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.