I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube, Oricon charts are courtesy of and my research is translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Hideo Murata/Hibari Misora/Hiroshi Itsuki -- Jinsei Gekijo (人生劇場)

Tonight on NHK's "Kayo Concert", I heard Hiroshi Itsuki (五木ひろし)perform an especially stately enka by the title of "Jinsei Gekijo" (Theatre of Life). With that sort of title, my curiosity was piqued so I looked up my usual sources. The original song had actually been created in 1938 by composer Masao Koga (古賀政男)and lyricist Sonosuke Sato (佐藤惣之助)and sung by Shigeo Kusunoki (楠木繁夫)as the theme song for one of the early movie adaptations of the famed short story of the same name by Shiro Ozaki(尾崎士郎). In the story, Ozaki wrote about life at Waseda University and beyond and how the protagonist of the story gave up the love of his life for his love for power and wealth, much to his detriment.

According to the J-Wiki article on "Jinsei Gekijo", the theme song became famous from Kusunoki's rendition and in fact, became an unofficial second song representing Waseda University, one of the largest private schools of higher learning in the country. However, Hideo Murata's performance of the song as one of his earliest singles in April 1959 was such that it imprinted itself into the heads of a lot of fans that Murata's version was the original version. At the very least, it seems to be the definitive version. Sato's lyrics expressed the protagonist's ambitions disguised as the duty of every man.

Hideo Murata(村田英雄), who was born Isamu Kajiyama (梶山勇)in 1929 in Fukuoka Prefecture, was a veteran singer of enka and rokyoku. For me, he was a regular presence on the first several Kohaku Utagassen shows that I'd seen. And except for 1973, Murata appeared in every one of the New Year's Eve specials from 1963 to 1989. Moreover, when he was there, so was his friend and rival in the genres, Haruo Minami(三波春夫). Looking at the two together was quite interesting....Minami always had that beatific smile on a face that seemed to eternally look up into the rafters while Murata always sported a stern expression on his face. As much as Hibari Misora (美空ひばり)was the intimidating Grande Dame of the Kohaku to her fellow performers, I could imagine that Murata also had a certain fear factor.

Murata passed away in June 2002, a little over a year after Minami himself had passed away.

And speaking of Misora, she gave her own cover of "Jinsei Gekijo". I had to actually look up the particulars at her website, but her earliest rendition was on her June 1977 album "Misora Hibari Koga Melody wo Utau -- Jinsei Gekijo"(美空ひばり 古賀メロディを歌う~人生劇場...Hibari Misora Sings The Koga Melodies -- Theatre of Life).

And although the above video isn't the actual performance from "Kayo Concert", here is Hiroshi Itsuki with his rendition of "Jinsei Gekijo", dressed the same way that he was tonight. I gather that considering the grand nature of the song, a mere Western suit wouldn't suffice.

Also, for those who may be interested in the movie adaptations themselves, the following page will give some insight on some of them. There have been 14 of them dating from 1936 to 1983, and there were even a couple of versions adapted for the stage.

courtesy of
TOKIO City Photos
from Flickr

Monday, July 28, 2014

Michiyo Kitajima -- Telepathy Kudasai (てれぱしいください)

The video for this song was put up just a few months ago. I decided to give it a shot and found "Telepathy Kudasai" (Please Give Me Your Telepathy) a pleasant if not a classic pop song from the 80s. I had never heard of Michiyo Kitajima (北島美智代)before this hour and apparently she was one of those people who had a very brief time in the spotlight, only releasing 2 singles in 1985-1986 according to this Japanese webpage.

"Telepathy Kudasai" was Kitajima's debut single from November 1985. It was written by Kunihiko Suzuki (鈴木邦彦)and composed by Kei Wakakusa(若草恵), and it was used as the theme for an NHK documentary show centering on the animal kingdom titled "Watching" from April 1985 to March 1989. It was hosted by the ubiquitous tarento emeritus Tamori(タモリ). As I said, the song is pleasant to listen to and Kitajima had a pretty nice voice. I actually ended up mouthing "....telepathy kudasai..." a few times myself as it was playing.

Unfortunately, there seems to be very little information on Kitajima aside from what little was provided on that aforementioned Japanese webpage and that was purely on her short recording career. The author there rather dryly wondered whether the singer was still continuing on as a regional enka chanteuse under a different name. Methinks she's probably been enjoying life as a regular housewife and mother. However, what was also illuminating was seeing how many singers and aidoru had debuted during 1986 as shown on that page. There were very few that I had known already with the most well-known singer being Akemi Ishii(石井明美). Hey, that's part of the fun of doing this blog!


Morning Musume -- Happy Summer Wedding (ハッピーサマーウェディング)

Ah, happy summer 2000! Back in the days when Morning Musume (モーニング娘。)could have released Kleenex with their lip prints on it and it would have gone Platinum. To be honest, MM's 9th single, the sweet and cheerful "Happy Summer Wedding" is not one of my very favourite singles by the group although DANCE☆MAN was behind the arrangements of the Tsunku-penned song. I've usually preferred the more disco-type songs of theirs such as "Love Machine" but when "Happy Summer Wedding" came out in May 2000, the video of the girls in their harem outfits was all over the tube and that "para, para, para, para, para, para, pa, pa" chorus buried itself in my brain like Ceti Eels in starship officers ("Wrath of Khan" reference).

"Happy Summer Wedding" is all about a girl's feelings expressed to her parents just on the cusp of the big day. And I think the song would've made for an appropriate theme tune for some zany J-Comedy about the girl's harried father. Just imagine "Father of the Bride" with Koji Yakusho instead of Steve Martin.

The single sold just a shade over 990,000 copies, with it hitting No. 1 on the Oricon weekly charts and becoming the 15th-ranked single of the year. The song was also auspicious in that it was a transitional time for girls in Morning Musume. It would be the last single featuring 2nd-generation member Sayaka Ichii (市井紗耶香)and it would be the first with the 4th-generation members Hitomi Yoshizawa, Rika Ishikawa, Ai Kago and Nozomi Tsuji(吉澤ひとみ・石川梨華・加護亜依・辻希美). Perhaps there should have been a torch featured in the video.

I remember when those four girls made their formal introduction TV Tokyo's "Asayan", which was the birthing show for Morning Musume. Felt like a worried father watching this quartet of innocent kids appearing nervously on the stage for the first time. The video below shows a clip from the program showing the actual selection of three of the teens.


Tulip/GO!GO!7188 -- Kokoro no Tabi (心の旅)

I've always considered Tulip's (チューリップ)biggest hit of "Kokoro no Tabi" (Voyage of the Heart) to be one of the great kayo send-off songs. Just imagine....a college graduate from the old countryside hometown heading for the big city to start his/her career, and the old gang provides the streamers and the stream of tears, all while this song is being sung as the young lad/lass takes the train from the tiny local station. One might say that it would be the ideal theme for one of the most important moments in life.

Well, perhaps that was a bit florid but "Kokoro no Tabi" did come from one of the big moments in Tulip's life. Kazuo Zaitsu(財津和夫)and his band hadn't made too much of an impression from their first 2 singles or their first 2 albums, and "Kokoro no Tabi" was their self-imposed last chance to make it big or head back to Fukuoka in failure. Zaitsu was behind the lyrics and music for Tulip's 3rd single from May 1973, and he created this out of his feelings before making his way to Tokyo to make it big in music. Well, there was obviously a happy ending in that "Kokoro no Tabi" went all the way up to No. 1 after debuting on Oricon at the humble ranking of No. 71. It sold slightly under a million records and ended the year as the 7th-ranked song. And why not? There is that sense of sentimentality and triumph infused into the song so that it can be used at any event from the end of a victorious Koshien high school baseball campaign to a wedding party.

What surprised me was that the original 1973 recording was not sung by leader Zaitsu but by the youngest Tulip member, Tatsuya Himeno(姫野達也). Zaitsu was to have been the main vocal but at the last minute, it was decided by staff that Himeno had the "sweeter" voice and so he should be the one to sing it. Although "Kokoro no Tabi" did become the saviour song, Zaitsu apparently had some complicated feelings about that vocal decision. However, he has been able to sing his creation himself since then as you can see from above.

I remember "Kokoro no Tabi" all these years due to the fact that the song has been covered so often by a number of artists. One of the versions I recall the most is the thrashing version by rock band GO!GO!7188, one of the great names in Japanese music collectives and whose derivation is apparently still only known by its members: lead vocal and guitarist Yuu, bassist Akko and drummer Turkey. They may hail from Kagoshima Prefecture but I always imagine the side streets of Shibuya, Tokyo whenever I think about them. According to Wikipedia, they had influences from genres such as surf rock, punk and even enka. In that way, I've often related them to chanteuse Ringo Shiina(椎名林檎). The band debuted in 1998 but disbanded a couple of years ago in 2012.

Their cover of "Kokoro no Tabi" came from their album of kayo kyoku covers, "Tora no Ana"(虎の穴...Tiger's Lair)from July 2002.

courtesy of
from Flickr

Top 10 Singles of 1999

1.   Dango Gasshodan                                Dango San Kyodai
2.   Hikaru Utada                                       Automatic
3.   GLAY                                                 Winter, Again
4.   Ayumi Hamasaki                                  A-- Monochrome...
5.   Ryuichi Sakamoto                                Ura BTTB--Energy Flow
6.   Hikaru Utada                                       Addicted to You
7.   Hikaru Utada                                       Movin On Without You
8.   Morning Musume                                 Love Machine
9.   GLAY                                                 BE WITH YOU
10. L'Arc-en-Ciel                                      Heaven's Drive

I remember the year distinctly being one in which a Japanese-American, one-third of YMO and a group of young girls who hadn't supposed to have been successful a few years back went over the top with their hits. And yet, they were all topped by a trio of tiny rice dumplings.

courtesy of
from Flickr

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Top 10 Albums for 1973

1.   Shiro Miya & Pinkara Trio                    Onna no Michi
2.   Cherish                                                 Super Deluxe
3.   The Beatles                                           The Beatles 1962 - 1966
4.   Takuro Yoshida                                    Genki Desu.
5.   The Carpenters                                     Now and Then
6.   The Beatles                                           The Beatles 1967 - 1970
7.   The Beatles                                           Let It Be
8.   Kaguyahime                                          Kaguyahime Third
9.   Yosui Inoue                                           Yosui Live Modori Michi
10.  Michel Polnareff                                   Gold Disc

Quite the achievement for Shiro Miya & Pinkara Trio considering they also had the top 2 singles of the year as well. And also of note is Yosui Inoue's "Yosui Live Modori Michi" which not only cracked the Top 10 for 1973 but also placed 3rd in 1974 and 7th in 1975. Obviously, there was also quite the non-Japanese representation on the chart.

courtesy of
from Flickr

Miki Imai -- Tokyo Hachi-gatsu Sunglass (TOKYO 8月サングラス)

I'm breaking my non-official rule of not covering a singer in the same month since I wrote about Miki Imai's(今井美樹)"Pride" back on July 2nd, but I figure I'm only off a week and besides, this song, "Tokyo Hachi-gatsu Sunglass" (Tokyo August Sunglasses) rather relates to the current meteorological situation in all of Japan. I was talking with my student over in the wilds of tony Den'en-Chofu tonight via Skype tonight and he confirmed what I've been seeing on NHK News....that Japan is in the mighty unrelenting grip of heat and humidity, even more than average. Believe me when I say that I know how that feels. Any old-school Trekkie kayo kyoku fans out there? Know the expression "Hot as Vulcan"? Well, at least on Mr. Spock's planet, it's a dry heat.

"Tokyo Hachi-gatsu Sunglass" is the opening track on Imai's 4th album of 1989, "Mocha", an album that I wrote about almost a couple of years back. And in fact, I had written about that very song on the album complete with YouTube video on that "Mocha" article, but when said video was taken down by the powers-that-be, I figured that that was it for the song so I summarily erased the entire paragraph devoted to it and replaced it with another song from the album with description. Of course, that was before co-contributor nikala introduced me to as a potential source.

So, allow me to make amends here. "Tokyo Hachi-gatsu Sunglass" was written by Masami Tozawa (戸沢暢美)and composed by Jun Sato (佐藤準)as this zippy launch to this particular album of "Mocha". Compared to the oh-so-calming on the beach "Natsu wo Kasanete"(夏をかさねて)which started Imai's album of the previous year, "Bewith", the opening track to "Mocha" immediately rockets the listeners down into the steamy sun-reflecting glass-and-concrete of Tokyo. The singer quickly rattles off that understandable need to get out of the metropolis for most people while she's content to spend her days in a potentially empty city sucking back on a tea and looking through those shades. I certainly shared those feelings of hers whenever Golden Week came around although April/May were considerably less torrid.

I guess the other reason that I put up this one by Imai is that it's interesting to compare this album track from her early period to the aforementioned "Pride" which became one of her most beloved official singles nearly a decade later. The latter song had that more stately and mature sound that her future hubby, Tomoyasu Hotei(布袋寅泰), would imbue her music from the mid-90s, but "Tokyo Hachi-gatsu Sunglass" from the late 80s was more in line with the uptempo urban pop sounds that other singers from that time such as Kanako Wada (和田加奈子)and Kahoru Kohiruimaki (小比類巻かほる)adopted. I think the difference between Imai and those other two songstresses were those feathery pipes of Imai.

I'm not sure whether Imai sings any of her non-single album tracks from before the 90s at her current concerts anymore, but "Tokyo Hachi-gatsu Sunglass" has been one of the standout songs for me from that early era.

Inside the Tokyo International Forum