popular with the business crowd).

However, I assuaged some of that pain by treating myself to a somewhat pricey dessert set at the 1st-floor cafe last year. Darn fine strawberry shortcake! And although the Tokyo Prince doesn't have as much of a high profile as it used to, I did see one celeb come traipsing in that usual celeb guise of sunglasses, a jacket turned up at the collar and a baseball cap scrunched down on the head. Couldn't recognize the lad but he did have his minders with him as they all sat around the corner from me.

Yup, that's the lobby up above. And the Iron Lady down below.

I don't know when I'm gonna hit Tokyo again in the future. But it would be nice if I could stay over at the Prince...if I can save enough of the Canadian dollar.

Higurashi -- Orange Iro no Densha (オレンジ色の電車)'s been a while since I put up a Higurashi(日暮し)song. But I think it's a good time to get one in here. We're at the end of March, the weather is slowly warming up after another long, harsh winter, and perhaps something nice and nostalgic would be fine here.

I'm currently going the usual pile of translation assignments. The afternoon is usually the difficult time since it's a long haul between lunch and dinner, and a lot of the energy is spent digesting lunch which means getting hit with a spate of drowsiness...not the best thing when you're concentrating on converting Japanese into English. So it was time to throw in a CD into the hard drive, and so I went with the BEST compilation for this fairly obscure folk band from the 1970s.

However, as I said on the first article I did for Higurashi, there's something personal between me and them since I had been searching for the lone song that I had known without being able to know the title. Luckily, when I finally deciphered the title as "Aki no Tobira"(秋の扉), the door did definitely open and I was able to get a CD of their best stuff.

Generally, the Higurashi sound consists of good ol' folk with a slight bit of City Poppy keyboard anchored by Naomi Sakakibara's(榊原尚美)wonderfully breezy vocals. One of the songs I heard today was their 5th single from June 1977, "Orange Iro no Densha" (Orange Train). Written and composed by band vocalist and guitarist, Seiichi Takeda(武田清一), the music comes off as that pleasant ride on that orange train (perhaps Tokyo's JR Chuo Line?) as it heads off to the countryside. It was just the tonic to listen to; I could imagine the scene as being sunny and spring-like. Compared to the slightly more City Pop of "Aki no Tobira", "Orange Iro no Densha" is definitely on the relaxing folk side of things.

The song was also a track on Higurashi's 1977 album, "Arifureta Dekigoto"(ありふれた出来事...Everyday Happenings). Also, just for the record, the band lineup was Naomi Sakakibara (vocals and keyboards), Seiichi Takeda (vocals and guitar) and Yukio Nakamura (中村幸雄...vocals and guitar). In 1981, Sakakibara changed her name to Naomi Sugimura(杉村尚美)after which she released three singles as a solo singer (the band broke up in 1979). Some time later, she got married and retired from the industry.

No, it's not orange but
it gave a good tribute to
"Galaxy Express 999".

Takuya Jou -- Hone Made Aishite (骨まで愛して)

I don't see many songs with "Hone" (骨), the kanji character for bone, in its title... actually I don't think I've ever encountered any other song with this word in the title. Only "Hone Made Aishite". Upon seeing its name a number of months ago, I was indeed curious as to what the song was about since I understood the words "Bone" and "Love", but I couldn't seem to find any proper relation between the two. So my guess was that the fellow singing the song loves bones... which frankly is rather bizzare and disturbing, but I stuck with it anyway. As my understanding for the language improved a little and as I listened to "Hone Made Aishite" more often over the months, it suddenly occurred to me that this wasn't some love song dedicated to bones, but something far more normal and logical, something like "Love me to the bone" and NOT "I love bones".

Moving on, singing "Hone Made Aishite" was the late Takuya Jou (城卓也). This hit from 1966 that sold about 1.4 million copies was his 2nd debut single under this very name - he first debuted in the world of music as Masao Kikuchi (菊地正夫) in 1960 before this change 6 years later. The most interesting fact that I have read about Jou on the J-Wiki is that he was related to two well-regarded songwriters, who both had a hand in doing up the song. Composing the very 60's, easy-paced music for "Hone Made Aishite" was Jou's older brother, Jun Kitahara (北原じゅん), who had also composed a couple of songs for Jou in his Kikuchi days, as well as for other singers like the flamboyant Gosanke member, Teruhiko Saigo (西郷輝彦). And then writing the lyrics for the song was Jou's uncle, Kouhan Kawauchi (川内康範), a name I've often seen since he penned quite a handful of Mood Kayo hits like Hiroshi Uchiyamada and Cool Five's (内山田洋とクール・ファイブ) "Awazu ni Aishite" (逢わずに愛して) and Mina Aoe's (青江三奈) "Isezakicho Blues" (伊勢佐木町ブルース). The lyrics seems to be about our leading man here simply wanting his lady to love him deeply... to the bone (get it?)...

As I've mentioned earlier, "Hone Made Aishite" was very successful, and so it managed to give Jou his first ticket to the Kohaku on the very same year it was released in. There even was a movie based on the song itself in 1966, featuring acting stars from that era Tetsuya Watari (渡哲也), and of course, Ruriko Asaoka (浅丘ルリ子). Dang, she seemed to be in every other movie back in the 60's!

Huh, Jou was a pretty good-looking fella.

Yukiko Okada -- Sayonara Natsu Yasumi (さよなら・夏休み)

Well, although I've known about Yukiko Okada(岡田有希子)all these years, I never actually bought an album or a single by her. And the fact is that I've heard some of her songs through "Sounds of Japan" and the pertinent articles on this blog, and quite enjoyed them. So I figured it was time to get her represented on my shelves. I ended up buying a BEST CD of sorts titled "Yukiko Okada - All Songs Request" which came out in the early 2000s.

The first track was "Sayonara Natsu Yasumi" (Goodbye, Summer Holidays) that was written and composed by Mariya Takeuchi (竹内まりや...who was also on backing vocals). It was not a single but was on her debut album, "Cinderella" from September 1984. I've heard it twice so far and behind all of the aidoru sunniness (that began with what seemed to sound like City Pop chords), I was struck by how well she could sing even as a new face. Not to say that she had the resonance of Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美), but there was a certain assuredness to go with that especially girlish delivery that was perhaps quite refreshing back in that decade. It also unfortunately makes her untimely passing all the sadder.

Takeuchi created a number of songs for Okada during her short career along with my favourite song by her, "Dreaming Girl".  Still a lot of her material to explore.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Donut Quintet -- Platina Jet (プラチナジェット)

It's not quite April 1st yet, but since today was Monday, the changes have already started in Japan. It won't be too long before the new school year begins but I'm sure job transfers are taking place, old TV shows are ending and new ones are coming in, and there were some major staff changes on the nightly NHK news desk from this morning. Plus, yesterday at my buddy's place, we got to see the endings of a few of our favourite anime that we had been enjoying for the past few months.

One is "Shirobako" which launched back in October 2014 and finished off its 24-episode season this month. I already talked about the show when I wrote about the ending theme for the first half, the energetic "Animetic Love Letter". The anime about life in the anime production industry was special in that it seemed more like an animated dramedy than the usual over-the-top anime although there were some moments which were pretty whimsical. The second half had the five former high school classmates and still good friends continuing their young lives through the industry that they vowed to join. As another business year began, there were a few staff departures and some new arrivals including the equivalent of an angry Vietnam vet and a young lady so shy to the point of incoherence.

And there was one scene with one of the quintet, Ema Yasuhara, performing the Angel Exercises which has made a bit of a minor sensation on YouTube.

Anyways, in the article on "Animetic Love Letter", I mentioned some regret over the fact that the second round of 12 episodes was going to go with new opening and closing themes. But I have to say that the new closing theme has grown on me considerably since January. Titled "Platina Jet" (Platinum Jet) in reference to the new project that Musashino Animation has to tackle, "Dai San Hiko Shojotai"(第三飛行少女隊...The Third Girls Aerial Squad), this time, the full group of five women, The Donut Quintet: Aoi, Ema, Shizuka, Misa and Midori as played by Juri Kimura(木村珠莉), Haruka Yoshimura(佳村はるか), Haruka Chisuga(千菅春香), Asami Takano(高野麻美)and Hitomi Owada(大和田仁美)respectively hit the mike.

It's another peppy way to end the show and I enjoy the popping string-like synths that bookend the verses. Halko Momoi(桃井はるこ)once again wrote and composed the ending theme to "Shirobako" as she did for "Animetic Love Letter". I also enjoyed the nifty ending credits that closed almost every episode in the second round with the gradual creation of each of the five main characters and even the two dolls, Mimuji and Roro.

Not sure whether "Shirobako" will be making a comeback although my buddy tells me it could be a while since the director is pretty much up to his ears in projects for the next few years at least. But perhaps that might not be a bad thing since I think it would be more interesting to see how MusaAni and the motley crew change over time. And if not, I think Episode 24 ended the run with a very nice bow.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Tatsuro Yamashita -- Dreaming Girl

Ah....Tamao Sato(さとう玉緒, ohisashiburi desu ne. It's been a long while since I've seen the squeaky-voiced tarento/actress. And here she is above in an old Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎) music video.

"Dreaming Girl", Yamashita's 29th single from May 1996, is about as sunny as you can get with his music. I didn't watch the NHK morning serial, "Himawari"(ひまわり...Sunflowers), for which "Dreaming Girl" was the theme song, but I remembered actually keeping the TV on Channel 1 at 8 a.m. just so that I could see the opening credits with that song and the bright fields of sunflowers soaring by. I guess it was like a video version of orange juice.

The song has all the Yamashita tropes: his layered backing vocals, his falsetto and a melody that makes me muse back to yesteryear. But this time, the effect is a bit more muted than would be average for him, especially in the intro when he rather intones the "...dream...", not surprising since it is titled "Dreaming Girl". It sounds like a song to be listened to while drifting off on a bed of flowers under the sun. We really can't do that right now here in Toronto since it's still below freezing; we can only dream of a genuine spring at this moment.

Yamashita was behind the mellow melody while old friend Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆)took care of the lyrics. It managed to peak at No. 25 on the Oricon weeklies, and is included on his 11th studio album, "Cozy" which was released in August 1998. The album hit No. 1 and was a million-seller.

Keiko Kimura -- Coltrane de Aishite (コルトレーンで愛して)

Back in early January this year, I wrote about Keiko Kimura's(木村恵子)"Denwa Shinaide"(電話しないで)and how much I liked that late 80s champagne-&-downtown Tokyo feel to it, much along the lines of what I often heard from ladies like Junko Ohashi(大橋純子), Miki Imai(今井美樹)and the late Kaoru Sudo(須藤薫)at that time. It was quite the happy happenstance that I came across her on YouTube, and in the article, I mentioned that I would have to consider getting that album it came out on, "Style".

Well, nearly 3 months and a payment later, I have been able to acquire that very debut album. Considering how obscure the name was (didn't even see her on "Japanese City Pop"), I thought "Style" was gonna be something that I could only admire online. However, the good folks at CD Japan actually had it on sale.

One of the other tracks on the 1988 "Style" is "Coltrane de Aishite" (Love Me By Coltrane) which also served as Kimura's debut single (presumably in the same year). Written by Reiko Yukawa(湯川れい子)and composed by Shigeru Suzuki(鈴木茂), it's a fairly dreamy ballad involving rain, hotels and jazz legend John Coltrane...about as atmospheric as a romantic City Pop tune can get. Kimura's vocals get all breathy to the hint of bossa nova as she gets into the torch song of it all. At the beginning of the imported video above, there is a picture of the singer as it was taken on the cover of the debut single, and I think she had that look which was a mix between Chisato Moritaka(森高千里)and Akiko Yano(矢野顕子).

As for the rest of the album, "Style" keeps it nice and urban contemporary for the most part except for a cover of the Yuki Okazaki(岡崎友紀)hit "Do You Remember Me?" which also happens to be the B-side to "Coltrane de Aishite". Probably if I were to relate another Japanese city aside from Tokyo to the album, it would be the resort area of Hakone.

The Works of Yu Aku (阿久悠)Part 2

As I said in Part 1, I have been trying to find something about how the late lyricist Yu Aku(阿久悠)managed to create all those hits. Well, with a bit of further digging, there are a couple of YouTube videos which include a 2011 interview with Yasushi Akimoto(秋元康), currently the No. 1 lyricist for top-selling singles in Japanese music history with Aku in 2nd place, in which he talks about what made the earlier lyricist tick.

One kernel that I managed to understand from the first part of the interview above (and it comes at 3:29) is that according to Aku himself "....the song is of the era..." which is pretty interesting since a number of his songs have become timeless. But then again, unless the fellow is supremely arrogant, I couldn't see any budding songwriter exhort, "Yes, I will write a song that will live throughout the ages!! MWAHAHAHAHAH!!" (cue thunder and lightning) He really just wanted to write lyrics that would address the times and conditions in the years that he also existed in.

But the big thing I found out in the second part (2:59) is that Aku had left "Yu Aku's 15-Condition Constitution for Lyricists".  Namely, it was a list of 15 guidelines expressed as a series of contemplative questions (I wonder if he was deeply Buddhist) when approaching his work to create the words, and I found the list at an Ameba blog titled "Ryu no Tsubuyaki" for which I am grateful. I'll do my best at a translation and provide it at the end of this article below. However, I will refer to some of the fifteen questions when I take a look at some of the songs.

When picking songs out of the massive Aku collection, I just went with my gut. And with that visceral guide in mind, I found veteran Akiko Wada's(和田アキ子)"Hoshizora no Kodoku"(星空の孤独)whose English title is "The Stars in the Sky" although I think it's probably more evocative to go with the direct translation of "The Loneliness of a Starlit Sky". This was the then-18-year-old Wada's debut single from October 1968, and true to the singer's love for Ray Charles, the song is romantic and bluesy. This was a joint collaboration between Aku and Robbie Wada(ロビー和田)with Wada composing the song as well.

Mune ni hirogaru, kodoku no tsurasa
Yozora ni dakare, hitori no nemuri
Ai wo shinjita, yasashii mune no
Kizu wo atatame, hoshi ni namidagumu
Hoshi yo omae ga matataku kagiri
Ashita wo shinjitai

The pain of loneliness that spreads in my heart
Embraced by the night sky, sleeping alone
I believed in love, the scar in my gentle
heart is warmed, I come close to tears toward the stars
Stars, as long as you twinkle
I want to believe in tomorrow

I have to admit on hearing the song and reading the lyrics, "Hoshizora no Kodoku" kinda got me right here. One thing that Akimoto mentioned in the interview was that Aku wanted to cut to the chase when it came to the picture that he painted for the listener which chimes in with his quote (in Part 1) that he wanted to pack the same power of a 2-hour movie within a 3-minute song. So, with this particular song, we all seem to have been thrust into the middle of this melancholy scene with the heroine sitting by her open bedroom window, perhaps several hours after a breakup, and trying to recover emotionally.  And No. 6 from Aku's treatise seems to apply here: Can't a popular song describing one woman be rewritten to include all women? Well, the rule seems pretty obvious today but back then perhaps it was quite novel. And it is interesting to note since singer-songwriter Yumi Arai(荒井由実)who debuted in the early 70s has been known to rely on the feelings of women to come up with her own catchy tunes. Could there have been some influence?

The song, by the way, got as high as No. 70 on Oricon. And to commemorate Wada's 25th year in show business in 1993, she sang this song at that year's Kohaku Utagassen.

Gonna jump over a few decades into the 90s. When I wrote up the first entry on rock band Sheena & The Rokkets, I referred to a Japan Times article in which the late Sheena and her husband Makoto Ayukawa(鮎川誠)praised Aku for his storytelling prowess through his works. They'd had a long desire to work with the lyricist but never thought that he would ever deign to work with a rock band. Happily, he proved them wrong....and one song he wrote was "Rock no Suki na Baby wo Daite" (Hug That Rock-Lovin' Baby) in 1994 as the band's 15th single. Guitarist Ayukawa took care of the thrashing melody.

And this brings up No. 9: Isn't it also necessary to shift the singer from a storytelling role to that of the subject in the drama? In "Rock no Suki na Baby wo Daite", Sheena is the one growling out the lyrics but considering that she's using the masculine "omae" meaning "you", I'm wondering if hubby Makoto is the one voicing his feelings.

Rock no suki na baby wo daite
Kawaii mama ga iku
Kono ko ga nijuusai ni naru to
Kono yo ga kitto yoku natteiru

Dakara shibaraku mama to omae de
Ganbarou ne, ganbarou ne!
Rock de warau omae wo miteiru to
Yuuki ga itsumo waiteiru kara

Hug that rock-lovin' baby
Cute Mama is on the way
When this kid reaches 20
The world will have become a better place

So just for a while, with you and your Mama
Let's do our best, do our best!
Since when I see you laughing to rock
My courage always comes to a boil

In the middle of all that head-bouncing rock, there's a poignant and heartwarming story for a daughter or son to do well in childhood/adolescence. The message could apply to any heartrending ballad or lullaby but it was done in the Rokkets way! However it was Aku who wrote the words...I recall writing in Part 1 that his experience as a copywriter was probably useful in sizing up the idea behind the message and the artist. Maybe the lyricist and the rock band had some heart-to-heart talk about family.

As I mentioned above for Sheena & The Rokkets, even that band thought that Aku wouldn't give them the time of day since they thought that the sentimentality of kayo would never mesh with the rock sound.  Well, let's get back to the sentimental stuff. Actually, the resident enka/Mood Kayo writer for "Kayo Kyoku Plus", Noelle, suggested this one: Hiroshi Uchiyamada and Cool Five's "Koi Uta"(恋唄...Love Song) from July 1972 (which peaked at No. 14). The solid and slightly heartbreaking vocals of Kiyoshi Maekawa are in there, along with the background vocals of The Five and the reliable horns. But unlike some of their other hits, the horns are somewhat more subdued and there's an air of melancholy gratitude.

Aku's penchant for making movies out of songs is in here, too. Against Kunihiko Suzuki's(鈴木邦彦)somber melody, the lyricist, through Mae-Kiyo, relates that bittersweet farewell to that brief but lively affair.

Honno mijikai yume demo
Totemo shiawase datta
Aete honto ni yokatta
Dakedo kaeru anata

It was merely a short dream but
I was truly happy
It was really great to have met you
However you're going away

1972 was a very busy year for Aku. I counted the number of songs that he had concocted at his website, and it came to about 110 or so. And looking at the other years in that decade, he didn't slack too much for those either. Considering that he wrote so much in his heyday, he may have been the one fellow to have created the forlorn love song that I often associate with in kayo kyoku. Perhaps in another life, he would have been the ultimate country-&-western songwriter. In any case, another rule of his pops up, and it's interesting: No. 2: Isn't the sentiment or mentality of the Japanese regret and masochism? Not exactly the most optimistic insight here. Maybe he's trying to intimate that the Japanese relate more to having loved and lost.

Above in the Akimoto interview, Aku said that the song is of the era.  Well, with 5,000 songs under his belt, perhaps a lot of them were only meant for their respective eras or decades, but with the three songs that I've talked about, the lyrics seem to transcend any barriers of time. I think any of those sets of words could apply to situations today, and personally the lyrics to "Koi Uta" could also apply to an old flame I knew a long time ago.

Kenji Sawada(沢田研二)was sporting earrings even before I realized that men who were not pirates could wear them.  He was an iconoclast, an artist who went to the beat of his own drum. I think that's how Aku sized him up when he wrote the lyrics to Sawada's 22nd single from January 1978, "Samurai"(サムライ). Perhaps "ronin" (masterless samurai) would have made for an even better title, but the samurai tag was good enough to create that image for that wafuu lone wolf in the 20th century.

Katate ni pistol
Kokoro ni hanataba
Kuchibiru ni hi no sake
Senaka ni jinsei wo
Aaa aaa aaa

Arigato, Jenny
Omae wa ii onna datta
Hanpa na wine yori yowasete kureta yo
Dakedo Jenny abayo Jenny
Ore wa ikanakucha ikenain dayo

In one hand, a pistol
In my heart, a bouquet of flowers
Firewater on my lips
My life on my back
Aaa aaa aaa

Thank you, Jenny
You were a great girl
You got me drunk on half a glass of wine
But Jenny, farewell Jenny
I gotta go, y'know

Yup, there's another movie in there. And there are a couple of other Aku rules, the ones about having regrets and the singer becoming the protagonist in the story. Listening to "Samurai", I know that it isn't Julie singing about a lone wolf's Julie singing about HIMSELF being that lone wolf gangster in the same way that Harrison Ford IS Indiana Jones. I can't imagine anyone else in the part when he sings the song. I mentioned that whenever Aku comes to mind, Pink Lady pops up as well. Well, I only realized not too long ago that Sawada should also be popping up when I think about Aku in the 70s since he has written a number of songs for him during those days. And in "Samurai", the lyricist pegged the singer's foppish tough guy persona to a T, even putting in that theatrical Sawada cry.

I also have to mention Katsuo Ono's(大野克夫)music for the song since it also reflects that lone wolf character. There seems to be a hint of Spanish matador behind the first verse before the music settles into a 50s-style ballad reminding me of James Dean and early Marlon Brando. "Samurai", by the way, hit No. 1 on the Oricon weeklies and finished 1978 as the 13th-ranked song.

Before I talk about the final song here, allow me to show the Top 10 Yu Aku singles in terms of sales as of 2012 (from the good folks at J-Wiki):

1. Pink Lady          UFO
2. Pink Lady          Southpaw
3. Harumi Miyako Kita no Yado Kara
4. Pink Lady          Wanted
5. Pink Lady           Monster
6. Koichi Morita    Seishun Jidai
7. Pink Lady           Nagisa no Sinbad
8. Kiyohiko Ozaki  Mata Au Hi Made
9, Kenji Sawada     Toki no Sugiyuku Mama ni
10. Kenji Sawada   Katte ni Shiyagare

See the pattern? You can imagine why I've always put Pink Lady and Yu Aku together like bread and butter. The other interesting thing is that the lyricist seemed to have usually put Mie and Kei in some sort of thriller element whether it be cops and robbers or aliens and monsters with the ladies musically throwing in their lot with them or battling them.

One song by Pink Lady and Aku that is not up on the above list is "Toumei Ningen"(透明人間...Invisible Man). Released in September 1978 as their 9th single, the usual upbeat Pink Lady song sounds like some tokusatsu theme song (those fanfare horns) with a rumbly 50s guitar.

Masaka to omotteiru desho ga
Jitsu wa, jitsu wa
Watashi wa toumei ningen desu


Seken wo sawagasu fushigi na koto wa
Subete wa toumei ningen nano desu
Tenka muteki no champion
Totsuzen down wo kutta no mo
Spoon wo magetari, nejittari
Nenriki boom mo watashi desu

It's impossible to believe but
The tr..truth is
I am the invisible man


The strange thing rocking the world is
That everyone is invisible
Champions without peer
Absorbing sudden blues
Bending and twisting spoons
The psychokinesis boom...that's me

At first, I wondered if any of Aku's guidelines really applied here. Perhaps the lyricist just wanted to have a bit of vacation but still keep his words within the Pink Lady lyrical groove. I mean, I don't think No. 2 about the Japanese penchant for regret and masochism would come in here; if anything, "Toumei Ningen" comes off as the opposite. And try as I might, even with Mie and Kei singing about everyone being invisible, I just couldn't imagine the ladies invisibly jumping about the streets of Tokyo . As I mentioned, the melody sounds like something out of a tokusatsu or anime superhero series...the lyrics certainly hint at someone similar.

However, being an old fan of superhero comics and the need for titans like Superman and Batman here in North America and Ultraman and Kamen Rider in Japan, I wondered if Aku was subtly channeling No. 3: Shouldn't we be gradually focusing on human relationships within the urban lifestyle?

Neither J-Wiki nor the Q&A section at divulged any insights into the lyrics, and perhaps this is a leap for me but I mused about the rapid economic modernization and urbanization of the country during the 50s-70s and their benefits and consequences, especially the latter. Was Aku, however comically, addressing the usual urban problems such as isolation and crime? Maybe he was being somewhat sarcastic about the abundance of folks in the big city becoming faceless and invisible, and therefore gaining these wonderful new powers. Come to think of it, that brings up No. 7: How do the maintenance of telecommunications, the development of transportation, an automobile society, the Westernization of housing, changes in diet and the modernization of lifestyles affect the emotions?

Most likely there are Aku songs that better highlight Nos. 3 and 7 but I have yet to come across them, and when I heard "Toumei Ningen" and read its lyrics, I just thought that there was some sly message about city life. To be honest, when I did read those two rules, I initially assumed that Aku even had something to do with City Pop, but I think they now perhaps hint more at anti-City Pop. In any case, let me stop my ramblings here. The song, by the way, did hit No. 1 on the Oricon weeklies and eventually became the 6th-ranked entry for 1978.

Yu Aku passed away at the age of 70 in August 2007 from cancer. With all of those 5,000 or so songs that he wrote lyrics for, and for all those Pink Lady and Kenji Sawada entries among his most successful hits, the one song that is my favourite by him is "Shishuuki"(思秋期...The Autumn of My Years), as sung originally by Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美)back in 1978. I've already devoted an article on this song, but what I wanted to add here is that I think the evergreen and bittersweet ballad is that message which still echoes through the generations about the passing of time and the loss of youth. Whether he wrote it as an inevitable realization or as a warning to the young to cherish those moments of vitality and camaraderie before it's too late is not something I can answer definitively, but the way the song is delivered melodically and lyrically has that color of Aku sepia. It can still relate to today but there is still that nostalgia for a type of song that will most likely never be re-created.

Now, as for that I mentioned way up above, I'm not 100% confident on the translations so for those who are better than me, please let me know. Here is the link to the original list.

1. Isn't there a different path to the usual one for popular songs that were thought to be completed by Hibari Misora? (I'm not sure if this was a slight indictment against the maxim that songs which could only pass muster by the Queen of Kayo Kyoku were proper songs.)

2. Isn't the sentiment or mentality of the Japanese regret and masochism? 

3. Shouldn't we be gradually focusing on human relationships within the urban lifestyle?

4. Isn't there a meaning applied to the simultaneous separation of the musical world and the ideal image of a musical person? (not totally sure here)

5. While writing about the modest happenings for a person and the truth of that person, is sending a message to society at the same time impossible?

6. Can't a popular song describing one woman be rewritten to include all women? 

7. How do the maintenance of telecommunications, the development of transportation, an automobile society, the Westernization of housing, changes in diet and the modernization of lifestyles affect the emotions?

8. Are the expressions, behaviour and bad habits of a human being everlasting?  Are there things that he/she will absolutely not want to do depending on the generation?

9. Isn't it also necessary to shift the singer from a storytelling role to that of the subject in the drama?

10. A close-up of the singer will not reveal everything but with the technique of thrusting that singer into a larger space, isn't it acceptable to demand an image up to that point?

11. Won't a song be created even if the words "douse" (anyhow) and "shosen" (the beginning of a conflict) are eliminated? (I had no idea what Aku was on about here, but apparently lyricists before his arrival on the scene were using those two words to such an extent that it seemed like they had a patent on them, according to this Japanese blog entry.)

12. Other than the seven-and-five-syllable meter, isn't there a number of words that evokes a pleasant aural sensation?

13. There is nothing that cannot be made into a song. For example, a short story, a movie, a speech, an amusement park. Can't any of these fill up 4 minutes at the same volume?

14. An era is not something that can be seen so that you can see it. However when you face that age, can't the reasons for things specific to that age be seen?

15. A song is playing catch with that era. Doesn't a hit song pierce the sense of hunger of that era?

Friday, March 27, 2015

Isao Hayashi/Kiyoshi Hikawa -- Mamurogawa Boogie (真室川ブギ)

Hey, it's Mae-Kiyo! And Ohkawa! And Hosokawa! Even Dick Mine's there! And there's some lady with an eye patch... ... (Okay, that video got deleted...)

Although the official name for this jazzy ditty is "Mamurogawa Boogie" - as mentioned in Isao Hayashi's (林伊佐緒) discography on his J-Wiki page - it seems to go by "Boogie Mamurogawa Ondo" (ブギ真室川音頭) as seen in the video above, and that caused quite a bit of confusion for yours truly at first.

Anyway, I had first heard of "Mamurogawa Boogie" through the ever-popular Kiyoshi Hikawa (氷川きよし)... Yes, I was curious and was in need of a palate cleanser... What piqued my interest, besides how laid back he seemed as he sang and that sparkly suit of his, was the music done by none other than Hayashi himself. It had the qualities of a funky Jazz tune with the trumpets blaring away, but at the same time it sounded like one of those festive Enka-Min'yo songs people dance to - a good example would be Haruo Minami's (三波春夫) "Tokyo Gorin Ondo" (東京五輪音頭). Part of the lyrics (by Ryo Yano (矢野亮)) even had the guy singing "Ko'rya", which is quintessentially Min'yo. Ah, now I see the connection between the song and its other name.

(Unfortunately the Hikawa cover has been taken down,
but here's the original by Hayashi.)

Jazz-Min'yo fusion. Interesting. Wonder how Hayashi came up with that combo? Since "Mamurogawa Boogie" was released in 1954, I'm guessing he wanted to try mixing two popular genres from that era - that being Jazz and Min'yo/Enka - and see what he'd get from that. As I browsed through the rest of his discography, Hayashi had a few other songs that seemed like they have the similar, peculiar genre combination too.

"Mamurogawa Boogie" together with Hachi and Michi.

The late Hayashi, a native of the Yamaguchi prefecture, was named the first-ever singer-songwriter of Japan, and had composed a number of songs for others singers from back in the day, like two of the San'nin no kai fellas, Hachiro Kasuga (春日八郎) and Michiya Mihashi (三橋美智也). For instance, he had composed Kasuga's "Rosario no Shima" (ロザリオの島), which has already been profiled. He had participated in the Kohaku 11 times (consecutively) since it began in 1951, when the event was broadcast through the radio... and when there were only 14 participants, including Hayashi.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Top 10 Albums for 2002

1.  Hikaru Utada                              Deep River
2.  Ayumi Hamasaki                        I am...
3.  Mongol 800                                Message
4.  Misia                                           Misia Greatest Hits
5.  Kazumasa Oda                           Jiko Best
6.  Mr. Children                               It's A Wonderful World
7.  B'z                                              Green
8.  Mika Nakashima                        True
9.  Rip Slyme                                   Tokyo Classic
10. Chemistry                                  The Way We Are

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Ichiro Mizuki -- Bokura no Barom-1 (ぼくらのバロム・1)

Actually, I don't remember the theme song at all for the early 70s tokusatsu show, "Barom-1". However, it is the first tokusatsu show that I had ever seen during my very first visit to Japan in 1972. And for an impressionable 6-year-old boy like me, watching anything tokusatsu along the lines of "Ultraman" or "Kamen Rider" was like giving catnip to a cat. It was definitely one of my still-strong memories of my time in my grandfather's farm in Wakayama Prefecture.

(from about 4:10)

I had no idea that "Chojin Barom-1"超人バロム・1...Superman Barom-1)originated from a 1970 manga series. It was always about the show. There was the one frail-looking boy and the fat kid who were granted the power to henshin into the powerful superhero, and Barom-1 had this disc which looked like a modern-day computer mouse that could transform into a kickass vehicle that looked like a mix between a road racer and a hydrofoil (apologies for the overuse of relative pronouns here). Of course, Barom-1 could pretty much kick the bad guys into next month as all of these heroes could. Unfortunately, it's been lost somewhere but I used to have a kids' book which was the comic version of an adventure from the TV show.

As for the theme itself, it was performed by anison and tokusatsu veteran Ichiro Mizuki(水木一郎with assistance from the Columbia Yurikago Kai(コロムビアゆりかご会). Written by Saburo Yatsude(八手三郎)and composed by Shunsuke Kikuchi(菊池俊輔), "Bokura no Barom 1"(ぼくらのバロム・1...Our Barom-1) is that fine example of a tokusatsu hero march with that urgent beat exhorting the hero to get the job done. It also has some of the more interesting examples of onomatopoeia that I ever came across in any song.

The one other interesting thing about "Chojin Barom-1" is that I think the show probably sent a lot of kids into fetal-position terror. There was one episode in which the prologue had the gruesome monster of the week show up in some alley somewhere when a drunken nearsighted salaryman just happened to bump into it. For several seconds, the drunken guy tried to apologize to the monster as he fumbled about for his glasses and when he finally put them on, he recognized his one-sided conversation for what it was and screamed. The monster swallowed him whole and then spat out his clothes...rather cleanly, I have to say.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Megumi Nakajima -- Wasurenai yo (忘れないよ。)

About 18 months ago, I wrote about seiyuu/singer Megumi Nakajima's(中島愛)pulsating and clubby "TRY UNITE!", the theme song for anime "Rinne no LaGrange" from 2012. I got no further than the pilot episode but that song stayed in my brain for a good long time as I imagined driving down the night highways of Tokyo while listening to it.

Well, I came across another song from Nakajima only recently and it's another theme song from the same anime. "Wasurenai yo" (I Won't Forget). This was the co-ending theme to the 2nd season and was the coupling song to Nakajima's 7th single, "Marble" which was the opening theme to that season. But that's where the similarities end. Whereas "TRY UNITE!" has that perfect vibe for a nighttime spin in the Ferrari, "Wasurenai yo" has a heartwarming and huggable melody. Music and lyrics were by songwriter Miyagi Prefecture-born Kana Yabuki(矢吹香那)who has also created songs for acts like May J. and AKB48.

According to the write-up on J-Wiki for the song, the theme is on the old hometown. Yabuki wrote about the permanent bonds between friends even if proximity was no longer possible. Considering that it's graduation season in Japan, this would be the perfect song to get some tears flowing among classmates who are about to walk different paths. What has made this an earworm for me is not only the friendly and folksy music but also the intro of the full version (the theme for the closing credits starts up several seconds in) which has a slightly cool jazzy piano and guitar that put me at ease when I heard it the first time.

"Wasurenai yo" was released in August 2012 and got as high as No. 20 on Oricon and even as high as No. 5 on the Billboard Japan Adult Contemporary rankings. Maybe the song is good with that glass of Chablis, n'est-ce pas?

Hachiro Kasuga -- Wakare no Ippon Sugi (別れの一本杉)

While easing my way into the world of old Enka, one title that I'd always see was Hachiro Kasuga's (春日八郎) big hit and representative song "Wakare no Ippon Sugi". I never did check it out back then though, with Hachi's name being foreign to me and all. Then in the later days as I got used to his warbling and discovered some of his other hits, I decided to finally give it a listen.

Compared to the forlorn "Akai Lamp no Shuressha" (赤いランプの終列車) and the whimsical "Otomi-San" (お富さん) that I came to know and love, "Wakare no Ippon Sugi" revealed itself to be dull, quiet, and not as rousing. In fact, I barely made it half way through the song before I got bored, and I think it's mostly because of its musical score. Well-known composer Toru Funamura (船村徹) was the one behind the haunting music, starting off with just the lonely cords of the acoustic guitar before the accordion, strings, and eventually Kasuga's nasally voice come in to add another layer of melancholy.

So there I was, scratching my head in disbelief that such a song could be so successful and sold around 500 000 copies. And then one fine day, a part of it popped into my head. It took me a while to finally realise that it was "Wakare no Ippon Sugi" running through my mind. Strange how that happened since I only listened to it on that one occasion, and as I had said, I didn't particularly like it. But just like tunes like these, they grow on you the more you visit it (which I had done), and that's just what "Wakare no Ippon sugi" did. I think one question mentioned in J-Canuck's recent article on Spitz's "Robinson" really comes into play here. It goes like this, "Is there a song that you didn't like initially but you have come to love later in life?" I wouldn't say that I love "Wakare no Ippon Sugi", and the later in life was just a short period of a few months, but I definitely appreciate the song and like it hecka more than I used to.

Before I forget, Kimio Takano (高野公男) had written the lyrics to "Wakare no Ippon Sugi", which primarily talks about the fellow feeling homesick, I think it shows the angst his lady feels as she painfully waits for his return as well. It was Takano's best known and one of his last pieces of work as he contracted Tuberculosis during the song's release in 1955, and had unfortunately passed away on the following year at the tender age of 26.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Spitz -- Robinson

Well, it was over a couple of years ago that I wrote down my first article on my favourite song by the band Spitz, "Cherry". In it, I did mention my first introduction to Masamune Kusano's(草野正宗) group via their earlier single, "Robinson", but it wasn't until today that I finally decided to write about this one.

The reason was that I only kept seeing the excerpt of the monochrome music video on CDTV and did nothing about it, and it kept getting shown over and over again over the weeks and months. I should have picked up on that hint but ended up falling for their later food-based hits such as "Cherry" and "Hachimitsu"(ハチミツ). And that was a shame, since I finally got to hear the full version tonight.

Some days ago, I came across a topic on one of the Mixi communities and the title posed the question: "Is there a song that you didn't like initially but you have come to love later in life?" Now I never disliked "Robinson"...just never attempted to get to know it better. However, after listening to that cascading opening and then hearing Kusano's riff on falling head-over-heels in love with that bicycle-riding woman, I've seen the light. And I have to admit that there is a bit of nostalgia in my revelation as well since it's now been 2 decades and at my age, there is now less discovery and more re-discovery and re-appreciation of the music of yesteryear.

And what do you know? Reading the fairly packed J-Wiki article on "Robinson", I found out that even songwriter Kusano himself didn't think too much of his first. When Spitz was discussing about which song to put out as their 11th single, the band was stuck between choosing "Robinson" and "Ore no Subete"(俺のすべて...My All). While they ultimately went with "Robinson", Kusano was less than thrilled, stating that his creation was just "too pop" and not getting too excited about the promotion. In fact, aside from it being used as a theme song for a short-lived Fuji-TV late afternoon variety show, there was barely any promotion for it when it was released in April 1995.

So that is why "Robinson" became a sleeper hit. It just came out of nowhere to become a million seller, peaking at No. 4 on Oricon (their first Top 10 hit since Spitz debuted in 1987) and ending up as the No. 9 single of the year. It even won a Japan Record Award. In a 2007 interview, Kusano admitted that he still couldn't understand why the song became such a long-running hit. Luckily for Spitz, millions of fans could.

Now, the only question for me about the song is: "What is the meaning behind the title?" I mean, before "Robinson" came out, the only two people I associated with that name were Robinson Crusoe and the American children's show host, Mr. Robinson. And there was no hint in Kusano's lyrics about being stranded on a deserted island or asking the listener to be his neighbour. Well, the answer turned out to be that "Robinson" was only meant as a stopgap title. When Kusano had been traveling through Southeast Asia, he was struck by the name of the regional department store, Robinsons. And as I mentioned in the article for "Cherry", the singer had a love for the way English words were arranged. But there were no consonant clusters in this word which would eventually become the official title of the song. And of course, there was never meant to be any connection between it and the actual lyrics. Just one of those stories that will be passed about between lovers of Japanese popular music...when the conversation gets really, really slow.

In any case, I now appreciate a new Spitz song...20 years after the fact.

Hideo Murata -- Mina no Shu (皆の衆)

I must've been ignoring the top most paragraph on his J-Wiki page because I just came across this just yesterday: Hideo Murata (村田英雄) had a nickname just like the rest of the San'nin no kai (三人の会), Michiya Mihashi (三橋美智也) and Hachiro Kasuga (春日八郎). Mihashi's moniker was Michi, Kasuga's was Hachi, and last but not least Murata's was Muchi... I was not expecting that. I had assumed that if Murata had a nickname, it'd be something more imposing and macho, something more befitting of the manly vibe he emanated. But I suppose Muchi is fine too to fit in with the other two fellas since theirs ended with a "Chi" too.

Moving back to the proper topic, today I shall be writing about... Muchi's (it's actually quite fun to say) "Mina no Shu", and I'm guessing it means something on the line of "Everyone's crowd/gathering". Composed by the late Shousuke Ichikawa (市川昭介), "Mina no Shu" sounds really festive and cheery, and it has the audience clapping away and me swaying along to the easy beat. No wonder Murata sung this twice out of his 27 appearances on the Kohaku, first sung at the competition when it was released in 1964, then once more 10 years later in 1974. It seems like a pretty good summer song to play at someone's summer party or get together, then you have everyone joining in on it and having a blast. The lyrics were written by lyricist, screenplay writer and photographer Shinichi Sekizawa (関沢新一).

Link above is to a video of Muchi and his rival Haruo Minami (三波春夫) singing "Mina no Shu" together... A performance that I can sum up with one word: Amazing. To see two veterans in their field collaborate is just incredible! Okay fine, Minami did slip up on his lines at last part, but hey, it was still a great show.

"Mina no Shu" is also quite the catchy ditty, and it normally gets stuck on replay in my head once I start listening to it - like now, for instance. It can get quite irksome, but I enjoy anyways.

Right, I think I should at least mention that Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister and the founding father of modern Singapore, has just passed on today. He had a great run, contributed a great deal to the country's growth and development, and lived a long life. Rest in peace, sir, you had done a mighty fine job.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Anri & Michael Franks -- Antonio's Song

As I mentioned in the article for songstress Anri's(杏里)"Wedding Shower", I got her 1996 album, "Angel Whisper" based on her contribution to the Atlanta Olympic Games, "Ano Natsu ni Modoritai"(あの夏に戻りたい). The fun "Wedding Shower" was also included on that 18th album of hers, and another track was the intriguing "Antonio's Song".

I had never heard of the original by Michael Franks...and for that matter, I had never heard of jazz singer Michael Franks, which goes to show how educational my voyage into Japanese popular music has been. It's even pointed me back to old American pop tunes from the 70s. In "Angel Whisper", Anri performs a duet with Franks that has hints of the original, and it has that quiet bossa nova sound that I have come to enjoy. Considering the relaxing pace of the song, I gather that Anri had to slow her delivery a fair bit.

Gradually, I was able to obtain a copy of the original through an AOR compilation album, and I actually like it better than the duet version between Franks and Anri. It's got more of that bossa nova and the sophistication that had me thinking clinking wine glasses and fancy dress ballroom. "Antonio's Song" was a track on Franks' 3rd studio album, "Sleeping Gypsy" from 1977. There is some mystery in the melody and also some mystery in the title and lyrics. I'm not 100% positive about who Antonio is...perhaps it might be one of Franks' heroes, Antônio Carlos Jobim, one of the pioneers of bossa nova back in the 1960s.

Michiya Mihashi -- Tasha de na (達者でナ)

The words "Tasha de na" basically means "Take care". People say it to their family members and their friends as they part ways, and it seems like this phrase is said more often when they're not gonna see them for a while, or at least that's what I've seen/heard in other Enka songs.

But how about saying these words to a horse?

I had to do a double take on the lyrics that Hiroshi Yokoi wrote (横井弘) as I saw its translation. A horse? At least now I know why there's "Kuri ge" (栗毛... Chestnut-coloured hair/fur) and the kanji character for "Sell" (買) in the mix. No wonder it didn't seem right when I pictured our protagonist saying his goodbyes to some family member/friend. Anyway, that's what Michiya Mihashi's (三橋美智也) song "Tasha de na" is about, bidding farewell to his favourite horse he is about to sell. It may seem a tad strange at first, then you realize how much this character loves and cares for the creature, and it all makes sense. He even tells the horse to keep well and not fall sick! Hmm, for the fella to do this he must really be in desperate need for some cash.

Jazz singer and composer Tadaharu Nakano (中野忠晴), who had handled the composing duties for songs sung by other Enka old timers like Hachiro Kasuga (春日八郎), did the music for "Tasha de na". It's a rather solemn and quiet score to match the occasion and the melancholy the person must have felt. And is it me or does the rhythmic beat to it - in the recorded version - just remind you of a horse trotting away? Since Mihashi had a strong background in Min'yo since he was a kid, this is one song where you can hear him putting those skills to work.

"Tasha de na" was released in 1960 and it did really well, eventually becoming one of Michi's hits and million-sellers. Impressive, for a song about a horse. I managed to find a video Takashi Hosokawa (細川たかし) doing a cover of "Tasha de na" years later - looks like it was performed in the mid-2000s, and Hosokawa's version is more powerful since his voice is more shrill and packs more of a punch than Michi's... very loud too. Oh yeah, here's a little fun fact for you: Hosokawa's "Min'yo name" is Michitaka Mihashi (三橋美智貴), basically his mentor's name but having "Taka" (貴) rather than "Ya" (也).

Noelle from 1/4/17: I had mentioned that "Tasha de na" has a disco version. By a stroke of luck, I found it. It's really strange but in a good and funny way - somewhat like a disco slow jam but with a hint of minyo.

Mami Yamase/Ami Tokito -- Melon Tameiki (メロンのためいき)

Ah, behold the textured musk melon. Y'know, I have appreciated the sloppy wet wedges of green that have appeared before me as a summer dessert over the years. I mean, they are juicy and refreshing and all, but melons have never really usurped my favourite fruits, apples and peaches. Nowhere close. But in Japan, the musk melon may as well be re-named as the God Fruit considering how much one can cost (all due respect to the King of Fruits, the smelly durian) in one of those well-to-do supermarkets below the department store in Tokyo. $100 a pop? That melon should be lined in silk when it gets put into that wooden crate. And I haven't even mentioned the various melon-based products such as melon sodas and melon bread that are so popular over there.

All that foreground to introduce "Melon Tameiki" (Melon Sighs), Mami Yamase's(山瀬まみ)debut single from March 1986. Yamase has been a regular figure on television since her aidoru days via variety shows and commercials, and she's notable for that babyish face and a speaking voice that sounds like Betty Boop with strep throat (supposedly an affectation in front of the cameras only according to J-Wiki). I've only known her as a tarento and for one song whose video got onto "MTV Japan", "Go" (a completely whackadoodle tune by Tamio Okuda of Unicorn screamed out by Yamase), so listening to "Melon Tameiki" was a breath of fresh air....or a sigh of melon proportions.

Written by Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆)and composed by Yuming (ユーミン)under her aidoru-friendly Karuho Kureta(呉田 軽穂)pseudonym, Yamase has that slightly off-tune but pleasant enough delivery which characterized the average 80s aidoru. In fact, her singing voice sounds practically mellow when compared to how she has spoken. In a way, she sang it like how a wedge of musk melon would taste.

On Thursday nights here, TV Japan broadcasts "Tameshite Gatten"(ためしてガッテン)from NHK, a program that features the latest food trends and remedies from all sorts of ailments. The Saitama-born Yamase has been a weekly presence in our household as the one permanent panelist on the show. When she was an aidoru, I remember that she had a bit of a reputation as being somewhat flighty and sensitive (perhaps again just for the cameras) but on "Gatten", she's often been the more stable rock of reason compared to the vaudevillian male host.

Ami Tokito(時東ぁみ)is responsible for the first time that I ever heard the pop-culture term "Meganekko"(眼鏡っ娘...Glasses-Wearing Girl). Born a year after "Melon Tameiki" made its release, I remember her popping up on the telly as this petite and ever-smiling teen in the spectacles. Again, like Yamase, I didn't know too much about her singing sideline but she was appearing on the variety shows and in the magazines as a pin-up girl.

However, she did a cover version of the Yamase debut as one of the songs on her debut album from December 2005, "Sanagi no Bathrobe"(さなぎのバスローブ...Pupa's Bathrobe). Considering how much she was flirting with the musk melon in the video, she probably was fully aware of the prestige of that particular fruit. And she didn't have a bad set of pipes on her either.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Top 10 Singles for 2002

1.  Ayumi Hamasaki                        H
2.  Hikaru Utada                              Traveling
3.  Chitose Hajime                           Wadatsumi no Ki
4.  Dragon Ash                                Life Goes On
5.  Glay                                            Way of Difference
6.  Hikaru Utada                              Sakura Drops
7.  Ken Hirai                                    Ohkina Furu Dokei
8.  Strawberry Love                         Ai no Uta
9.  Ayumi Hamasaki                        Voyage
10. Hikaru Utada                             Hikari

Haruo Minami -- Funakata-San yo (船方さんよ)

Such grace...
"OOOOOiii~~~~! Funakata-San!"

That's the most amusing line from the B-side of Enka-Rokyoku veteran's debut single, "Funakata-San yo". Nah, it's the most amusing line out of all the proper songs I've listened to. Why? Because it reminds me of the way most Singaporeans call for someone's attention, or sometimes even to admonish the person. Yup, they (including me) would just utter (or in most cases shout) a sharp and simple, "Oi!", it's kinda like snapping one's fingers. And this... um... I think it can be loosely considered a word... is a fundamental part of speaking the country's widely-used unofficial language, Singlish, a combination of English and whole lot of other languages and their dialects, e.g. Mandarin and its more commonly used dialect here, Hokkien.

Anyway, time to get back to Haruo Minami (三波春夫). I wasn't too sure about what the lyrics that Hachiro Kadoi (門井八郎) wrote for "Funakata-San yo" really mean, but after reading the translation - in Mandarin - I think Minami may be in the shoes of the boat's passenger striking up some friendly conversation with the captain as they make their way to other side. Well, I would talk to the fella too in order not to get bored since boat rides seem to take a long time, and he may have some tales to tell about the different passengers he had ferried in the past. The music composed by Kazuo Harukawa (春川一夫) is really jaunty and cheery, very much like Minami's stage persona. Just by listening to the song itself can make you instantly envision the very genteel and jolly-looking fellow singing with that crowd-pleasing, radiant grin across his beaming face!

This video here is just the karaoke version of "Funakata-San yo". I don't usually put karaoke videos up, but I just find it rather entertaining to see the man himself in it, first shown rowing the dinghy... in a suit, then riding on it with that perpetual smile of his, again. It kinda makes me wonder if his cheeks ever get tired from doing so. Along with Minami's hit "Chanchiki okesa" (チャンチキおけさ), "Funakata-San yo" was released in 1957. Just like the A-side, "Funakata-San yo" had a movie with the same name, and Minami appeared in it as well.

I prefer "Funakata-San yo" though, not as festive-sounding as "Chanchiki okesa", but its definitely more lighthearted.