Top 50 Bestselling Enka Songs – 20-11

Our look at the bestselling enka songs continues. Previous posts:

50-41
40-31
30-21

Today, we look at 20-11:

20. おやじの海 (Oyaji no umi, My Old Man, the Sea), 村木賢吉 (Muraki Kenkichi), 1979
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Quick Take: I was skeptical about the title when I first saw it (“Old Man’s Sea”?), but it makes sense once you realize that the song is an ode to the sea and a fisherman’s life (which is linked to Japanese culture through food incredibly strongly). There’s a great example of 愛しい, except in the lyrics I found, it’s given as そんなおやじがいとおしい (Sonna oyaji ga itōshii, That old man is dear to me). Life on the sea is hard, so it’s not surprising that the song ends on 耐えて行く (taete yuku, I will endure it). Not my favorite on this list, but I can see exactly why a song like this would become a hit in the same way that “Wichita Lineman” became a hit in the U.S. This another song that was self-produced and later became a hit after it was played on a Hokkaido radio station.

Difficulty: 10. Lots of kobushi and delicately shifting notes. This one would be a tough one to learn.

19. おまえとふたり (Omae to futari, Together With You), 五木ひろし (Itsuki Hiroshi), 1979
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Quick Take: This song sounds very similar to Itsuki’s “Yokohama Twilight” which also features a repeated chorus and came in at 46. This song underwhelms me, but the one thing I think it does have going for it is the kind of ironic way that the chorus 幸せを幸せを (shiawase o shiawase o, happiness, happiness) is sung so damn sadly. Other than that it’s all pretty formulaic: forget the past, you’re fine as you are, I won’t leave you again, yada yada. I will give Itsuki some credit though, he has a really precise, delicate voice and hits every note as it’s meant to be sung.

Difficulty: 9. This one would probably be tough because of delicate shifts in notes and rhythm and the need to have some impressive kobushi.

18. 昔の名前で出ています (Mukashi no namae de dete imasu, I’m Working With My Old Name), 小林旭 (Kobayashi Akira), 1975
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Quick Take: Now here’s an interesting song, precisely because it has a more interesting story behind it, which is explained well at this Yahoo Chiebukuro post. The narrator of the song is actually a woman, despite the fact that the singer is Kobayashi. The narrator has been working at different 酒場 (sakaba, bars) in different cities under different names, but has returned to Yokohama and is using an old name so that hopefully あなた (anata, you) will find her. If you find the right karaoke video, you may see them meet in the end. This song also details ボトルキープ (botoru kīpu, “bottle keep,” i.e. bottle service), in which customers purchase a bottle and put their name on it to keep at the bar. Check out this cool authentic karaoke video.

Difficulty: 6. This one doesn’t seem too bad, although I’d have to give it a shot to know for sure. Kobayashi doesn’t seem to be packing too much kobushi power.

17. 岸壁の母 (Ganpeki no haha, Wharf Mothers), 二葉百合子 (Futaba Yuriko), 1972
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Quick Take: This is a super old school song that Futaba covered in 1971 (on the excellently titled album “Futaba Yuriko’s Ballad Theater of Tears” 『二葉百合子の涙の歌謡劇場』). The song tells the story of mothers who went to the wharf to see if their sons would be among those returned on ships from the Soviet Union where they were being held at the end of the war. The title became the term for those mothers, whose plights must have struck songwriters. This song is so old school that it isn’t even labeled enka on the YouTube clips. You see 歌謡浪曲 (kayō rōkyoku, ballad shamisen song). There aren’t too many enka words in this song because it was written before the formulas were all set, but you do see さだめ (sadame, destiny), which is frequently encountered.

Difficulty: 11. This one also goes to 11. Futaba has intense kobushi, this song is slow, and there’s nowhere to hide.

16. みちづれ (Michizure, Traveling Companion), 牧村三枝子 (Makimura Mieko), 1978
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Quick Take: As if to prove a point about enka vocabulary, this song starts off with さだめ (sadame, destiny/fate) almost immediately: the same destiny links these two people as they decide—決めた (kimeta, I’ve decided) is the repeated chorus here—to travel with each other. The song seems to be making a poetic comparison between 浮き草 (ukigusa, greater duckweed) and the narrator of the song, kind of floating along. This is a nice little song.

Difficulty: 7. If you have the voice range for this, I don’t think it would be too bad. Not too much decorative kobushi.

15. 昭和枯れすすき (Shōwa kare susuki, Withered Shōwa Pampas Grass), さくらと一郎 (Sakura and Ichirō), 1974
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Quick Take: More death here, due to being persecuted by “the city” (街, machi) and “society” (世間, sekken). The solution: いっそきれいに死のうか (isso kirei ni shinōka, I guess I’ll go ahead and die). The song describes all the ways the narrator(s) have lived life to the fullest and have no 未練 (miren, regrets). They’ve become the titular pampas grass. The studio version of this song is better than some of the live versions I’ve seen, but none of them really strike me that much. Pretty generic enka stuff. Apparently this song blew up after being used in a movie nine months after being released.

Difficulty: 10. Lots of kobushi and kind of strange off-notes, plus you need a partner.

14. 矢切の渡し (Yagiri no watashi, Yagiri Crossing), 細川たかし (Hosokawa Takashi), 1983
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Quick Take: This is yet another enka song that took on a second life after its initial release. It was first put out by Chiaki Naomi as a B-side in 1976 and then as an A-side in 1982 after being used in a TV drama. It seems like a bunch of folks covered this song that year (including Misora Hibari and Fuji Keiko, whose versions are worth seeking out). Hosokawa’s version is, I think, the best selling of them. This song seems to benefit from singers with a wide vocal range, so female singers who can hit low notes like Misora or male singers who can hit the high notes like Hosokawa. The song itself concerns a couple in love, running away together. There are dueling quoted lines at the start of each verse that could make for a nice duet. And again we get the idea of destiny, left up to nature in this case: 船にまかせろさだめです (fune ni makasero sadame desu, Leave our fate up to the boat). I generally don’t like slow enka, but this one has enough of a story and is pretty nice.

Difficulty: 9. Hosokawa shows off the full range of his vocals in this delicate song. Impressive. And probably damn hard to match. Also some tricky rhythmic sections.

13. 港町ブルース (Minato machi burūsu, Port Town Blues), 森進一 (Mori Shin’ichi), 1969
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Quick Take: This is Mori Shin’ichi’s bestselling single. Mori is old school, and you can hear the influence of rock and roll in this song. It feels like this is right before enka got codified in a way that resulted in the sound you hear above with Hosokawa. The song is good, though, and it highlights the importance of 港 (minato, ports) in Japanese culture/mindset. The song has a few port images, but the main part, and I think the appeal, is the way it lists out a number of small port towns, such as Hakodate, Miyako, Kamaishi, and even Kessennuma. Here’s an older version worth checking out.

Difficulty: 9. Mori’s vocals are tough to cover. He’s got a voice.

12. 孫 (Mago, Grandchild), 大泉逸郎 (Oizumi Itsutarō), 1999
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Quick Take: This is a pretty straightforward enka song that’s a simple praise of the titular grandchildren. No classic enka vocab words here. There are some nice sentences and words in there for students of the language, though. One word that was interesting to me was えびす顔 (ebisu-gao, lit. “Ebisu face” i.e. smiling face). I’m a little surprised this song is so high in the ranking.

Difficulty: 7-8? Anything this slow with kobushi is pretty tough.

11. 大阪しぐれ (Osaka shigure, Osaka Rain Shower), 都はるみ (Miyako Harumi), 1980
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Quick Take: Here’s one word I haven’t mentioned yet: ネオン (neon, neon). This word generally refers to the lights of red light districts, in this case in Osaka. Here it’s combined with しみる (shimiru, blur), which is what happens to the lights when the narrator of the song cries. Pretty generic enka type stuff (“If I’m enough, you can have me,” “Happiness, yada yada”) with some call outs for Osaka landmarks. Became a million seller. This is a nice version, just unsubtitled, or I would have embedded it above.

Difficulty: 10. Lots of kobushi here.

Top 50 Bestselling Enka Songs – 30-21

Our look at the bestselling enka songs continues. Previous posts:

50-41
40-31

Today, we look at 30-21:

30. 圭子の夢は夜ひらく (Keiko no yume wa yoru hiraku, Keiko’s Dreams Blossom at Night), 藤 圭子 (Fuji Keiko), 1970
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Quick Take: This is another nice song from Fuji Keiko with a lot of narrative qualities to it. She starts by talking about how her life was dark when she was younger but that despite this she’s had her dreams which blossom at night. Love is fleeting (especially the idiots she dated when she was younger), dreams last. 未練 (miren, regrets/unfulfilled love) makes another appearance here, but she claims to not have had it when she was younger and sillier. The next line then suggests that those who don’t forget will keep their dreams…an interesting take. This feels like a much more confident woman in this song, which doesn’t play into stereotypes, so it’s sad to note Fuji committed suicide in 2013, according to the English Wikipedia page. Life is hard, especially for women in Japan.

Difficulty: 7. This feels more difficult than 女のブルース.

29. 花街の母 (Kagai no haha, Red-light District Mother), 金田たつえ (Kanada Tatsue), 1973
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Quick Take: This one is a little tricky for me to understand, but from what I make of it, a mother is supporting her daughter by performing as a geisha. She hopes to see the daughter married because バカにされても夢がある (baka ni sarete mo yume ga aru, I have dreams even if you make fun of them/me). There’s an appearance of 幸せ (shiawase, happiness) in its full kanji form 幸福, which you see a lot in enka songs. I’m not really feeling this song. It’s slow and feels like maybe it’s a throwback to older enka. There’s interesting info on Japanese Wikipedia: apparently Kanada worked hard to put out the song on her own somehow, but it didn’t become a big hit until six years later when it got her into the Kohaku Uta Gassen.

Difficulty: 9. The ups and downs on this one feel pretty unique. It would be difficult to master.

28. 北酒場 (Kitasakaba, Northern Tavern), 細川たかし (Hosokawa Takashi), 1982
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Quick Take: I’m pumped to see this one on the list because it’s in my repertoire. I’m not sure where I first heard it, but I have memories of one of my roommates in Tokyo singing it. It’s a great example of constructed nostalgia in enka. The theme of the song is 北の酒場通り (kita no sakabadōri, street of bars in the north). The lyrics go on to discuss the type of people that do well there and how you can charm people. There’s the classic enka line 女を酔わせる恋がある (onna o yowaseru koi ga aru, There’s love that will intoxicate women). Nope, nothing sketchy sounding about that! To be fair, the men don’t have it easy either: 男を泣かせる歌がある (otoko o nakaseru uta ga aru, There are songs that make men cry). Fun song.

Difficulty: 5. Hosokawa’s voice is higher than it appears which can make this song difficult, but it’s not dripping with kobushi. Give it a shot.

27. 氷雨 (Hisame, Hail/Frozen Rain), 佳山明生 (Kayama Akio), 1982
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Quick Take: Here we have another weather phenomenon standing in poetically for the emotions of the people in the song. And those feelings are immediately apparent from the first line of the song: 飲ませてください (nomasete kudasai, let me drink). This is a fantastic song for beginner/intermediate students because most of the lyrics are very normal grammatical constructions. There are lots of imperatives and a great ないわけじゃない (nai wake janai, it isn’t that I don’t X) phrase. The song itself is simple: the narrator is drinking to try and forget the person he loved who broke up with him.

Difficulty: 8. Kayama’s voice is pretty high, and there seem to be some tricky notes/rhythm sections. But this could be worth it for the grammatical study and because it’s a fun/sad drinking song.

26. 娘よ (Musume yo, My Daughter), 芦屋雁之助 (Ashiya Gan’nosuke), 1984
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Quick Take: Ashiya sets the theme immediately: 嫁に行く日が来なけりゃいいと (yome ni yuku hi ga konakerya ii to, [I think] it would be nice if the day you marry never comes). While the dad in the song is bitter at first, he eventually wishes his daughter well, tells her to take care, as she goes to live with her husband. The rest of the song consists of memories of the daughter and a spoken section that could double as a wedding speech. I can imagine the tens of thousands of Japanese fathers who have bawled this song at karaoke. Check out this authentic karaoke video to imagine how this might play at your average night out in Japan.

Difficulty: 7. Nothing to hide behind in this sparse song. You’d have to have your kobushi game on point.

25. 心のこり (Kokoro nokori, Regrets), 細川たかし (Hosokawa Takashi), 1975
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Quick Take: A traveler’s song. The narrator has been gossiped about and 耐えてきた (taete kita, put up with it), but has decided to set out from the most nostalgic and idyllic of Japanese locations—港町 (minato machi, port town)—early the next morning. The word for gossiped/talked about is pretty interesting: 後ろ指 (ushiro yubi, back finger?). This one doesn’t feel quite as fun and festive as 北酒場, but I guess that’s probably because it’s a lonelier song. This is probably higher in the rankings because it was Hosokawa’s debut song. For a video with subtitles, look here.

Difficulty: 8. Hosokawa gets some pretty soaring vocals in here. That and the rhythm would probably make this one more difficult.

24. こころ酒 (Kokoro-zake, Soul Liquor), 藤あや子 (Fuji Ayako), 1992
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Quick Take: This one feels formulaic as all hell. I guess all of these songs are pretty damn formulaic, but this is just another take on “even though times are rough, I can get by with you around, and let’s drink some sake and forget everything.” The サビ (sabi, hook) here is 飲む (nomu, to drink) + ほす (hosu, drink up) = 飲みほしましょうか (nomihoshimashōka, shall we drink it all up).

Difficulty: 7. Seems kind of standard difficulty level. Slight kobushi, a couple of rhythm tricks, notably on the hook.

23. 夫婦鏡 (Meoto kagami, Couple Mirror), 殿さまキングス (Tonosama Kings), 1974
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Quick Take: There’s something about the last few songs (or maybe enka in general?) and raising the stakes so intensely with the first line, and this song may take the cake: たとえ死んでもいいわ / あなたのためなら (Tatoe shinde mo ii wa / anata no tame nara, I’d be fine dying / if it was for you). The narrator spends the rest of the song outlining the ways in which he will not be a burden to his love, connected to the theme of the mirror…I think in the couple’s place.

Difficulty: 9. Lots of kobushi here, although I was unable to find an original studio version or a live version from the ‘70s, only the singer doing a version later on. It would be cool to see a contemporaneous version.

22. 女のねがい (Onna no negai, A Woman’s Wish), 宮史郎とぴんからトリオ (Miya Shiro and the Pinkara Trio), 1972
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Quick Take: Dang. Totally unable to find an original version of this song, only covers by YouTubers. Miya is a name to remember, and this song is a sequel of sorts to one that we’ll see later on the list. Try the permasearch link to see if any have appeared. I don’t think the cover versions have nearly as much kobushi power as Miya does…he’s kind of in a league of his own. The song itself goes on to describe women who deserve love (women who are grown in the shade, who work at bars, whose tears have dried up, etc.) and a kind of love. This line describes it best: ひそかに愛をささげてみたい (Hisoka ni ai o sasagete mitai, I want to devote my love secretly). The strange thing is that this is contrasted with “love at first sight.” This song is basically a big fat mansplain.

Difficulty: Going to give this a 10 out of respect for Miya.

21. みちのくひとり旅 (Michinoku hitori tabi, Solo Journey to Michinoku), 山本譲二 (Yamamoto Jōji), 1980
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Quick Take: Again with the dying: This song starts with a line about how it would be nice to die with you here together. Over the course of the song it becomes clear (I think?) that the person being addressed, an お前 (omae, you) who is the “last woman” for him, has already died, so they must 夢でも逢えるだろう (yume demo aeru darō, we’ll be able to meet in our dreams). This makes me think that the “solo journey” from the title is a code word for death? One word that gets used a bunch here is つのる (tsunoru, to become stronger), in this case in reference to 未練 (miren, lingering affection/attachment) and いとしさ (itoshisa, loveliness). For a subtitled version, look here.

Difficulty: 7. Yamamoto has a really controlled voice and kobushi that seems like it might be replicable, but not too easily.

Top 50 Bestselling Enka Songs – 40-31

Our look at the bestselling enka songs continues. Previous posts:

50-41

Today, we look at 40-31:

40. 帰ってこいよ (Kaette koi yo, Come home), 松村和子 (Matsumura Kazuko), 1980
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Quick Take: This is a take on a hometown song. Someone is being called back to their hometown, having forgotten the 誓った恋 (chikatta koi, love that she promised) before leaving for life in Tokyo. This is also a super short song, clocking in at under two minutes in some versions. Matsumura debuted with this song and drew attention for her long hair and playing the shamisen.

Difficulty: 10. Soaring vocals and kobushi make this song tough for all but the best singers. Plus you need to rock the shamisen for maximum authenticity.

39. 恋唄綴り (Ko-uta tsuzuri, Orthography [?] of a Love Song), 堀内孝雄 (Horiuchi Takao), 1990
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Quick Take: This is a nice little song about love songs and all the feels associated with them. Strong use of あんた (anta, you) here by Horiuchi, and again a reminder that 逢 > 会 when it comes to karaoke. I believe this is also our first encounter with 時雨 (shigure, drizzle), which feels like a classic karaoke/poetry word. And as always, there’s never enough booze to drown your sorrows: 飲めば飲むほど淋しいくせに (nomeba nomu hodo sabishii kuse ni, I’m lonely no matter how much I drink).

Difficulty: 4. This one doesn’t seem so bad. There are a couple of rhythmically tricky spots, but otherwise

38. 命くれない (Inochi kurenai, Crimson Karma), 瀬川瑛子 (Segawa Eiko), 1986
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Quick Take: This is a pretty intense old school, star-crossed lovers enka song. The pace is slow, and the intensity of the feelings are intense enough to warrant the English translation of this song rendered by Wikipedia: “My flaming Emotions.” This doesn’t appear to be the official translation, as best I can tell. I think the title puns on 紅 (kurenai, crimson/red) and the other meaning for kurenai (won’t you give me? [?]). There’s lots of “I only need you to live” type lyrics and claims that the narrator and partner are 結ばれていた (musubarete ita, linked). Not my favorite song, but I can respect it for what it is—a call back to some of the original enka music.

Difficulty: 10. There’s nothing to hide behind with this one. You’ve got to hold and kobushi every note, basically.

37. 逢わずに愛して (Awazu ni ai shite, Love without meeting), 内山田洋とクールファイブ (Uchiyamada Hiroshi and the Cool Five), 1969
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Quick Take: I’m so glad these guys are on the list. The first time I went to Japan, some of the Rotary Club members taught me a few of their songs and I came home with a Cool Five CD, which I subsequently listened to enough times that I can sing most of it. But not this song! I recognize the song, but I’ve never sung it. The lyrics are pretty generic love song stuff, this time with a focus on the title and the idea that absence/distance makes the heart grow fonder. You see the word 枯れる (kareru, wither) early on, which is in a lot of enka songs: 涙枯れても夢よ枯れるな (namida karete mo yume yo kareru na, Even if my tears dry up, my dreams will never fade). You can hear some of the 50s doo-wop roots in these songs (notably in the backup singers) and see it in their outfits on album covers. Some other recommendations: 長崎は今日も雨だった (Nagasaki wa kyō mo ame datta, Nagasaki Was Rainy Again Today), 東京砂漠 (Tokyo sabaku, Tokyo Desert), 西海ブルース (Saikai burūsu, Saikai Blues).

It’s interesting to note that Wikipedia labels the band a 歌謡グループ (kayō grūpu, popular song group). They debuted in 1969, right around the point when enka became a term for a genre and incorporated kayōka songs.

Difficulty: 5. The lead vocalist Maekawa Kiyoshi has a pretty deep voice, which makes this more accessible to most of us, but he also has pretty pinpoint tone and kobushi, making it a little more difficult. Still, not all that hard.

36. 浪花恋しぐれ (Naniwa koi shigure, Naniwa Love Shower), 都はるみ・岡千秋 (Miyako Harumi, Oka Chiaki), 1983
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Quick Take: Our first duet! And of course it’s not very politically correct. Based on what I gather from the lyrics (and please correct me if I’m wrong), the male character is a rakugo artist who drinks too much and makes his wife cry, and the wife supports him and tries not to cry. Here’s the telling line from a little rap that she does after a singing verse: うちはどんな苦労にも耐えてみせます (Uchi wa donna kurō ni mo taete misemasu, I’ll show you that I can handle any adversity). Obviously it’s meant to be a sweet love song, and even he confesses his love throughout, but it’s not a surprise that this song is from the 80s. Apparently the story is based on the life of rakugo performer Katsura Harudanshi and his wife. If you want to read the lyrics, check out this version which cannot be embed.

Difficulty: 10. Not only do you need to find a partner for this song, you both have to be pretty damn skilled in the arts of kobushi to pull this one off, and you need to be able to spit some wicked Kansai-ben.

35. よせばいいのに (Yoseba ii no ni, But it would be nice if you came near), 敏いとうとハッピー&ブルー (Toshi Itō and Happy and Blue), 1979
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Quick Take: There’s a lot of self-blame going on in this enka song, as you can tell from the サビ (sabi, hook) in this song: いつまでたってもダメなわたしね (Itsu made tattemo dame na watashi, I’m terrible no matter how much time passes). To my ear, these guys seem like Cool Five knock offs who have swapped their slick doo-wop suits for letterman jackets, but there’s a possibility that I’m biased. I’m also confused whether this song is sung from the male or female perspective, maybe both. At any rate, it amounts to the same thing. Can’t find the love they want, and feels bad for it. Be sure to check out this old school version to get a sense of what they were like.

Difficulty: 8. High pitched and speedy, tough to perform, I’d imagine.

34. 津軽海峡冬景色 (Tsugaru kaikyō fuyu keshiki, A winter scene on Tsugaru Strait), 石川さゆり (Ishikawa Sayuri), 1977
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Quick Take: This is a nice song with a stronger narrative than many we’ve seen so far: the narrator is leaving Tokyo to return to Hokkaido. She takes the train from Ueno to Aomori and then hops on a boat where she is overwhelmed by the winter scene of the Tsugaru Strait. There are some classic karaoke tropes: 夜行列車 (yakkō ressha, night trains), crying 鷗 (kamome, gulls), かすみ (kasumi, mist) covering the water. And much like a good poem, all of these things stand in for the singer’s feelings before we understand that she’s leaving あなた to go home. There’s a surprisingly extensive English Wikipedia page for the song, which notes that it launched Ishikawa to fame and into the Kohaku Uta Gassen for the first time.

Difficulty: 8. Tough to say with this one. Seems like it might not be too bad, but Ishikawa has some pretty flexible vocals. Could be tricky.

33. 長崎は今日も雨だった (Nagasaki wa kyō mo ame datta, Nagasaki was rainy today, too), 内山田洋とクールファイブ (Uchiyamada Hiroshi and the Cool Five), 1969
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Quick Take: This is the first enka song I ever learned, and it’s a classic. As mentioned above, I can blame the Rotary Club guys (shout out to Ohiwa-san) for my taste in bad (read: great) karaoke songs. The simple nature of the title makes it a great dad joke if you ever need a cheap laugh and it happens to be rainy in Nagasaki that day. The song itself takes you around Nagasaki city and points out some of its features like 石畳 (ishidatami, flagstones), which also made an appearance above in 逢わずに愛して. 冷たい風が身にしみる (tsumetai kaze ga mi ni shimiru, the cold wind cuts into my body) feels like a pretty classic line, parts of which appear in other songs. 愛し (itoshi) is another enka word, one that I wrote about in Final Fantasy VI. The karaoke videos for this song (at least in Japan) never fail to have excellent shots taken throughout Nagasaki, which you should definitely visit if you haven’t. Beautiful place. And here’s an old version.

Difficulty: 3. If I can sing this one, you can too. Maybe a couple of rhythm sections that are tricky, but not too bad.

32. 女のブルース (Onna no burūsu, Woman Blues), 藤圭子 (Fuji Keiko), 1970
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Quick Take: I love this song. It’s especially helpful for learning the grammar pattern ですもの (desu mono, because) and for the usage of に (ni) to mark the subject of verbs. The first part of the song is the ways in which being a woman affects how she acts. 女ですもの (onna desu mono, because I’m a woman), she loves, she gets drunk on dreams, she’s alone, nevertheless she persists and survives. The song then (brilliantly!) switches to あなた (anata, you), spelling out what she wants of the guy: あなたにすがりたい (Anata ni sugaritai, I want to be pursued by you) and other things, such as being spoiled and raised up. And in the second half of the song, it switches to describe Tokyo and then life in general: 何処で生きても (doko de ikite mo, wherever you live). The implication being that life is tough, yo.

Interestingly enough, Fuji is the mother of Utada Hikaru!

Difficulty: 4. This seems pretty accessible, possibly because Fuji has a relatively deep voice compared to some female singers.

31. 心凍らせて (Kokoro kōrasete, Freeze your heart), 高山厳 (Takayama Gen), 1992
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https://youtu.be/ASkNVZ6cGRM

We also see the frequently encountered 抱かれる (dakareru, be held by) and 流す (nagasu, wash away) in the passive form in the phrase 愛に流されて (ai ni nagasarete, washed away by love).

Difficulty: 8. Gen has such a delicate voice. I think this one would be difficult to do well.

Top 50 Bestselling Enka Songs – 50-41

I’m in the Japan Times today with one of my favorite Bilingual articles in a long time: “Enka gives lessons in Japan’s unattainable love.”

I don’t remember the first time I learned the word 演歌 (enka), but it was likely the summer of 2002 when I was on a Rotary internship in Okayama. Several members of the Rotary Club were responsible for organizing our activities, and they would take us out at night to all manner of snack bars across the city. We sang American songs, drank beer, ate 柿ピー (kaki pii, peanuts and crackers), and listened to them sing Japanese songs. I have very distinct memories of two of them performing 旅姿三人男 (Tabi sugata sannin otoko, Three Men in Traveling Clothes).

Gradually, over the course of two months, a few of the songs made their way into our heads, and at our farewell dinner I performed 長崎は今日も雨だった (Nagasaki wa kyō mo ame datta, Nagasaki Was Rainy Again Today).

I went home with an Ishihara Yujiro CD and an Uchiyamada Hiroshi and the Cool Five CD, and I listened to them over and over, especially once I got my first iPod in 2006 when I was on the JET Program. I also picked up a few other songs here and there, listening to friends and town employees sing while on the JET Program, and recently I’ve been doing カラオケ勉強会 (karaoke benkyō kai, karaoke “study meetings”) with coworkers in Chicago. My repertoire is only decent, but I like what I can do.

In an effort to learn more about enka for the JT article, I took a look at the Top 50 Bestselling Enka Songs. This is a list that floats around the internet on several different sites and is supposedly based on Oricon data. Some of the sites have disclaimers at the bottom that it may not be accurate, but it’s interesting and helpful at the very least. I watched all 50 and wrote up my thoughts. I’ll post ten of them each day this week in descending order, starting today. Each write-up will include my toasty hot take, a difficulty rating, and a link to a “permasearch” on YouTube. Many of the music videos for these songs will likely be taken down for copyright violations, but you can use the permasearch link to search for the songs on YouTube, which will hopefully reveal new versions or at least covers by amateurs.

Without further ado, here are 50 through 41:

50. 雨の慕情 (Ame no bojō, Yearning in the rain), 八代亜紀 (Yashiro Aki) – 1980
PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: The narrator of the song pleads with the rain to bring her the man (well, not technically a man, but an いい人[ii hito, nice person]) she misses. This is a nice song for language learners. There are lots of simple adjectives (憎い, 恋しい, 嫌い) used in repetition and the great example of of imperative in the chorus 雨雨降れ降れもっと降れ (ame ame hure hure motto fure, Rain rain, fall fall, fall more and more). Overall the language is relatively simple. As with many Japanese songs, Yashiro has very specific dance moves that go along with the chorus.

Difficulty: 4. Pretty straightforward. If I was a woman or had a higher voice, I might be singing this song regularly.

49. とまり木 (Tomarigi, Barstool/perch), 小林幸子 (Kobayashi Sachiko) – 1980
PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: You know this song is going to be great from the title alone, which means barstool/perch. As you can tell from the video, it’s about a woman sitting at her barstool, wanting to follow after a person who won’t face her. It’s got some great lines like お酒でごまかす / このさびしさを (Osake de gomakasu / kono sabishisa o, I’ll conceal it with liquor, this sadness) that help show an inverted direct object. Great song.

Difficulty: 7. Some definite 小節 (kobushi, undulating melodic ornamentation or embellishment) present, but it’s not over the top.

48. なみだ恋 (Namida-goi, Tearful Love), 八代亜紀 (Yashiro Aki), 1973
PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: I’m not sure you can get a simpler yet more powerful enka title unless you dig deep into the archives (酒は涙か溜息か, for example?): tearful love. The song is set in the back alleys of Shinjuku…in the rain…with the blossoms of flowers (presumably cherries?) falling. This is Japanese soul music. According to enka, the best (but saddest) love is illicit love which requires you to 忍び逢う(shinobiau, meet surreptitiously), especially if it involves rain or (in the case of Ishihara Yujiro) 夜霧 (yogiri, night fog). Yashiro is notable as the first female enka singer to have seven top 10 singles on the Oricon charts. Japanese Wikipedia notes that she was uncomfortable with her “husky” voice at first but gained confidence after hearing American singer Julie London.

Difficulty: 8.5. Yashiro breaks out more of the kobushi in the song than she did in 雨の慕情.

47. 流恋草 (Haguresō, Caught Lovesickness), 香西かおり(Kōzai Kaori), 1991
PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: This is another powerful song of loneliness: A woman, presumably in the countryside, is left on her own (perhaps her partner goes out often?). Because he’s the only person she knows in the town, she’s lonely and crying. It’s the second instance we see of a line similar to 心はかくせない (kokoro wa kakusenai, I can’t hide my soul). It also features the nice contrast between あなたが欲しい (anata ga hoshii, I want you) and あなたを許せない (anata o yurusenai, I can’t forgive you), showing how divided her feelings are as well as the frequent karaoke encounter of anata. Some other great enka lines include: 悲しみがこぼれます/ ひとりじゃ暮らせない (kanashimi ga koboremasu / hitori ja kurasenai, My sadness spills over / I can’t live alone), and the ever useful お酒ください (osake kudasai, alcohol please).

This version on YouTube also has an amazing introduction and features a great set and an Akita pup biting at Kōzai’s fingers.

Difficulty: 6. Some minor kobushi, but nothing over the top. Very accessible lyrics.

46. よこはま・たそがれ (Yokohama tasogare, Yokohama Twilight), 五木ひろし (Itsuki Hiroshi), 1971
PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: Leave it to the first man on the list to sing the laziest song so far: this is basically a list of different evocative karaoke words (kiss, lingering scent, cigarette smoke, Blues, whistling, etc) followed by the chorus あの人は行って行ってしまった (ano hito wa itte itte shimatta, That person has gone, gone away). Apparently this shouldn’t be a surprise: Itsuki went through three failed stage names before breaking it big with this hit. His Japanese Wikipedia page is curiously extensive. [Stroking chin emoji] It’s worth tracking down a version of Itsuki singing this in his prime to understand the effect he must have had on audiences.

Difficulty: 3. Some minor kobushi, but this is a pretty great (if somewhat lame) song for beginners.

45. 長良川艶歌 (Nagaragawa enka, Nagara River Enka), 五木ひろし (Itsuki Hiroshi), 1984
PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: Here we are with Itsuki again. This song is much stronger than the previous. Sounds like the narrator is staying at a lodging alongside a river with someone he’d like to be with, a traveller, who’s gone in the morning. Lots of good あなたing in this song, which then goes on to get qualified by some nice phrases like すがってみたい人 (sugatte mitai hito, someone I’d like to follow) and 私を泣かす人 (watashi wo nakasu hito, someone who makes me cry). There are also some poetic lines like 窓に夜明けの風が泣く (Mado ni yoake no kaze ga naku, The dawn wind cries at the window).

One interesting point: note the use of 艶歌 instead of 演歌 in the title. There’s no Yahoo Chiebukuro post for this unfortunately, but there is an Oshiete Goo post, which notes that 艶歌 was used to describe the romantic content of songs whereas 演歌 came from earlier political protest songs. Christine Yano talks about this in her book but doesn’t use kanji, so I have to assume that this is the other character she’s talking about.

Difficulty: 9. This is one of those songs that will sound off if you don’t place the stress and kobushi on each word appropriately.

44. 箱根八里の半次郎 (Hakone hachiri no Hanjirō, Eight-ri Hanjirō of Hakone), 氷川きよし (Hikawa Kiyoshi), 2000
PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: This is an epic song that launched Hikawa Kiyoshi’s career and rejuvenated enka as a genre. The alliteration in the title and the callback to classic images of the Japanese countryside are powerful. I have trouble deciphering some of the lyrics, to be honest, but all analysis of the song mentions 股旅物 (matatabimono, wandering life of a gambler), an enka category that hadn’t been sung in a while, and it’s clear that the title character is a shabby, unreliable guy. The dense vocabulary of the song contrasts with the simplicity of the サビ (sabi, hook) – やだねったら、やだね (yada nettara, yada ne, literally “If I say I don’t like it, I don’t like it” although maybe closer to “If I say I don’t wanna, I won’t”?). An interesting Japanese blog post calls the lightness of this song a response to the だらしなさ (darashinasa, slovenliness) of the Heisei era.

You can also see/hear in the video that there are plenty of Kiyoshi fans who love his style as well.

Difficulty: 11. This one goes to 11. Hikawa has mad kobushi skills and a soaring voice. I’ve heard this one imitated poorly too many times, and I may have perpetrated one or two imitations myself. You’ve been warned.

43. むらさき雨情 (Murasaki ame nasake [?], Purple Rain Sadness), 藤 あや子 (Fuji Ayako), 1993
PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: This is a lovely song of unrequited love colored by the purple rain from the title. The narrator won’t follow her love but still has feelings for and memories of him. It’s full of karaoke words like にじむ (nijimu, blur) and しみつく (shimitsuku, stained in). And we can’t forget the absolute classic 未練 (miren, lingering affection/attachment/regrets): むらさき雨、雨に / 遠くかすむ町 / 訪ねた女の未練でしょうか (Murasaki ame ame ni / tōku kasumu machi / tazuneta onna no miren deshō ka, In the purple rain, rain / a misty town in the distance / is this the longing of a woman visiting?).

Difficulty: 4. Pretty straightforward with just some minor kobushi. A very clean and clear karaoke song. What’s not to like.

42. 愛のままで… (Ai no mama de…, Just as love…), 秋元順子 (Akimoto Junko), 2008
PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: This is the most recent hit on the top 50, and perhaps not surprisingly, this song launched Akimoto into the Kōhaku Uta Gassen for the first time in 2008, the oldest debut at 61 years old. To my ear it sounds like a pretty standard love song, a nice one, but nothing too special to recommend it other than some typical karaoke imagery: キャンドル (kyandoru, candle), 偶然 (gūzen, coincidence), 奇跡 (kiseki, miracle). It is notable for the first appearance of 愛しい (itoshii, dear), in this inverted phrase: 他人(だれ)かと比較る幸せなんていらない (dare ka to kuraberu shiawase nante iranai, I don’t need the pleasure of being compared with someone) / あなたの視線が愛しくあれば (anata no shisen ga itoshiku areba, If I have your dear gaze).

Difficulty: 3. A couple of potentially difficult stresses, but the language is pretty accessible and the voicing not so challenging. This one feels like it could be a fun one for many.

41. ふたり酒 (Futari zake, Sake for Two), 川中美幸 (Kawanaka Miyuki), 1980
PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: Now that’s some fucking enka! I had a feeling I would like this one from the title alone, and the very first line sealed it for me and also does a good job of summarizing the song: 生きてゆくのが辛い日はお前と酒があればいい (ikite yuku no ga tsurai hi wa omae to sake ga areba ii, When days are rough, I’m fine if I have you and alcohol). Kawanaka apparently made a name for herself with this song after failing with a few other singles. I really like the video that I’ve linked—it definitely shows how enka has been used to define Japanese identity. (If the video happens to be down, it showed a couple working at a sushi restaurant, some shots at a fish market, and a visit to a shrine.)

Difficulty: 7. This song is sneaky difficult. There’s more kobushi in there than appears to be in the studio version.

Stopgaps

Well, it took me six months, but I’m back on the Murakami. Chapter 35 of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World “Nail Clippers, Butter Sauce, Iron Vase” is one of my favorite chapters in the novel. I wrote about some of the changes and why it’s my favorite back in 2009 (!) during the second year of Murakami Fest.

In the chapter, Watashi wanders around the neighborhood near the library shopping and picks up the Librarian. They go to an Italian restaurant, gorge themselves, and then head back to her place to listen to music and have sex.

There are a lot of changes in this chapter. Most of the cuts that Birnbaum (or his editor) makes are inconsequential. Small pieces of dialogue or detail that can be eliminated to make the writing more concise and fluid. Even the ones I highlight in the post above aren’t really that substantial, although I’d argue that there’s really no reason to cut them. Birnbaum also adds a number of space breaks (three to be precise), which I have to admit are very effective at punctuating nice moments.

Murakami makes one small change from the original version to the Complete Works version, which I’ll look at just because. Here’s the original, which Birnbaum uses as the basis for his translation:

「サマセット・モームを新しい作家だなんていう人今どきあまりいないわよ」と彼女はワインのグラスを傾けながら言った。「ジュークボックスにベニー・グッドマンのレコードが入っていないのと同じよ」 (267)

And here’s Birnbaum’s translation:

“There aren’t many people who’d consider Somerset Maugham new,” she said, tipping back her glass. “The same as they don’t put Benny Goodman in jukeboxes these days either.” (358)

And the Complete Works edition:

「サマセット・モームを新しい作家だなんていう人今どきあまりいないわよ」と彼女はワインのグラスを傾けながら言った。 (526)

“There aren’t many people who’d consider Somerset Maugham new,” she said, tipping back her glass.

As you can see, he just cuts that last line. Very curious. Maybe he thought the Benny Goodman reference was off? Who knows. It seems very strange to read through a whole chapter and then cut a single sentence. Maybe Murakami was getting tired toward the end of edits on the Complete Works edition of HBW.

One of the more substantial cuts that Birnbaum makes in this chapter is when Watashi and the Librarian discuss the destruction of his apartment. Here’s the official translation:

“It wouldn’t have had anything to do with that unicorn business?” she asked.

“It did. But nobody’d bothered to ask me what I thought from the very beginning.”

“And does that have something to do with your going away tomorrow?”

“Mm…yeah.”

“You must have gotten yourself caught in a terrible mess.”

“Its so complicated, I myself don’t know what’s what. Well, in my case, the simplest explanation is that I’m up to here in information warfare.”

The waiter appeared suddenly with our fish and rice. (360)

As you’ll see, the translation cuts a few sentences at the beginning of this passage and a large chunk of conversation:

「部屋の中でラグビーの試合やったってあんなに無茶苦茶にはならないわよ」

「そうだろうね」と私は言った。

「それはその一角獣の話に関連したことなの?」と彼女が訊いた。

「たぶんしていると思う」

「それはもう解決したの?」

「解決はしていない。少なくとも彼らにとっては解決していない」

「あなたにとっては解決したの?」

「しているとも言えるし、していないとも言える」と私は言った。「選択のしようがないから解決しているとも言えるし、自分で選択したわけじゃないから解決したことにはならないとも言える。何しろ今回の出来事に関しては僕の主体性というものはそもそもの最初から無視されてるんだ。アシカの水球チームに一人だけ人間がまじったみたいなものさ」

「それで明日からどこか遠く行っちゃうのね?」

「まあね」

「きっと複雑な事件にまきこまれているのね?」

「複雑すぎて僕にも何が何だかよくわからない。世界はどんどん複雑になっていく。核とか社会主義の分裂とかコンピューターの進化とか人工授精とかスパイ衛星とかロボトミーとかね。車の運転席のパネルだって何がどうなってるのかわかりゃしない。僕の場合は簡単に説明すれば情報戦争にまきこまれちまっているんだ。要するにコンピューターが自我を持ちはじめるまでのつなぎさ。まにあわせなんだ」

「コンピューターはいつか自我を持つようになるの?」

「たぶんね」と僕は言った。「そうすればコンピューターが自分でデータをスクランブルして計算するようになる。誰にも盗めない」

ウェイターがやってきて我々の前にすずきとリゾットを置いた。 (530-531)

“You could play a rugby game in your apartment and it wouldn’t have gotten that messed up.”

“Probably so,” I said.

“Was it related to the unicorn stuff?” she asked.

“I think it might’ve been.”

“Is it resolved?”

“It’s not. At least it isn’t to them.”

“Is it for you?”

“It is and it isn’t,” I said. “There’s no way for me to choose, so it is, and because I didn’t choose, it won’t be resolved. My individuality was ignored from the beginning with this affair. It’s as if a single human was added to a sea lion water polo team.”

“So tomorrow you’re going far away?”

“Something like that.”

“You’ve been wrapped up in a pretty complicated incident.”

“Too complicated for me to understand. The world keeps getting more complicated. Nuclear weapons, the breakup of socialism, the evolution of computers, artificial insemination, spy satellites, lobotomies. It’s impossible to even know what’s going on with passenger side panels for cars. To put it simply, I’ve been caught up in the information war. Basically I’m a stopgap until computers have their own consciousness. A make-do.”

“Computers will have their own consciousness?”

“Maybe,” I said. “If they do, computers will be able to scramble the data themselves, and no one will be able to steal it.”

The waiter came over and placed the sea bass and risotto in front of us.

None of these make a huge difference. It makes the whole thing more concise, clearly. I do like the idea that the narrator is a つなぎ (tsunagi, stopgap), literally a “connection” between the status quo now and the future in which his profession would be expendable (perhaps now?). That’s something that Watashi has expressed elsewhere in the novel but not quite in this language.

Five chapters left!

Dr. Yusuke Nakamura at the University of Chicago

I’m in the Japan Times today with a profile of oncologist/genomics researcher Dr. Yusuke Nakamura: “Leading cancer researcher Yusuke Nakamura pursues answers.”

He’s got an impressive back story. He spent five years researching in Utah and made some pretty incredible, important discoveries, including research that lead to discovery of the genes for colon cancer and breast cancer.

I don’t mention this in the article, but it’s easy to tell how he got where he is: he seems to be working at an extremely high level almost constantly. He replied to nearly all my emails within an hour, if not sooner. Why wait when you can knock it out and get on to the next thing? He must have this approach to his science as well.

His blog is also great reading. I selected his post 濃霧の中の殺人 (Nōmu no naka no satsujin, Murder Amidst Dense Fog) for my Japanese Reading Group last month. It tells the story of a gunshot patient he treated while a doctor in Japan. The ending is so interesting that I won’t spoil it here.

Despite leading a research lab and conducting clinical trials for different drugs (and traveling back and forth to Japan to help with projects there), he finds the time to post every two to three days about some interesting topic in his life, whether it’s things like Uber, his Fourth of July, politics, or information about cancer research. Highly recommended reading.

Cool Website – Yahoo Chiebukuro

I’m in the Japan Times this week with a look at Yahoo Chiebukuro: “Asking questions to the Japanese internet.”

Long-time readers will already be familiar with this site (I’ve mentioned it/linked to it a bunch of times before), but I think the article is still worth checking out. I found some fun new posts.

Yahoo Chiebukuro has become my go-to site whenever I have a question about Japanese language or culture. It may not always provide a perfect answer, but it’s generally worth a first look before deciding to dive deeper.

I recently filled in an eye on a Daruma a friend made for me, and I realized I didn’t know which eye to start with.

As you’d expect, there’s a page on Yahoo Chiebukuro for that. It’s a little rambling but seems to imply that there are many different ways to fill in Daruma eyes, depending on what kind of wish you’re making. Sometimes you even fill in both at the same time (to maintain a connection with someone, for example), although for general wishes you start with one eye and fill in the other when the wish has come true.

I wasn’t totally satisfied with the answer, so I did a little more searching and found ダルマの目はどちらから?(Daruma no me wa dochira kara? For Daruma’s eyes, which do you start with?), which seems to have most of the same information along with a history of Daruma and how they’re used. One funny line: Daruma are associated with Zen Buddhism but can be found at shrines and all types of Buddhist temples because, the author says, 日本人はそんな原理主義的な考え方をしません (Nihonjin wa sonna genrishugi-teki na kangaekata o shimasen, Japanese don’t really have that much of a fundamentalist way of thinking).

The author conveniently highlights the most important section in red:

どうも一般的には「最初は左、満願で右」、選挙では「最初は右、当選で左」が多いようです。間違いやすいのは、「右目」・「左目」というのがダルマにとってのことなので、「最初は向かって右、満願で向かって左」が憶えやすいと思います。

In general, “First left, right when it comes true” and for elections “First right, left when you’re elected” seems to be most common. It’s easy to mess up that it’s “right eye” and “left eye” from the Daruma’s point of view, so it’s easier to remember “First right as you face it, left as you face it when it comes true.”

And if you read to the bottom of the article, you’ll see another interesting point: It seems some political campaigns have stopped using Daruma after disability groups complained that filling in Daruma eyes after a victory discriminates against those with vision impairments by suggesting having two eyes is superior.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t round up all the times I linked to Yahoo Chiebukuro. Give these a skim—I’ve listed them with date and the topic of the Chiebukuro post:

2009.10.14 – Causative form of 見せる・見る (two posts)
2011.08.01 – Why Japanese uses ホワイト instead of ワイト
2012.01.11 – Origin and usage of お陰様
2015.01.05 – Usage of 借りができた
2015.03.02 – Difference between 愛し and 愛おしい and meaning of いとし
2015.05.12 – Pronunciation of 場合
2016.03.10 – Difference between 振られる and 捨てられる
2016.04.25 – How to write ケツ in kanji
2016.06.23 – Correct phrasing for the tongue twister about monks painting screens
2016.11.24 – How do you write ワイセツ in kanji?
2016.12.15 – Etymology of 邪魔 and ご無沙汰
2017.01.04 – Are 年男 and 年女 lucky?

Tanka and Competitive Karuta

I’m in the Japan Times this week with a quick introduction to tanka along with some cool reading recommendations: “Tanka help Japanese express emotions.”

I can’t recommend 『現代秀歌』 highly enough. As I mention in the article, it’s the collection that the poet (and scientist) Kazuhiro Nagata recommended at his Poetry Foundation talk back in April. The book is a collection of 100 contemporary tanka from 100 poets. It’s a follow-up to his collection 『近代秀歌』. Both are available on the Amazon Kindle store…very convenient and inexpensive. I think the former cost me $6.95. Not bad at all!

Tanka and other classical Japanese poetry forms can be super challenging to students of Japanese. I know that I generally need a helping hand to understand most haiku, and tanka are no different. Nagata provides that helping hand through his commentary about the poems. Yes, the commentary happens to be in Japanese…all the better for your reading practice.

In addition to the poems he has selected to represent each poet, he provides another two or three with commentary to fill out a sense of each poet’s oeuvre.

If you’re interested in older tanka, Ad Blankestijn has been blogging his way through the poems of the Hyakunin isshu in English at his website Japan Navigator. He gives nice explanations for each of the poems he’s addressed so far with very detailed look at the language used.

If you’re not satisfied with the couple dozen that he’s made it through, another blogger got through all 100 over the course of three years (I think…the poems seem to be out of order). The posting for each poem isn’t as detailed as Ad’s in terms of language, but there’s a lot of great background information.

And don’t forget that the the Hyakunin isshu is the source of the game Karuta! Check out this very high level match with commentary.

Nagata showed a similar video during his presentation. The person singing the poem reads the 上句 (jōku, first half of the poem) and the players have to tag the 下句 (geku, second half of the poem). As you can tell, they generally swipe at the cards after the first few mora…they don’t need to the full 17 to find the answer. Intense!

June Yamagishi and Papa Grows Funk

I remember exactly where I was when I first heard about Papa Grows Funk.

I was having a drink with a high school classmate at Train Bar in Roppongi in August 2002, my first visit to Japan, and he was telling me that our sixth grade science teacher, Mr. Allspach, had been a manager at the Maple Leaf Bar in our hometown New Orleans.

As much as I hate adding to the narrative of New Orleans exceptionalism, perhaps this is unique and characteristic of the city: New Orleans is the kind of place where your middle school science teacher, known for daily quizzes, dapper suits from the ‘70s, and for being very tall and strict, can also be a regular at a neighborhood dive bar that hosts some of the best bands in the city.

My friend said that Mr. Allspach recommended Papa Grows Funk and that they had a Japanese guitarist. I went to see them for the first time later that summer after I returned from Japan. It was a random Monday night in that dead space in the calendar when college students hadn’t returned to the city, but the bar was full.

Papa Grows Funk at the Maple Leaf for their third-to-last show in April 2013. Walter “Wolfman” Washington on stage with them in this photo.

I quickly became obsessed with the band and New Orleans funk, which all originates from the 1969 The Meters self-titled album (YouTube)(and probably some R&B that came before that). I even had a chance to see the band in Tokyo at Club Quattro in Shibuya when I was studying abroad in 2004.

So it was a thrill to profile the guitarist June Yamagishi for the Japan Times: “June Yamagishi: Hitting New Orleans with a suitcase and a guitar.”

I spoke with him when I was back home in February. He’s super friendly and open and fits right in in New Orleans, where he’s lived since 1995. He’s managed the city that whole time without a driver’s license, which feels like a miracle, but it seems like he’s been based out of the Lower Garden District neighborhood since he got to New Orleans. We were sitting outside Mojo Coffee on Magazine Street, and he could point to the house where he first lived and the house where he recorded a solo album before he moved to the city.

He’s basically a guitar legend in Japan as well. There’s an extended conversation between June and the guitarist Char on YouTube. This is the first part of that program:

I need to give it a watch.

And to give you a taste of June’s music, I recommend the song “Yakiniku”:

And here’s a clip of June from an upcoming documentary about Papa Grows Funk. He’s talking about how the band started gigging at Old Point Bar in Gretna:

Killing Killing Commendatore

I’m in the Japan Times Bilingual page this week: “Conquering ‘Commendatore’: Murakami brandishes familiar lexicon in latest novel.”

Hopefully this is the last I’ll have to deal with Killing Commendatore for a while. I didn’t really have a chance to get down and dirty with the text to illustrate all the thoughts I had about it, but I’m not sure the book deserves such a close look. I still haven’t finished reading the translation of 1Q84, and I’m not sure that I’ll get to Killing Commendatore in English either. 23 days is enough. No más.

But we need to have something for the blog post, so here are the other 惹かれる examples that I didn’t get to talk about in the Japan Times article. I marked this phrase throughout the book. I don’t think this is every instance, but it should give you a pretty good idea how Murakami uses this word.

Sometimes it’s simple—attraction:

私が妻に惹かれたのもまさにその目だった (Watashi ga tsuma ni hikareta no mo masa ni sono me datta, What attracted me about my wife were those eyes).

Here it’s closer to inspire, but attract still feels close; the narrator is talking about some style of painting that no longer inspires him:

私はそのようなタイプの絵画にもう心を惹かれなかった (Watashi wa sono yō na taipu no kaiga ni mō kokoro o hikarenakatta, But that type of painting no longer moved me)

The “Killing Commendatore” painting within the novel attracts the narrator quite a bit, as shown in these next two:

その絵は全体としてまた細部として、私の心をそれほど強く惹きつけていた (Sono e wa zentai to shite mata saibu to shite, watashi no kokoro o sore hodo tsuyoku hikitsukete ita, The painting fascinated me both in terms of its general structure and its details)

And:

とくに私の関心を惹きつけたのは、五人の人物たちが顔に浮かべている表情だった (Toku ni watashi no kanshin o hikitsuketa no wa, gonin no jinbutsutachi ga kao ni ukabete iru hyōjō, The looks on each of their five faces especially interested me)

But in the end, it’s all about the money:

もちろん提示された報酬の金額にも心を惹かれた (Mochiron teiji sareta hōshū no kingaku ni mo kokoro o hikareta, Of course I was also impressed by the amount offered as compensation)

There’s a section with an extended discussion of Harusame Monogatari. Menshiki is particularly interested, as we see:

実を言うと、私はなぜか昔からあの話に心を惹かれてきたのです (Jitsu o iu to, watashi wa naze ka mukashi kara ano hanashi ni kokoro o hikarete kita no desu, To be honest, for some reason I’ve been fascinated by that story for a long time).

But as with many of the other references, Harusama Monogatari drops away pretty quickly.

I just got a comment on my post about my review of the book asking this question:

Considering your negative assessment, why on earth write the other piece, which to my recollection, didn’t even mention anything you wrote in your review? It could be seen as a tacit recommendation of the work, which is not what you wrote in your review.

This is a valid question. I guess the simplest answer is I needed something to write about. I felt like looking at the language Murakami uses would be interesting, and I think these examples do show something about how Murakami looks at the world. I probably should have mentioned something about the review, but the word count was a little tight (<—excuse). But I do feel like I managed to get a little warning about the book in the beginning of the piece. Apologies if anyone feels mislead. If you’re looking for a mammoth Murakami to tackle, I’d recommend his travel journal from his time in Europe, 『遠い太鼓』(Tōi taiko, A Distant Drum). I read half of it at some point when I was living in Japan, but got distracted by life and haven’t gotten around to finishing it. That’s a book that deserves a translation. I’m surprised it hasn’t been rendered in English yet.