Murakami Fucks First

Welcome to the Tenth Annual How to Japanese Murakami Fest!

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation/analysis/revelation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see past entries in the series here:

Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year Seven: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year Eight: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year Nine: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonballDistant Drumming
Year Ten: VermontersWandering and BelongingPeter Cat, Sushi Counter

Today I’m looking at one last section of a conversation between Murakami and Anzai Mizumaru, a special pamphlet included with the essay collection Uzumaki neko no mitsukekata.

In this section, they’re talking about the types of customers at sushi restaurants:

村 客の立場から見て、寿司屋で僕がいちばん好きな客っていうと、やっぱり不倫のカップルですね。男が四十代後半から五十代、女が二十代後半っていう感じ。ひそひそっと隅っこで意味ありげな話なんかしてね。いかにも寿司屋らしくていいですよ。サマになるし。だいいち静かだし。


村 「これからやるんだな」ってカップルって、雰囲気でわかりますよね。

水 もちろんわかるね、ふふふ。

村 でも僕は個人的には、寿司を食ってからやるよりは、やってからゆっくり食べる方がいいですね。

水 そんなのいないよ、普通は食べてからやるもんだよ。

村 そうかなあ、僕が変なのかなあ。でもさ、やってる最中にこの女はさっきトロとあなごとウニを食ったな、なんて思い出すと感興がそがれませんか?お腹の中にそういうのが入っているのかしら、とかさ。ちょっと生臭くない?

水 そんなこと、誰も思わないよ。それにさ、終わってから寿司食べたりしたら、その方が逆に生々しいよ、ちょっと思い出したりしてさ(笑い)。それじゃブニュエルの世界だよ。

村 でもさ、終わったら腹減りませんか?

水 減らないよ。あとは寝るだけだよ。セックスしたあとで寿司食うなんて、そんな奴いないよ。村上君くらいだよ。

Mura: As a customer, my favorite sushi restaurant customers are definitely the adulterous couples. The ones where the men are in their late-40s to 50s and the women are in their late-20s. They sit in the corner and seem to be whispering conversation laden with meaning. That seems just like a sushi restaurant. So fitting. Mostly because it’s quiet.

(Ogamidori: Hehe)

Mura: You can tell the couples that are going to go do it when they leave.

Mizu: Of course you can, haha.

Mura: But personally, doing it and then taking your time to eat is better than eating sushi and then doing it.

Mizu: No one does that. Usually you eat and then do it.

Mura: You think? Maybe I’m weird. But look, doesn’t it turn you off when you realize right in the middle of doing it that this woman was just eating fatty tuna, anago, and uni? That all of that is in her stomach? It’s not a little too fishy for you?

Mizu: Nobody thinks that. And conversely it’s fishier to eat sushi after you finish, thinking about what you did (laughs). That’s like something out of Buñuel.

Mura: But don’t you get hungry when you finish?

Mizu: Nope. I just go to sleep. Nobody goes to eat sushi after having sex. Only you!

This brings to mind a lot of Murakami’s fiction. Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (in which characters have a massive dinner—not sushi—and then have sex; and in which the pleasure of taste and sex are both dulled in the End of the World), “The Second Bakery Attack” (in which a couple wakes up in the middle of the night with “an unbearable hunger”), “Nausea 1979” (in which a character becomes nauseous and is unable to keep down food for months at a time, possibly due to his many affairs with the wives of close friends).

There must be some other connections with novels, I just haven’t reviewed them recently. Sex and food are tightly linked as physical pleasures and sustenance in Murakami’s works.

So it’s funny to learn that Murakami is on team Fuck First! This is a term coined by advice columnist Dan Savage (also here, NSFW!). I have to say I’d agree with him. It makes me queasy to do anything too athletic on a full stomach, although I wouldn’t say that sushi in particular makes me feel weird. Usually it’s pretty light fare, so it might be the ideal Fuck After cuisine. Mexican food, on the other hand, is not.

(I was unable to find an image of a 不倫カップル at a sushi restaurant, but I did manage to find this interesting blog post where the writer seems to overhear a couple similar to the one described by Murakami. Worth a read.)

Thus ends Murakami Fest 2017! I’ll be out of the country for the announcement this year, although I’ll be on European time, so perhaps I’ll manage to watch somehow. If not, this will be the first time in 10 (?) years that I’ve missed the announcement live. If he ends up winning this year (unlikely since Dylan won last year), you will hear the やれやれ I emit over the Belgian lambic/French wine/British bitter/Scottish Scotch/Irish dry stout/whatever it is I happen to be drinking during the announcement as it echoes around the world.

How to Japanese On the Road – Guidebooks

I’m in the Japan Times today with a look at how to use Japanese travel guides to study the language while you’re traveling in other countries: “Learn Japanese as you travel the world.”

I wrote the blog post below over seven years ago. I intended to post it while I was traveling abroad in Europe, but the trip was canceled and I never made it. Somehow the post has remained drafted in WordPress despite once losing my entire site to Ukranian hackers (or something), so I thought I’d share it today.

I wish I would’ve had access to a larger selection of travel guides to choose from, and I’d really be more comfortable carrying around a paper copy, to be honest, but the 地球の歩き方 for London and the るるぶ for Paris have helped provide decent overviews for the cities, and I’ll spend the next two weeks planning out the details of a new trip I’ll be making to Europe in October!

I’ll be in the following locations on the following dates, so holler if you’re around and want to buy me a drink or something tasty to eat or to show me a cool museum:

October 6-7 – Brussels
October 7-10 Paris
October 10-13 London
October 13-15 Newcastle
October 15-17 Edinburgh
October 17-18 Dublin

And then I fly back home on October 19. I’m excited!

So enjoy the post below, and damn that final line feels incredibly prescient. :/


If you can speak a bit of Japanese, it makes financial and educational sense to skip the English guidebooks and pick up a local one. Not only will it force you to learn a lot of Japanese, Japan has an enormous selection of guides to choose from (these people love to travel), and the books are about half to a third of the price of English language guidebooks sold in Japan. Lonely Planet and Roughguide will cost 2000-3500 yen, a significant markup compared to the prices back home. In comparison, the local ララチッタ series is only 1200 per volume. They have strategic walking tours in the front (with detailed maps), extended listings in the back, and great, high quality pictures throughout. I picked up a guide to Munich and one to London – the two places where I will most likely be on my own:

As you can see, the guidebook has pretty good coverage of the beer in Munich:

On the previous page there is a walking tour that goes 1) breakfast of white sausages and white beer, 2) Oktoberfest Museum, 3) lunch at Hofbrauhaus, 4) beer omiyage, 5) famous sausages and beer for dinner. No complaints from me.

All Japanese guidebooks come with the added benefit of helping you appear Japanese.

Sushi Counter

Welcome to the Tenth Annual How to Japanese Murakami Fest!

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation/analysis/revelation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see past entries in the series here:

Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year Seven: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year Eight: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year Nine: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonballDistant Drumming
Year Ten: VermontersWandering and Belonging, Peter Cat

I’ve finished my quick look at some of the essays in Uzumaki neko no mitsukekata and now for the last two weeks I’ll take tidbits from the extra pamphlet included with the text. Take a look:

Murakami has a short conversation with his illustrator Anzai Mizumaru (neé Watanabe Noboru of Yoru no kumozaru fame) about sushi restaurants. The conversation seems to be recorded by “Ogamidori-san” (also of Yoru no kumozaru fame), who also chimes in at a few points.

The first chunk of the interview is about what they like to order, which is only mildly interesting, but then they get into the restaurants themselves:

村 しかしね、水丸さん、寿司屋は味も大事だけど、客層って大事ですよね。

水 そうそう。客層は大事だよ。たとえば小さい子供なんかが隣で生意気にウニばっかり頼んだりしていると、ちょっとむかっとするよね。

村 蹴飛ばしてやりたいですね。それからけばけばした「光り物」糸の女の人が多いとけっこう疲れますよね。香水なんか強いと、ナマものの微妙な味が死んでしまうね。あれはちょっとなんとかしてほしいよな。

水 青山の「海味」の後ろの席でカウンターが空くのを待っているときなんかさ、ちゃらちゃらした「光り物」糸女の背中見ていたりすると、それだけで頭くることあるよね。

村 だんだん腹が立って来たな(笑い)。それから寿司屋によっては、煙草を吸う人が多いですね。あれも辛いですよ。カウンターはできたら禁煙にしてもらいたいと思う。苦しくて苦しくて、何度も途中で出てきた。

水 寿司屋のカウンターでタバコは遠慮するべきだと僕も思う。迷惑だよ。携帯電話も嫌だね。

Murakami: But Mizumaru-san, the food at sushi restaurants is important, but the clientele is also important, isn’t it.

Mizumaru: Yeah, yeah. The clientele is critical. Like, I get annoyed when there’s a bratty little kid next to me who keeps ordering uni.

Mura: I’d want to punt him out of there. And I get worn out when there are hordes of gaudy, “bejeweled” women. The delicate flavor of raw fish just disappears when their perfume is heavy. I wish they’d do something about that.

Mizu: When I’m waiting on the back seat at Umi in Aoyama for the counter seats to open up, staring at the backs of these “bejeweled” women as they jingle and jangle, that’s enough to get to me.

Mura: I’m starting to get angry (laughs). And depending on the restaurant, there are a lot of people who smoke. That’s also tough. I wish they’d make the counter seats no smoking. There’ve been a number of times when I’ve gotten up and left because it was so, so awful.

Mizu: I also think people should hold off on smoking at sushi counters. It’s a nuisance. I also can’t stand cell phones.

The essays were written from 1994-1995 and published as a collection in 1996, well before the no smoking movement (and even the smoking etiquette movement) gained momentum in Japan. On my first visit in 2002, they still had smoking cars on shinkansen. They may still have them, actually.

I tried to track down a photo of someone smoking at a sushi counter, and the best I could do was find this tweet which includes screen grabs from the 1974 drama 『傷だらけの天使』 (Kizu darake no tenshi, Injured Angels):

Actor Atsushi Watanabe deftly chows down on some sushi with a cigarette between the fingers of the same hand. Ahh, those were the days. Ha.

Back next week with one more excerpt from this interview.

Peter Cat

Welcome to the Tenth Annual How to Japanese Murakami Fest!

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation/analysis/revelation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see past entries in the series here:

Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year Seven: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year Eight: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year Nine: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonballDistant Drumming
Year Ten: Vermonters, Wandering and Belonging

The final essay in the collection Uzumaki neko no mitsukekata is 「猫のピーターのこと、地震のこと、時は休みなく流れる」 (“Peter Cat, Earthquakes, Time Flows Ceaselessly”). This feels more like an essay than any of the others I’ve read, and that’s mostly because the large majority of it details Murakami’s first cat Peter rather than a section of his time in America. He uses one page at the end to discuss returning to Kobe to give a reading (one of his few public readings in Japan) to benefit the 1995 earthquake. It’s an interesting end to a mostly uninteresting collection.

I believe this may be the source of the title as well. I haven’t read all the essays, so I can’t say for certain, but as we’ll see shortly, Peter is a 虎猫 (toraneko, tabby), another way of saying Uzumaki neko:





当時、猫を飼うことの問題点といえば、僕の経済状況が往々にして逼迫していたということだった。飼い主がろくに飯を食べる金もないのに、猫が食べるものなんてあるわけない。僕には当時経済的計画性というものが全くなかったので(今でもそれほどあるとは思えないけれど)、全くの無一文状態が一ヶ月のあいだにだいたい一週間くらい続くことになった。そういうときは、よくクラスの女の子に頼み込んでお金を借りた。僕が金がなくて腹を減らせていると言っても、「知らないわよ。そんなことはムラカミくんの事業自得でしょうが」と相手にもされないのがおちだが、「金がなくて、うちの猫に食べさせるものもない」と言うと、多くの人は同情して「しょうがないわねえ」と言いながら、ちょっとくらいは金を貸してくれた。とにかくそんなことをして、猫と飼い主と二人で必死に貧困と飢餓を耐え忍んだものである。ちょっとしかない食べ物を猫と文字どおり奪い拾ったこともある。今考えても情けない生活だった。楽しかったけど。 (220-224)

The naming of cats, as one of our British predecessors stated, is a difficult matter. During my college years when I was living in an apartment in Mitaka, I found a kitten. I say found, but I was walking along the street at night on the way home from my part time job when he came up behind me meowing and followed me all the way back to my apartment. He was a brown tabby with long hair and fluffy cheeks that made it seem like he had sideburns; he was pretty cute. He was somewhat fierce, but we got along right away, and from then on the two of us lived together for a long time.

I didn’t give the cat a name for a while (I didn’t really need to call him by name), but one day I was listening to a late night radio program—I think it was “All Night Nippon”—and a listener called in and said, “I had a cute cat named Peter, but he’s run off somewhere and I’m really sad.” I heard that and thought, “Ah, well, I’ll name this cat Peter for now.” That’s it, his name doesn’t have deep meaning.

Peter was an incredibly clever cat; while I returned home during university vacation, he managed to survive on his own in the area, and when I got back he was my cat again. We lived that way for a number of years. I didn’t really know what he was eating to survive when I was gone. However, later on as I observed his behavior, it gradually became clear that he relied on stealing and hunting wild animals as his major sources of food. As we lived this way, Peter became stronger and grew into a wilder cat each time university vacation rolled around and I went home.

At that time, traces of Musashino were still relatively pronounced, and there were a lot of wild animals in the area. One morning Peter came in with something in his mouth and dropped it by the bed, so I grumbled, “Great, have you caught a rat?” but when I looked over it was a mole. It was my first time ever seeing an actual mole. Peter must’ve camped out at the mole’s hole the entire night and then pounced on it the second it came out. And then he took it by the neck in his mouth and proudly brought it to show me: “Check this out. Whaddya think?” It was too bad for the mole, but when I thought of the effort that Peter went to, I said, “Good kitty,” pet him on the head, and felt obligated to give him some sort of tasty snack.

At the time the problem of having a cat was that my financial situation was tight every now and then. If an owner doesn’t have money to eat well, of course there won’t be anything for a cat to eat. I had zero financial plan back then (I don’t think I have that much of one even now), so each month there was usually a week or so when I was flat broke. During those times I would often ask girls in my class to borrow money. If I told them I had no money and was hungry, they’d always end up saying, “Whatever. You get what you deserve, Murakami” and wouldn’t pay attention to me, but if I said, “I don’t have any money to feed my cat,” most of them would sympathize, say, “I guess I have to,” and lend me a little money. That’s how a cat and his owner were somehow able to stave off poverty and starvation. Sometimes I literally stole a meager amount of food with my cat. When I think back, it was a pathetic life. But it was fun.

This essay is sweet. Murakami has a true affection for cats, and it comes through here. It’s also interesting to read about what his college life was like and how poor he was…although he came from a well-to-do family and attended a private university, so I wonder how true to life this is. He didn’t get along well with his father, so he might have mostly been on his own during this time, but we do know that he was visiting home.

The rest of the essay is worth tracking down if you’re into cats, and this is a very easy reading collection, so I’d recommend it to intermediate students. It’s also nice because the essays are in chronological order and build on each other as Murakami lives through this time in the U.S.

It also goes to show how much publishable material you can put out if you set it in your mind to journal every day. This is good advice to all aspiring writers. Take down details of events and conversations, what you did and where you went. You never know what kind of work you could turn it into later.

For the last two weeks there’s an (I hope) interesting supplement that came with the book. I’ll hopefully take something from it. Otherwise I’ll dig back through the essays.

Wandering and Belonging

Welcome to the Tenth Annual How to Japanese Murakami Fest!

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation/analysis/revelation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see past entries in the series here:

Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year Seven: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year Eight: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year Nine: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonballDistant Drumming
Year Ten: Vermonters

We’re continuing on with Murakami’s essay collection Uzumaki neko no mitsukekata. This week I’m looking at 「小説を書いていること、スカッシュを始めたこと、またヴァーモントに行ったこと」 (Shōsetsu o kaite iru koto, sukasshu o hajimeta koto, mata Vaamonto ni itta koto, Writing a novel, starting squash, going to Vermont again), a very short essay.

The title basically says it all. Murakami gives another long account of his daily writing routine (go to bed at 9pm, wake up at 5am to write, exercise, have lunch, and then take the afternoon to run errands, relax, or work on other writing projects), talks about how he’s taken up squash, and then visits Vermont with a friend (and talks about the Japanese association of Vermont with curry).

Murakami gives a pretty interesting account of living and writing abroad and notes where he wrote his past novels:



それに僕はこれまで長いあいだ引っ越しマニアな放浪、非定着の人生を送ってきたので(とくに望んでやっていたわけでもないのだが)、他の人に比べて場所の移動というものがあまり気にならない身体になってしまったみたいだ。考えてみれば、これまでに僕が書いた長編小説はそれぞれぜんぶ違う場所で執筆された。『ダンス・ダンス・ダンス』という小説の一部をイタリアで書いて、一部をロンドンで書いたけれど、どこが違うかと訊かれてもぜんぜんわからない。『ノルウェイの森』はギリシャとイタリアを行ったり来たりしながら書いたけれど、どこの部分をどこの場所で書いたかなんてもうほとんど覚えていない。スコット・フィッツジェラルドは『グレート・ギャッツビイ』の大部分を南フランスで書いたが、ここきわめて優れたアメリカ小説について、執筆された場所を今更気にする人もいないだろう。小説というのはそういうものではないか。 (97-100)

However, as I spend days living this introverted life, I have to say that I’m not overwhelmed with the sense that I’m living in a foreign country. Needless to say, I talk with my wife in Japanese in the house (people often tell me, speak English with your wife to improve, but I can’t do that), and I often realize once again, “Oh yeah, oh yeah, I’m in the U.S.” when I go out and hear people I run into speaking English. If you’re sitting at a desk obsessively writing a novel, in the end I’ve come feel like it doesn’t matter where you are.

People often ask me “The novels you can write in the U.S. and the novels you write in Japan, they must be very different, right?” But I’m not sure, I don’t think they are that much. People, especially once they get up to about my age, don’t suddenly change, whether it’s the way they live or the way they write, for better or worse. And for me especially, it isn’t like I decide to set my work in a foreign country because I’m living in a foreign country.

Besides, I’ve lived a wandering, unattached, moving-obsessed life for a long time (not that I really wanted it that way), so compared to other people my body has become unconcerned with change of place. When I think about it, all of the full-length novels I’ve written to this point were written in different places. I wrote one part of the novel Dance Dance Dance in Italy and one part in London, but I wouldn’t have any idea how they differ if asked. I wrote Norwegian Wood while traveling back and forth between Greece and Italy, but I can hardly remember which part I wrote where. Scott Fitzgerald wrote most of The Great Gatsby in the south of France, but now nobody cares about where this superlative American novel was written. Fiction is that kind of thing.

Pretty interesting. I don’t think I knew that he lived in London. (And, ugh, my translation feels stilted on reread.)

And Murakami is still thinking about the organization-individual dynamic, this time finding the benefit of belonging:



)。 (101-102)

One of the nice things about belonging to an American university is that the gym and other fitness equipment is top notch, and on top of that not all that crowded. When I think of the crowd and costs of municipal sports clubs in Tokyo, it makes me think I’m in paradise. Take the pool here. Pick a time and in most cases you can use a lane of a 25m pool all to yourself as long as you want. I haven’t belonged to any organization in my life so far, so I’m planning to enjoy the “joy of belonging” as much as I can. There was a statistic that came out somewhere saying most of the Japanese living in the U.S. study hard and industriously visit museums, art or otherwise, but that in comparison there aren’t many who actively use the gyms. Assuming this is true, I feel like it’s a bit of a waste. But it does make me think back and realize that since I’ve lived in Cambridge, I’ve only been to the art museum one time. (The famous Boston Museum of Fine Arts. I shouldn’t say this loudly,

but it wasn’t that great.


Murakami gets pretty creative with the text here and actually gives that final clause in a smaller font. Pretty nice. It was tough to recreate in html. I’ve done the best I can. Let me know if you know how to fix it so that I can modify the font size without making it a separate <p>.

I’ve said it once already, and I’ll say it again: Murakami writes well for the Internet age. In many ways he was the first blogger…a writer who interacted with readers and played around with his text. The content, too, is nice and light. These are pretty fun reads.


Year Ten! Goddamn. When I began this exercise I was living in a very small room in Tokyo, working at a translation company, using Japanese every day. Today I’m sitting here in my modest Chicago apartment (cool breeze coming in off the lake through my living room windows), working during the week at a Japanese office but using the language very little. My reading group, writing for the Japan Times, and translation exercises here are my main connections to the language. Consistency matters, so we continue, even if my feelings about Murakami have shifted over the years and are as different as my living conditions then and now.

Thus, without further ado:

Welcome to the Tenth Annual How to Japanese Murakami Fest!

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation/analysis/revelation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see past entries in the series here:

Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year Seven: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year Eight: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year Nine: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonball, Distant Drumming

This year I’m (lazily) looking at essays from the collection 『うずまき猫のみつけかた』 (Uzumaki neko no mitsukekata, How to Find Tabby Cats). This is a spiritual successor to 『やがて哀しき外国語』 (Yagate kanashiki gaikokugo, Foreign Languages, Sad in the End [?]), which Murakami wrote while he was in Princeton. He wrote and published the essays in Uzumaki neko in the magazine SINRA from the spring of 1994 to the fall of 1995. He was living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and working (I think) as a writer in residence at Tufts University.

The essays are chronological and read a lot like extended blog posts. I’m not quite sure which essay generated the title, as I haven’t read the whole collection. I’m picking out essays here and there to read, and it seems like cats figure somewhere in most of them, but never as the central character.

The first essay I’m looking at is from the summer of 1994 and is titled ダイエット、避暑地の猫 (Daietto, hishochi no neko, Diets, Summer Resort Cats). Murakami is back in Tokyo briefly, suffering from the heat, before he returns to Boston and then takes a summer trip to Vermont. Here are some passages:


ある暑い日の午後、新宿のデパートの展示会場に永沢まことさんのトスカナの絵の個展を見にいって、そこにあった宮本『世にも美しいダイエット』美智子さんのパネルを読んでいたら、「年をとって酒を飲むのはろくなことではない」というようなことが−もちろんもっと丁寧な表現で−書いてあった。それで「確かにそうだな、僕もビールを飲むのを少し控えなくてはな」とそのときは思ったのだけれど(この人の説明にはすごく納得力がある)、一歩外に出たらもう暑くて暑くて、とにかく冷たいビールを飲むことしか考えられない。というわけで、いや、やはり飲んでますね。今年の夏は僕はおおむねキリンのラガービールを飲んでいた。とくに銘柄の好みが保守的なわけではないのだが、日本に帰ってくるたびにわけのわからない見慣れないビールが次から次へと酒屋の棚に並んでいるし、暑くてどれにしようかいちいち考えるのが面倒だったからだ。 (064)

I don’t mean to over-insist, but summer in Japan was hot. Hot enough to kill a man. I was pretty dumb to schedule a return trip to Japan during this period, even if I had things to take care of. I wasn’t motivated to do anything so I gave in and drank beer every day.

One hot afternoon, I went to see Makoto Nagasawa’s solo exhibit of Tuscany paintings at a Shinjuku department store, and I read a panel displayed there for Michiko “A Beautiful Diet” Miyamoto that read “Drinking alcohol isn’t great for you as you age,” of course expressed in much nicer language. I thought to myself at the time, “That’s true, I should cut back on the beer” (her explanation was really persuasive), but I took one step outside and it was so damn hot that all I could think about was having a cold beer. So, of course, I drank. This summer I mostly drank Kirin Lager. I’m not really a stickler about the brand I drink, but when I was back in Japan, there were so many unfamiliar beers on the shelves of liquor stores and it was so hot that trying to consider all of them was a chore.

It’s interesting to see Murakami’s take on beer. This was in 1994, right after the laws were changed to allow smaller breweries. I don’t know much about Miyamoto. It must’ve been a short-lived fad diet, although Murakami sees similarities between her and himself:

僕らのようにどこにも属していない人間は自分のことはとにかく一から十まで自分で護るしかないわけだし、そしてそのためには、それがダイエットであるにせよ、フィジカル・ワークアウトであるにせよ、自分の身体をある程度きちんと把握して、方向性を定めて自己管理して行くしかない。 (65)

People like us who don’t belong anywhere have to protect ourselves in every way, and in order to do that, you have to have a somewhat firm grasp on your body to manage yourself and determine your direction, whether it’s through a diet or through physical fitness.

There are some sections that read similar to Hard-boiled Wonderland and some of his political speeches about “individuals versus the system” and how the system generally wins.

And here’s one final passage with an unflattering look at the ladies in Vermont:

ヴァーモントには素敵なカントリー・インが数多くあって、そのような旅館を泊まり歩くのも楽しみのひとつである。まあなにしろアメリカだから、トスカナみたいに目から鱗が落ちるほど料理がおいしいとは言えないけれど、素材は新鮮だし、空気が美味くて知らず知らずお腹が減るので、ご飯は楽しく食べられる。ただし、ヴァーモントは乳製品とメイプル・シロップとが名産品なので、おいしいおいしいといって食べていると、これは確実に「世にも美しくない」ことになってしまう。実際にヴァーモントで出会った女の人の八十五パーセントまでは完全な「トド体系」であった。みんなで揃ってよくこんなに肥れるよなあと感心してしまう。腰のまわりなんか布団を巻いて歩いているんじゃないかというくらいむくむくしている。アメリカも方々をまわったけれど、こんな肥った人が多い地方も初めてである。みんなに宮本さんの本を読ませてあげたいと思ったくらいである。あって、毎日昼御飯を抜いていたのだが、それでも食事はけっこうヘビーだった。旅行するのは楽しいだけれど、トシを取ってくると、毎日外食を続けることがだんだんきつくなってくる。 (73)

There are many pleasant country inns in Vermont, and hopping around between these lodgings is also fun. It’s the United States, so the food isn’t going to blow you away like it might in Tuscany, but the ingredients are fresh, and the air is clean, and before you know it you’re hungry and can enjoy eating the meals. However, Vermont is known for dairy products and maple syrup, so while they’re delicious, you definitely end up “Not Beautiful.” About 85% of the women I actually met in Vermont were total “walruses.” I was impressed that everyone was able to get so fat. They’re so ponderous when walking around it looks like they have futon strapped to their waists. I’ve been all over the U.S., and this is the first time I’ve seen this many fat people. I wanted to make them all read Miyamoto’s book. This the case, I went without lunch every day, but even so the food was fairly heavy. Traveling is fun, but it gets harder and harder to eat out repeatedly as you get older.

Ha. What gives with the body shaming, Murakami? Maybe we can chalk this up to a 1990s lack of political correctness? Murakami doesn’t seem to realize that not everyone can/could just up and run a marathon like he does/did. Or maybe he does and attributes his fitness to a strength of character, which borders on paranoia at times. “This is what I do to maintain my independent sense of self, to maintain my direction and focus.” If there’s a weakness to this system of beliefs, I think it’s a tendency to see oneself (or the system) as flawless. I think most artists need a good portion of this attitude in order to complete any project, but too much of it can perhaps lead to an inability to self-correct…which is maybe what we’ve seen recently with Murakami.

This collection, on the other hand, seems to be one of those side projects that Murakami takes on between larger fiction projects. It’s necessarily more casual than his other work. We’ll see more next week!

Top 50 Bestselling Enka Songs Wrap-up

Wow, I can’t believe I got through that whole damn bestselling enka exercise. I’ve been prepping it for over a month, but I actually started drafting the original idea three years ago (made it through songs 1-9) after coming across the list of bestselling enka. I had dreams of writing something more substantial about karaoke or enka, but after finding Christine Yano’s book “Tears of Longing: Nostalgia and the Nation in Japanese Popular Song,” I realized it has already been done.

Here are some of my thoughts about enka in bullet point style:

– Yano’s book is great. I haven’t finished it, but I’ve read the introduction, the chapter on the history of enka, her analysis of the frequency of words, and parts on the gender roles in enka. My only beefs so far are that the book uses romaji instead of kanji (which is how academia does it, I get it, but always feels disrespectful of the original language) and that her look at frequency of words does not include verbs. The nouns she examines are useful on their own and provide some interesting analysis. Including verbs would adjust the rankings quite a bit, and I’d be curious to see how so. For a more detailed look at the book, be sure to check out Tokyo Damage Report’s detailed review.

– Here are some verbs I think would get included in the list: しみる (shimiru, penetrate, permeate), つのる (tsunoru, grow stronger), 許す (yurusu, permit, allow), 逢う (au, meet), 泣く (naku, cry), 飲む (nomu, drink), 降る (furu, fall), 枯れる (kareru, wither), すがる (sugaru, cling to, rely on), 滲む (nijimu, blur), 生きる (ikiru, live), 死ぬ (shinu, die), 帰る (kaeru, go home, return), 誓う (chikau, swear, pledge), 抱く (daku, embrace), 酔う (you, get drunk), 耐える (taeru, endure), 行く (iku, go), 捨てる (suteru, throw away, dump).

– Enka, as Yano notes, “has been reconstructed to invoke ‘tradition.’” This is a pretty wide tangent for the second bullet point, but here it goes: I think what enka has done for Japan is very comparable to what country music has done in the United States. Country music has been codified and formulated much in the same way that enka has, and I think it even has it’s own vocal stylings much in the same way that enka has kobushi.

In terms of nationalism, though, I’m thinking in particular of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” which has made me throw up in my mouth a little since I first heard it at summer camp in 1994, in particular the line “I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free.” Where to start with this line. First, “American” isn’t a place, so modifying it with “where” is just wrong. Second, the “at least” has always bothered me. At least you’re free? It’s always felt to me that this line sweeps anything knocked down in pursuit of freedom under the carpet. Sure, there’s a bunch of terrible shit, but at least we’re free.

One non-shitty country western thing before we return to enka: A classic example of country western kobushi (aka “twang”): Wayne Hancock’s “Thunderstorms and Neon Signs.”

I think this twang was probably first introduced (or at least perfected) by Hank Williams. It’s also interesting to note that this song came out in 1995! It sounds like it could be much older, and the sepia-toned album cover supports the idea that some country, like enka, is a modern music designed to seem much older and more traditional:

– Ok. Back to normal stuff. All enka songs begin with a 10-30 second instrumental section which allows the emcee to give a quick intro of the performer and describe the effect the song has had on the populace. This also gives singers a moment to greet the audience and fellow performers and to gracefully position themselves in preparation to sing.

– It’s interesting that the top five songs are from 1978 and earlier and that the top two are from the 1972-1973 period when enka as a genre was first getting defined. I think this is why you see Miya Shiro and Nagata Atsushi of the Tonosama Kings both make use of an almost painfully undulating kobushi: this is when the elements of the genre were put into place, and these two may have put kobushi right up at the top.

The best way to learn enka: Buy a couple “Best of” CDs for a handful of artists and then force yourself to listen to listen to them over and over. Keep them in your car or load them on your smart phone. You’ll be surprised how quickly you gather the subtleties of the songs.

Check out this very detailed Japanese write-up about how to get better at karaoke. It includes advice to get over any コンプレックス (complexes) you might have, humming along with songs to learn them, and practicing higher key songs so that you can train your vocal chords.

I was surprised by how much “I’d die for you!” there was in enka, and I was tempted to call it unique to enka, but it most definitely isn’t. The country western song “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” for example:

This song seems to mirror the story behind Yamamoto Jōji’s song みちのくひとり旅 (Michinoku hitori tabi, Solo journey to Michinoku). A man longs for a dead lover and can only give up his love/reunite with the love in death.

I was also reminded of the song/movie “La Vida No Vale Nada,” a ranchero. I guess this is true in pop music as well (vague memories of some Ryan Adams song with the lyric “I’d die for you!”).

– I think that’s just about all I’ve got. Do you have any favorite enka songs? Share them in the comments here or on social media. I’ve got a list I’ve been keeping from karaoke sessions with coworkers. I’m not sure what if anything I’ll do with it, but it’s always nice to learn new songs you didn’t know about.

Top 50 Bestselling Enka Songs – 10-1

Our look at the bestselling enka songs continues. いよいよトップテン! Previous posts:


Today, we look at the Top Ten bestselling enka songs OF ALL TIME. Thanks for reading this far if you’ve been here all week!

10. さざんかの宿 (Sazanka no yado, Camelia Lodge), 大川栄策 (Okawa Eisaku), 1982

Quick Take: Ah yes, the elusive 人の妻 (hito no tsuma, other person’s wife), given in some lyrics as 他人の妻. The hito no tsuma is one of the most attractive tropes in Japanese culture (the world?). This song seems to imply that the narrator is sleeping with someone else’s wife, but only for the night, in the titular 宿 (yado, lodge), which is presumably covered by camelias. I don’t have much to say about Okawa, unfortunately, other than that the kobushi power seems to get stronger as we head toward the top ranked songs.

Difficulty: 8. Lots of kobushi, but maybe not impossible to pull off.

9. 北国の春 (Kitaguni no haru; Northern Country Spring), 千昌夫 (Sen Masao), 1977

Quick Take: A 季節 (kisetsu) song that highlights the countryside and how the seasons there are superior than in Japanese cities. So obviously the solution is to 帰る (kaeru, go back) to the 故郷 (furusato, home town). Each verse here has a similar structure: list three seasonal weather phenomena/locations, tell some very short story about the countryside (e.g. “Haven’t seen a girl I broke up with five years ago, we were never able to tell each other we loved each other”), then the サビ (sabi, hook) of “maybe I should go home.” Subtitled version here.

Difficulty: 5. Sen has a deep enough voice that this one seems accessible.

8. おもいで酒 (Omoide zake; Liquor of Nostalgic Remembrances), 小林幸子 (Kobayashi Sachiko), 1979

Quick Take: This is definitely disco-era enka. And I can dig it. It’s a drinking song, a breakup song. So of course there’s another appearance of 未練 (miren, lingering affection, regrets, attachment), which naturally only get worse the more you drink. And there’s the killer line in each verse: おもいで酒に酔うばかり(Omoide-zake ni yō bakari, The liquor of nostalgic remembrances only gets ya drunk). I may have been loose with my translation. Clearly the implication here is that you shouldn’t think too much about the past, that *memories* get you *drunk*.

Difficulty: 9. Massive kobushi attack. This isn’t so apparent from the studio version, but live versions are full of wavering notes. It seems like the song overall is in a lower pitch, but I’m sure this one would be challenging.

7. 北の宿から (Kita no yado kara; From a Northern Inn), 都はるみ (Miyako Harumi), 1975

Quick Take: The highest female enka singer in the rankings, Miyako has three in the top 50 (both songs about しぐれ, strangely, at 36 and 11). From the beginning of the song, we know who it’s addressing: あなたは変わりはないですか (Anata wa kawari wa nai desu ka, How are things with you?). This is a great example of why karaoke is such good study practice. This was her third million-seller and clearly she hit the jackpot. The song varies from calm and collected death threats (あなた死んでもいいですか?, Anata shinde mo ii desu ka?, Could you go ahead and die?) to soaring take on 未練 (miren), which in this song define a woman’s heart.

Difficulty: 8. Maybe not quite as difficult to reproduce as Kobayashi’s voice above, but challenging nonetheless.

6. 奥飛騨慕情 (Okuhida bōjō; Okuhida Yearning), 竜鉄也 (Ryū Tetsuya), 1980

Quick Take: I get it, but I don’t like it: This is a four-and-a-half-minute snoozefest, but it hits all the enka tropes: an isolated area of Japan that receives heavy precipitation and is known for hot springs; the perfect place to lay up for a while and meet a side lad/lady or just yearn over stuff in general. Perfect setting for an enka song with the chorus line 奥飛騨に雨が降る (Okuhida ni ame ga furu, It rains in Okuhida). And, damn, check out that title. It’s a kanji nerd’s dream. Ryū grew up in Gifu, and the Hida area of that prefecture is the setting of the song. This is another debut song, making it one of three debuts in the top six, I believe.

Difficulty: 9. So slow and so much kobushi throughout makes this one a tough one to get through.

5. うそ (Uso, Lies), 中条きよし (Nakajō Kiyoshi), 1974

Quick Take: Nakajō was featured on the Gaki no tsukai batsu game in 2014. He performed a semi-duet with comedian Tomochika. Nakajō’s appearance alone was enough to make the Gaki no tsukai team laugh. Nakajō has an interesting background. After two failed “debuts,” he ran a snack bar in Tokyo and eventually appeared on a show that seems a lot like American Idol and won. One of the judges from that show gave him a new stage name and wrote him this song. The song itself is pretty typical: the narrator smokes a cigarette and finally understands the lies that his lover told him. This seems like it would be a fun (but difficult) one to sing, especially the rotating サビ (sabi, hook) which describes various lies, beginning with 哀しい嘘のつける人 (kanashii uso no tsukeru hito, people who tell sad lies). I think I would really enjoy exaggerating the final 人 for comedic effect (つけるヒーーーーーートーーーーー!).

Difficulty: 9. There are a couple of tough kobushi parts with faster lines that are borderline spoken word. I’d love to be able to sing this one, but alas.

4. 星影のワルツ (Hoshikage no warutsu; Starlight Waltz), 千昌夫 (Sen Masao), 1966

Quick Take: Two in the Top Ten for Sen Masao. This song proves once and for all that enka is country music and vice versa. Not really, of course, but this is a sad song and captures a lot of the tropes: the Starlight Waltz is the song the narrator sings while breaking up with someone. And this is despite admitting that he still likes the person: 今でも好きだ / 死ぬほどに (Ima de mo suki da / shinu hodo ni, I still love her now / so much that I would die). This basically defines the enka theme of unfulfillable, impossible love. It’s worth tracking down a young Sen singing this song when he was at the height of his vocal powers.

Difficulty: 8. Slow songs are harder than fast songs, and this one is particularly slow.

3. 夢追い酒 (Yume-oi zake; Dream-chasing Alcohol), 渥美二郎 (Atsumi Jirō), 1978

Quick Take: This song takes advantage of the most frequently used karaoke word: 夢 (yume, dream). Basically it’s a simple song of heartbreak, shown by the very fun サビ (sabi, hook) : あなた/なぜなぜ/私を捨てた (Anata naze naze watashi o suteta, Why oh why did you break up with me). Easy language for beginner students to understand, and the music is super catchy.

Difficulty: 8. This is probably one of those songs that’s hard to sing well, but maybe within reach for some of us?

2. なみだの操 (Namida no misao; Loyalty of Tears), 殿さまキングス (Tonosama Kings), 1973

Quick Take: Just another song about a heartbroken woman who just wants to be beside her man and is willing to die if she can’t. I wasn’t sure if the song was sung from a man’s point at the beginning, but I think the 女だから (onna da kara, because I’m a woman) is a pretty clear hint that the narrator is a woman, despite the fact that the singer is male. The other clues are the わ (wa) particles floating about. Christine Yano confirms this in her book and writes about how the gender roles are often “crossed”: “In effect, what these crossed performances demonstrate is that the cultural imagination places women at men’s (sexual) service, but men at society’s service.” So, yeah…I’m going to go ahead and say this song is a good bit misogynistic. Harumph.

Difficulty: 9. It would be tough to match the nasally voice of the lead singer.

1. 女のみち (Onna no michi; Path of a Woman), 宮史郎とぴんからトリオ (Miya Shiro and the Pinkara Trio), 1972

Quick Take: Miya Shiro’s unrivaled kobushi power—and probably his looks: a pencil mustache and slicked back hair—propelled this song to the top of the charts for 16 consecutive weeks in 1972. I’m willing to bet his unique kobushi is what drew listeners to this song. This is another song that appears to be a female narrator sung by a male singer. It isn’t quite as intense as the pledges to die in the song above, but it does include other pledges: 二度としないわ / 恋なんか (Ni do to shinai wa / koi nanka, I won’t do it twice / fall in love).

Difficulty: 10. Do not try this one at home unless you have massive kobushi skills.

So that’s it! If you made it all the way through the week, thanks! I’ll have one more post tomorrow putting together a few of my big-picture thoughts.

Top 50 Bestselling Enka Songs – 20-11

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.