Yes, folks, the merry fellow you see hanging from the monkey bars was, indeed, Haruo Minami (三波春夫). He truly had a winning smile.
By the way, from now I will start referring to Minami as Haru-san from time to time as well. It's a fitting nickname I'd heard in a clip before, and I think it'd be more interesting to call him that alternatively than simply just Minami in my writings.
|En route to Nagaoka|
I had known about Minami's statue park from the time I discovered him, but visiting him wasn't really a concrete item on my list of things to do during my trip. It might seem odd considering what you all know about me by now, but I wasn't completely sure how frequent train service was on the Shin'etsu line running from Nagaoka to his hometown of Tsukayama.
But, of course, I eventually decided that I might as well give it a go as I don't think I'd have many other opportunities to visit Niigata otherwise (Minami or no Minami), so on one of the days in Tokyo, Mom and I took the shinkansen up to Nagaoka to check out Niigata and what of the Shin'etsu line. As it turned out, this local line does stop at Tsukayama moderately frequently - it was meant to be! ...This taught me to not be overly reliant on Wikipedia's train line information - there weren't many English sites with lesser known railway schedules like this, okay?
Anyways, having gone to Aizubange (Hachiro Kasuga's (春日八郎) hometown in Fukushima) and being impressed by being not so rustic as I thought it'd be, I suppose that gave me the not-so-realistic impression that Tsukayama may be more or less the same. Well, when we got there, it turned out to be what I had previously expected of Aizubange. It was very quiet and the facades of buildings had seen better days. However, it looked exactly like the villages featured on Channel News Asia's "Japan Hour" railway episodes, and it felt kind of strange (in a good way, of course) to actually be seeing it for myself.
And with it being Niigata, there were fields upon fields of rice with some plots being dotted by elderly farmers planting their crop. Up to that point, I had never seen how this Asian carb staple was farmed, so it was another first for this city kid. On the flip side, the farmers must be wondering what these two out-of-town folk were doing in a place like that. On another note, Tsukayama seems to be one of the hubs for the sports equipment company, Yonex. The juxtaposition of the occasional large factory blocks in the midst of old houses and rice fields was quite amusing.
It was the most realistic statue of a singer I had ever seen; his dimensions, that beaming and welcoming expression, the kimono. It felt incredibly bizarre looking up at it. It looked so real, it almost seemed like if I stared any longer, Minami would look down and say, "Hello"... That said, one of my perennial fears is for statues to animate and come after me, but this is one statue I wish would come to life.
|Lyrics and melody of "Chanchiki Okesa" engraved in stone. Beside|
is the music player.
Going on a tangent for a little bit: This was the first video I heard "Chanchiki Okesa" from. I don't know how but I didn't take notice of that first shot of him in his younger days at the very start of the video. Took me long enough (through the Marubell bromides) to realise how
Coming back, as for my mother, she has come a long way since hating Minami. I remember she used to want to throw him into the dumpster - mind you, she didn't like Murata either, but dear Muchi only got the trash can. But she did eventually see merit in him through his versatility and crazy song fusions. Now she has done a complete 180. She even has a favourite song by him which she jumped at the chance to play at the park: "Sekai no Kuni Kara Konnichiwa". According to her, there was no better time than then to play this as we, being foreign fans from far off lands, have come to his hometown so it's fitting that he welcome us with none other than this apt ditty... ... Y'know, I like Minami a lot, and I agree with Mom, and this song is so him with how jolly it is, but I can't stand this song of his. It's just so infectiously annoying with the multitude of "Konnichiwas".
Okay, before the "Konnichiwas" burn a hole through my brain, let's continue. We had ekibens and juice bought at Nagaoka station for lunch at a strategically placed gazebo in the park. It was quite a comfortable place to take a break. But just be sure you have no trash to throw besides cans as there is no trash bin. We had to learn the hard way. Nearest proper bin was back at the station 20 minutes away.
Beside the park sat this firefly education center of sorts, which to my surprise, also had a little room that served as a museum space for this Tsukayama-bred talent. It wasn't particularly fancy, which was understandable as the main attraction is the statue park, and I was happy that there was at least a good number of Haru-san's artifacts on display, as well as pictures what seemed to be his entire discography. So I admired stuff like his calligraphy, movie posters (yes, he acted in stuff too), and old photos, all while lugging along a bag of trash.
And looking at his discography, Minami seemed to have sung an Ondo about essentially anything under the sun, from traffic safety to space to dinosaurs. Also, that pose for the cover on the left though... hmm.😕
|What got the ball rolling. |
Also, how did I NOT notice it from this cover??? I must've been blind.
|I believe this was a gift he received on one of his anniversaries|
|That's a nice sketch!|
To round this up, here is "Yuki no Wataridori". This song would be perfect if it were snowing. But then again, Niigata gets a tonne of snow and I don't fancy the idea of trudging through snow drifts for nearly half an hour.
Somehow, Minami, in spite of his refined mannerisms, could pull off a convincing ronin.
Well, that's 2 down, 2 more to go. The remaining ones are literally at opposite ends of the country though. I think the painted pikachu scream meme would fit in this situation.