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, February 26, 2017

Takeo Fujishima -- Kaeri no Minato (かえりの港)

Another browsing through the magic Canada Dry plastic bag of 45" singles revealed this green cover. I don't recollect ever seeing this man before on the old kayo shows although his voice has rung a bell on the old RCA stereo. His name is Takeo Fujishima(藤島桓夫)and Noelle actually wrote about him for his big hit "Otsuki-San Konbanwa" (お月さん今晩は) almost a couple of years ago. Seeing him on the cover here, I think he looked downright cherubic.

Although I couldn't find the songs from my Dad's record on YouTube, I did manage to find one of his other big hits. In addition to the fact that he was well known for sporting a sailor uniform or a casual kimono on stage, Fujishima (who passed away in 1994) did a number of songs which were collectively known as the "Minato" (port) series since that word was in each of those song titles.

One of those songs was "Kaeri no Minato" (The Home Port) from 1955. Fujishima had that unique and comforting nasal voice which he used to convey thoughts about heading back home to the islands wherever they may be. Kazuo Toyoda(豊田一雄)wrote and composed the song and the Osaka-born singer delivered it almost as if it were some sort of jaunty lullaby. The feelings of being away from home and homesickness have always been the sentimental thing for the Japanese so I'm not surprised that this song would bring a twinge to someone's emotions.

The video above has him coming out in that sailor get-up and his voice has certainly mellowed out in the years following its initial release back in the 1950s. "Kaeri no Minato" provided Fujishima's first appearance on the Kohaku Utagassen, and he was a mainstay on the New Year's Eve special for 7 straight years from 1956 to 1962.

Hitomitoi -- So no Me wa, Hypnotic (その目は、Hypnotic)

The first time I encountered the singer Hitomitoi(一十三十一)was on Marcos V.'s "Retro Grooves and Underground Aidoru Gems Playlist" which was written up back in early 2014. Not only was I drawn in by that most symmetrical kanji name but that mix of light technopop and City Pop provided by Marcos' contribution of her "Dive" was quite irresistible. And frankly speaking as my friend put it so succinctly in his article, Hitomitoi is pretty easy on the eyes as well.

Well, Artzie Music put up another one of his creations yesterday titled "kissmenerdygirl - Hypnotic Eyes" and the remixed song was another potential earworm. This time, I got lucky in that one of the comments actually provided the source singer and song, and it was indeed Hitomitoi again.

The song is "So no Me wa, Hypnotic" (Those Eyes Are Hypnotic) from her 8th album from October 2015, "The Memory Hotel". The urban contemporary beat is there adorned with some of that blippity-bloppity technopop that itself reminds me of "Koi wa Ryuusei"(恋は流星), a Minako Yoshida(吉田美奈子)City Pop masterpiece from decades back. That repeated techno phrase is an earworm all by itself!

As for "The Memory Hotel", it got as high as No. 69 on Oricon. Singer-songwriter Hitomitoi was born Hitomi Shimomura(下村 一十三)in 1978 in Sapporo, Hokkaido but spent her childhood living in a number of countries. After graduating from college, she spent some time working in the music industry in New York City before debuting in 2002 with her first single "Kemuri Iro no Koibito-tachi"(煙色の恋人達...Smoke-Coloured Lovers). She has professed to have the greatest respect for and influence from City Pop maestro Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎).

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Seiichiro Kuribayashi -- Donna ni Tsuyoku Daite mo (どんなに強く抱いても)

I was having a talk with commenter Yuie-chan some days ago on an article for 80s band THE GOOD-BYE about a musician that she had known about named Seiichiro Kuribayashi(栗林誠一郎). Talented on a number of instruments as a composer, she informed me that she just loved his vocals and gave me a couple of recommendations. I liked both songs but it's the second one that has me writing about him for the first time.

However, the strange thing is that it isn't actually the first time that I've mentioned him on the blog, though. Kuribayashi debuted back in 1987 by providing the summer band TUBE with some of their songs. Plus, I've mentioned him as being a member of the Nagisa no All-Stars(渚のオールスターズ), the supergroup of sorts which included the aforementioned TUBE, and singer-songwriters Tomoko Aran(亜蘭知子)and Tetsuro Oda(織田哲郎). In the 1990s, he was also part of the rock band ZYYG for about a year.

The second recommendation that Yuie-chan made was "Donna ni Tsuyoku Daite mo" (No Matter How Hard You Hold Me), a track on Kuribayashi's 7th solo album from November 1995, "Rest of My Life". It's a sad but beautiful and contemplative ballad about how people change and love doesn't necessarily last forever. The musician was responsible for the great music with Kanako Oda(小田佳奈子)writing the lyrics. I guess it might be because of the material but there is a sunset feeling with "Donna ni Tsuyoku Daite mo" and the bluesy guitar solos reflect the setting sun and the 90s for that matter very well.

I was going to write about the first recommendation but since it is also a song that the late ZARD had taken care of, I will see about tackling that one together.

Arashi -- Happiness

I keep forgetting that these guys actually sing and dance. Arashi(嵐)has not only become the premier Johnny's Entertainment group but it's become quite the force on the variety scene as well and perhaps in the TV drama circuit. I keep seeing Ono-kun and the rest of the guys having fun times on their "VS. Arashi" game show every Friday so it was a bit jarring when I saw them last night cut away for a few minutes to see them perform their latest single at the time (I think the episode was from September 2016).

Not being a huge fan of Arashi's musical output, I have remembered various excerpts of their past hits including their 20th single from September 2007 "Happiness". Those words of "hashiri dase, hashiri dase" still pop up in my head now and then.

Starting off with a battery of guitars that sound like they belong in a Quentin Tarentino movie, "Happiness", true to its title, goes off in a happy-go-lucky direction that starts to remind me of Princess Princess' "Diamonds". So, perhaps it's not the most completely original of compositions but it's hard not to like especially when the group goes into the refrain as noted above. Wonderland was responsible for the lyrics with Mio Okada(岡田実音)taking care of the music.

It's a very uptempo song so I wasn't all that surprised when I found out that it was the theme song for a 2007 TBS drama "Yamada Taro Monogatari"(山田太郎ものがたり...The Tale of Taro Yamada)based on a manga and starring two of Arashi, Kazuya Ninomiya and Sho Sakurai(二宮和也・櫻井翔). Can hardly believe it's almost been 10 years since this came out but then considering how young all of the guys look, I can also hardly believe that they debuted in the 20th century.

"Happiness" hit No. 1 on the charts and ended up as the 15th-ranked single for 2007. It was also recorded on Arashi's 8th album "Dream 'A' live" from April 2008 which also hit No. 1 and became the 30th-ranked album for that year.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Marico -- Nijuu-ni Shoku no Heart (22色のハート)

When I was doing the write-up for Tohoku Shinkansen's(東北新幹線)"Up and Down" the other day, I also came across another song on YouTube by a singer named Marico(真璃子). Titled "Nijuu-ni Shoku no Heart" (22-Colour Heart), it was composed by one-half of Tohoku Shinkansen, composer Etsuko Yamakawa(山川恵津子), and written by Goro Matsui(松井五郎).

What caught my ears about this particular tune is that although Marico started her career as a mid-1980s aidoru, this "Nijuu-ni Shoku no Heart" which is a track on her debut album "Marico" from September 1986 is a cut above the usual aidoru tune. I wanted to say sasuga to Yamakawa. I mean, there are the cute aidoru synths in there but the arrangement of the song, especially when it comes to the guitars, almost takes things into City Pop/J-AOR territory, something that Yasuhiro Abe(安部恭弘)would concoct and croon. It's very laidback and comfortable. Perhaps a number of her other tracks and singles were conventionally aidoru but as a non-single track, "Nijuu-ni Shoku no Heart" definitely feels something more urban contemporary.

The Fukuoka-born singer, born Mariko Hiura(日浦真里子), released 21 singles up to 1995 and released 6 original albums up to 1993. According to her J-Wiki bio, Marico has also done some acting on TV and radio broadcasts but is currently a regional tarento as well as a helper at her husband's bar at night.

Midori Oka -- Sado no Yubue (佐渡の夕笛)

Premium Friday! Looks like the Japanese government has launched another new business concept alongside the old Cool Biz to alleviate the stresses of the corporate cog workers. I only heard about Premium Friday this morning on NHK's "Newswatch 9" when several companies were encouraged to let their employees finish work at the ungodly hour of 3 pm on the last Friday of every month so that they can either relax or, better yet, go shopping since consumption hasn't exactly been robust as of late.

The results for this very first Premium Friday? Decidedly was really only a handful of companies that decided to get with the program in this workaholic nation. Apparently, most of the unleashed employees decided to go home to sleep. During the NHK feature, one small nomiya in the business district in Osaka that decided to open early in the afternoon to receive any potential customers among the Premium Friday folks got just one customer up to 5 pm. Mind you, it might be kinda weird to many folks to suddenly chug-a-lug a chuu nama and down some yakitori at the same time that others are sipping tea. Hey, it's a work in progress and I think it's a pretty good idea in the long term, although I also think that Premium Friday should also take into consideration the fate of the part-time workers who just get paid by the hour.

Anyways I gave all that preamble at the top to let folks know that it is a Friday so as is the case here as well as in Japan, TGIF is very much in force. So I'm sure folks in Japan were hitting the bars and izakayas as usual. Of course, for older generations that could probably mean some good ol' drinking and perhaps even some shibui karaoke at the boxes.

A few nights ago on the weekly "Uta Kon" (うたコン), the theme was drinking songs (although there was a somewhat disappointingly brief tribute to the works of Toru Funamura at the beginning), and I heard this tune by enka singer Midori Oka(丘みどり)titled "Sado no Yubue" (The Night Whistle of Sado). It was quite pleasing to the ear since there was something in there that brought back the old days of enka. From what little I know of Sado Island off of Niigata Prefecture, it's the home of those internationally famous kodo drummers.

"Sado no Yubue" was written by Toshiya Niitani(仁井谷俊也)and composed by Tetsuya Gen(弦哲也)as Oka's 8th single released just a few weeks ago on February 8th. It is another case of bittersweet parted love as the singer relates the story of a woman pining for his love as he leaves the island while hoping beyond hope that she will hear the sound of that whistle signaling the return of that ship.

Oka has been a pretty regular guest on "Uta Kon" and its predecessor "Kayo Concert"(歌謡コンサート)and I see her as one of the next shining generation of enka singers. She's got quite the powerful voice, too. And perhaps all of her success can ultimately be due to her mother since according to J-Wiki, Oka had been a painfully shy girl when she was a child so to draw her out of her shell, her mother entered herself and her daughter into minyo lessons. Later on, at her very first minyo contest when she was in Grade 5 of elementary school, Oka won the championship! A star was indeed born.

A couple of mugs of beer will probably help anyone come out of their shell...or put them to sleep, as in my case.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Haruko Kuwana -- You're Young

The above was just taken a few days ago over the weekend but it's still quite reflective of some of the unseasonable but welcome weather we've had today. We actually hit around 17 or 18 degrees Celsius which has smashed a record for a high temperature that had been set all the way back in 1984 (14.9). So, of course, part of the news broadcast had cameras focused on the patio bars which were packed with beer lovers tonight...not a scene that is typical of February in Toronto.

At this point, if chanteuse Haruko Kuwana(桑名晴子)had yelled out the title of this tune to everyone here today, everyone would have enthusiastically nodded back. "You're Young" was one of the tracks on Kuwana's debut album "Million Stars". Up to now, all of my articles on this singer with the great soulful voice were based on material in the 1980s but even back in 1978 when this album was released, she was belting out some wonderful stuff.

Hearing those vocals and the saxophone in the instrumental, the song does have the power to bring back some of that ideal summery sunset weather. Kuwana would have had a pretty nice outdoor concert at the Bandshell near the CNE by Lake Ontario with this album, I think. Unfortunately, I couldn't find out who was responsible for creating the song although a part of me thinks that the singer herself may have had some hand in either the lyrics or music.