On that episode of NHK's "Kayo Concert" I caught a few nights ago from which I was inspired to talk about "Futari no Ginza"（二人の銀座）, I also heard a number that sparked some old familiarity of what was playing on the ancient RCA Victor in my old apartment in St. James Town. Venerable and venerated Harumi Miyako（都はるみ）appeared once more on the program to perform "Anko Tsubaki wa Koi no Hana" (The Camellia of a Young Lady is the Flower of Love) in the shitamachi district of Shibamata, Tokyo, and for those who have heard the name before, it is indeed the hometown of Japanese cinematic movie bumpkin hero, Tora-san from the "Otoko wa Tsurai yo"（男はつらいよ...Tough to be a Man）series. In fact, Miyako performed the song right in the sweets shop Toraya whose counterpart in the franchise was the home for Tora-san's family.
Miyako's connection with the Tora-san series comes from her appearance as the love interest (or Madonna as the ladies were nicknamed) for good ol' Torajiro in the 31st entry in 1983. Although she played a fictional character, she did perform "Anko Tsubaki wa Koi no Hana" for the Shibamata folks right at Toraya in the movie.
I caught this particular entry with my family since back then it was often a Sunday afternoon tradition to head over to the nearby Japanese-Canadian Cultural Centre to catch another in the Tora-san movies. When I heard the song in the movie, I had also detected some familiarity but didn't know of the long history of the enka ballad. As far as I knew, it may as well have been created right in that year of 1983.
As it turned out, it was released as Miyako's 3rd single in the year before I was born, 1964. And it was her first big hit as it sold over a million records and earned the then-16-year-old (that voice!) a Japan Record Award for Best Newcomer. According to J-Wiki, it stacks up with her later hits of "Osaka Shigure"（大阪しぐれ）, "Naniwa Koi Shigure"（浪花恋しぐれ）, and "Kita no Yado kara"（北の宿から）. Written by Tetsuro Hoshino（星野哲郎）and composed by Shosuke Ichikawa（市川昭介）, it struck me as being the quintessential enka tune with those sibilant strings and Japanese instruments, and of course the warble and gusto with which Miyako handled the lyrics.
However, finally knowing the title to the song, I was a bit confused about the meaning of it, partially because I first related the song to the Tora-san setting of Toraya. After all, it is a traditional Japanese sweets shop so I had imagined that the "anko" in the title referred to the sweet bean paste that was squeezed into the buns to form manju. But actually, the "anko" in the title is actually a regional expression on Izu-Oshima Island which refers to the standard "onee-san" or young lady. I believe Hoshino's lyrics talk of the young fellow now working and residing on the mainland sending love letters back to his home island to the lass perhaps not knowing whether they have reached her or not. Overall, I think the message is about pining for home, a theme that probably imbued a lot of enka songs back then while the young masses moved to the major cities like Tokyo and Osaka to help Japan get back on its feet.
The 1983 Tora-san movie wasn't the first to feature "Anko Tsubaki wa Koi no Hana". The ballad was such a hit that it got made into its own movie in 1965.