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, September 19, 2017


I think I was considerably lucky to have gone to Japan on my very first job after graduating university when I did. The end of the 1980s seemed to have been a time when Japanese pop music was transforming from kayo kyoku to J-Pop in a number of ways. One aspect was just the number of all-female pop/rock bands that started to appear on the airwaves. Princess Princess and Pink Sapphire were two such groups that really made their mark during my time on JET.

And then there were some other bands that I never really got to know by sound...only through seeing their name and photos in the music magazines. One example was NORMA JEAN, taken from the real name of Marilyn Monroe.

I took that picture at the very top from an old "Myojo"(明星)issue and after coming across this band several times through the pages, I decided that it was time to go back in time and see what they were all about. So I checked their history on J-Wiki. NORMA JEAN first made their appearance on the weekly late-night TBS music show "Miyake Yuji no Ikasu Band Tengoku"(三宅裕司のいかすバンド天国...Yuji Miyake's Rising Band Heaven). I had heard of this show as this famous program which helped get bands their first big break in the style of those high school "Battle of the Bands" events. I'm just surprised that it had as short a run as it did considering its legend...less than 2 years from February 1989 to December 1990. Bands that I got to know such as BEGIN, Jitterin' Jinn and Flying Kids (that I consider to be examples of how the music was evolving) came through "Ikaten"(イカ天).

And again NORMA JEAN was one of those bands. Looking at that photo on top, I did get the impression that it would probably resemble the aforementioned Princess Princess in sound. And listening to their debut song on "Ikaten" in August 1989, "No Pains, No Gains", yup, it had that good-time pop and rock.

With that performance on the show, NORMA JEAN won the battle, becoming the 11th Ikaten King for the week and holding that title for 4 weeks in total, just missing out on becoming a Grand Ikaten King which needs a 5-week winning streak.

The band then released the song as their official first single but under the new title of "GET A CHANCE!!". It became their first and only Top 10 hit, peaking at No. 9 on Oricon. The song was written by vocalist Dynamite Mari(ダイナマイトMARI)who had initially harboured a desire to become a pro wrestler. The melody was provided by Mikiko Mizutani(水谷幹子), Tokie Koyama(小山時江)and Junko Kato(加藤潤子).

As for the rest of the band, they were Kuribo(くり坊)on keyboards, Naoko 'Roger' Yamada(山田ROGER)on bass, Eri Awano(粟野ERI)on guitar and Yuuki Numakura(沼倉ユウキ)on drums. In total, NORMA JEAN released 5 singles and 2 albums before breaking up in 1994.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Sharam Q -- Ramen Daisuki Koike-san no Uta (ラーメン大好き小池さんの唄)

When I returned to Toronto in late 2011, the ramen restaurant boom had just blasted off from the launch pad. And over the next number of years, new places serving one of Japan's gaishoku staples started to pop up like mushrooms and then multiple branches of those new places which includes a few this year. I've happily indulged in my ramen hobby with buddies to the point that any regret that I can no longer get a hearty bowl of the stuff in the source country really doesn't exist anymore. But let me say that I will still get at least two bowls of the stuff into my stomach when I visit Tokyo again.

It has also gotten to the point that I can no longer imagine a time when I was not able to get a bowl of the noodles. Before Toronto became Ramen Central in the 2010s, basically all we had was either Cup O' Noodles and, as you can see above, Sapporo Ichiban (although there was a nascent attempt at a ramen shop back in the 1980s called Yokohama which didn't last too long). But despite the plethora of ramen shops in the GTA, in the name of total disclosure, I still partake in the instant stuff occasionally for lunch. Yup, I do ingest all of the MSG and chemicals unrepentantly.

All that appetizing ramen talk is to help introduce a song by Osaka-based Sharam-Q(シャ乱Q). "Ramen Daisuki Koike-san no Uta" (The Song of Ramen-Loving Mr. Koike) was the first track in the band's debut album from September 1992, "Sakuretsu! Henachoko Punch"(炸裂!へなちょこパンチ...Explosion! Greenhorn Punch).

Now, my knowledge of Sharam-Q and its flamboyant leader, Tsunku(つんく), first started filtering in when I landed back in Japan in late 1994, so I'd had no idea that the band had existed since 1988. And in fact, my knowledge of their ramen entry bubbled in when Tsunku and company had actually released an updated version of this song, "Shin Ramen Daisuki Koike-san no Uta"(新・ラーメン大好き小池さんの唄...The New Song of Ramen-Loving Mr. Koike)as their 19th single in March 2000. It peaked at No. 23 on Oricon.

But I haven't come across this new version on YouTube as of yet, so let's go with the original flavour, so to speak. In all honesty, "Ramen Daisuki Koike-san no Uta" in either of its incarnations has never particularly spoken to me..."Zurui Onna"(ズルイ女)is still the big Sharam-Q winner for me, but it's interesting to watch that ancient music video above to see the band looking unlike their glam rock presence when I first got to know them, and making like urban rock-funksters. Plus, I gotta say that I don't think I ever heard a funk song paying tribute to ramen.

According to the J-Wiki write-up on "Ramen", Koike-san was actually a character who made appearances in a couple of manga that I knew "Obake no Q-Taro"(オバケのQ太郎...Q-Taro The Ghost)and "Doraemon"(ドラえもん)by the late artist Fujio Fujiko(藤子二不雄), and indeed the fellow did love his home-cooked ramen.

Tsunku took care of the lyrics while the whole band came up with the melody which partially pays homage to the ending theme of the old anime "Himitsu no Akko-chan"(ひみつのアッコちゃん...The Secrets of Akko-chan), the go-go-boot-kicking "Suki Suki Song"(すきすきソング...The Love Love Song) by Hisashi Inoue, Morihisa Yamamoto and Asei Kobayashi(井上ひさし・山元護久・小林亜星).

Kobushi Factory(こぶしファクトリー...Magnolia Factory)is a Hello Project group that Marcos V. has already spoken about, and it turns out that their first major single was "Dosukoi! kenkyo ni daitan / Ramen daisuki koizumi-san no uta / Nen ni wa nen (Nen-iri Ver.)"(ドスコイ!ケンキョにダイタン/ラーメン大好き小泉さんの唄/念には念(念入りVer.)...Dosukoi! Humble but Bold/A song of ramen loving girl Ms.Koizumi/Be Double Sure (with ”NEN” Ver.))from September 2015, which as you can see, includes their own version of the Sharam-Q song (aside from the changing of the character's name from Koike to Koizumi. The Factory is one of Tsunku's aidoru groups under the Hello Project banner and "Ramen Daisuki Koizumi-san no Uta" kept plenty of funk. The single peaked at No. 3.

The reason for the name change was that it was the theme song for the Fuji-TV late Saturday-night drama "Ramen Daisuki Koizumi-san no Uta" based on the manga by Naru Narumi(鳴見なる)about a teenage ramen super fan.

Yup, I put rice in my ramen.
Don't get uppity with me!

Daisuke Inoue -- Ai Senshi(哀戦士)

Happy Monday! Well, I'm a bit early to be presenting this since the official introduction of the now-completed Unicorn Gundam isn't for another 6 days but I will either be teaching my student or hanging out with my anime buddy on what will be Sunday September 24 so I've decided to jump the gun(dam) on this article.

Speaking of my friend, I asked him a couple of weeks ago what his favourite theme from the massive "Gundam" franchise was. It didn't take him too long to respond "Ai Senshi" performed by Daisuke Inoue(井上大輔). Now, of course, not being a die-hard fan of the Gundam robots or their shows or their theme songs, I hadn't really seen the kanji titles for the themes. Therefore I naturally assumed that "Ai Senshi" meant "Warriors of Love" along the lines of that subtitle for the current new "Uchuusenkan Yamato"(宇宙戦艦ヤマト)series.

My friend quickly shook his head and remarked "Just the opposite". I have seen the title and I realize that the translation is actually "Soldiers of Sorrow". The song, by the way, was the theme song for the 2nd Gundam movie that came out in 1981, "Kido Senshi Gundam II"(機動戦士ガンダムII).

"Ai Senshi" has that somewhat schizoid kayo temperament with a pretty upbeat melody by Inoue that is reminiscent of another singer-songwriter, Motoharu Sano(佐野元春), and in a way, it kinda reminds me of a very mellow early Bruce Springsteen. However the lyrics by Rin Iogi(井荻麟) are about as depressing and anti-war as one can get, the message being that countless human lives are being thrown away in the useless pursuit of war.

After all these years, it is just now that I have discovered that Daisuke Inoue was really Tadao Inoue (井上忠夫...his real name), one of the members of the Group Sounds band Jackey Yoshikawa and His Blue Comets(ジャッキー吉川とブルー・コメッツ). He was the one who created their most famous song, "Blue Chateau"(ブルー・シャトウ), probably inspired by the Lake Louise Hotel in Banff, Alberta, Canada, and as I mentioned in the article for that evergreen GS classic, he was the one who whipped himself over its creation since he felt that it was to blame for the downfall of the Group Sounds genre. I also said that he was being way too hard on himself.

But I don't think he carried that albatross around his neck for long since he composed a lot of different songs since taking on his stage name of Daisuke Inoue. Of course, there were his "Gundam" contributions but he also came up with some doo-wop creations, songs for both male and female aidoru, and a jingle for the world's most famous soft drink. I figure that he should be worth a Creator article in the not-too-distant future.

Sadly, it was reported in the May 31 2000 edition of the newspaper Nikkan Sports that Inoue had committed suicide in his own home at the age of 58.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Bernard Fowler and Ryuichi Sakamoto -- G.T.

I've got quite a few albums by the amazing Yellow Magic Orchestra but I'm beginning to feel that I ought to also invest in a number of Ryuichi Sakamoto's(坂本龍一)albums as well. His 1978 "Sen no Knife"(千のナイフ...Thousand Knives)is one prospect but another is his 1986 "Mirai-ha Yaro"(未来派野郎...Futurista).

One reason is that it includes a track that I've already covered titled "Ballet Mecanique" that has a couple of more incarnations that will be explained if you go to the article. The other reason is that I recently discovered another snazzy and catchy number called "G.T.".

I figure that Sakamoto who composed "G.T." had some reason to title this song thusly but I haven't found out yet. But then again, there was an earlier YMO hit known as "U.T." back in 1981 and the Spielberg blockbuster "E.T." came out in 1982 so I guess The Professor must have had some sort of grand plan with the second letter "T".

But getting back on the road again, like YMO's "U.T.", "G.T" is another propulsive affair helped along by singer Bernard Fowler (who also sang "Ballet Mecanique"). There is even more of a feeling of a racing car warping around the big city whereas "U.T." always sounded as if the super car were in stealth mode. The "G.T." car is more than happy to show off its colours and sound off its skids. Plus, it's more than likely, it's leading the cops on a merry chase.

The live version on Sakamoto's "Media Bahn Live" is even more kakkoii. Along with Sakamoto coming up with the music, Akiko Yano(矢野顕子)provided the original Japanese lyrics which apparently got translated into the English used here by media personality Peter Barakan(ピーター・バラカン). But just getting out of the rebel car theme for just a sentence or two, looking at those lyrics, I got the impression that all involved were thinking far bigger ideas such a huge space race around the solar system. And being a "Doctor Who" fan, I couldn't help but feel that there was some foretelling in the words about how Earth's favourite Time Lord and future companions would interact decades later.

"G.T." came out as a single in March 1986 for Sakamoto while "Mirai-ha Yaro" peaked at No. 5. Come to think of it, perhaps I will put "Media Bahn Live" onto the wish list as well.

Finishing up with Barakan, one show that he's been associated with is "Begin Japanology" on NHK-BS which had its run between 2003 and 2013. He's also helped YMO in the past as well through the song "Mass" in their album "BGM".

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu -- PONPONPON

This was a Maid Cafe in Odaiba that would look ideal
for Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. However, I was informed
that the place has since gone the way of the dodo.

Marcos V. was the one behind all of the Kyary Pamyu Pamyu(きゃりーぱみゅぱみゅ)articles so far. However, I came across one myself which I'd like to bring into the "Kayo Kyoku Plus" fold, and it's her debut single. So I guess I can say that here is a KPP for KKP (how does a one-handed clap sound?).

Strangely enough, for all of the stunned reaction to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu's first entry into music "PONPONPON" and its music video, I didn't particularly leave my room blinking my eyes at warp speed as if I were suffering a Pokemon attack. And perhaps that was because I was rather accustomed to all of the weird Japanese street fashion trends that had come and gone in areas such as Shibuya and Harajuku in Tokyo. Yep, as I was walking through those areas for fun or on my way to work, I've seen quite a bit: loose socks, visual kei, gyaru fashion, yamamba. goth-loli. And about a couple of years or so before I left Japan for good, there was some sort of fashion thing sprouting from Shibuya which involved young women dressed up as if they were Marie Antoinette with their layers of blond hair atop their pates.

In any case, "PONPONPON" and its video were fine but I wasn't particularly stunned at this then-new aspect of Japanese pop culture that possibly had folks in the West going "WTF?!" Released in July 2011, the song was written and composed by songwriter-producer Yasutaka Nakata(中田ヤスタカ), the same fellow behind the Perfume phenomenon.

Not sure how "PONPONPON" did on Oricon but it did hit No. 6 on the Japan Billboard Top Airplay list and No. 9 on Japan Top 100 (Billboard), and a new Japanese star was born.

Whenever I hear about Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, who I started hearing about after returning to Canada, I remember that insight that Marcos once stated a few years ago. To paraphrase, a few decades back, Japanese pop music (or a segment of it) was about reaching out to the West but in these times, it's been about the West coming to Japan. And I think KPP is one example of this. The above video, by the way, was uploaded by someone by the name of Momoko and it depicts a flash mob performance of the song in the nation of Mauritius.

Trivia of the day is that the lass has a full version of her name: Caroline Charonplop Kyary Pamyu Pamyu(きゃろらいんちゃろんぷろっぷきゃりーぱみゅぱみゅ)! Will wonders never cease?

Michiya Mihashi -- O-Saraba Tokyo (おさらば東京)

Huh, Michi was quite cute back then too.

As I had said on my other tributes to my grandfather, I've always wondered what his reaction to me liking enka would be. Well, after getting to know his personality better through Mom, I'd figure it'd go something like this if I were to show him some performance of an enka/kayo singer I like:

Me: I like this song. What do you think?
Grandpa: *Stares at video for a while, then at me, then at the video again* Why do you like this sort of music/such old singers?
Me: Why not...? 

It'd probably end about there for me, but then he would proceed to give my mom an ear-full. Yeah, Grandpa wasn't hot about Japanese music or its singers, to put it lightly. However, I think my weapon of choice against the unamused reactions and tutting would be to bust out "O-Saraba Tokyo", and then I'd be gloating over the fact that the original version of one of his favourites was actually by one of my favourites, Michiya Mihashi (三橋美智也). He's eyes might probably be rolling so hard they'd roll out of the house... but I think from there he'd warm up to the idea of me listening to good ol' Japanese oldies.

Moving on, "O-Saraba Tokyo" was something I'd least expect to be Grandpa's favourite. While I did mention that he enjoyed one of Hibari Misora's (美空ひばり) works, somehow it did not strike me that he'd be a fan of anything from the Yonin Shu. Perhaps it's because I always had the impression that their songs are quintessentially Japanese and so I just assumed that the likelihood of Chinese covers would be much lower. Turns out I was wrong the whole time and it's actually the complete opposite.

Mandarin cover.

As J-Canuck mentioned in his article for the song, this jolly sounding tune was one of Michi's many big hits and was incredibly popular in the titular city. Apparently, its popularity had extended out overseas as well, judging by the number of Chinese renditions made. The one version in particular that Gramps adored was this Mandarin cover titled "Liang Xiang Yi" (兩相依... Two Together... or something like that) done by Taiwanese singer Yao Surong (姚蘇蓉), and its lyrics are not as sad as "O-Saraba Tokyo" (if I'm not wrong) - seems more like the character is simply missing a loved one rather than mourning over him/her. Well, personally, I still prefer the original. To be honest, I am being somewhat biased here - because Michi - but at the same time I'm not used to listening to Chinese music, especially covers of Japanese songs which I mostly find sounding strange.

I'm not sure if this Michi Best album has "O-Saraba Tokyo" in the track list, but I think it serves as a good visual representation of my face in that scenario I mentioned at the start of the article.

Sumiko Yamagata -- Kumorizora (曇り空)

Long time, no see Sumiko Yamagata(やまがたすみこ). Welcome back to the blog! I was kinda looking for something City Pop and thought that I could find an entry in Yamagata's discography since she had her period of urban contemporary starting from the late 1970s.

However, I ended up making a detour when I found this interesting and lovely song by her. It's titled "Kumorizora" (Overcast Sky) and was a track on her 5th album "Orgel"(オルゴール...Music Box)from August 1975. Before Yamagata made that right turn into New Music/City Pop, she had been known as a young folk singer. But I think there is more of a drama in this song that was composed by her and written by Tadashi Akai赤井正...I hope that's how the name is pronounced)so that the arrangement takes things into a more New Music area. Perhaps, there are other tracks in "Orgel" that may have been slowly convincing her that she could make a crossing between genres.

In any case, the lyrics by Akai have a woman silently pining for someone she's fallen for under that titular overcast sky and exhorting him to notice her, especially since there is a hint that he may have just broken up with someone else and is mourning that loss. I do love that guitar, that piano and Yamagata's voice here.