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.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Toronto -- April 23 2018

I was writing my last article when I was called into dinner at around 5pm tonight and that's when I found out about the horrible attack earlier this afternoon in North York which is a huge area in the Greater Toronto Area. At the time of the attack (around 1:30 EDT), I was actually working on my usual translation assignment, and during that time, I didn't have any media on (which is usually the case when I'm working).

At this point, we don't have any idea what motivated the attacker to mow down pedestrians with a van. Various media folks have been yelling terrorism but it's way too early to know for certain now. What is certain is that at this writing, 9 people are dead,16 people are injured and many many more who were in the area are traumatized.

The area I'm talking about is the segment of Yonge St., the main north-south street of Toronto, between Finch Avenue and Sheppard Avenue in the northern part of the city. When I was writing the first paragraph above, I heard one of the folks on CBC saying that she often visited that area and that the carnage could have happened to anyone. I can certainly agree...I could have been there. I often visit that particular segment since a cluster of ramen restaurants has popped up in that district in recent years and one of the major movie theatres I frequent is located there. In fact, "Kayo Kyoku Plus" collaborator Larry and I went to the ramen restaurant Konjiki right there just two weeks ago for lunch.

Police have told all of the owners of those various businesses on Yonge St to close up shop and go home and so, that usual bustling section there is now a very quiet but massive crime scene. It'll probably stay that way for the next few days.

My relatives including my brother have called to make sure that we are OK and one of my former students and good friend checked up on me via Facebook. The rest of my family are also fine but there are several families out there who are enduring the ultimate horror and that is where my sympathies lie right now.

Miyako Chaki -- Chizu douri ni Hashirikitta Anata(地図どうりに走り切ったあなた)

Love the song, love the cover! As for the latter, that is the cover for singer-songwriter Miyako Chaki's(茶木みやこ)1976 album "Tobenakunaru wa"(翔べなくなるわ...Won't Be Able To Fly). Talk about a great photo to reflect City Pop of the 1970s...the singer in a denim outfit looking rather pensive as she sits in a chic drinking establishment, perhaps watching people and life go by.

J-Wiki has Chaki categorized as a folk singer, and perhaps she was earlier in her career, but this second track from "Tobenakunaru wa" is pure urban. "Chizu douri ni Hashirikitta Anata" (Running Behind The Map) sounds as the title reads: a sunrise intro followed by a speedy and soaring race through a Japanese metropolis. It's fueled by some funky keyboard and a great wacka-wacka guitar, and I would probably get the album on this song alone. Nobukazu Hioki(日置信和)provided the lyrics while Chaki came up with the fast-paced melody. Also love the instrumental bridge with the guitar and the sax, by the way.

Chaki was born and raised in Kyoto. While attending Doshisha Women's College of Liberal Arts, she and Kyoko Kobayashi(小林京子)formed a folk duo named Pink Pickles(ピンク・ピクルス)in 1970 which was so named after the shibazuke pickles from her hometown. Two singles and an album came out of the relationship before the duo broke up in 1972.

D-Pi -- Le temps de la rentrée

It was a nice Sunday yesterday. Got some really good, really seasonal weather for the first time in several months and it wasn't just me and my anime buddy but we had a guest appearance from another old friend and his son. So it was time to go out for some spicy Szechuan fare and then some dessert.

I gotta say that there are some offbeat shows this season of Spring 2018. We got another anime about dragons although this one isn't listed as a slice-of-life comedy but more of a wartime drama according to Wikipedia. Looking at the first few scenes of "Hisone to Masotan"(ひそねとまそたん...Hisone & Masotan), I thought it was a straight show about a young awkward lady trying to fulfill her dreams of becoming an ASDF pilot for Japan.

Then I saw the dragon Masotan and, nope, it wasn't going to be all that simple. Still, there is plenty of humour to be had with the main character of Hisone Amakasu(甘粕ひそね)who might have Asperger's and awkwardness, and her frenemy (?), the cranky and resentful punk Nao Kaizaki(貝崎名緒). My friend told me that Mari Okada(岡田麿里)is the screenwriter for the show, and apparently she has a penchant for killing off her characters in horrible myriad ways so perhaps I shouldn't get too attached to any of them. But then again, the notorious Gen Urobuchi(虚淵玄)was actually pretty nice (relatively speaking) on "Suisei no Gargantia"(翠星のガルガンティア...Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet), so you never know.

Although Winter 2018 didn't have any instant earworms among the anime themes (although a few of them have grown on me), it looks like Spring 2018 may unearth a few musical maggots including the ending theme for "Hisone to Masotan", a cover of the late France Gall's "Le temps de la rentrée" with the added Japanese subtitle of "Koi no Ieji (Shin Gakki)"(恋の家路(新学期)...Love's Road Home (New School Term)). As if things couldn't get even more weirder. The show has this cover of a French ye-ye tune performed by all of the Dragon Pilots or D-Pi (although not all of them have been introduced yet as of the 2nd episode) played by Misako Kuno(久野美咲)as Hisone, Tomoyo Kurosawa(黒沢ともよ)as Nao, Maki Kawase(河瀬茉希), Satomi Arai(新井里美)and Kaori Nazuka(名塚佳織). Plus, the ending credits have the characters channeling their inner American Bandstand.

The original song was a track on Gall's "Baby Pop" album from 1966 with father Robert and brother Patrice creating "Le temps de la rentrée". The song is only around a minute and change long so perhaps what I heard on the ending credits is the entire version. Short but very sweet.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Natural High -- Hajimari no Hito(始まりのヒト)

Peach cocktail

In the last several months of my stay in Japan in 2011, I had heard of this J-Drama on TV Asahi titled "Bartender"(バーテンダー)starring Masaki Aiba(相葉雅紀)from Johnny's group Arashi(嵐). I saw the commercials pitching this show and I quickly figured out that Aiba would be playing the typical J-Drama trope of a character who seemed to have one foot in reality and another one in surreality while possessing this otherworldly ability. For this show, Aiba was the bartender extraordinaire who could whip up the perfect drink to not only quench a troubled customer's thirst but miraculously heal his problems.

And I gather that this was an idea whose time had come. Bartenders the world over have been, rightly or wrongly, seen as counselors without the high fees per hour. A joke that I used to do when I was teaching English was whenever I saw one of my students plop himself/herself down in front of me looking a bit more down/stressed than usual, I took my handkerchief and pretend to wipe down the table as if I were a mixologist polishing the bar before asking "O-nayami desu ka?"(お悩みですか。Anything troubling you?).

Little did I know that "Bartender" had its origins as a manga back in 2004 and that a couple of years later, Fuji-TV even released an anime version, presumably in the late-night hours. I saw Episode 1 just this morning when I first discovered that there had been an anime about it, and yeah, sure enough, the bartender Ryu Sasakura was there in the near-secret Eden Hall bar in Ginza ready to dispense the right drink, advice and solution to the imbiber in trouble. Yeah, the premise is probably corny to all heck but wouldn't anyone enjoy that sort of treatment at a classy all-wooden temple of mixology? least, until the bill comes.

I liked the ending theme for "Bartender", "Hajimari no Hito" (The First One) as well. This was the 9th and penultimate single (December 2006) by Natural High(ナチュラル ハイ), a female duo with vocalist Yuko Shiroki(白木裕子)and pianist Kaoruko Ohtake(大嶽香子). Ohtake was responsible for words and music, and for that matter, the score for the anime itself.

Although "Hajimari no Hito" relates the story of a woman reminiscing about her first love in high school a decade after the fact, I think it also fits the bar milieu. The soft piano arrangement rather approaches that Bill Evans type of jazz that could be heard in any classy drinking establishment but the song is still a pop ballad to me. Plus, Shiroki's vocals are as enticing as that kind bartender inviting you in for a spell of good drink and banter in comfy surroundings.

"Hajimari no Hito" peaked at No. 161 on Oricon. Along with their 10 singles, Natural High released a mini-album and 2 full albums. Their run lasted between 2003 and 2008.

Yasuha -- Blue Night Blue(ブルーナイト・ブルー)

Earlier this afternoon, I received a message from the contact form from someone who has gotten into 70s and 80s Japanese music and wanted to know a little about this song by singer-songwriter Yasuha(泰葉). Yasuha is probably most famously known for the gangbusters dynamic "Fly-Day Chinatown" (yeah, I know...ROUND ONE!).


Well, I was quite happy to get the request since it had been a while since I came out with a Yasuha tune. And y'know, it's always nice to hear an 80s Japanese City Pop number with the thumping bass and growling guitar and all those quick key shifts.

The song of note here is Yasuha's 2nd single from March 1982, "Blue Night Blue" which was written by veteran lyricist Toyohisa Araki(荒木とよひさ)and composed by the singer herself. It is a let's-paint-the-town-red sort of number for enjoying the bright lights and big city of Tokyo, and considering the times when this was released, there were probably oodles to enjoy. There was also a request on what Araki's lyrics all meant, and basically it comes down to a young and beautiful couple having a "You, me and the stars" moment while having a night on the town. I'm thinking cocktails at 8 up in a hotel rooftop bar in Shinjuku. Perhaps it's my imagination but I think Yasuha may have even placed a little echo of "Fly-Day Chinatown" in the song, too.

"Blue Night Blue" was also a track on Yasuha's 2nd album "ViVid" which came out a month after the single. I think the original albums by her might be pretty hard to come by, but the song is also available on her "GOLDEN BEST" album from 2006. Anyways, if you are so inclined, you can play this and "Fly-Day Chinatown" in your car stereo while enjoying a night drive in whichever city you live in.

Anri -- Morning Flight(モーニング・フライト)

Now that the weather is finally getting more seasonal and reasonable, perhaps it's time to bring back some Anri(杏里). Always summery and vivacious!


But it's time to go way back again into Anri's earlier time in the late 1970s when she was a mere teenager. From her 2nd album "Feelin'" in 1979, this is "Morning Flight". Even though this was before her collaboration with Toshiki Kadomatsu(角松敏生), the song is a nice piece of cool summer morning regarding a woman going after the man of her dreams. From the lyrics, it sounds as if she were commuting to work in one happy daze. A cup of coffee and some strawberry danish ought to bring her out of it.

The lyrics and music were provided by Tomohiro Kobayashi(小林倫博)with arrangement by Shigeru Suzuki(鈴木茂). That intro still reminds me of Yuming's(ユーミン)presence for some reason and the overall song has hints of a 70s soul number whose title I can't remember right now. Perhaps one of you readers may know. In any case, knowing Anri for those huge 80s and early 90s hits, it's always refreshing hearing her early material. Incidentally, another song from the album is also present on the blog, "Chichuukai Dream"(地中海ドリーム).

Friday, April 20, 2018

bird -- Kami wo Hodoite(髪をほどいて)

For one of the YouTube videos for the singer bird, someone wrote down that if artists like bird actually appeared on the Kohaku Utagassen, he/she would actually watch the NHK New Year's Eve special. That's a personal opinion, of course, but I can also sympathize since I think that bird has been a vastly underrated talent. According to her article on J-Wiki, although her first three albums broke into the Top Ten of Oricon, she's never had a single that broke into that big list; the closest single was her 4th, "Sora no Hitomi"(空の瞳), in 1999 which peaked at No. 14.

And here is this wonderful number "Kami wo Hodoite" (Undo Your Hair) which was bird's 19th single from September 2004 which apparently didn't even chart. Unfortunately, it isn't included in my copy of "Free Soul Collection" whose picture you see at the top. This is one of those hair-standing-on-the-back-of-my-neck discoveries when I first heard it last night.

It's one of those classy numbers that I can't quite categorize definitively. It seems to weave very comfortably through pop, groove, jazz and J-AOR. But what I can say is that it's just a great song to feel the melody and bird's wonderful voice. It is truly birdsong. And the interesting thing is that bird sings a lot of "Kami wo Hodoite" in this lower register.

bird herself came up with the lyrics of the electricity of falling in love while Takaki Horigome(堀込高樹)came up with the great music. Horigome is one-half of the brother duo Kiriniji which came up with the just-as-lovely "Aliens" back in 2000. Wouldn't it be nice indeed to have some of that city groove in the Kohaku?