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.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Keisuke Kuwata -- Wakai Hiroba(若い広場)

Happy New Year to all those in East Asia and slightly beyond. We're still about 9 hours away before 2018 but the Kohaku Utagassen, of course, has run its course again. As usual, it's been taped onto VHS in my household; however, I really can't say anything about it just yet since I only have seen the last third of the special (sorry, I'm not getting up at 5:15 am to watch even that live). There will be the edited broadcast later tonight on TV Japan.

(the music video takes a break for a minute
to advertise Kuwata's album)

I've been meaning to write about Keisuke Kuwata's(桑田佳祐)"Wakai Hiroba" (A Young Meeting Place) which was the theme song for the previous NHK morning serial drama "Hiyokko"(ひよっこ)starring Kasumi Arimori(有村架純), and seeing Kuwata perform it on the Kohaku was the final trigger. Incidentally, I think he was probably the only male singer who could follow up immediately after Namie Amuro's(安室奈美恵)much-advertised final appearance on the Kohaku without being forgotten (even so, there was a huge Twitter storm for Namie right afterwards).

What can I say about "Wakai Hiroba" aside from the fact that it's one of the more heartwarming and old-fashioned theme songs I've come across in a while? Right from the harmonic "pon, pon, pon" in the intro to Kuwata and company locking arms and swaying happily, there is that feeling of congenial camaraderie that brought together the entertainers on those old variety programs in Japan and the viewers in their wooden homes. In fact, I am also reminded me of some of those 60s kayo sung by folks like Yuzo Kayama(加山雄三). No surprise since that was the time in which "Hiyokko" was set.

If I'm not mistaken, "Wakai Hiroba" wasn't ever put out as a single but is part of Kuwata's 5th album "Garakuta"(がらくた)which came out in August of this year. It reached No. 1 and stayed at the top for 2 weeks so perhaps within a little while, we should know how it fared on the yearly charts.

Y' would have been nice to have heard "Wakai Hiroba" as this news was playing about the wrap-up of filming on "Hiyokko". There wouldn't have been a dry eye anywhere in the house.

OK, that was the last article for 2017, at least from me. And perhaps it may be the last one from me at the relatively torrid pace I've been keeping for nearly 6 years since "KKP" began. Gotta slow down. But would like to thank Noelle, Marcos and the other contributors for all of their articles this year again, and all of the readers for keeping in touch with the blog. Hope all of you have a Happy New Year wherever you are!

Minako Yoshida -- Monsters In Town

It's been nearly 2 years since I put up a bona fide Minako Yoshida(吉田美奈子)article. The main reason is that it's awfully hard to find a YouTube video of any of her songs with the scuttlebutt being that Yoshida or her representatives have had them taken them down lickety-split. Obviously she has every right to do so since the videos mean that folks are getting free listens without any compensation to the artist or relevant record company but still it's kinda too bad for folks like myself who like to talk about them and tell other folks about these great songs. And no, I'm not grinding any sesame seeds here (the Japanese language equivalent for buttering someone up) when I say that she is one of the best Japanese singers Japan I've heard, so she is well worth talking about.

To proceed, I would like to devote 2017's final Album article on "Kayo Kyoku Plus" to Yoshida's November 1981 album, "Monsters In Town". The album starts off with the immense "TOWN" for which I've already given an article. As I said there, it's the one reason that I parted with my yen gratefully to get the CD. Yoshida wrote and composed all of the tracks here.

Track 2 is "Lovin' You" which is one soulful ballad and love song perhaps to the city below. "Lovin' You" is as sweepingly romantic as "TOWN" is super energetic, and both reflect a lovely life in the metropolis.

"Mado"(窓...Moment of Twilight)is an even creamier soulful ballad which as the English title says is a tune that is great for those listeners during sunset while contemplating life over a drink.

On the other hand, "Monster Stomp" is a little over 5 minutes of funk and strutting, and as that title may hint, it could be some backing music for Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra literally hitting the town. The only difference here is that each of the monsters would be sporting Sennheisers and listening to Parliament Funkadelic.

If you can't reach Nicovideo, you can try listening to the iTunes page with excerpts from "Monsters In Town".

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Los Indios -- Shirisugitanone(知りすぎたのね)

Reading Marcos V's article on that collaboration between NGT48's Rika Nakai(中井りか)and veteran Mood Kayo group Los Indios(ロス・インディオス)the other day had me thinking about them once more. Not that the end of the year means tons of visits to bars and other types of watering holes in Tokyo; I would think that the final week would be spent sprucing up the home and cooking up all that osechi. Instead the days leading up to January 1st just gets me into that traditional music type of mood, and Mood Kayo is one such genre.

It may not have garnered as much acclaim as their "Como Esta Akasaka?"(コモエスタ赤坂), but Los Indios' "Shirisugitanone" (Know Me Too Well) was released in the same year, 1968, as their arguably most famous song and it has that comforting mix of Mood and Latin that just brings up images of walking through various tony districts of Tokyo at night such as the aforementioned Akasaka.


Written and composed by the veteran songwriter Rei Nakanishi(なかにし礼), the lovely melody is paired up with some sorrowful lyrics about a fellow whose now-erstwhile girlfriend has dumped him because she didn't like the "warts-and-all" part of him. Maybe it was news of another affair or he was in deep with a bad doesn't matter, he's all by his lonesome once more.

Despite the sad story, it's still a wonderfully natsukashii kayo to hear and someday I may have to try it out at karaoke....that is, if I can meet up with a bunch of like-minded amateur singers. I don't think my old buddies in Japan are really all that much into Japanese music in least, not into Mood Kayo.


Almost the end of another year and NHK is broadcasting New Year's Eve stuff including the run-up for this year's Kohaku Utagassen. Now, before we do end another year of "Kayo Kyoku Plus", I have to provide one song that I had forgotten about.

20 years ago, when I was still, at least nominally, watching Japanese dramas in Ichikawa, there was one show on Fuji-TV for the fall season called "Eve ~ Santa Claus Dreaming" which starred Toshiaki Karasawa(唐沢寿明)and Riona Hazuki(葉月里緒菜), the latter who was the IT Girl of J-Dorama and commercials for that particular year of 1997.

To be honest, I don't remember very much about the drama and basically I abandoned it after a few episodes; things were greatly accelerated by the fact that I did head home for the Holidays back to Canada in December. But the one thing that did stick in my mind was the theme song for "Eve" which was called "MOTHER" and performed by PUFFY.

Written and composed by Tamio Okuda(奥田民生), it was a "good times" sort of song although Okuda's lyrics have some wistfulness about getting through a rough patch by remembering a happier past. There was indeed a music video for "MOTHER" that I saw in excerpts on the various music ranking shows and at the end of "Eve" but it was only tonight that I finally got to see it in its entirety. Had no idea about the stop-motion animation with the dolls, though.

Once again, my nostalgia was sparked by the mellow guitar pop of it all. Visions of Spitz, Tamio and Mr. Children danced over my head. "MOTHER" was released in December 1997 as PUFFY's 5th single and peaked at No. 5. It was placed into the duo's 2nd album "JET CD". That came out in April 1998 after which it hit No. 1 and was a million-seller. Despite the release date and that title for the Fuji-TV show, though, I have never really considered it to be a Xmas tune.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Top 10 Albums of 2016

1.  Arashi                                        Are You Happy?
2.  Sandaime J Soul Bros.              The JSB Legacy
3.  Hikaru Utada                             Fantome
4.  Kazumasa Oda                          Ano Hi, Ano Toki
5.  Various Artists                          High & Low Original Best Album
6.  RADWIMPS                             Kimi no Na wa.
7.  Nogizaka 46                              Sorezore no Isu
8.  Masaharu Fukuyama                 Fuku no Oto
9.  Ikimonogakari                           Cho-Ikimonogakari ~ Tennen Kinen Member
                                                       Best Selection
10. Hey!Say!Jump                         DEAR.

Yumi Arai/Elephant Kashimashi -- Kageriyuku Heya(翳りゆく部屋)

Long ago, I'd bought a 2-CD pack titled "Super Best of Yumi Arai" which of course held a good chunk of The Queen of New Music's musical output from the early to mid-1970s.

At that point, although I had already collected quite a few of Yuming's(ユーミン)works (80s and 90s) since she changed her last name to Matsutoya(松任谷由実), I hadn't really known too much about her early discography when she was still an Arai(荒井由実). So these two discs were pretty eye-opening. In particular, the final song on CD 2 had as much impact on me as her 12th single "Futou wo Wataru Kaze"(埠頭を渡る風)from 1978.

"Kageriyuku Heya" (The Darkening Room) starts off with this regal pipe organ which I found out was located at St. Mary's Cathedral Church in the Mejiro district of Tokyo (don't bother tracking it down, it was replaced by a new instrument in 2004). That introduction made me wonder whether there was special significance about this particular tune.

As it turns out, "Kageriyuku Heya" was not only Yuming's 7th single from March 1976 (the B-side is the gentler "Velvet Easter") but it was additionally her final single as Yumi Arai. So without looking at the lyrics, I had always wondered whether the song was meant to act as a coda to that first era of New Music or to commemorate the fact that she was about to get married. Well, the answer to that According to the lyrics' translation that I found at "Misa-chan's J-Pop Blog", the elegiac ballad is a pretty epic aftermath description of a romance which has gone down in flames. I guess if a relationship has to die, let it die hard.

I have to admit that I didn't like the song at first but then again, my ears and mind took their time to get used to and then enjoy Yumi Arai's entire catalogue of music. Now "Kageriyuku Heya" stands out as one of the more interesting songs that I have ever heard from Yuming. It hit No. 10 on Oricon and ended up as the 43rd-ranking single of 1976. Although it was never placed on an original album, it was placed on Yuming's very first BEST compilation, "YUMING BRAND" which was released some 3 months after this single, and then a much later collection of her hits "sweet,bitter sweet〜YUMING BALLAD BEST" in 2001. Of course, there is "Super Best of Yumi Arai" that came out in 1996.

Elephant Kashimashi(エレファントカシマシ)is a rock band that I had heard about for years but only because the lead singer, Hiroji Miyamoto(宮本浩次), had a penchant for scraggling up his hair constantly whenever he showed up for TV interviews. Medicated shampoo was my usual suggestion for him.

But I have to say that Miyamoto and his band give a rousing rock n' blues version of "Kageriyuku Heya". And the vocalist reminds me quite a bit of Masamune Kusano(草野マサムネ)from Spitz in the quieter parts of his delivery. Elephant Kashimashi's cover of the song was recorded on their 18th album "STARTING OVER" from January 2008 which peaked at No. 7 on Oricon.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Works of Etsuko Yamakawa(山川恵津子)

Etsuko Yamakawa is a name that I have seen through various liner notes over the years but it wasn't until her lovely performance in the one-off duo Tohoku Shinkansen(東北新幹線)that I really got interested in what she had to say within her creations.

Yamakawa was born in 1956 in Kyoto. She attended Ferris University in Yokohama where she majored in the Faculty of Music. From her student days, she was involved with the Yamaha Music Foundation working with various musicians as a tour member starting with singer-songwriter Hiroko Taniyama(谷山浩子). If I remember from reading the liner notes for Tohoku Shinkansen's sole album "Thru Traffic", the foundation was also where she met her partner, Hiroshi Narumi(鳴海寛). Following graduation, she began her activities as a composer, arranger, music producer and a studio musician (keyboardist). Probably one of her earliest works was for Junko Yagami(八神純子), the lovely "Be My Best Friend" in 1980.

One of the things that I noticed while scrolling down Yamakawa's body of work on J-Wiki was that she participated in the creation of songs for those 1980s aidoru such as Kyoko Koizumi(小泉今日子). For Kyon-Kyon, she arranged her 18th single "Hyaku Percent Danjo Kyousai"(100%男女交際...100% Men And Women Dating)which was released in April 1986. The songwriters were Keiko Aso and Koji Makaino(麻生圭子・馬飼野康二), and the song went as high as No. 2, eventually becoming the 86th-ranked single of the year.

Although Koizumi was apparently not too thrilled with the final title, "Hyaku Percent Danjo Kyousai" won Yamakawa a Best Arrangement prize at the Japan Record Awards for that year. In fact, it was the first time that a woman won the award.

Marina Watanabe(渡辺満里奈)was another 80s aidoru for which Yamakawa had come up with several songs. One was her 2nd single, "White Rabbit kara no Message"(ホワイトラビットからのメッセージ...A Message From the White Rabbit)which was composed and arranged by Yamakawa and then released on New Year's Day 1987. Yasushi Akimoto(秋元康)was the lyricist. My impression so far is that Yamakawa provided quite a number of sprightly tunes for her young charges. It hit the top spot on Oricon and became the 37th-ranked single of the year. Apparently the animal of the title came about since 1987 was the Year of the Rabbit.

I mentioned Hiroko Taniyama at the top there so this is a song that she wrote and composed titled "Country Girl"(カントリーガール), her 8th single from March 1980. Yamakawa also arranged this one about a young man enthralled with the lass in the title. It got as high as No. 55 on the charts.

Before I discovered that Yamakawa was providing a lot of aidoru material, my impressions of her were that she took care of the mellower side of pop back in those days or she was into the City Pop side of things. "Tomete, Passio"(とめて、パシオ...Stop It, Passio), a track from Etsuko Sai's(彩恵津子)5th album, "PASSIO", from October 1986 is a Yamakawa composition that fulfills the latter impression. Chinfa Kan(康珍化), under his pseudonym of Shirusu Morita(森田記), provided the words to this mysterious song of the night. Yamakawa is even one of the backup singers here.

I did find a mellower song here in the form of "Aki no Jasmine Tea"(秋のジャスミン・ティー...Autumn Jasmine Tea)by veteran Yukari Ito(伊東ゆかり). Not sure whether Yamakawa composed, arranged or both but there is a nice touch of Latin with this one. Unfortunately, I couldn't find out who the lyricist was, but the song was originally part of Ito's 1984 album "fado".

For my last song, I've gone with Yuko Imai's(今井優子)cool "HOTEL TWILIGHT" from her 1988 album "VOYAGEUR". Yamakawa arranged this number written by the aforementioned Keiko Aso and composed by Hideya Nakazaki(中崎英也), and it rather gleams with that champagne-on-the-town sound that I often associated with some of the female pop singers at the end of the 1980s.

On one Mixi blog, one writer stated that he took a listen to "HOTEL TWILIGHT" and remarked that he had initially thought it was a Swingout Sister song with those strings and dramatic arrangement. The statement knocked me for a loop since I finally put two and two together. That champagne-on-the-town sound in that certain corner of J-Pop of the time might have been inspired by the British group. So, perhaps I can say that as much as the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan probably inspired City Pop at the beginning of the 1980s, Swingout Sister may have influenced the urban contemporary tunes of Japan at the end of that decade.

To sum up, Yamakawa has created a wider palette of music than I had expected, ranging from sweet aidoru to cool urban. Of course, J-Wiki probably hasn't included every single work that she ever made so I will continue to look forward to any further discoveries.

Cindy -- Angel Touch

About 18 months ago, I was first made aware of the lovely stylings of the late singer-songwriter Cindy. Never heard of her or saw her on TV any time during my two stints in Japan but then back in the summer of 2016, I discovered some of her material from her 2nd album "Angel Touch" which came out in June 1990.

The song that first drew me in was "Watashi Tachi wo Shinjiteite"(私達を信じていて), a mid-tempo R&B number that grabbed me by the short-n-curlies (sorry for that analogy) and has yet to let go. The arrangement was heavenly (the Future Funksters certainly agreed) but what made it all gel was Cindy's lovely voice.

From "Watashi Tachi wo Shinjiteite" and a hearty recommendation in the Comments section for the song, I decided that I had to get the album. And thanks to Tower Records, I was finally able to purchase "Angel Touch" earlier this month as part of my Xmas bonanza. I put it on the stereo earlier today and I am now thrilled that I got it. It is truly ambrosia for the ears.

For example, "Surprise" which starts the album off. That is one lovely intro with a hint of Latin as Cindy takes us on a mellow romantic ride. Chinfa Kan(康珍化), who also took care of another pop chanteuse in the previous decade, wrote the song with Cindy taking care of the melody. It also happened to be the coupling song for "Watashi Tachi wo Shinjiiteite" when it was released as a single.

I also like Track 2 "Setsunakute"(せつなくて...Heartrending)written by Masami Tozawa(戸沢暢美)with music and arrangement by Rod Antoon. Was able to hear a lot of the old R&B tropes from that turn of that particular decade which got the nostalgia going. After listening to this one, I just went "Wow! And this was almost a decade before the arrival of Misia".

The same duo behind the classic "Watashi Tachi wo Shinjiteite", Kan and songwriter/musician Hiroshi Narumi(鳴海寛), also wove this splendid ballad "Special Ever Happened" for Cindy which also turned out to be her 5th single from November 1990. Warm brandy for the soul. Miho Nakayama(中山美穂)would make a cover of the song in the following year for her album "De eaya".

"Candle Light" is some nice downtown funk with Cindy's great vocals and sax. Listening to this one, I just had to wonder if there had been any sort of duet between her and Sing Like Talking's Chikuzen Sato(佐藤竹善). Rui Serizawa(芹沢類)provided the lyrics with Cindy and Yuji Toriyama(鳥山雄司)coming up with the music.

Plenty of other tracks remain but I will leave those to future articles. In any case, as the commenter mentioned, I owed it to myself to get "Angel Touch", and happy to say that this could be one of those heavy rotation discs.

fairy w!ink -- Tenshi wa Doko ni Iru? (天使はどこにいる?)

I don’t really know why, and it probably don’t even have a reason, but Wink became somewhat trendy nowadays among aidoru acts paying tribute to the long gone 80s aidoru era. Initially, I was planning to write a bigger post about this, commenting every act who payed homage to them this year (well, three acts, but that’s already a good number), but one of them, which is Avex’s doll-like duo FEMM, just recorded an updated cover of “Samishii Nettaigyo” (淋しい熱帯魚), and the other, lovely and trashy aidoru duo Bed In (ベッド・イン), didn’t quite succeed in making a good impression on me with their Wink tribute, “CO.CO.RO Gradation” (COCORO グラデーション). Last but not least, there was fairy w!ink, an HKT48 subunit comprised of Misaki Aramaki (荒巻美咲) and Hirona Unjo (運上弘菜) that ended inspiring me to write about this subject in the first place.

When I was looking for some random stuff, I came across the cover of fairy w!ink’s single “Tenshi wa Doko ni Iru?” and thought I was hallucinating while seeing a Wink single I didn’t know in front of my eyes. Soon I realized it was a tribute done right, but I’d never expect it to come from the AKB48 factory. While I remember they’ve already done something similar with Seiko Matsuda before, I didn’t think Wink was quite as iconic as Seiko-chan. Now I see they are probably iconic enough, since three acts decided to pay tribute to them on the same year.

“Tenshi wa Doko ni Iru?”, which was released in December 2017, is a good mashup of Wink and AKB48, both in the visuals and the sonority. We can hear the melodrama that’s typical Wink, with the piano and all the classic European flourishes backed by dance beats, while childish vocals coming from the two HKT48 members just makes the whole thing more tender. As for the visuals, they emulate Wink’s seriousness and porcelain doll-like expressions, but with some cheesy and cheap outfits… which, I think, is something AKB48 and its sister groups could do better at this point (I do realize that they release a video for each song on their singles, but Wink was never that cheap-looking, even if they wore some plastic accessories and over-the-top outfits all the time).

Overall, I liked how the melody and arrangement were done in pure Wink fashion, while still sounding somewhat modern (at least for AKB48 and J-Pop’s overall standards nowadays). In the end, I kept thinking about some of Wink’s own songs, like “Kitto Atsui Kuchibiru ~Remain~” (きっと熱いくちびる ~リメイン~) for example – and that’s a great accomplishment since we’re talking about a tribute song –, but also meltia’s “Shirobana no Corsage” (白薔薇のコサージュ).

Lyrics were written by Yasushi Akimoto (秋元康), while music was composed by Daisuke Toyama (外山大輔). As for the arrangement, APAZZI was the responsible.


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Tatsuhiko Yamamoto -- Pacific Blue(パシフィックブルー)

Heck of a time to be writing about a summer song but, hey, if it warms up any of the Toronto readers here, I think I will have done my good deed for the day.

I had this video featuring Tatsuhiko Yamamoto's(山本達彦)"Pacific Blue" languishing in my bookmarks for the longest time, so I figured it was time to pull it out. A track on his 1982 album "Taiyo ga Ippai"(太陽がいっぱい...Le Plein Soleil), Yamamoto and lyricist Machiko Ryu(竜真知子)created this paean to lost loves everywhere. Apparently, the colour of heartbreak is a deep Pacific blue. The ballad almost sounds like music that Mayumi Itsuwa(五輪真弓)would has that certain ennui to it except for that underlying electric guitar rumbling away and then another guitar wearing its heart on its own sleeve at the end.

Miku Hatsune -- Saraba Siberia Tetsudo (さらばシベリア鉄道)

It's been a frigid week lying between Xmas and New Year's. The high temperature was no higher than -13 degrees Celsius and the wind chill factor made it feel like -30! Been a while since I felt it that cold.

However, I still made it out downtown to meet up with some friends for some Holiday lunch down at Kingyo, one of my favourite izakaya in Toronto. Boy, did that tonkatsu taste good especially with the cold out there.

One of my friends who is, like me, a fellow translator mentioned that he did take a peek at the blog and was impressed by the sheer volume (thank you by the way). He also stated that his kids really enjoyed the song stylings of one Miku Hatsune(初音ミク). They had even seen a Miku Hatsune concert out in Mississauga, the city just west of Toronto. I never got that opportunity although I had been interested in one that was held at The Sony Centre near Lake Ontario a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, some weeks or months beforehand, the tickets had already sold out just like that.

So on behalf of my friend, I will dedicate this article to the internationally famous Vocaloid. This time, I went with her singing an old kayo classic called "Saraba Siberia Tetsudo" which was originally performed by Hiromi Ohta(太田裕美)back in 1980. Considering today's weather, it really did feel like Siberia. To be honest, I don't know when the Hatsune cover came out so I will go with the original year.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Meiko Nakahara -- Ni-ji made no Cinderella -FRIDAY MAGIC-(2時までのシンデレラ-FRIDAY MAGIC-)

In another case of listening and writing about a few tracks from the specific album and then getting interested in the whole album, I finally got my copy of Meiko Nakahara's(中原めいこ)"Ni-ji made no Cinderella -FRIDAY MAGIC-" (Cinderella Til 2) from December 1982. Up to this point, I had already given my contributions to "Go Away", "Coconuts no Kataomoi"(ココナッツの片想い)and "Friday Magic".

Just like those tracks, "Ni-ji made no Cinderella" is basically a musical package of the party life in early 1980s Japan. There is that old saying about there being a million stories in the city. Well, judging from the above tracks and some of the others that I'm going to cover, they seem to represent a few of those urban stories during a night in Tokyo, perhaps Roppongi. All of the tracks were written and composed by Nakahara who, in a whimsical sense, could have been overlooking those stories while perched on that crescent moon as seen on the cover.

The partying starts off right from the first track "Fantasy", a story about tripping the light fantastic on a disco ball-glittered dance floor in some club such as the Lexington Queen. There's something pleasantly Earth Wind & Fire about Track 1 (aside from the fact that both artists share a number with the same title).

Track 2 is "Gigolo"(ジゴロ)about a woman who loves a man who loves her and a lot of other women, and the nail-biting insecurities that come with the knowledge. It's as disco as "Fantasy" but the arrangement also has that slip of melancholy in there.

"Pearl no Manicure"(パールのマニキュア...Pearl Nail Polish)has a bit more of a 50s pop ballad sound. Nakahara sings about lamenting over a lost love and whether she will ever put on that coat of that nail polish that her former beau liked so much.

"Koi no Yoin"(恋の余韻...Aftertaste of Love)takes things from raunchy Roppongi to classier Omotesando where a lady wants to take a breather from her lover so that she can savor/replay the wonderful time she has had with the lad. The music is still City Pop in my estimation (even has a bit of Doobie Bros. keyboard work) but without the disco ball. In fact, I would say that it even approaches EPO's breezy area of expertise.

The co-title track "Ni-ji made no Cinderella" finishes the album off as a mellow ballad celebrating a late-night dinner or drink in Prince Charming's apartment or even Cinderella's place. A nice way to bring Nakahara's 2nd release...and an a close.

Ryuko Mizuta -- Uwasa no Minato (噂の港)

Ever since Noelle Tham introduced Ryuko Mizuta (水田竜子) to this blog through her cover of Miyuki Utsumi’s “Yopparacchatta” (酔っぱらっちゃった), I became a somewhat distant fan, following her singles releases and even listening to her back catalogue in the attempt of knowing her better. Now, thanks to some nice shopping points I had accumulated on CDJapan, I decided to buy one of her yearly best selections and finally have “Yopparacchatta”, among other great songs from her catalogue I discovered, in my collection. The bad thing is, since I’ve bought the CD very recently, and it didn’t leave the warehouses yet, it’ll certainly take some time until it finally arrives in Brazil.

From what I’ve heard so far, Ryuko’s work can be separated into two categories: the first, with a more Kayo Kyoku flavor, covers her first years; and the second, in which her true enka tunes shines, is something she’s been into since the mid-00s. Personally, I enjoy the first category a lot more, but some of her enka tunes have gradually grown on me, which is the case of “Uwasa no Minato”, a single released back in February 2015.

When I started searching for Ryuko’s live performances on YouTube, the one song that constantly appeared to me was “Uwasa no Minato”, and that’s probably because it was one of her newest songs at the time. So, after watching a lot of different live performances of it, I ended liking it a lot more than other similar songs she’d released in the past. I don’t know, maybe the melodic shifts were interesting enough to my ears, or it was simply the result of repeatedly listening. It also helps that, besides the usual heavy singing, “Uwasa no Minato” isn’t overdramatic as some other songs in the genre.

Aside from the music… oh, boy, I do love Ryuko Mizuta’s figure. If her singing talent wasn’t enough, she’s so classy and sexy that I can watch her sing even the most boring enka songs and still be fascinated.

Lyrics were written by Mitsuo Ikeda (池田充男), while music was composed by Hideo Mizumori (水森英夫). As for the arrangement, Toshiaki Maeda (前田俊明) was the responsible.


Ebisu Muscats -- TOKYO Sexy Night (TOKYOセクシーナイト)

Last month I finished watching a Japanese reality show on Netflix (produced in partnership with Fuji TV) called Terrace House (テラスハウス). Initially, I grew interested because it was different from the reality shows aired in Brazil, like Big Brother, since it didn’t have a big money prize at the end of the show, and, basically, the participants could maintain their ordinary lives while living in the house (including jobs, dates, college and everything else). Also, if someone felt tired of the whole thing, he/she could simply leave the house and a new participant would arrive to take their place (or bed, to be more specific), which was something that happened a lot, since the show aired for 45 weeks. In the end, they were just a bunch (always six, three guys and three girls) of strangers sharing a house and living their normal lives while being filmed (well, not very normal life, since they knew they were being filmed, and could also watch already aired episodes of the show while still in the house).

About the show’s soundtrack, I confess it was pretty generic and boring stuff derivative of what American pop music has to offer nowadays. So, one could expect cheesy R&B-like songs, or even some atrocious anonymous hip-hop tunes during some scenes. The thing is, since the show was broadcasted worldwide, I think our always rigid Japanese talent agencies and record companies didn’t give permission to proper J-Pop songs being used. With that in mind, why am I talking about this show? I’ll get there in a minute.

At one point, an aspiring artist called Misaki Tamori (田森美咲) arrived at Terrace House as a new participant and she quickly became my favorite person in the show, thanks to a bubbly personality and the tough rejection she had to overcome after declaring her love to a fellow participant (coincidentally, a Brazilian guy, but with Japanese heritage). And just like happened with each participant, after a while, the show made clear what Misaki did to earn some money while living in Tokyo (she was born in Hokkaido): she was a member of infamous aidoru group Ebisu Muscats (恵比寿★マスカッツ), which originally debuted in 2011 and was, mostly, if not all, comprised of AV and Gravure aidoru.

Misaki Tamori

Personally, I remember being positively surprised with the idea of a sexy aidoru group around 2012~2013, but Ebisu Muscats’ songs were very similar to what other aidoru groups were doing at the time, much like following the boring “AKB48 quality pattern”. Time passed by, the group disbanded in 2013 and was revived again in 2015 with a new line-up, but I didn’t give them a new chance at all. It was only after I discovered Misaki was a member of the new Ebisu Muscats that I decided to listen to some of their newest songs.

“TOKYO Sexy Night”, my selected song for the article, is, by any means, a revolutionary song or something like that, but a good slice of terribly sexy disco tune that could have originated from an underground cabaret or even a foggy late 70s erotic b-movie. It tries to sound luxurious, and that’s where the joke starts… in reality, it’s a cheap sound backed by some awkward singing by the girls, which is always hilarious. If that wasn’t enough, the chorus is very catchy and , which makes the song a winner in my book.

In the end, I wasn’t even able to find Misaki in the music video, and can’t really tell if she was there at all, but I like the song a lot and that’s enough. Now, I may have finished watching Terrace House, but “TOKYO Sexy Night” is an indirect heritage I owned from the show.

“TOKYO Sexy Night” was released in November 2015 and reached #29 on the Oricon chart. Lyrics were written by Maccoi, while music was composed by Face 2 fAKE.


Rika Nakai and LOS INDIOS -- Daiteyaccha Sakuragicho (抱いてやっちゃ桜木町)

I would never expect to see LOS INDIOS paired with an NGT48 member any time, but now we’re here with this song called “Daiteyaccha Sakuragicho”. To be honest, this is very wrong in so many levels that I can’t even start, but the possibility of this outrageous combination is the main reason why I love Japanese pop music in the first place.

“Daiteyaccha Sakuragicho” is a coupling track to the Type-B edition of NGT48’s “Sekai wa Doko Made Aozora na no ka?” (世界はどこまで青空なのか?) single, which was released in December 2017. As a song, it’s a return to Showa Era Kayo Kyoku in great style, and I even enjoy Rika Nakai's awkward squeaky vocals backed by the Latin beat, a wailing guitar, dramatic strings and LOS INDIOS’ harmonies. Like I said earlier, it doesn’t work properly, but its audacity makes up for all the bad things. It vaguely reminds me “Kudokinagara Azabu Juuban” (口説きながら麻布十番), a song released by the extinct SDN48 with Mino Monta (みの もんた) back in 2011.

The “Sekai wa Doko Made Aozora na no ka?” single reached #2 on the Oricon chart, selling 148,442 copies in the first week. Lyrics for the song were written by Yasushi Akimoto (秋元康), while music was composed by Kensuke Toyoda (豊田健甫). As for the arrangement, Makoto Wakatabe (若田部誠) was the responsible.


Monday, December 25, 2017

Michie Tomizawa -- White Christmas

Well, since I did mention her in passing in the last article, and I'm sure at least some of you went "HUH?!" when you read about her in that article, I think my last J-Xmas article for this season can be on this lady.

Seiyuu Michie Tomizawa(富沢美智恵), aka the snarky Rei Hino/Sailor Mars from the original TV Asahi anime "Sailor Moon"(セーラームーン), performed her own sweet version of "White Christmas" as a contribution to the Xmas album "Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon SuperS: Christmas For You"(美少女戦士セーラームーンSuperS Christmas For You)in December 1995. The arrangement, notably the strings, is such that it actually sounds like it could mesh in well with the original background music of the series.

Although mentions that this particular album is out of print, I think Amazon Japan has scrounged up a few copies here and there. After all, for fans, it just wouldn't be a Christmas if it isn't a Sailor Christmas.

Chris Hart/Chemistry/BENI/Kick The Can Crew/Beat Ratio -- Christmas Eve(クリスマスイブ)

Happy Christmas to all of you this day...or perhaps it's more like Happy Boxing Day or simply sympathies for your massive hangover.

The movie "White Christmas" (1954) has once again made its annual appearance on TV here. It's one of the favourites of the season in my household. But of course, the song itself is one of the most famous Xmas tunes in existence and therefore has been covered by just about everyone ranging from Barbra Streisand to Sailor Mars.

Five years ago, one of the first J-Xmas tunes I wrote about here on the blog was Japan's equivalent of "White Christmas", "Christmas Eve" by Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎). It has also been covered a number of times by various artists in both English and Japanese. Ah, yes, I know the above is a parody of the famous JR commercial featuring the song.

The first cover of "Christmas Eve" that I had ever heard was the rap version by hip-hop group Kick The Can Crew when they released their "Christmas Eve Rap" as their 4th single in November 2001. Peaking at No. 5 on Oricon, it sold approximately 400,000 copies. The band never placed it in an original album since it was a seasonal song but it is a track on their "Best Album 2001~2003" from November 2003. That album hit No. 1 and became the 44th-ranked album for 2004.

Several years later in 2008, the R&B duo Chemistry crooned their own take on the song through their album of ballads called "Winter of Love". The album came out in November and hit No. 7 on the charts.

Okinawan singer BENI then gave the English version of "Christmas Eve" a whirl on her own album of covers titled "COVERS:2" from November 2012. It peaked at No. 5.

Exactly 2 years later, Chris Hart sang his rendition of the Yamashita classic in his Xmas album "Christmas Hearts" which peaked at No. 8. Out of the versions mentioned so far, I think I like Hart's cover the best.

Yesterday on Xmas Eve, I received a friendly greeting from a fellow by the name of Beat Ratio from Australia who also shares my affinity for City Pop and 1980s Japan in general. He's been interested in breaking into the music industry and heading to Japan so he showed me his self-made video and cover of "Christmas Eve". I asked him if I could upload it here and he was very gracious in allowing me to do so.

Also if he is interested, I would also like to ask Beat Ratio why he wanted to cover this particular song by Yamashita. In any case, it's just another 364 days before Xmas Eve again.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

My Kinda Town, Asakusa Is!

Ought to be slapping myself upside the back of my head like the Gibbs Slap since I totally omitted this part of my visit to Tokyo last month. I got my reminder after just reading about Noelle's own return to Asakusa.

As with Noelle, my visit to Asakusa was a homecoming of sorts since between 1995 and 1997, that was where I used to work as an English teacher at the local branch of NOVA, on the 3rd floor over the neighbourhood KFC (on Xmas Day, I could work and have my special dinner all in the same building!) just across from Asakusa Station.

It was good seeing the old streets again filled with a whole lot of overseas and Japanese tourists.

Again, my friend Danny and I were exploring the area. One of my old friends from Tokyo suggested that I try a place called Asakusa Menchi(浅草メンチ) which served small versions of menchikatsu, which is a deep-fried loose hamburger (the ultimate comfort food). So we dropped by and ordered one for 200 yen each. Once again, my friend was spot-on. Asakusa Menchi is just a stand so we just ate standing in front of the place, and it looks like our presence didn't go unnoticed by some other tourists so they started to take interest and buying some of the mini-menchi. Hey, anything to help a small business make some income, eh?

Of course, a visit to Sensoji Temple was a requirement.

Of course, as has been the nature of Tokyo as a whole especially in the last three years, there have been some changes. A huge Richmond Hotel has been plunked down into Asakusa, and then there has been the rise of a massive Don Quixote (think a Dollarama on acid) at one edge of the neighbourhood. It was about as glitzy as Las Vegas but then again, it would be difficult to imagine buying some of those special Japan-only bags of Kit Kat in a casino.

When it comes to Asakusa, though, I can think of one song that is about the area, "Asakusa Shimai"(浅草姉妹)by the Komadori Shimai(こまどり姉妹).

Masayuki Suzuki -- I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus

Well, we're less than 24 hours away from Xmas here. But of course, in Japan, it's already the 25th so Merry Xmas to my old friends over there.

As I was mentioning yesterday, I was wondering whether Masayuki Suzuki(鈴木雅之)had ever come out with his own Xmas single. I did encounter this YouTube video by uploader ayatin M of Martin giving his distinctively Martinesque spin on a Xmas classic "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus", otherwise known in Japan as "Mama ga Santa ni Kiss Shita"(ママがサンタにキッスした).

According to ayatin M, it was most likely one of the 2011 episodes and sure enough I was able to find out through J-Wiki that the song was included on his second album of cover songs "DISCOVER JAPAN" from September of that year that got as high as No. 18 on Oricon. The Japanese lyrics were provided by Kenji Sazanami(漣健児), the pen name of the former chairman of Shinko Music Entertainment Shoichi Kusano(草野昌一).

Of course, having that snarky streak inside me, every time I've heard the title or the song, my response has often been "I Later Saw Daddy Assaulting Santa Claus". Anyways, to all of the "Kayo Kyoku Plus" readers everywhere, have a Merry Christmas!

Marubell Bromides

Asakusa has always been my favourite destination from the first time I visited it a decade ago. Ever since then, I would always make a trip there whenever we were in Tokyo, and this time was no exception.

It's an old part of town, but somehow, the 10 year-old me took to the comfortable air there and found the giant red gate that is Sensoji Kaminarimon a wonder - perhaps I just found the giant straw slipper amusing, I don't know. As the years progressed and I became the nutso kayo fan that I am now, Asakusa became more than just a place to reminisce good memories, watch daredevil pigeons brave the onslaught of feet in attempts to find crumbs on the stone pavements, and have a choco-banana from one of those pop-up stands by the temple. It became the place I knew with a guaranteed stash of most things related to the old(er) Japanese music industry. That only made me love that place more than I already did.

Besides Miyada Records and Asakusa Star Plaza that had been checked off my list last year and revisited this year, there were a couple more places I had yet to check out during my Asakusa conquest. One being the fabled record shop Oto no Yorodo (音のヨーロー堂), and the other being Marubell-do (マルベル堂), the one-stop-shop for bromides or promides, the latter being described as finished photographs in the Wikipedia page, of popular celebrities from the bygone era. Both pronunciations refer to the same thing now, apparently. And the types of celebrities include singers, actors, theater actors, sports heroes, and even geishas and rakugo talents. From the title, I will be focusing on Marubell-do in this article.

Disclaimer: I'd be lying if I say that there won't be at least some fan-girling involved in the following bit. So, you have been warned.

I first heard of Marubell-do - well, more like its products - quite a long time ago, even before getting to know about enka, while watching this pet variety show I only know as "Pochi & Tama". In one segment hosted by this overly excited host and his overly excited Labrador, Daisuke, Asakusa was featured. Along with an old kabuki theater, the next area of interest that mildly caught my attention at the time was this outlet selling old photographs of every celebrity under the sun.

I kept this information at the back of my head last year as somewhere new to explore, but because of my hunt for Miyada Records, I never took the time to sniff it out. But when it came to this year, I stumbled upon a website that sold something similar before the trip. Long story short, I discovered that this online shop and the Pochi-Tama-featured shop, which I later learnt was called Marubell-do, were the same thing, and that it wasn't too far away from Miyada and the Star Plaza - just a block away (to the left if you're facing Kaminarimon) from the main Nakamise Shopping Street and not far from the Asakusa train station.

With that settled, and after perusing Marubell's site to check out what they had in stock, and being absolutely *ahem* shook over my finds, I made a list of what I hoped to get:

- 5 of Hachiro Kasuga (春日八郎)
- 2 of Haruo Minami (三波春夫)
- 1 of Hideo Murata (村田英雄)
- 1 of Michiya Mihashi (三橋美智也)
- 1-2 of Yoshio Tabata (田端義夫)

As you can already guess from the pattern, I intended to get the Yonin Shu set. And then depending on my mood, I might've gone for a Wakadaisho or Yujiro too.

When I was finally at Marubell-do, the first thing that struck me was how tiny it was. It was literally just a hole in the wall with half a flight of stairs up to the cashier, and an underground den where most of the goods were hidden. All the walls were covered from top to bottom in bromides, a good number of which were familiar faces.

The stuff I was searching for were in the aforementioned den that could probably fit a maximum of only 9 people at a time. I needed a little assistance at first to get myself oriented with the surroundings and to get my hands on my main priority, but I soon got to know its system of the portraits being stuffed in phonetically arranged boxes. There was this middle-aged lady doing her own bromide shopping who found it amusing to see me holding the stack of Kasuga bromides while asking for Mihashi's. No, ma'am, they ain't for grandma.

As I soon noticed, it seemed like the online stock and in-house stock were different as there were fewer Hachi bromides than I expected, and there weren't the ones I planned to get. But, no matter, as you might've seen in my Top 12 list for him, I managed to find some that were close to my expectations: one taken around the mid-60's, and four cute ones from the 50's. It was when choosing the pictures that a question I never thought would ever cross my mind popped into my head, "Which one is better: Hawaiian Hachi, Madorosu Hachi, or Matatabi Hachi?" I went with madorosu with the reason being that he sang more of the madorosu style of songs rather than matatabi. The Hawaiian one was, well, cute, plain and simple. The photo on the extreme left gave me Teruhiko Saigo (西郷輝彦) vibes - it's the eyebrows - but I was fine with it. And the one next to it... that was the best of the lot with that dreamy look (I warned you).

There were also fewer Minami ones than that projected on the site (400+!). From documentaries, I became aware that he was very much more charming in his younger days, and these photos only magnified that, especially in those like the one above. He was elegant in a kimono, but he was just as spiffy in western wear.

Here's the venerable 4. I was considering whether to get one of Muchi's portraits with him in a suit because one doesn't see that all that often, but I was good with this one where he wore a black (?) kimono. And this bromide of Michi was the most apt with him in a kimono and holding a shamisen - matched the theme of the other 3 too. He looked rather odd in the others, so I kept to my target.

Next was getting one of Batayan's. It was a simple decision: Get the one that looks most Batayan. In other words, one with him and his trusty guitar, which I did. Then I thought, "Wouldn't it be great to not just have the Yonin Shu on display, but have the Sengou Sanba Garasu too?" And that's why Haruo Oka (岡晴夫) and Toshiro Omi (近江俊郎) are present. If only Oka had a guitar, or maybe even an accordion.

In the end, I left Marubell-do satisfied with 12 bromides that served as my birthday present... Hmm, I just realised how awfully spot on that number is, considering that day's date and occasion. Well, but that's not very important. Since I was talking about Asakusa, I'd like to round up the article with one of the very few songs I know that are specific to my favourite place in Tokyo, "Asakusa Nagashi" (浅草ながし). It's got a retro feel that fits this old part of town nicely, so it would do.

Over at my corner of the globe, it's the day already, but not yet in the other half. Either way, I'll take this chance to wish you guys a Merry Christmas!