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, October 22, 2014

Keiko Fuji -- Kyoto kara Hakata made (京都から博多まで)

I heard this torch song, "Kyoto kara Hakata made" (From Kyoto to Hakata) last night on NHK's "Kayo Concert"(歌謡コンサート)sung by one of the guest performers, and on hearing that this was a Keiko Fuji(藤圭子)song during the introduction, the Yu Aku(阿久悠)lyrics pretty much cemented that fact. Fuji once again brings forth a story of womanly woe about going on a seeming fool's errand by getting on that train from the ancient capital to one of the major cities in western Japan to go after that man that she's fallen for.

Kosho Inomata(猪俣公章)was responsible for the cool urban feel of Fuji's 11th single from January 1972, and as usual, I'm a sucker for a lonely trumpet. I could imagine the singer in that trenchcoat as a lonely figure waiting for that last train on a rain-soaked platform. Apparently, the supposedly quixotic voyage was patterned from an actual train run by the Matsukaze (now known as the Super Matsukaze according to Wikipedia), a limited express service operated by JR West. Inomata, by the way, was also behind Fuji's big hit from a couple of years previously, "Onna no Blues"(女のブルース).

"Kyoto kara Hakata made" peaked at No. 20 on Oricon and first appeared as a track on Fuji's 8th album, "Shiranai Machi de"(知らない町で...In a Town I Don't Know)from December 1971 before it got its official single release. Several months later, she would perform it on the Kohaku Utagassen of 1972 which is shown above.

Courtesy of

Revisiting the old shops

During my 2 weeks back in Tokyo, I managed to visit some of my old music haunts in the hopes that I would be able to pick up some good discs.

First off, my anime buddy and I hit Nakano Broadway. Now, it was my buddy who told me that Recomints had closed down during his last visit there in 2012. Well, going there in 2014, Recomints has apparently given a Wolverine-like "I got better" response, and to my relief, was very much alive, However, the two different outlets in Broadway selling discounted Japanese and Western discs respectively have merged into the original space for the Japanese stuff on the 3rd floor. The tables of cut-rate discs are gone only to be replaced by shelves as you can see above but the mix of Western and Japanese albums is still very cheap.

Happily, I was able to make my first purchase for the trip there, Akiko Yano's classic "Gohan ga Dekita yo".

Of course, a visit to the planet's largest music store, Tower Records in Shibuya, was mandatory. At around 2010 and 2011, the store enabled the re-mastering kick of some of the old albums from the 70s and 80s. Well, going back to Tower three years later, that re-mastering has gone into high gear. In fact, I found a section on the 3rd floor which paid tribute to 70s/80s City Pop. As much as I had wanted to grab the entire selection, I just went with Tomoko Aran's "More Relax" from 1984. Such is the lot of a person on a limited tourist's budget and yet, I hit the place twice and purchased a total of 8 CDs there.

The J-Pop section was moved sometime during those 3 years from the 2nd floor to the 3rd floor. Now, the formerly 7th-floor magazine/book department was moved down to the 2nd floor, and to boot, a pretty cool-vibe cafe has been placed on that same floor. After that first giddy visit to Tower, we just had to relax a bit there with some lattes. Early in my time as a teacher in Tokyo in the mid-90s, Tower Records Shibuya did have a cafe in the basement which had the rather hilarious arrangement of having a non-smoking spot in the centre of the remaining smoking area without any barriers. That incarnation didn't last too long.

*Ah, I should let you know about one thing about Tower. The store does accept credit cards, but the staff doesn't ask for PIN numbers to be typed in...they just swipe it through something. I made my purchases on credit there and there was a bit of a consequence. Some days later when I was to pay my share of the hotel bill by that same credit card, I was rejected, even though I had informed the credit card company before the trip that I would be using the card overseas (thankfully, I was armed with another card). After returning to Toronto, I called up the credit card hotline and the operator there told me that it's possible that Tower apparently not needing the PIN but having the purchases go through anyways may have put up some red flags and froze things on my card for security purposes. However, the operator told me that things were fine and dandy now.

After my second trip to Tower a few days later (and a satisfaction for a craving of McDonalds), I hopped onto the Hanzomon Line (purple on the Tokyo subway map) and made a beeline toward Jimbocho Station. And I was reassured when I saw the familiar blue-and-white sign of Tacto once more. Tacto, as I mentioned in the article for the shop, specializes in the older and/or rarer CDs and I gave the shelves on the first floor there a good browse before I settled on four or five discs, including Kenjiro Sakiya's BEST collection.

I also visited RecoFan in Shibuya and Yamano Music in Ginza although I didn't take any shots of those old haunts. But as you have noticed, when I go to Japan, there will always be a standing order for me to replenish my want of kayo kyoku/J-Pop.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Gamu -- Ai wa Kagero (愛はかげろう)

Yes, out of the cobwebs of my mind. I heard this once more after years and years, and the nostalgia, oh the nostalgia, started flowing through the arteries again. This is Gamu's(雅夢)"Ai wa Kagero", the folk duo's oh-so-tenderhearted debut song from September 1980. Kazuto Miura(三浦和人) and Toshikazu Nakagawa (中川敏一...I hope I got that last name right) formed Gamu (elegant dream) sometime in the late 1970s while studying at Chukyo University in Nagoya.

In May 1980, the pair entered the 19th annual Yamaha Popular Song Contest with "Ai wa Kagero" that Miura had written and composed, and subsequently won a prize in composition. It wasn't too long before it was released as the official debut and became Gamu's biggest hit, selling close to 700,000 copies. The song would also become the 13th-ranked single for 1981.

I've seen "Ai wa Kagero" translated as "Love is a Heat Haze" but I'm wondering if "Love is Fleeting" wouldn't have been a more romantic way to express it. It may have been a folk song but there is also that hint of European sentiment which gives it another interesting dimension to my ears. I guess with the additional fact that I am also a big fan of Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)from her early 80s pop music with a French twist, I probably have an affinity for that particular fusion of music from two different continents.

Nine singles and seven albums later, Gamu called it a day and decided to break up in December 1984. The above YouTube video is from their final concert, and apparently Miura got rather choked up during the performance of their most famous song.


Toshinobu Kubota -- Sunshine, Moonlight

Back in my days in Japan, there was the above commercial for Nippon Ham featuring J-funkster Toshinobu Kubota(久保田利伸)meeting cute with some street thugs (trust the ad) while selling those wieners which snap. Yup, the Japanese love franks which make sounds when you bend them. My brother came to Tokyo one year while I was there and at the Shinagawa hotel where we had breakfast, he admitted that he wasn't too fond of the snappy variety.

In any case, the funkiest commercial song ever to be tied up with frankfurters is "Sunshine, Moonlight" written and composed by Kubota himself. And it worked well as a jingle since it has that groovy hook. And both for the ad and the concert footage above, it's got that nice strutting beat to it.

"Sunshine, Moonlight" was originally the title track on Kubota's debut album in the United States, released in September 1995. The song was sung in English with Tawatha Agee on backing vocals, and it was a slower version which I was a tad disappointed by. I remember my first time listening to it on the old Onkyo and waving my hand to get it to speed up.

The album did well on the Oricon charts by hitting No. 1 and selling over 500,000 copies. And I can only imagine how many packages of snappy wieners cleared the supermarket shelves on Kubota's say-so.

Katsuji Heiwa and Dark Horse -- Soemoncho blues (宗右衛門町ブルース)

I had seen 'Soemoncho blues' here there and everywhere, heard it being sung by Kiyoshi Maekawa (前川清) - I realise I'm getting to know many different Mood Kayo songs through him - and this other comedic Enka singer Hiroshi Kadogawa (角川博). But I hadn't listened to the original by this Mood Kayo group called Katsuji Heiwa and Dark Horse (平和勝次とダークホース) until a couple of weeks ago, partially because I had no idea that this was their song.

In fact, 'Soemoncho blues' was their debut single, released in 1972 and became Dark Horse's first and probably also last hit since I've not noticed any other song by the group that particularly stood out, selling about 200 000 singles. Hmm, I wonder why they weren't invited to sing at the Kohaku. Not good enough?

The song revolving around a street by the name of Soemon was written by Katsuji Heiwa (平和勝次), also known as the front man of now reduced to a group of 3 - originally comprised of 5 members. And Shinichi Yamaji (山路進一) took care of the composing duties.

If you're wondering, Soemoncho is a street in the south part of Osaka, or as they call the minami part of town where most of the drinking establishments (out of other things) reside... the entertainment district, if you will. Mom always mentioned about going back to the minami area ever since we had a brief visit there. But the next time instead of Shinsaibashi, it's going to be Soemoncho. Can't miss a chance to visit a place featured in popular Mood Kayo song!

The video above looks like quite a recent performance and has the current Dark Horse line up of 3 members only. I don't know, it seems a little weird to just have 2 amigos as the backup singers. Probably because I'm too used to seeing at least 4 and not just 2.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Tsubasa Imamura -- Singular

Tsubasa Imamura is a very special singer. Although Japanese, she loves Brazil, the country where I was born and live. Many of her songs are inspired in Brazilian pop-rock or Bossa Nova, and she’s also learning Portuguese. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend her concert when she came to Rio de Janeiro a couple of weeks ago. I’m still kind of sad that I couldn’t watch her live, but the fact that I was able to buy her CD a couple of days later made me feel better.

I confess that Tsubasa is very diffent from the kind of artist I usually listen. She is not a polished aidoru artist, nor a classy City Pop singer, but something about her just caught my attention.

I had two options of songs here. One was the Bossa Nova styled “Hadashi no Shoujo” (click here), while the other, my chosen one, was the ballad “Singular” (means unique), which is a special song Tsubasa composed part in Portuguese (verses) and part in Japanese (chorus). All in all, it’s an introspective love song with nice passages like “Simplicidade é o tom. É como aquele disco de vinil tocando o nosso som... Você mostrou o lado A de tudo o que eu sou, e o lado B a vida me ensinou” (Simplicity is the tone. It’s like that vinyl record playing our song... You showed me the A-side of what I am, and the B-side life taught me). In the end, what I really like about Tsubasa is her soft voice. Well, it looks like she’s singing especially for the listener. Like I said, her music style is not what I listen to non-stop, but her voice is something very special. I really hope she comes back to Brazil soon.

On a side note, I had a chance to participate in a live chat with Tsubasa a couple of days ago. I asked who was her favorite Japanese female singer and her answer was Seiko Matsuda (松田聖子). Not bad for the “eternal aidoru” Seiko-chan.

“Singular” was recorded in 2013 and was included in Tsubasa’s album “por você” (means for you), which was released in Brazil in July 2014. Tsubasa worked on the song with Robert Regonati.

To finish, here's a photo of the "por você" CD. It came with a beautiful poster as well.

Kimeru -- The Pleasure of Love

I sympathize a lot with Kimeru since I was an avid Yu-Gi-Oh! fan back in 2004. One of his songs, “OVERLAP”, was used as one of the openings for the anime, and I also used to sleep with it playing non-stop (oh, the repeat button) until I got up to school every single day.

Until I couple of months ago, “OVERLAP” was the only Kimeru song I knew, so I decided to take a look on his discography to see what else I could find. My main surprise was “The Pleasure of Love”, which is a very straightforward pop/rock song with crashing synths in the background. Also, it’s ridiculously energetic and catchy. Soundwise, it reminded me of access and T.M.Revolution, two acts headed by Daisuke Asakura (浅倉大介), a famous synth player/composer. Strangely enough, Dai-chan was not responsible for “The Pleasure of Love”, although he finally worked with Kimeru on the “Starry Heavens” single later.

On a side note, it’s not only musically that Kimeru reminded me of access or T.M.Revolution. His videos are also full of homoerotic references, mostly because of Kimeru’s flamboyant image. “The Pleasure of Love”, for example, shows Kimeru lying in a bed with provocative clothes in a very sexual way. And the English sentences that are showed are very funny as well. In the end, it’s an enternaining video.

“The Pleasure of Love” was released as a single in February 2005 and reached #112 on the Oricon charts, selling 2,813 copies. Lyrics were written by Kimeru himself, while music and arrangement were done by Yoshihisa Fujita (藤田宜久).