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.