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.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Hiroshi Sato featuring Wendy Matthews -- I Can't Wait

Ahhhh....a mellow glass of brandy for the ears and soul. "I Can't Wait" is another track from Hiroshi Sato's(佐藤博)wonderfully comfortable album, "Awakening" (1982) that I wrote about a little over a year ago. Wendy Matthews once again adds her lovely pipes to Sato's vocals and keyboards to create this slow and dusky ballad which fits it hand-in-glove with the rest of the album.

I listened to "Awakening" again on the stereo since I knew that I hadn't covered every song on that album and wanted to find another gem there to profile. And it was "I Can't Wait" that caught my ear once more. I'm definitely not one of those romantically mushy people by any stretch of the imagination, but I could see a couple of those folks suddenly go into a slow dance on hearing the lyrics.

And for those who have never seen the singer, this is Wendy with "The Day You Went Away".

Welcome, Noelle!

Hi, J-Canuck here! New month, new contributor. I just wanted to take the time to welcome Noelle Tham to "Kayo Kyoku Plus". Noelle had been commenting on a number of the enka/Mood Kayo articles and for the longest time, I'd wanted to find someone who had an interest in the genres who would be willing to talk about his/her experiences with singers such as Kiyoshi Maekawa, Hibari Misora and Hiroshi Itsuki and their music. And most fortunately, I was able to meet Noelle via the blog, and I'm looking forward to hearing about her own insights into one of the major parts of kayo kyoku.

She has already put up her first article on the aforementioned Maekawa, one of my own favourite artists from the Mood Kayo department, so why don't you have a read of that one? And she has her own blog via Google, so you can also read more about her there.

All the best!

nikala's Online J-Music Merchant Guide. Part 2: Middleman Services

So you've searched everywhere for some rare item and still can't find it in any of the stores mentioned in my other entry. The only places that do have it don't ship outside of Japan. The next step (other than waiting indefinitely for some luck) is to order it via a deputy/middleman service based in Japan that will deliver it to you for an extra charge. You basically make a deposit on their site and they store it in their warehouse. When you've ready, just request a delivery and method, and they'll repack and send it to your overseas address. Obviously this process is a tad lengthy. Sometimes it takes a couple of days for the middleman service to even pay the original seller for the item after they placed an order. Beside the item value cost, you'll definitely be paying a special service fee (which itself depends on the item cost), for domestic shipping to the warehouse within Japan and then shipping to your address. Often, you'll also pay a repacking fee, bank wire fee between the original seller and the middleman, and sales/consumption taxes. Depending on where you live, you may have to pay 1.5 or twice the value of the original item.

The stores that don't ship outside of Japan include Yahoo! Japan Auctions (and other Japanese auction sites), Tower Records, and various Amazon and Rakuten marketplace shops. There are numerous other small independent shops. All these places have one thing in common: lack of information in English. If your Japanese is poor, I suggest translating the pages and item descriptions through Google Translate to get the idea of what the condition is like, edition information, missing components, etc. The translation won't be perfect, but it'll help you pick up some useful words. Some middleman websites have an automatic translation feature to help you out before you commit to buy.

I've used a dozen of deputy services over time, but there's no need to list the inferior ones. This brief list contains all you need. They all handle PayPal.

Noppin, the King of Auctions. They offer a separate shopping service for places like Amazon and whatnot, but the fees are little steep. There a better option for those, listen below. Like all the other services, Noppin charges a fee per auction, but it's only 500 yen for the auction value of up to 4000 yenHere's a page listing all their surcharges and it might seem like a load, but if you read carefully and calculate, it's not that much. The bonus is that they hold your items in the warehouse for free for up to 60 days in case you win multiple auctions and want them consolidated together. Other services will start charging you extra if it's more than 30 days. Noppin also lets you bid in real time. Even the deposit process is automatic thanks to the pre-authorized PayPal deposit feature. And there's no need to deposit the total amount. Let's say you deposit 2000 yen, so with the multiplier of 3, you can bit for auctions of up to 6000 yen. Lastly, the search and bid pages all include an English translation interface. All in all, I can't recommend Noppin enough. Check them out.

For shopping other than auctions, I almost always use Tenso. Check their fees: relatively cheap. The neat thing about them is that up until the item arrives at the warehouse, you do the shopping yourself. No need to send them a request with the link asking them to buy for you manually. Once you register, you'll be given a unique Japanese address (of a storage box with your name and account number within the warehouse) which you'll enter as your delivery address on a given shopping site. When it arrives at Tenso, they'll give you an option to request shipping to your home address, or you can wait and consolidate multiple items together using their consolidation service. Of course, there are weight restrictions and time limit of up to 30 days.

The only reason not to use Tenso is when the original seller doesn't accept foreign-issued credit cards (those shops don't offer PayPal to begin with). Or your particular card just doesn't work. I've never had this problem myself, but you never know. So far the folks on Amazon and Rakuten I've bought from charged my Canadian Visa with no problem. Same with Tower Records, except so far I've only bought from there within Japan, but still with the same Visa. But if you do have this problem, direct yourself to the following.

Japamart and Celga, aside from the usual auction services, offer webshop services. Whereas Japamart has a separate set of fees related to it, Celga's are the same as the auction ones. Depending on the item value, you may prefer one over the other. You'll register there, and then everything is done through a special order form where you link the service to the item page and tell them which one you want. In case of Celga, they'll need to make a 100% before submitting that form and then they'll buy it for you. Japamart's process is slower: submit the form, wait for the total, you pay, and finally they buy. Then again, I haven't used these two for a while, so please check their guides to verify.

Now, Japamart and Celga mostly specialize in popular webshops like the ones mentioned above. If you want to buy something from a small independent shop, there's no guarantee they'll be willing to create an account for it and go through extra hoops to get the item for you. Sometimes these shops don't even have an automatic order system; you need to email the seller in Japanese. So even Tenso won't help you here. If that's the case, I suggest contacting Masa for his Otokichi Premium Middleman Service and he'll be happy to help you out. I didn't mention it up until now because there's an extra request fee on top of all the other surcharges. But a courteous service in rough situations like this is always welcome.

So yeah, such is the tough life for overseas buyers with a niche hobby. Hopefully you've found my guide helpful. You're welcome to mention the other middleman services you like in the comments.

Kiyoshi Maekawa -- Kimi ga koishi kute (君が恋しくて)

A few months ago, I got my first Kiyoshi Maekawa (前川清) album '2014年全曲集' that came out last year on the 20th of November. It had the usual fair, like The Cool Five's 'Nagasaki wa kyomo ame datta'(長崎は今日も雨だった) and 'Soshite Kobe' (そして、神戸).

And then there was this song at the top of the list that stood out to me in the sense that it was unusually 'Enka' for Maekawa in terms of the music, but the lyrics made it seem like a Mood Kayo song. Why I say 'Unusually Enka' is because I know Maekawa for his Mood Kayo songs that sometimes relatively contemporary - especially so in recent years - and I don't see him sing Enka songs often. Hmm... so I think this song would be a Mood Kayo song... its just that the music's a tad jaunty for the genre?

Anyway, that particular song is, as you can see from the title, 'Kimi ga koishi kute'. It was released on the 4th of September last year, so in other words, his most recent single. As much as I like Maekawa, I honestly did not really like the song that much when I first heard it. It was alright, but I felt that he had sung better songs. And then again, it could have been the music that put me off initially since it was rather... loud. But as with songs like this, a listen to it at least twice a day for five days a week while taking the train to and from school (ad nauseam) easily made the song grow on me and now its one of my favourite songs. Well then.

Here's a one of those picture things you'd find on the single... Wow, he looks angry...

Being the curious person I am, I always pay attention to those who write the song's lyrics and music. For 'Kimi ga koishi kute', it happened to be this fellow called Joji Hara (原 譲二) who wrote both. I didn't really bother about this Joji guy, but I had a funny feeling I had seen it before.

It was only until I had decided to look up Saburo Kitajima (北島三郎) on the Japanese Wikipedia out of boredom in class to see from when did he start his impressive, record setting 'Kohaku uta gassen' streak of 50 appearances did I realise who Mr Joji Hara (or as I just call 'George') really is. Turns out, 'Joji Hara' is ol'Sabu-Chan's pen name for when he writes lyrics and music! In other words, this song's a collaboration between Sabu-Chan and Mae-Kiyo.

Whoa, no wonder the music had an Enka feel to it. It was literally written by Grandpa Enka. Case closed.

From what I gather from the lyrics, it's basically about a fellow meeting the object of his passion (I think unbeknownst to him yet) in the 'Northern Country's Sapporo', then misses her like crazy when he's in Osaka and on the 'Sloped streets of Nagasaki'. And then at the end of the song, that final realization (seems like it), he has fallen in love with the woman. Hence the title, which means 'I'm in love with you'... I think and would like to think so... ...

Here's part of the MV for the song (couldn't find full version). If I'm not mistaken, this song's supposed to celebrate Mae-Kiyo's 45th anniversary of being in show business, which would explain the pictures of him back in the day. To think that after 45 years he'd move a little more. I guess not.

And from the link above, its a video of him singing the song on one of July's episode of 'BS Nippon no uta' this year with his trademark frown and statue-like stillness.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

1986 Omega Tribe -- Stay Girl, Stay Pure

Well, as I write this, I only have 1 hour left before August turns into September. I realize that summer still has 3 weeks to go but there is something symbolic about the transition from the eighth month into the ninth month, so I wanted to get in a summer song before the midnight hour strikes.

I'm not sure but "Stay Girl, Stay Pure" may be the first Omega Tribe (under its then-incarnation as 1986 Omega Tribe) song that I ever heard. In any case, it is the first Omega Tribe song that I saw performed by the band on "The Best 10". "Stay Girl, Stay Pure" was the 5th single by 1986 Omega Tribe (so not including the singles by its previous incarnation as Kiyotaka Sugiyama & Omega Tribe) released in November 1987. At the time, the lead vocal was Carlos Toshiki Takahashi from Parana, Brazil who had an even higher voice than Sugiyama.

To be honest, the only thing I remembered from viewing that particular episode of "The Best 10" was this band, since Carlos and company sounded really different in comparison. At the time, I didn't know the terms City Pop or J-AOR, but I do remember comparing their sound (perhaps erroneously) to that of the Minneapolis, Minnesota-based family band, The Jets, who were making their mark on the US Billboard charts at around the same time. To me, Omega Tribe sounded less Tokyo and more Los Angeles.

In any case, "Stay Girl, Stay Pure" reached No. 5 on Oricon. Masao Urino(売野雅勇)provided the lyrics while Tsunehiro Izumi(和泉常寛)was responsible for the smooth melody (do love the sax in there). The song itself was the reason for me to purchase the band's 1988 album, "Down Town Mystery". The single was also used as the theme song for the NTV drama, "Koi wa Hi-Ho!"(恋はハイホー!...Love Is Hi-Ho!)

Courtesy of
Photo Gal 2009
from Flickr

nikala's Online J-Music Merchant Guide. Part 1: Purchasing Directly

While I haven't been buying Japanese music for as long as J-Canuck here, my 10 years of experience with this hobby has led me to some nifty shops. My current collection is nearing 400 titles, 98% being albums. I only spent one of those years in Japan; otherwise I've depended on online retailers. I figure most readers of this blog are in the same boat and might be interested in buying Japanese music from overseas but have limited resources. Since I'm mostly interested in the oldies, I can't always afford to buy the items in brand-new condition. Even with all these wonderful CD reissues that have graced CDJapan and Amazon over the past few years, a lot of material still remains obscure and out-of-print. More often than not I stick with used items, but it's not much of the issue because the Japanese tend to take good care of their stuff. Almost all CDs I've received had zero scratches, and even records tend to be sold in pretty good shape. Just make sure you check the item grading, looking for key words like M (Mint), NM (Near Mint), EX+/- (Excellent +/-) etc.

My guide will be divided into two entries: A. shops that let you purchase directly and B. middleman services. This one deals with the former.

Let me get these places out of the way first, but I'll be brief because they're fairly well-known and have extensive English-language Help Guides. With the exception of eBay and the marketplace division of Amazon, they deal exclusively with brand-new items. CDJapan is my personal favorite because they offer numerous payment and shipment options and have a handy point system. Their catalogue is very extensive, which can only be beaten by Amazon Japan.

Yesasia is not as popular as it used to be and their Japanese music selection is relatively limited but if you're interested in Chinese and Korean stuff, they're the place to stop by. They also offer free shipping for orders over $39 USD, but from what I know, the CD prices are already a little inflated to include a bit of the shipping charge.

I can't say anything for HMV Japan because I've found everything I looked for elsewhere. Like Amazon, they only take credit cards. Check their help guide.

eBay is self-explanatory. You may be surprised at what you can find there. My only warning about eBay is when you buy from stores based in China and sometimes Japan, please make sure that the CD is not a promo or sample. Those basically have limited resell value in case you ever want to sell them away. They were meant to be played on radio and in shops on the street, yet those stores got them for free and are planning to sell them to you for a profit. I'm saying this as someone who mistakenly bought a few promos myself. You may dismiss this warning if you don't care.

I haven't used Amazon much outside of Japan because their shipping charges are steep and the couple times I bought from them, the local post office has slapped a huge customs charge on top of it all. And all I ordered were a few CDs for each order. J-Canuck apparently didn't have such unpleasant experience, and we both live in Ontario, Canada, so go figure. What I do love about Amazon is their Marketplace, which sells a ton of new and used CDs. Shipping for those is cheap but be prepared for the slowness of SAL delivery because the sellers don't let you choose. Basically, just search for the CD you want in regular search (copy/paste the name in Japanese after googling or just type if you can), and then look for links to the right of the cover image that say something like this:
When you are directed to the page that lets you compare what various retailers offer, look for text that says "International & domestic shipping rates" or "海外向け&国内向け配送料金" in the Delivery column (second one to the right). If it only says "Domestic shipping rates" or "国内向け配送料金" then you'll have to use a deputy/middleman service based in Japan to obtain that item. I'll talk about those in another post.

Otokichi Premium was the first used item shop I had the pleasure of buying from. I even visited the main store in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka this April just for fun. Masa is an awesome owner and sometimes takes the time to write to you about the items in your order. Basically, kayokyoku and 70's/80's aidoru enthusiasts can find many gems at Otokichi, but because the store is fairly well-known online, it's just as easy to miss something before it goes out of stock. The selection is still impressive but not as mindboggling as it used to be a few years back. Being interested in New Music/City Pop and technopop, I don't usually find much there anymore. There are handy FAQ/help links at the bottom left corner of the page, though the "How to Order" guide is old. Just add the items to the cart and go from there.

I found FanFan though Amazon Marketplace and then discovered that they have their own website. They ship overseas, accept PayPal, price the used items reasonably and have a large selection of both CDs and records. I love that store. The only downside is that you need some knowledge of Japanese to browse it without confusion, but you can always use the automatic Google Translate feature on top of the page to help you out. Just make sure that your search keywords (キーワード) are in Japanese.

Besides being a handy resource for information on albums from anywhere in the world, Discogs also contains a huge marketplace full of independent sellers that have those items. Most of them deal with vinyl rather than CDs. As far as I searched, the J-Music sold at Discogs is everything but aidoru and straight pop (with some exceptions) but you can find those elsewhere. If you're looking for something rare, you might be in luck. I purchased an ultra-rare vinyl copy of Mioko Yamaguchi's "Yume Hikou" from there last week, which made me very very happy. All the sellers can communicate in English regardless of where they're based.

If you're into Japanese vinyl, DiscLegend should be the first stop on your list. They carry a few CDs but mostly it's just vinyl paradise. The website is easy to use and the used records on there are usually in M or NM condition. The prices are cheap unless it's something rare, they take PayPal and you can choose from four different shipping methods. One note is that the PayPal process is manual. Just follow the instructions after you confirm the order and don't forget to enter the order number in the message section on PayPal's Send Money page. After that it's all smooth.

Another good place for Japanese vinyl is Takechas Records. They restock items more frequently than DiscLegend and their New Music/City Pop selection is excellent. They carry some 60's rarities as well. The site it mostly in Japanese, but they deal with overseas customers though email correspondence. See the English guide here.

Like Amazon, Rakuten also has an extensive Marketplace. You'll be surprised at how cheap some CDs are. The English version of the page will only let you search through the shops that ship overseas. They only accept credit cards. But please, do not search in romaji if the artist's original name is in Japanese; you'll just get silly irrelevant results because this site tends to translate names rather than romanize them. Just search in Japanese and refer to cover images to figure out the results. Copy/paste if you have to.

Tower Records Online used to be available to overseas customers until about 5 years ago when they decided to limit delivery to Japanese addresses. Which is a shame because they even put Amazon to shame when it comes to selection. They carry a ton of store-exclusive editions that are not available elsewhere, for example, a recent CD reissue of Mai Yamane's "Tasogare" album. Middleman services will help you out if you want to buy from there.

These are my places to go to for buying J-Music directly. Tower Records is an odd inclusion, but I just wanted to highlight them in case you wanted to get something nice via a deputy service. If I missed a store you like, feel free to mention it in the comments.

Part 2 about the middleman services will be posted within the next couple of days.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Koji Tamaki -- Family (ファミリー)

In September 1996, Koji Tamaki(玉置浩二)released his 5th solo album away from Anzen Chitai(安全地帯), "Cafe Japan". At first thought, the title sounded like the name for the perfect place for Japanophiles to congregate with lots of matcha ice cream, Hello Kitty dolls and Gundam figures. However, the album was Tamaki's way of inviting the listener into his world of blues, jazz and mellow pop. It also had "Den'en"(田園), his huge galloping hit from that year.

The first track set quite the tone. "Family", which was written and composed by Tamaki (and arranged by his ex-wife, Satoko Ando), starts off in what sounds like the last minute before showtime in an intimate after-hours nightclub starring the man himself. Then, he launches into a slow and sweet swinging jazz ballad with a synth big band as his backup before he brings it all home with a crescendo into "LOVE!" I wouldn't have minded being there in the audience.

In the liner notes for "Cafe Japan", it mentions that "Family" is a tribute to the late jazz drummer, singer and actor Frankie Sakai(フランキー堺)who passed away that year. I didn't know anything about his prowess on the drums but I remembered watching a comedy starring him, and he had quite the burlesque sense of humour. And for people on my side of the Pacific of a certain age, he was known in the dramatization of the James Clavell novel, "Shogun" as the ultimately treacherous Lord Yabu when it was broadcast in 1980 on NBC.