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.